Rating the regional sites and their ‘fun factor’

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With the Sweet 16 set, the most pressing question(s) shouldn’t be about match-ups and who will win (although that Kendall Marshall wrist injury is a pretty intriguing story line).

No, with 16 unique fan bases descending on four cities in this beautiful country, the most important discussion should be the amount of excitement one can have if attending any of these games.

Even if you have no rooting interest but live in Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix or St. Louis, you may want to get a quick education on what to expect if you plan on immersing yourself in the frenzy before, during, and after the games.

A brief overview on what to expect at each location is below…

South Region (Atlanta)

I pretty much decided to write this article based solely on the mayhem that is likely to ensue down in Atlanta.  The South Region is going to be ridiculous, and if you live in the area but have no affiliation to any of the four schools involved, I still highly recommend hovering in and around the Georgia Dome. Grab some of your friends, find a suitable watering hole, and just observe.

If there aren’t fist fights, there will at least be some fantastic banter between IU and UK fans. The Wildcats are the favorites; the Hoosiers beat them in December and want/need/gotta have this for affirmation of the reclamation of their program’s mystique.

Fan interest level (on a scale of 1-5): 7

Big Blue Nation, one of the few state schools in the country that pours all their emotions into basketball and not football, can already smell their team’s eighth National Championship. But the Hoosiers are also all-in on basketball, and this weekend could steer this program back to where they want to be.

Xavier, a small, basketball-first school, is also completely invested in hoops. While they’re a second weekend mainstay that  has yet to reach the Final Four, they’re thrilled to still be playing based on how this team seemed to fall apart post-Crosstown Brawl.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

It’s going to be crazy, and based on location, all four fan bases will travel in droves. Wildcat and Musketeer fans will be co-mingling down I-75 en-route to Atlanta, with Hoosier fans likely joining them depending on where they’re packing up the mini-van

It’s a straight shot six-hour drive from Cincinnati (I made the trip to the Atlanta regionals in 2004), so there’s really no excuse not for any of these Mid-west fans not to road trip it down to the games.

East Region (Boston)

A great sports city that almost takes pride in being a terrible and apathetic college sports city, Boston at least boasts plenty of transplants from around the country, meaning there’s pockets of Badgers, Bearcats, Buckeyes and (especially) Orange fans in the area.

Tickets are already sold out, and because these schools all hail from a BCS-conference, the fan and alumni base is big enough to ensure a respectable turnout of fans taking up space at the row of bars outside the TD Garden on both Thursday and Saturday. In fact, the city expects this NCAA regional to generate triple the dollars than what hosting the regional did back in 2009, as that time around the four participating schools were much smaller.

Fans Interest Level: 4

And that’s only because I question Ohio State fans interest in this portion of the tournament. Think about it:  they’re football first, and have been a Final Four contender for the past few seasons. How jazzed are they, really, about the regionals?

That being said, I know that the Orange (it’s supposed to be Syracuse’s year) and Bearcat (first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001) fans are being completely unproductive this work week.

Projected nuttiness outside the Garden: 3

Syracuse is a four-hour drive from Boston, and their alumni are planted all over the East Coast.

Cincinnati fans don’t want to miss such a great opportunity to check out a new city with their team having a realistic shot of playing for a trip to the Final Four.

Ohio State is like a small country, so it’s a numbers game with them. You know they’ll fill their allotted tickets plus a few more.

Badger fans love to party so we welcome their drinking acumen into the Hub, assuming they show up.

For everyone that rolls into town: there’s about three dozen bars in a two block radius of the arena, so no shortage of options to drink up before game time.

West Region (Phoenix)

I know it’s impossible, but it would be great if we could suddenly relocate this section of the bracket to a more travel-friendly venue when there are no participating teams within two time zones of the place.

Consider: the campuses of Michigan State, Marquette, Florida and Louisville,  are all located located more than 1700 miles from the arena they must travel to compete for a trip to the Final Four.

Sort of impractical in these lean economic times, no? 

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  4

What’s great about this region is its got three “basketball first” schools, and Florida, which just really enjoys winning things.

With both games up in the air – I have a sneaking suspicion about Louisville – nothing is certain. All four schools have been to the Final Four in the past 10 years, but only Michigan State has been since 2007. There’s a lot of pride at stake here.

Projected nuttiness outside the arena: 2

I’m sure each school well sell their tickets, but expect a dead arena for both Sweet 16 games, especially Michigan State – Louisville, which tips at 4:47 local time.

Downtown Phoenix is also infamous for being a ghost town, so if you are headed west for the games, I’d be interested to know how visitors spend their off-day free time (golfing in Scottsdale?) and pregaming before you enter US Airways Arena.

Midwest Region (St. Louis)

The region that was most flipped upside down in the first weekend, the Midwest could either be really great for the casual fan, or just really great for NC State and Ohio.

Let’s be honest, Cinderella stories are great, but they’re usually supposed to end right about now and make way for the big boys. But based on what transpired both on and off the court late Sunday night, the Midwest is anyone’s guess, and fans from any school should be willing to fork over some cash to attend, especially because of the proximity.

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  5

And for a wide range of reasons.

Like they would for any second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, both Kansas and North Carolina fans have canceled all other social plans for the weekend to clear out space for one, maybe two big games this weekend, while Ohio and NC State are both ecstatic to be here, but have confident fan bases that are not satisfied.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

Two reasons: St. Louis is an underrated city to get wild in, and Ohio currently holds the title as the biggest party school in the country.

If the little guy is the one making the biggest scene during pregame “warm-ups”, then you know this is a recipe for an awesome weekend.

Why would Jayhawk, Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans want to get shown up?

Bobcat undergrads are sure to flood the Lou, as the eight hour drive from Athens to St. Louis is the perfect distance for a memorable road trip.

With Atlanta potentially being overrun with Kentucky fans, and Boston unlikely to have hoards of fans from all four participating teams, this region  would be my pick to attend if the cost of travel, accommodations and tickets to all three games were not an issue.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.

New Mexico State suspends player after shooting

Nathan J. Fish/Sun News/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — New Mexico State’s athletic director says power forward Mike Peake has been suspended indefinitely from the basketball team in connection with last month’s fatal shooting of a student from a rival university.

Mario Moccia also told reporters that neither he nor the school could comment on Peake’s enrollment status as a student. The 21-year-old Peake has not been charged in the Nov. 19 pre-dawn shooting on the University of New Mexico’s campus in Albuquerque hours before the host Lobos were to play the Aggies. That game was canceled along with the Dec. 3 rematch in Las Cruces.

“Mike is suspended from our basketball team until the completion of the university’s investigation and the investigation of the proper authorities,” Moccia said. “When those investigations will be complete, I can’t say.”

State police investigators said 19-year-old Brandon Travis conspired with two other UNM students and a teenage girl to lure Peake onto campus.

The subsequent shootout left Travis dead at the scene and Peake hospitalized with a leg wound that has required several surgeries.

A brawl at an Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces was a precursor to the shooting, police said.

First-year NMSU men’s basketball coach Greg Heiar was not made available to talk to media until 10 days after the shooting.

He expressed his condolences for Travis and his family and said he took full responsibility for the actions of multiple players who sneaked out of the hotel on that morning of the game.

But until Monday, NMSU officials had not spoken publicly about any specific discipline for Peake related to the shooting.

“If there is criticism over this decision, I am in a position to take it on myself,” Moccia said. “I’ve known this player for years and I know what kind of person he is. I didn’t feel a need to rush to judgment. I wanted to give the investigation time to play out before making any decisions.”

Peake, a 6-foot-7 junior from Chicago, played one season at Georgia before transferring to Austin Peay. He joined New Mexico State in 2021 and averaged 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds last season, helping the Aggies reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 18 Gonzaga withstands scare from Kent State for 73-66 win

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SPOKANE, Wash. – Drew Timme scored 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, and No. 18 Gonzaga closed the game on an 11-0 run to rally past Kent State 73-66 on Monday night.

The nation’s longest home win streak was extended to 69 games but not without a major scare by the Golden Flashes. Kent State led 66-62 with 3:38 left after Miryne Thomas’ 3-pointer, but the Bulldogs tightened on the defensive end and got a handful of big plays offensively to hold off the Flashes.

Julian Strawther added 14 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:19 left that started Gonzaga’s decisive run. Timme’s spinning basket in the lane with 2:29 left gave Gonzaga (6-3) the lead, and he added a key defensive play blocking Sincere Carry’s layup attempt at the other end.

Timme was fouled and split free throws with 1:55 left, but Malachi Smith grabbed the offensive rebound and his three-point play gave the Bulldogs a 71-66 lead. It was Smith’s first basket of the game.

“(Timme) was heroic. He wasn’t really looking for the ball much early and wasn’t demanding it . he was splitting the defense and scoring in a variety of ways like he does,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “To end up with 17 boards is monster and we needed every one of them.”

Nolan Hickman added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs, who held a 43-30 advantage on the boards. It was just the second home game inside the McCarthey Athletic Center for Gonzaga and first since Nov. 7 against North Florida.

Thomas led Kent State (6-3) with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Malique Jacobs added 11 points and Carry, who was averaging 18.5 points per game, was held to 10.

“I think in the second half we moved the ball well, we got some turnovers, got some easy shots and was able to give us a lead playing a great team and great program. . Unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off. Give them a lot of credit for that,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said.

Kent State nearly pulled off a surprising upset on the road for the second time in two weeks but couldn’t withstand Gonzaga’s late surge. Kent State led No. 1 Houston by one-point with less than a minute to go nine days ago in Houston but couldn’t make the plays in the closing seconds to finish off the upset in a 49-44 loss.

“Coach Few has told us all week that this is a great team that could go to the Sweet 16. . We knew what they were capable of and we weren’t taking them lightly and we knew it was going to be a dog fight,” Strawther said.

JERSEY RETIRED

Kelly Olynyk’s No. 13 jersey number was retired in front of a sellout crowd. Olynyk played for Gonzaga from 2009-13 and led the Bulldogs to its first ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while earning first team AP All-American status as a senior.

“You’re almost speechless,” Olynyk said. “It’s just such an honor, especially with the names that you’re up beside. They’re unbelievable players.”

BIG PICTURE

Kent State: The Golden Flashes lost their third game of the season and their second against a ranked opponent. Kent State has three non-conference games left before beginning Mid-American Conference play at home against Western Michigan.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs bounced back from a one-point loss to No. 12 Baylor last week with the win. All three of Gonzaga’s losses are to teams ranked in the top 12 of the AP Top 25.

UP NEXT:

Kent State: At Cleveland State on Saturday.

Gonzaga: Host in-state rival Washington on Friday.

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss.

The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in the poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in the 1980s for another week. Houston (8-0) beat Norfolk State and Saint Mary’s in its first week at the top.

“I don’t dwell on it,” coach Kelvin Sampson said last week about the No. 1 ranking. “We’re not running around here pushing our chest out, thinking we’re something we’re not.”

The Longhorns received 14 first-place votes. No. 3 Virginia got three votes and No. 4 Purdue got the remaining eight.

Connecticut (9-0) climbed to No. 5, the program’s highest ranking since early in the 2011-12 season. Other than the top five, there are three other teams in the AP Top 25 that entered Monday undefeated (No. 11 Auburn, No. 13 Maryland and No. 23 Mississippi State).

SWIFT FALL

North Carolina is only the sixth team to go from preseason No. 1 to unranked since at least the 1961-62 season, most recently with Michigan State during the 2019-20 season.

Of that group, the Tar Heels had the swiftest exit from the poll to start the season (four weeks) excet for UCLA in 1965-66. The Bruins fell out of the poll after just three weeks back when only 10 teams were ranked.

Ranked No. 18 last week, the Tar Heels (5-4) l ost their fourth straight game over the weekend at Virginia Tech while playing without banged-up big man Armando Bacot. They appeared on a single ballot this week from the 62-member panel that votes on the AP Top 25.

“I told them also that I’m not panicked, I’m not any of that,” coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “I’m convinced we’re going to be a great basketball team by the end of the season.”

Last year’s Tar Heels were on the bubble to even make the NCAA Tournament well into February in Davis’ debut season. They went on a final-month tear all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling to Kansas.

THE TOP TIER

Kansas climbed to No. 6, followed by three Southeastern Conference teams in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. For the Volunteers and Crimson Tide, it marked their first appearances inside the top 10 this year. Arizona rounded out the top 10, falling six spots after a loss at Utah.

RISING

No. 13 Maryland had the biggest jump of the week, vaulting nine spots after wins against Louisville and Illinois last week in the Terrapins’ first year under Kevin Willard. That marks the program’s highest ranking since pushing into the top 10 during the 2019-20 season.

Tennessee was next up with a six-spot climb, while No. 11 Auburn rose four spots.

In all, 13 teams climbed from last week.

SLIDING

Creighton had the week’s biggest fall, tumbling 14 spots to No. 21 after losing at Texas and at home to Nebraska last week.

No. 12 Baylor fell six spots after a loss to Marquette, though the Bears responded by beating Gonzaga on Friday in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA championship game won by Baylor.

The Zags, now No. 18, fell four spots to their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 20 on Christmas Day in 2017.

In all, four teams slid from last week.

STATUS QUO

Beyond the top three, No. 25 Ohio State remained in place after a tough loss at No. 15 Duke last week.

WELCOME

No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 24 TCU were the new additions to the poll, with the Bulldogs (8-0) earning their first AP Top 25 ranking under first-year coach Chris Jans since January 2019.

The Horned Frogs were ranked 14th and 15th, respectively, in the first two polls before falling out for two weeks.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

In addition to UNC, Michigan State (No. 20) fell out after losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The SEC led the way with six ranked teams, including No. 16 Kentucky. The Big Ten and Big 12 each had five ranked teams, followed by two each for the Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Big East conferences.

The American Athletic, West Coast and Mountain West conferences each had one.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer tops women’s AP Top 25 appearances

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer stands atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll with the most appearances all time, breaking a tie with the late Pat Summitt.

VanDerveer’s Cardinal remained No. 2 behind top-ranked South Carolina, giving her 619 weeks with one of her teams in the AP Top 25: 592 weeks with Stanford and 27 with Ohio State when she was in charge of that program. Summitt’s 618 weeks in the poll all came with Tennessee.

The Hall of Fame coach downplayed the achievement.

“Fortunate to be here for 36 years. We have great players and have been successful,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t pay attention to (records). People bring it up and I’m like `OK, great.”‘

Louisville fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2016, a span of 127 weeks. That was the fifth longest active streak. The Cardinals (5-4) started the season ranked seventh and have struggled to find consistency this year, dropping their last two games to Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.

They are the third preseason top 10 team to fall out of the poll, joining Texas (this week) and Tennessee (last week). Before this year, only 10 preseason top 10 teams had fallen out of the rankings at some point during the year since the AP Top 25 became a writers’ poll in 1994-95.

Even more rare has been a preseason top five school dropping out. Only five teams had done that prior to this year and none before January. Tennessee was the last to do it, starting the 2015-16 season at No. 4 before falling out of the rankings Feb. 22.

Now Texas and Tennessee are both out before the New Year.

“Two factors are at play here. One of them is more parity with more good teams,” said Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn star, ESPN analyst and Top 25 voter. “The other factor at play is the transfer portal. I think those three teams all have multiple players who start who weren’t in their program a year ago. It’s a reflection that you can’t just assemble teams and right away expect them to be good. I think all those teams will in the poll by the end of the season.”

Ohio State moved up to No. 3 after, the Buckeyes’ best ranking since Nov. 30, 2009, when they also were third. Indiana and Notre Dame round out the top five.

UConn fell three spots to sixth with Virginia Tech seventh, the best ranking ever for the school. North Carolina and N.C. State were tied in eighth and Iowa State is 10th.

RANKED RAZORBACKS

Arkansas (10-0) vaulted into the poll at No. 21. The Razorbacks have a difficult month ahead with games against No. 18 Creighton and a tournament in San Diego that has Oregon, South Florida and Ohio State.

“I do think we know a lot about our team,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.

He was also happy his team made the poll as every sports team on campus that has played this year has been ranked, including football, men’s basketball, soccer and cross country.

“We didn’t want to be the team that stops that streak,” he said..

FALLING LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals had been ranked ever week since Jan. 11, 2016. That was the same season they started the year at No. 8 before falling out on Nov. 30, the earliest a top 10 team had fallen out of the poll until last week. Things got better for Louisville as the Cardinals finished that regular season 24-6 and went 15-1 in the ACC.

HISTORIC WEEK

With Louisville, Texas and Tennessee all out of the Top 25, it marks only the second time in the poll’s history that none of those three teams were ranked. The only other time was the first-ever poll in 1976.

COMING AND GOING

Oklahoma and Kansas State also returned to the Top 25 this week, coming in at No. 23 and No. 24. Marquette dropped out after losing to Seton Hall.