Elite 8

Without major minutes from Jordan Morgan, Michigan falls just short of another Final Four


INDIANAPOLIS — Coming into Sunday’s Elite Eight game with No. 8 Kentucky, No. 2 Michigan had to feel confident in another close game that was coming down the wire. The Wolverines entered Sunday’s game 10-2 in games decided by five points or less — including nine straight wins in that situation — and Michigan seemed to thrive in late-game situations during the 2013-14 season.

But the Wolverines’ streak of strong play in tight games ended on Sunday as Aaron Harrison’s three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left gave Kentucky the 75-72 win, ending Michigan’s chances of making back-to-back Final Fours.

The Wolverines could never get over the hump in the second half against Kentucky.

After withstanding an early 8-2 second-half run from the Wildcats, Michigan rallied to take a 55-51 lead with 11:27 left but Kentucky was the one that made key plays down the stretch to come away with the victory. After tying the game at 55 with 8:52 remaining on a Julius Randle jumper, Kentucky never trailed again in the contest. Despite Michigan tying the game at 70-all and 72-all, Kentucky roared back and got baskets to maintain its late-game lead.

It just wasn’t Michigan’s night to win a close game in a season that had seen them pull out a lot of close finishes.

“Each team had spurts in the game where they made runs,” freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. said. “Their run kind of lasted longer than ours and the ball bounced their way tonight so credit them for executing their game plan.”

As Michigan forward Jordan Morgan sat with his shoulders slumped and his eyes red on a golf cart taking him from the Wolverines’ locker room to the postgame press conference, the senior completely looked the part of someone who had just lost their final college basketball game in heartbreaking fashion.

Disappointment was abound in the Michigan locker room in Lucas Oil Stadium, but most of the Wolverines seemed upset that they couldn’t get over the hump for Morgan, the only senior on Michigan’s roster.

“It hurts having a guy like J-Mo, putting his blood, heart, sweat and tears into this game and for this team,” Walton said. “Coming up short, knowing you could have made an extra play for him it kind of hurts.”

Michigan’s season has been defined by the extraordinary play of Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, the talent of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and the emergence of younger players like Walton and sophomore wing Caris LeVert but losing Morgan to foul trouble for much of the game hurt Michigan tremendously on Sunday.

Morgan had been playing at a very high level in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and with the senior only playing 22 minutes on Sunday, Kentucky took advantage on the interior. Michigan’s offense missed Morgan’s ability to screen and slip on pick-and-rolls and the Wolverines’ offense wasn’t nearly as potent with junior forward Jon Horford in the lineup.

Morgan finished 5-for-6 from the field with 11 points on Sunday.

The Wildcats also pounded the glass for a 35-24 advantage and outscored Michigan in the paint 46-36. The Wolverines actually outscored Kentucky on second-chance points, 23-17, but without Morgan’s consistency inside, players like Julius Randle (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Marcus Lee (10 points, eight rebounds) made a killing on the inside.

Morgan had only one double-double during the regular season but the senior had back-to-back double-doubles in Michigan’s first two NCAA Tournament wins over Wofford and Texas. The forward also added 15 points and seven rebounds in Friday’s win over Tennessee as Morgan took the key charge on Volunteers junior forward Jarnell Stokes with the game on the line for Michigan.

​”One of the things we noticed with Jordan, when he has more playing time that he’s really excelled,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said after the game. “​The problem we had this year was Jordan was playing so well, he was such a leader and such an asset to the team.”

But without Morgan as Michigan’s rock inside, the Wolverines failed to make a significant run against a Kentucky team that has consistently pounded teams on the interior this season. Morgan’s missing presence in the lineup allowed Kentucky to stay in the game despite Andrew and Aaron Harrison starting a combined 2-for-15 from the field.

Once Aaron Harrison heated up from the perimeter with four three-pointers in the game’s final 8:06, it was too much in the end for Michigan to overcome. The Wolverines had their chance to capitalize on the Harrison twins’ slow start, but couldn’t do so without Morgan in the lineup.

“​It’s tough. You want to be out there, but I think Jon started to play a little bit better the second half,” Morgan said. “He really started to step it up, and, having fouls like that, that was a smart thing to do to just kind of conserve those fouls (and avoid) foul trouble so that I could finish out the game.”

It’s uncertain whether Stauskas, Robinson III and injured sophomore forward Mitch McGary will return to Michigan next season — as the trio flirts with the possibility of jumping to the NBA — but Michigan will surely miss the presence of Morgan next season.

Not many expected Michigan to be one possession away from making back-to-back Final Fours and winning the Big Ten title outright after losing Trey Burke — and the injury to McGary — but Morgan was a big reason why Michigan was a major contender this season.

“(This season) means a lot to us and I’m really happy for Jordan,” LeVert said. “We just tried to reflect on a great season, but at the same time, we lost by three (near) the buzzer, so it’s a tough loss for us.”

A trying season comes to a disappointing end for No. 4 Michigan State

Keith Appling
Leave a comment
AP Photo

NEW YORK — It started with an ankle injury that Gary Harris suffered during the offseason.

Harris, Michigan State’s all-american shooting guard, missed five weeks of action in the fall after hurting the ankle, an injury he consistently re-aggravated throughout the first month of the season. Then it was Keith Appling’s wrist injury, which he suffered in a loss to North Carolina in December and aggravated in a loss to Georgetown in February. Adreian Payne sat out for a month in the middle of the season as he battled plantar fasciitis and a sprained foot. Branden Dawson broke his hand hitting a table during a film session. Travis Trice and Matt Costello seemed to be sick more than they were healthy.

This isn’t new information. The talking point all season long when it came to the Spartans was that all we were waiting for was the team to get to 100% and they would be off and running on their way to a national title.

It never came.

Instead, their season came to an end with a 60-54 loss to No. 7 seed UConn in the Elite 8 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon, a loss that was as head-scratching and frustrating as any game this season.

The Spartans looked fatigued after the first eight minutes of the game. They couldn’t create any kind of an advantage in the paint despite the fact that Payne and Dawson were bigger, more athletic and more talented that Phil Nolan, Amida Brimah and DeAndre Daniels. They settled for way too many threes, shooting 29 of their 46 field goal attempts from beyond the arc. They committed careless fouls and turned the ball over in so many weird ways. Well, maybe weird isn’t the right word.

“Out of body,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “I like that better because ‘weird’ does not explain how ridiculous some of those were.”

Frankly, it was a fitting end for the Spartans this season, as the 2013-2014 campaign was a year spent trying to figure out why this team couldn’t find a way to put it all together. I don’t care how the season played out, I would still take a team coached by Tom Izzo that features Payne, Harris, Appling and Dawson over just about any other team in the country.

But the inconsistency was just too much to overcome in the end, as was the disappearance of Appling.

That will be one of the most intriguing stories to follow in the next couple of days. Appling played like an all-american the first month of the season, but he was a complete non-factor after the loss to Georgetown. Was it his confidence that was shot? Was his wrist still injured? More importantly, was Izzo right to leave him in the lineup despite the struggles?

“He’s been through a lot this year and never got back to the guy he was in the first half, but not at all his fault and I just felt for him,” Izzo said. Appling and Payne became the first four-year players under Izzo at Michigan State that didn’t make a Final Four.

It may be a while before Michigan State heads back. They’ll lose Appling and Payne to graduation, will likely lose Harris to the NBA and could even see Dawson depart for the professional level. With a couple of recent misses on the recruiting trail, it may be a rebuilding year in East Lansing next season.

UConn tweets an apology to Barack Obama for busting his bracket after Elite 8 win


Following tradition since he took office in 2008, President Barack Obama filled out a bracket in front of the nation.

Entering Sunday, Obama had predicted one of the Final Four teams, top-seeded Florida, while his national champion pick, Michigan State, was still alive. UConn put the finishing touches on Obama’s busted bracket with a 60-54 upset win in the Elite 8 on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden.

The UConn athletic department send out this apology to the Commander-in-Chief:

Last year, Obama’s went with Louisville as his national champion.

Florida is the only correct team Obama has in the Final Four as the President saw Louisville and Arizona eliminated in consecutive rounds. The Gators will square off against the Huskies in Arlington for the first time since Dec. 2 when Shabazz Napier hit a game-winner inside Gampel Pavilion. It was the last time Florida has lost this season.

Kevin Ollie leads No. 7 UConn to Final Four despite transitional state of program

Getty Images
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

NEW YORK — Kevin Ollie had some big shoes to fill when he took over the UConn program prior to the 2012 season.

He was replacing Jim Calhoun, a legend in Nutmeg State for turning Storrs, CT, into the home of one of college basketball’s elite programs. Calhoun won three national titles and made a fourth Final Four at a program that had a non-existent hoops identity before his arrival. He quite literally built the UConn program.

Ollie was Calhoun’s hand-picked successor.

And he was taking over the program at a time when UConn was hurting. They were coming off of a disappointing, opening round tournament exit after entering the year as the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. They had just wrapped up their probationary period for the violations that were committed during the recruitment of Nate Miles and were heading into a season where they were banned from participating in the postseason thanks to low APR scores.

That postseason ban meant that UConn would be forced to miss out on the final installment of the Big East tournament as we know it, as their bid to move into the ACC was not accepted, forcing the Huskies into the American and creating rivalries against the likes of South Florida and Houston instead of Duke and North Carolina.

Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb went pro. Alex Oriakhi transferred out of the program.

That’s the hand that Ollie was dealt.

And in his second season as UConn head coach, in the first year he was eligible to lead a team into the postseason, the Huskies are headed to the Final Four after knocking off No. 4 Michigan State, 60-54.


Boo Willingham saw this coming.

A seldom-used reserve that played for the Huskies from 1991-1995, Willingham knows Ollie as well as anyone this side of Ollie’s wife knows him. They were roommates for four years in Storrs. Willingham was the best man at Ollie’s wedding. “That’s my best friend,” Willingham said while celebrating in the UConn locker room after the game.

“I know the fabric of Kevin Ollie. I know what he’s made of,” Willingham said. “The first day he stepped on campus as a freshman, he came in and was competing against one of the best guards in the country in Chris Smith at the time. He was a little skinny from California that didn’t back down. He poked his chest out, he had a couple of fights in practice and he got into with a couple of guys.”

“He was a tough guy that loved to compete. And he loved to get other to compete with him.”

It was that competitiveness that kept this team and this program together last season. The Huskies had nothing to play for in 2012-2013, and yet they still managed to win 20 games in their final season as a part of the Big East conference.

“Everybody was saying we weren’t playing for nothing, and a lot of media outlets saying we weren’t playing for nothing, but we were playing for something,” Ollie said on Saturday. “We were playing for what’s on our jersey, and that means a lot. If you step on our campus and the pride we have for UConn, it means a lot to put on that jersey.”

He’s been tasked with trying to keep the Huskies, a school and a program that he loves, relevant as a top ten basketball program when it’s the limited value of the school’s football program to the companies that broadcast games that has put them in a position where their rivalry with SMU will be more important than their rivalry with Syracuse; where Sunday’s visit to Madison Square Garden will be their last postseason appearance in a building that Shabazz Napier refers to as UConn’s “third home” for the foreseeable future.

That won’t be easy to do, and reaching this Final Four doesn’t change that fact. Ollie will still be fighting an uphill battle, especially when you consider that the guy that carried the Huskies all season long, Shabazz Napier, won’t be in a UConn uniform next season.

But what this win does prove is that the Huskies picked the right guy for the job.

“He proved me and a hell of a lot of people right,” Calhoun said after the game. “He’s like a son to me. He’s got character, he’s got great knowledge of the game, he works exceptionally hard, he can relate to the kids. And he’s got all UConn guys around him. That fiber of UConn has not gone any place.”

All you had to do was look up into the crowd on Sunday afternoon to see that. Among the 19,000 fans that packed into the Garden were a myriad of UConn alumni. Khalid El-Amin, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Taliek Brown, Cliff Robinson, Andre Drummond. Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman are on the UConn coaching staff. Even Kemba Walker’s mom showed up.

The support system is there. The UConn program is very much the UConn family. There is more than enough history and fan support to sustain the program.

The future of the program is cloudy, but the Huskies aren’t worried about the future. At least not right now. They’re worried about the present. They’re worried about playing Florida in the Final Four.

That’s a Final Four, I might add, where they will not be joined by anyone from the ACC or the new Big East.

Elite 8 Preview: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 8 Kentucky

Kentucky v Louisville
source: Getty Images
Kentucky v Louisville

On Sunday, we will be breaking down the final two Elite 8 matchups. Here is our look at No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 8 Kentucky:

WHEN: Sunday, 5:05 p.m. (TBS)

WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis (Midwest Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Michigan will be looking to get back to their second straight Final Four on Sunday afternoon, but that’s not going to be the story line that everyone is talking about. Kentucky’s emergence is. After five long — excruciating for the folks of Lexington — months, this group of future NBA Draft picks finally are playing up to their potential. They’ve beaten Wichita State and Louisville in their last two games, and for the first time all season long, they actually look like a contender.

KEY STATS: That’s simple: offensive rebounds. Even with Willie Cauley-Stein out of the lineup, Kentucky’s front line is as big and as athletic as anyone in the country. They pound the offensive glass as well, grabbing 42.1% of their misses, which is the second highest rate in the country. And Michigan? They have no where near as much size up front. That didn’t hurt them against Tennessee, however, who is just as good at getting to the offensive glass as Kentucky is.

KEY PLAYERS: The difference during this three game run in the NCAA tournament has been the Harrison twins. They are finally playing like the guys that were ranked in the top ten of every recruitniks rankings. They’re hitting jump shots, they’re making plays off the dribble, they’re creating assists, they’re not turning the ball over. Andrew Harrison in particular has been sensational.

POINT SPREAD: Kentucky (-2)


1. Nik Stauskas: He’s Michigan’s best player. Michigan will need him to play like it.

2. How much zone does Kentucky play?: As weird as this sounds, Kentucky’s 2-3 zone has actually been a really effective tool for them defensively. And while Michigan can shoot the ball as well as any team in the country, playing them zone can give them issues as they don’t have the kind of playmakers up front that will help them beat it.

3. Jordan Morgan vs. Julius Randle: Morgan’s importance to this team has been underrated since Mitch McGary’s back ended his season. He was physical enough inside to keep Jarnell Stokes in check on Friday night. He’ll have to do the same on Sunday to Randle for Michigan to win.


Elite 8 Preview: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 UConn

Michigan State v Penn State
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

On Sunday morning, we will be breaking down the final two Elite 8 matchups. Here is our look at No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Sunday, 2:20 p.m. (TBS)

WHERE: Madison Square Garden (East Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: UConn will be looking to make their first trip to the Final Four under a coach other than the legendary Jim Calhoun. Shabazz Napier will be looking to cement his legacy as the second-coming of Kemba Walker. On the other side, Michigan State will be looking to send their seniors — Adreian Payne and Keith Appling — to the Final Four, the first of their career. If the Spartans lose, Payne and Appling will go down as the first players in Tom Izzo’s tenure with the Spartans to spend four years in East Lansing without making a Final Four.

KEY STATS: Michigan State has this reputation for being a team that plays rugby on a basketball court. Three yards and a cloud of dust. It may surprise you, then, that was this group does as well as anyone in the country is shoot the three. The same can be said about UConn, as both programs sit just a shade under 40% from beyond the arc on the season. Who’s hitting their jumpers on Sunday?

KEY PLAYERS: This game has a ton of star power. Shabazz Napier, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne. The list goes on. On Friday night, when UConn knocked off Iowa State, DeAndre Daniels went off for 27 points and 10 boards, scoring 13 of UConn’s first 15 points in the second half. When Daniels plays like that, UConn is a completely different team. Shabazz Napier is their all-american. He’s their guy. But when he doesn’t have to do it all, the Huskies are so much more dangerous.

POINT SPREAD: Michigan State (-5.5)


1. Who guards Adreian Payne?: Payne is like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in that he’s just a nightmare to try and matchup with. He’s 6-foot-11 with three-point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and a post game. UConn doesn’t have anyone to guard him, but Payne has a habit of going through scoring droughts.

2. Does Branden Dawson stay hot?: He’s averaged 17.5 points and 8.2 boards since the start of the Big Ten tournament, shooting 69.7% from the floor during that stretch. He’ll be guarded by the likes of Niels Giffey, Daniels and Lasan Kromah on Sunday. That’s going to be a tough cover for the Huskies.

3. UConn’s transition defense: Michigan State wants to run. That’s what they do. They get out in transition and try to get easy buckets. There are two easy ways to start a fast break: turnovers and bad shots. UConn has a habit of doing both.

CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State