Pregame Shootaround: Eight Sweet 16 spots up for grabs Saturday

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SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE (All times EST) 

12:15 p.m.: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh (CBS)
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2:45 p.m.: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Saint Louis (CBS)
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5:15 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas (CBS)
6:10 p.m.: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (TNT)
7:10 p.m.: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Dayton (TBS)
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7:45 p.m.: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Oregon (CBS)
8:40 p.m.: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Harvard (TNT)
9:40 p.m.: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 UConn (TBS)

RECAP: Catch up on Friday’s NCAA Tournament action

GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 UConn

One year after seeing their time as conference foes come to an end thanks to realignment, the Wildcats and Huskies will meet in Buffalo with a trip to Madison Square Garden for next week’s East Regional on the line. The guard play will be entertaining to say the least, with UConn being led by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and Villanova countering with Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard. The question for UConn to answer: how will they account for JayVaughn Pinkston in the front court after struggling to contain Saint Joseph’s Halil Kanacevic on Thursday? The answer to this question may determine the outcome.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Oregon

Wisconsin has proven to be more capable of playing at a higher pace this season, and that will make for an interesting matchup with Oregon in Milwaukee. Frank Kaminsky was a first team All-Big Ten selection, with his ability to score both inside and out being one reason why. He’ll face an Oregon front court led by Mike Moser, who’s improved play over the last month helped spark the Oregon turnaround. As for the perimeter play Oregon’s corps of quick guards is led by junior Joseph Young, who’s averaging 18.6 points per game, and Wisconsin will need to keep this group in check if they’re to advance to the Sweet 16.

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WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 4 San Diego State (vs. No. 12 North Dakota State)

This matchup may be an issue for the Aztecs, whose ability to attack the basket off the dribble will be challenged by North Dakota State’s pack line defense. With the amount of attention Xavier Thames is bound to receive, the production of reserves Dwayne Polee II and Matt Shrigley will be something to keep an eye on with Polee playing well of late. NDSU will counter with four players averaging double figures led by guard Taylor Braun, and on both ends of the floor they’ve got the skill needed to make life difficult for the Aztecs.

THREE KEY INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS:

  • No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh: Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin has been one of the best point guards in the country, and Pittsburgh will need James Robinson to match his effort if they’re to upset the top overall seed.
  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Saint Louis: It’s going to be fun watching Saint Louis’ physical guard Jordair Jett do his best to corral Louisville’s Russ Smith.
  • No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Harvard: How Harvard’s Steve Moundou Missi deals with Michigan State’s Adreian Payne will determine just how much of a chance the Crimson have of advancing to their first-ever Sweet 16.

NOTABLES: 

  • No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas: Texas had the most dramatic win of the Round of 64, beating Arizona State at the buzzer on a Cameron Ridley basket. The question for the Longhorns against Michigan is whether or not their perimeter can outperform Michigan’s backcourt led by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Dayton: The key for Dayton will be a simple one: don’t allow the Syracuse zone to slow them down on the offensive end of the floor. If the Flyers can move the ball consistently they’ll have a chance against the Orange, who on the other end need Trevor Cooney to build on his 18-point outing against Western Michigan.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)