David Becker/Getty Images

After replacing Fisher, Dutcher guides SDSU back to NCAAs

Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Four weeks ago, when San Diego State was 13-10 and in eighth place in the Mountain West Conference, even a berth in the NIT seemed farfetched in the Aztecs’ first season under coach Brian Dutcher.

There were rumblings that maybe Dutcher hadn’t been the right guy to replace Steve Fisher, even though the longtime loyal lieutenant had been the “head coach in waiting” since 2011.

Then it all changed as Dutcher guided the Aztecs out of the rough stretch and back into the NCAAs for the seventh time in nine seasons.

SDSU has won nine straight games, including a three-game run through the conference tournament to clinch the MWC’s automatic berth. The Aztecs beat three higher-seeded teams, including top-seeded and No. 22 Nevada, which they also defeated at home in the final week of the regular season.

One huge boost for the Aztecs was the return of senior guard Trey Kell, who had missed three games with a sprained ankle, including consecutive blowout losses at Nevada and Fresno State.

Then there was Dutcher’s unwavering belief in a team that missed the postseason altogether last year, Fisher’s 18th and final season leading the Aztecs.

“I told them we were the best team in the conference,” Dutcher said after the Aztecs (22-10) drew the 11th seed in the West Regional and a matchup against sixth-seeded Houston (26-7) on Thursday in Wichita, Kansas. “We had to go out there and prove that, not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the conference. We went on an incredible run.”

Dutcher has been to the NCAA Tournament 16 times previously, eight as an assistant at Michigan and eight with SDSU. All were at Fisher’s side except one, after Fisher had been fired because of the program’s involvement with booster Ed Martin. Dutcher was there when Fisher was elevated to interim head coach on the eve of the 1989 NCAA Tournament and led the Wolverines to the championship.

When Fisher was hired by SDSU prior to the 1999-2000 season, he brought Dutcher along as he revived the moribund program. SDSU went to the NCAA tourney eight times under Fisher. The Aztecs went a school-record six straight times from 2010-15, including the school’s first two Sweet 16 appearances.

“Just by nature, I’m happiest for the kids,” said Dutcher, who never had been a head coach until replacing Fisher. “Because as a coach, maybe if you fall short a year you can always go the next year, the next year, the next year. These kids, they have a four-year opportunity to go the NCAA Tournament. When Trey and Malik (Pope) went their first year, it seemed like, well hell, maybe we’ll go three more. As it turned out we got to their senior year and we really had to play well to get them there for their senior year.”

Fisher remains a university employee, working on development. Fisher also drives his son, Mark, who has ALS, to and from campus where he remains part of the coaching staff.

Steve Fisher said he’s proud of Dutcher’s stability and consistency.

“So often when you have some bumps in the road, you tend to jerk the wheel all over the road, and he’s had a steady hand on the rudder and the wheel,” Fisher said. “He bowed his back. Ten games ago when we got beat by 20 at Nevada, everybody was talking about how bad we were and all of this stuff and he’s just steady as a rock. And I think that guided the team through where they were to where they are. … And the team, too. They’ve done a magnificent job, and he’s been the leader of the pack. Good for all of them.”

Fisher has gone to every home game and some on the road, including the conference tournament.

“It’s different,” he said. “It’s easier. You sit where I do and you’ve got all the answers right after the fact. You don’t realize how hard it is when you’re sitting where I was, for those on the bench. I’ve been a good fan and I’ve been a nervous fan with a vested interest.

“We feel that we’ve got a program, underline program, and we should have an opportunity to compete to get into the NCAA Tournament, and we found a way this year, so it was very nice,” Fisher added.

Dutcher sees Steve Fisher every day. During the rough stretch, he said the former coach offered encouragement rather than strategy.

“We usually just say hello,” said Dutcher, whose father, Jim, was head coach at Eastern Michigan and Minnesota. “He doesn’t want to interject unless I ask him. So he’s not up in there closing the door and saying, ‘I think I have some advice for you.’ All the advice he’s given me is 29 years in the making. If I wasn’t listening, there’s no sense in listening now.”

Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time, but the game was won during that five-minute surge when West Virginia just didn’t have an answer.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.

VIDEO: Mikal Bridges tries to dunk on Sagaba Konate, gets denied

Screengrab via @CBSSports
Leave a comment

There really is nothing better in this world than seeing someone who is typically a great dunker take flight to try and dunk on Sagaba Konate of West Virginia, because it never, EVER ends well for the dunker.

See: Bridges, Mikal:

Auburn AD Greene gives Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Speaking publicly for the first time about head coach Bruce Pearl, new Auburn athletic director gave his embattled head coach a vote of confidence.

Greene was on an in-house podcast produced with the voice of Auburn sports, and was asked about Pearl’s standing in a pod that lasted less than five minutes and felt more like a press release than anything else.

“He’s been a tremendous blessing for the Auburn family,” Greene said. “The FBI investigation is a long process. We’re going through that process to make sure that we, as a university, are doing what it is that we’re supposed to do to comply. Coach Pearl has been excellent in that regard and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we continue to do the very best to support he, his staff and the student athletes of Auburn University.”

This is the first time since former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested that a member of the Auburn athletic department had spoken so positively about Pearl. In the fall, Auburn’s president Steven Leath lamented Pearl’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, but just last week released a statement saying Pearl is “working with university officials as part of our due diligence.” Pearl said after his team’s 84-53 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tournament that he would like to return.

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job was in jeopardy ever since Auburn was mixed up in the FBI’s complaint. Two players were forced to sit out this entire season after the FBI alleged they had received money funneled through Person from a runner for an agent and a financial advisor.

“One of the challenges that we have facing the industry is college basketball,” Greene said. “We want to make sure we work incredibly hard to clean up the game, to make it as pure as it can possibly be so that our student-athletes can enjoy the intercollegiate athletic experience. one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the state of college basketball is not in a good place right now and I’m a little bit disappointed that auburn is involved in that, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent job that Coach Pearl has done.”