NCAA Picks: A quick breakdown of some 2013 Final Four possibilities

2 Comments

This has been a season of upsets, underdogs, and unpredictability. The conventional wisdom has been that the NCAA tournament will follow suit. But will it? Will we see four No. 1 seeds in Atlanta, or none at all? Check out the tiered preview below:

The Top: These are the teams that, when judging by seed alone, should have the best shot at making the Final Four

Indiana

The Hoosiers began the season as the No. 1 team in the country and are looking to come full circle and win a national title in Atlanta. Yes, they have weapons like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, and Yogi Ferrell, but the key will be how each of those gets involved. Oladipo will be the do-everything forward, but Zeller needs to be assertive and physical down low. Because of that, beware of a team that can push the Hoosiers around on the interior.

Louisville

The Cardinals pulled off an immaculate comeback to beat Syracuse in the Big East title game, but it will ultimately come down to guard play for Louisville. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are clicking offensively and the defense is forcing turnovers, they’re very tough to beat. If those two are off track for a game, though, the Cardinals could be sent home early.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga hasn’t gotten as much national respect as it perhaps should have, even when it reached No. 1 in the national polls. This is their time to prove their worth. Kelly Olynyk is one of the country’s most mobile and versatile big men and will be at the center of everything the Zags do. Expect an early challenge from Pittsburgh in the Round of 32.

Kansas

Kansas powered through the Big 12 on the backs of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey but turnovers will be the biggest stumbling block for the Jayhawks on the road to the Final Four. Especially if Kansas meets VCU in the Sweet 16, we could have an upset. If they keep that under control, though, coach Bill Self’s team has the firepower to make a Final Four push.

The Non-No. 1s: Just because they’re not No. 1 seeds doesn’t mean they can’t challenge for a Final Four

Ohio State

The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title the same way they have won games all season: defense. Their ability to defend on that end of the floor will never be in question, but we’ll need to see how they work offensively to get a good taste of how far this team can go. Deshaun Thomas cannot be the only scoring option. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel, and the rest can all find ways to contribute.

New Mexico

The Mountain West has been as brutally competitive as nearly any conference in the country this year and from it emerges a Final Four sleeper pick, New Mexico. How are the Lobos a sleeper pick as a No. 3 seed? Because many know little about them. Keep an eye on Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, and Alex Kirk, all of whom need to be going offensively for the Lobos to shift into gear. The major concern will be shooting percentage. New Mexico has to hit shots consistently to advance.

Miami

At the beginning of the season, Miami was not expected to do what it has done. Point guard Shane Larkin is a big reason for that, but it has also been a matter of team cohesiveness and the ability to play at different paces. Reggie Johnson needs to be a factor on the interior and the Hurricanes have a chance to make life tough for opponents if Kenny Kadji is stretching the defense from the power forward spot.

Georgetown

Otto Porter, defense, and more Otto Porter. That will be Georgetown’s gameplan in the NCAA tournament. Porter does a little bit of everything well, but will need help from Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera offensively for the Hoyas to make it to the Final Four being in the same regional as Kansas.

The Mid-Majors: These teams are dangerous in March. They might have come from smaller leagues, but watch out.

VCU

Coach Shaka Smart and the Rams live off of turnovers. They force close to 20 per game and it becomes the lifeblood of a transition offense that can put points on the board in a hurry. Against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship game, VCU erased a 13-point deficit in close to three minutes.

Saint Louis

Saint Louis, the team that beat VCU to win the A-10 title, is efficient, poised, and smart with the basketball. In a region like the Midwest where Louisville is the No. 1 seed, the Billikens match up favorably. If they can control turnovers, it hurts what Louisville can do offensively. Kwamain Mitchell against Peyton Siva would be one to watch.

Creighton

When your team features one of the country’s best players, you’ll always in a position to be dangerous in the NCAA tournament. Doug McDermott will be the centerpiece of this team, but Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique, and Austing Chatman aren’t to be discounted, either. We all should be rooting for a Creighton-Duke matchup in the Round of 32, if for no other reason than to see Ryan Kelly go head-to-head with McDermott.

Bucknell

If you don’t know Mike Muscala’s name yet, you likely will when this NCAA tournament tips off. The Bucknell big man anchors the paint for the Bison and is part of a defensive team that likes to grind teams down to a halt. It’s not always an easy way to win, but Muscala will be the engine behind a push.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Juwan Morgan’s 34 leads Indiana to overtime win over No. 18 Notre Dame

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Indiana trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and was still down 65-57 with just over two minutes left before rallying to knock off No. 18 Notre Dame, 80-77, in overtime in the nightcap of the Crossroads Classic on Saturday afternoon.

Juwan Morgan led the way for the Hoosiers with a career-high 34 points and 11 boards. He scored the final 12 points of regulation for the Hoosiers, including a layup with 13 seconds left that forced overtime, and then had eight of the 15 Hoosier points in the extra period.

The Irish were up 77-74 when Morgan scored and got fouled on a layup with 11 seconds left. He would miss the free throw, but Zack McRoberts grabbed the miss and found Morgan for the go-ahead dunk:

Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell would airball a three at the other end and, after a pair of Indiana free throws, Bonzie Colson’s half-court heave rattled in-and-out and Indiana headed home to Bloomington with the best win of the new Archie Miller era under their belt.

Syracuse needs OT to knock off Georgetown

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
1 Comment

WASHINGTON — Tyus Battle had 29 points, Oshae Brissett had 25 points, and Syracuse overcame a 13-point second half deficit to defeat rival Georgetown 86-79 in overtime on Saturday.

Frank Howard added 19 points as Syracuse (9-1) made 10 of 23 3-pointers in staging its comeback over the final 10 minutes of regulation to force extra time.

Jessie Govan had 21 points and eight rebounds and Marcus Derrickson had 14 points and eight rebounds for Georgetown (8-1) which entered Saturday as one of six undefeated teams in Division 1. Jagan Mosely had 20 points off the bench for the Hoyas.

Syracuse snapped a two-game losing streak to former Big East foe Georgetown and last beat the Hoyas on the road in 2011.

Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing lost his first game against Jim Boeheim’s Orange after going 8-3 against Syracuse as a player in the 1980’s.

Howard stripped Govan and hit a layup with one minute remaining to tie the score at 69. Syracuse missed three shots at the end of regulation.

Mosely hit two free throws to give Georgetown its largest lead of 53-40 but Syracuse used a quick 5-0 spurt to pull back to within eight after a Brissett 3-pointer with 9:55 remaining.

ADVERTISEMENT

Neither team led by more than five points in the first half as both teams shot 37 percent (10 for 27) from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Syracuse: The Orange survived their first road test of the season and won’t play again away from home until traveling to South Bend to face Notre Dame on Jan 6. Syracuse had gone 1-1 in neutral site games in losing to then No. 2 Kansas while defeating former Big East rival in Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.

Georgetown: The Hoyas missed on their only chance to pick up a quality non-conference win against Syracuse. Georgetown’s previous opponents had a combined record of 24-64. The Hoyas last defeated Syracuse three straight times between 2000-02.

UP NEXT

Syracuse: The Orange return to the Carrier Dome to face two in-state foes next week – Buffalo on Tuesday and St. Bonaventure on Friday.

Georgetown: Two more games before the start of Big East play: North Texas on Wednesday and Alabama A&M on Dec. 23.

Louisville tops Memphis in Gotham Classic

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — David Padgett is not naive.

Louisville’s interim men’s basketball coach is fully cognizant that the immediate future of the Atlantic Coast Conference power is an unknown as the university’s leaders decide upon who will lead the program following the ugly end of Rick Pitino’s tenure at the school. Yet there is a season that must be played out.

And so he is navigating a delicate balancing act: Trying to plan for tomorrow while recognizing the importance of today.

“I don’t think you’re going to get a kid in the country to commit per se to Louisville until they know who the head coach is going to be moving forward,” Padgett said after Louisville’s 81-72 win over Memphis in the showcase game of the Gotham Classic on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. “But like I said before, that’s not my concern, that’s not our players’ concern, that’s not our staff’s concern. We really are just trying to focus on winning right now.”

Louisville improved to 8-2 with its fourth straight win. Quentin Snider led four players in double-figure scoring with 19 points. V.J. King finished with 17 points, Deng Adel 15 and Ray Spalding 12.

“We knew (it would take) just one game (and) everyone was going to at least hit a 3 or something,” Snider said. “We were going to catch hot.”

Whereas the Cardinals were hot from the field, Memphis left Madison Square Garden angry at itself after its four game-winning streak came to an end. The Tigers fell to 7-3 overall, and 36-54 all-time against Louisville. Jeremiah Martin tied a career high with 26 points, and Kyvon Davenport had 12.

“We have a chip on our (shoulders),” Martin said. “People (are) always saying we’re not good enough, and they have 11 new guys; they’re not going to be anything.”

Tied 38-all at halftime, Louisville outscored Memphis 17-4 in the first 5:30 of the second half to take a 55-42 lead. The key to the spurt was 3-point shooting with Adel knocking down two from behind the arc and Snider one.

“(Adel) … can shoot over people,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “You have to play him for the drive. We didn’t make him put it on the floor like we said we should have, like we were going to do; the adjustment we had to make at halftime. That was really disappointing.”

Defense aided the Cardinals’ cause. Louisville entered the game second nationally in blocked shots (7.9), ninth in field goals allowed (.367), 36th in 3-point field goals allowed (.293) and 44th in points allowed (64.3) per game. Louisville forced 12 turnovers and blocked 14 shots, while limiting the Tigers to 4-of-11 shooting from 3.

“We responded in the second half,” Padgett said. “Came out with more of a defensive mindset. … Came out of the gate in the second half, took the lead and did a good job of maintaining it even when they would go on a couple of runs. (I am) really proud of our team.”

As well as Louisville as played, though, the Tigers fought back, using a 13-5 spurt spanning 4:53 to cut a 58-46 deficit to 63-59. Martin scored seven of his 26 in that run.

“I’m not happy about the way I played,” Martin said. “Because we didn’t win.”

Memphis didn’t get closer as Louisville responded with a 9-0 run of its own to extend its lead to 72-59.

“The thing I was pleased with — and I kept telling them in the timeouts — every time they went on a run we needed to respond with a run of our own and we seemed to do that,” Padgett said.

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals entered Saturday’s game ranked 11th in the 15-team ACC in 3-point percentage with a .342 success rate. Naturally, the Cardinals connected on 53.8 percent (14 of 26) of their attempts from behind the arc.

Memphis: The Tigers’ modus operandi is pretty simple: Attack the paint. The Tigers did so routinely in the loss. Thirty-four of Memphis’ 72 points came in the paint. Moreover, the Tigers had a 14-6 advantage in second-chance points.

NOTABLE

Louisville: Saturday’s matinee marked the Cardinals’ second road game of the season. Louisville only other game away from home was the 66-57 loss to Purdue on Nov. 28.

Memphis: The Tigers fell to 16-23 all-time in games contested in New York City.

UP NEXT

Louisville: Hosts Albany Wednesday night.

Memphis: Hosts Siena Wednesday night.

No. 6 Miami stays unbeaten with win over George Washington

(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Miami coach Jim Larranaga is staying on the Hurricanes while they keep piling up wins.

Dewan Huell had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 6 Miami used a fast start to beat George Washington 59-50 on Saturday.

One of six remaining unbeaten teams in Division I entering the weekend, the Hurricanes (9-0) ripped off 13 of the game’s first 15 points on their way to a 21-point lead. The scrappy Colonials pulled within seven with 13:53 remaining, but the rally fizzled down the stretch.

George Washington (5-6) outrebounded the bigger Hurricanes 44-39, but shot 18.5 percent (5 for 27) from the field in the first half and 30.2 percent overall. Miami ranks second nationally in scoring defense and field goal defense.

“I thought our defense in the first half was really outstanding,” Larranaga said. “I thought in the second half our defense on the first shot was pretty good, but they offensive rebound like crazy.”

Jair Bolden had 13 points and Terry Nolan Jr. scored 10 for the Colonials, who used a 17-3 run overlapping halftime to cut Miami’s lead to 35-28.

Asked about the key to preventing George Washington from getting closer, Huell said: “Not let them get multiple opportunities at the rim or off the offensive glass.”

Seated next to his leading scorer, Larranaga chimed in. “Yeah, they only got 17 (offensive rebounds),” he said.

Arnaldo Toro had 13 rebounds — four offensive — for the Colonials.

“We started the first half a little bit slow,” Toro said. “We were able to pick that up.”

Playing its first game since Dec. 5, Miami shot 41 percent from the field, including a 5-for-21 day from beyond the arc. The Hurricanes made at least half of their field-goal attempts in seven of their first eight games.

Lonnie Walker IV had 13 points for Miami, which is 9-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 team opened the season with 12 consecutive wins.

The matchup wrapped up a home-and-home series. Miami won 72-64 last season.

“I felt great coming into the game, confident — and then you go 5 for 27 in the first half and miss a bunch of open shots,” Colonials coach Maurice Joseph said. “That’s how it’s going to be sometimes, but our guys are starting to realize their potential if we start games the way we talk about starting games.”

INJURIES

Bruce Brown Jr. started for Miami after missing the previous game with a left-hand injury.

“I was surprised he played today,” Larranaga said. “We were told it would be three weeks. Bruce came after a week and said I don’t want to sit out.”

Permission from the team doctors soon followed. The Hurricanes’ third-leading scorer and assist leader had three points on 1-of-6 shooting with three assists.

ROAD WARRIORS

With a neutral site tournament in Hawaii during Christmas Week and two ACC road games also coming up, Miami will not play at home again until Jan. 7 against Florida State.

HAPPY HOMECOMING

Larranaga spent 14 years in the D.C. area as head coach at George Mason and famously led the Patriots to the 2006 Final Four.

BIG PICTURE

The Hurricanes have yet to trail in the second half this season.

The Colonials fell to 0-2 against ranked teams this season.

UP NEXT

The Hurricanes venture outside the U.S. mainland for the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. They open the tournament on Friday against Hawaii, followed by a matchup Saturday against either Davidson or New Mexico State.

George Washington hosts New Hampshire on Friday.

Down by 22, No. 10 Xavier rallies for 68-66 win over ETSU

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
1 Comment

CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett’s jumper with 6.3 seconds left completed No. 10 Xavier’s rally from a 22-point second-half deficit for a 68-66 victory over East Tennessee State on Saturday.

The Musketeers (10-1) overcame their worst shooting performance of the season, making clutch shots at the end to pull it out. Bluiett missed 11 straight shots and was only 7 of 22 from the field for 18 points, but made the one that mattered.

ETSU (6-4) led 51-29 with 14:24 to go, but couldn’t hold off the Musketeers. Desonta Bradford scored 20 points, but his long 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.

Xavier has won 38 straight nonconference home games since a 56-55 loss to Wofford on Dec. 22, 2012. The streak was in jeopardy until the final minute. Kerem Kanter’s 3-pointer tied it at 66 with 53 seconds left.

Xavier came into the game ranked second nationally at 54.6 percent from the field, but shot a season-low 29 percent from the field in the first half. The Musketeers finished at 38 percent.

BIG PICTURE

ETSU: The Buccaneers had already played a top-10 team on the road, losing at No. 7 Kentucky 78-61 on Nov. 17. They shot a season-low 32 percent against the Wildcats. Against the Musketeers, they shot 37 percent and missed two shots in the final minute.

Xavier: The Musketeers made a habit of getting off to fast starts in the last four games, outscoring opponents 55-28 in the first 5 minutes. They missed 11 of their first 15 shots on Saturday, allowing ETSU settle in and gain confidence.

UP NEXT

ETSU visits Detroit on Tuesday, followed by home games against Georgia Southern and Tusculum.

Xavier hosts Marshall on Tuesday, wrapping up its six-game homestand. The Musketeers then play at Northern Iowa before starting Big East play.