Sweet 16 Preview: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan state

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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Friday, 9:57 p.m.

WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York (East Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: On Monday, the two story lines that really mattered here were that Michigan State was looking to get back to the Final Four for the first time in since Keith Appling and Adreian Payne enrolled while Virginia was looking to prove themselves after a season of being overlooked and, if you ask them, disrespected. But that all changed when the rumors of Tom Izzo to the Detroit Pistons popped up.

KEY STATS: Michigan State has a reputation for being a grind-it-out, physical team built for wrestling matches that feature jump shots. But Tom Izzo’s teams run the floor as much as any other team in the country, with 21.9% of their possessions coming in transition. That’s a very high number, but the Spartans won’t get many chances against the ‘Hoos, as Tony Bennett’s teams limit transition opportunities as much as possible, often times sending just one or two guys to the offensive glass. To get an idea of what this matters, Virginia, who is fifth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, is in the 90th percentile in half court defense, according to Synergy, and just the 77th percentile in transition defense.

In other words, scoring against their set defense is hard to do, so the Spartans will be looking to run more than ever. If they can, they’ll have a very good chance to win.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Stanford-Dayton Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-SDSU

Iowa State-UConnMichigan-TennesseeVirginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: He’s not the most consistent player on the Michigan State roster, but there may not be a more dominant player in the entire tournament than Adreian Payne when he gets it rolling. He’s a freak athlete at 6-foot-11 with three-point range, the ability to get to the rim off the dribble and an array of post moves. We all saw what he did to Delaware in the opening round — 41 points, 10-for-15 shooting, 4-for-5 from three. Akil Mitchell, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey will be charged with keeping him in check. Good luck.

POINT SPREAD: Michigan State (-2)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Keith Appling’s wrist: Appling just hasn’t seemed healthy since around mid-February, when he reportedly suffered a setback to a wrist that he injured back in December. It’s hampered his ability to shoot, as he’s 9-for-21 from the line and 2-for-13 from three since returning, and it’s taken away his aggressiveness offensively. Playing against a team as good as Virginia is on that end of the floor, an ineffective Appling could be a killer.

2. Three-point shooting: Another example of how reputations can be misleading, this Michigan State team is top 15 nationally in three-point percentage, taking more than 35% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Virginia plays a packline defense and are fairly adept at getting out to shooters.

3. Malcolm Brogdon: Joe Harris was the guy everyone talked about entering the season. London Perrantes has been the guy everyone’s talked about since the season began. But Brogdon has been the best player on Virginia this year, and one of the best players in the ACC. I would expect Gary Harris to draw the assignment, as he is one of the best defenders left in the tournament. That will be fun to watch.

CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State

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

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: