Big East Basketball Tournament - Villanova v Louisville

Need last minute bracket advice? Well, we’ve got Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg here

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We’ve got some good stuff for you today. Jeff Eisenberg, the man behind The Dagger, was kind enough to join us to chat about his bracket picks in between writing about the biggest player in the tournament and catching up with the folks that wound up on the wrong end of a buzzer-beater. Trust me, you’ll want to see what he has to say:

Rob Dauster: The most interesting part about this year’s tournament, to me, is that after spending five months talking about how wide-open the field is, 90% of the people filling out brackets are picking Louisville to win the national title. I get it. They’ve got a dominant defense. They’ve lost just once since late January. They embarrassed Syracuse in the Big East title game. I’ll admit, I think the Cardinals are probably the best team in the country right now.

And I also have them losing in the Sweet 16 to St. Louis. I went into detail about it already so I won’t elaborate too much here, but talk me off the ledge, Jeff. Why am I wrong about the Billikens?

Jeff Eisenberg: Here’s the thing: You’re not wrong. Saint Louis is a terrible matchup for Louisville. The Cardinals thrive in an up-tempo game in which they can force turnovers and turn those into transition points. The Billikens play at a slow pace and feature eight seniors who rarely get frazzled or turn the ball over. The Cardinals are vulnerable in a half-court game against a team who can force them to rely on their erratic outside shooting. The Billikens are a well-schooled, defense-oriented team capable of executing that game plan.

So why am I still riding with Louisville? In spite of those advantages, Saint Louis isn’t going to have an easy time scoring either. Plus, I’m willing to bet on Rick Pitino with superior talent and five days to prepare a game plan to offset some of those issues. I believe Saint Louis will be the toughest game Louisville sees in the midwest regional — yes, more challenging than Duke or Michigan State in a regional final — but I think the Cardinals will find a way.

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So, Rob, I see you have Gonzaga in the title game? What has you sold on the Zags?

RD: They have the best front line in the country, in my opinion. The combination of size and versatility for both Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris makes them a matchup nightmare. To get an idea of just how those two have been, think about this: heading into the season, no one was talking about how good Mark Few’s big guys were. They were talking about Kevin Pangos, who averaged 13.6 points as a freshman, and how much better Gary Bell could end up being alongside him. Those two have been good this year, but they’ve been completely overshadowed.

The irony of my Gonzaga pick is that I think they may be the No. 1 seed most susceptible to getting upset in the round of 32. Whether they get matched up with Pitt or Wichita State, they are going to be playing a team with a big, physical front line that can get to the offensive glass. For everything that the Zags do well, blocking out and defending on the interior is not one of those things.

Personally, I think that Wisconsin may be the best matchup for the Zags in that West Regional. Why do you have them losing to the Fighting Bo Ryans?

JE: Fair point on Wisconsin not being the prototypical gives-Gonzaga-fits matchup. The Badgers don’t have elite perimeter athleticism, nor are they unstoppable on the offensive glass (though they are very good on the defensive boards).

Nonetheless, I do think Jared Berggren is a formidable enough defender to eat into Kelly Olynyk’s usual efficiency and I think Wisconsin’s defensive matchups are pretty good everywhere else. Plus, is it just me or is Wisconsin far better than its seed? The Badgers weren’t great early in the season as they were trying to recover from the loss of Josh Gasser, but they finished the season 6-3, made the Big Ten title game and beat Indiana twice, Illinois twice and Ohio State and Minnesota along the way. I think Gonzaga is very capable of winning this game — especially if their fans make Staples Center into Spokane South the way they did Las Vegas last week — but it’s certainly not an easy draw.

So I see you have Florida in the Final Four, yet last I remember you’ve been railing on the Gators’ inability to win a close game for weeks. What gives? You think they’re just going to blow out Georgetown and Kansas?

RD: That was literally the most difficult decision I had when filling out my bracket (and I still might end up changing my mind before I turn in brackets where I have, ahem, my pride on the line). And at the end of the day, I just think Florida is a better basketball team than Georgetown and Kansas.

For starters, I think Will Yeguete is the ideal matchup defensively for Otto Porter. He’s just as mobile and athletic and he doesn’t care at all about anything beyond being a defender and a rebounder. And while I have my doubts about the shot selection of guys like Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, there’s no arguing that they can lock up defensively. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera have played great, but they’re mostly spot-up shooters at this point. Yeguete makes life difficult for Porter, which means that Starks and DSR don’t get open looks which means that Georgetown can’t score.

Against Kansas, I think that the Gators are good enough defensively to win that game even though I do recognize the stupidity in picking a team that can’t win close games against Bill Self. Here’s my question for you: Does Kansas even make it to the Elite 8? Do they get picked off by UNC or VCU (or Michigan)?

JE: I don’t see Kansas losing before the Elite Eight. With its new four-guard look, North Carolina can spread the floor the same way Iowa State has to give the Jayhawks fits, but the Tar Heels don’t have an outside-shooting big man to draw Jeff Withey to the perimeter, nor are they good enough defensively to topple Kansas in Kansas City. I don’t like how Michigan finished the season, so that’s a no. And while I think VCU could turn Elijah Johnson over with its swarming defense, I also fear the Jayhawks would score very, very easily on the Rams on possessions where they successfully beat the press.

That brings us to the Elite Eight, where I’m in agreement with you that Kansas sees Florida for many of the same reasons you mentioned. The Gators would have to be awfully careless offensively against Georgetown to blow a game where they match up so well defensively. I worry about Florida’s shot selection and decision making down the stretch in close games, but something tells me the Gators are going to improve in the NCAA tournament in those areas in the same way they did defensively last March. Plus, a team can’t lose in the Elite Eight three straight years … uh, right?

So let’s talk potential first-round upsets. I think the 6-11 games will produce the most surprises this year. You agree?

RD: I do. I like St. Mary’s over Memphis (and I like Middle Tennessee State over Memphis as well) for the same reason that I like Belmont over Arizona: guard play. Both the Gaels and the Bruins run ball-screen heavy offenses with veteran playmakers that have won big games. I’ll ride with the Ian Clarks and Matthew Dellavedovas of the world anyday.

The two 11 seeds I don’t like are Minnesota and Bucknell. I don’t care how good the matchup is, I’m not picking a team that has lost 11 of their last 16 games to win in March. I’m not doing it.

And while I like Bucknell, I have faith in Brad Stevens. I think Andrew Smith is big and tough enough to give Mike Muscala problems, and I trust that Stevens will figure out how to game-plan to win a game in March. Picking against him is heresy.

Am I crazy to think Davidson can beat Marquette?

JE: I’m with you on Belmont. I like the Bruins’ backcourt and I don’t think Arizona will exploit its size advantage inside enough to compensate. Where we differ is in our other 6-11 upset. Give me Minnesota over UCLA for a couple of reasons in spite of the Gophers’ poor finish. 1. Minnesota is an elite offensive rebounding team; Rebounding has been undersized UCLA’s greatest weakness all season. 2. UCLA’s ability to score so many different ways made it tough to beat the past couple months, but the loss of second-leading scorer Jordan Adams makes it easier for teams to focus on blanketing Shabazz Muhammad and keeping Larry Drew out of the lane.

I do worry about the Gophers’ feeding into UCLA’s transition attack with turnovers, but UCLA isn’t a team that will pressure the ball effectively.

I don’t think you’re crazy to like Davidson, especially not with five starters back from last year and one of the best under-the-radar coaches in the nation. If I were going to pick a team seeded 13th or higher to win a game this year, Davidson would get my nod. I expect big things from the Nate Wolters show against Michigan, but I’m not sure he has enough of a supporting cast for South Dakota state to pull that off.

RD: We do agree there. I’m expecting Wolters and Trey Burke to put on a show. Two high-usage, high-efficiency point guards in spread, ball-screen heavy offenses could make for a game that reaches the 80s.

Thanks for joining us, Jeff, and hopefully this will be the boost you need to help you win your office pool.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.