Team of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Team of the Week: Minnesota

It’s crazy to think about, but Minnesota’s season may have been saved by six minutes of basketball from Trevor Mbakwe. He came out and set the tone against Indiana on Tuesday, knocking the Hoosiers — and, more importantly, Cody Zeller — back on their heels as Minnesota, for the first time in almost two months, looked like they were playing a confident brand of basketball.

And, in the end, that’s what the issue was for the Gophers. We knew that this team wasn’t going to win games based on talent alone. They don’t have a true point guard, they don’t have all that many shooters and they don’t have a great low-post scorer. What they do have, however, are a team full of players with size, athleticism and toughness. They’re at their best when they’re defending and crashing the offensive glass. Effort, hustle and determination are how the Gophers succeed, and they finally got back to those winning ways this week.

They have their senior center to thank for that.

Team deserving of a shoutout:

Creighton: Not only did the Bluejays go 2-0 this week and avoid the indignity of falling from the top 15 nationally to the bubble, but in the process they not only beat an in-conference rival in Wichita State, but they did so in the MVC regular season title game. Both the Shockers and the Bluejays were tied for the league lead entering the final game of the regular season, and Creighton won in dominating fashion. Think about this: They shot 33-47 from the field (70.2%), 11-21 from three (52.1%), 22-26 from inside the arc (84.6%) and 14-16 from the line (87.5%), which was why they were able to post 1.38 PPP.

VCU: What VCU did to Butler wasn’t exactly a surprise, as the Rams were playing at home against a team that was mildly overrated and at a complete disadvantage given how the two teams matched up. But that doesn’t change the fact that pasting the No. 20 Bulldogs 82-54 was about as impressive as wins get.

Louisville: The Cardinals picked up a big win on Saturday, as they went into the Carrier Dome and knocked off No. 12 Syracuse. The Cardinals have now won five straight games and eight of their last nine, but this was the first impressive win that Rick Pitino’s club has notched in a month. Hard to believe I’m typing this, but it feels like Louisville is a bit of a sleeper heading into the NCAA tournament.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are still sitting there at the top of the Big East, tied with Louisville for second place in the conference, one game behind Georgetown, thanks to wins this week over Syracuse and Notre Dame. And, unlike a lot of other teams this week, their success wasn’t the result of a single virtuoso performance by one player; Marquette is as balanced as any team in the country this season.

Boise State: The Broncos have put themselves into great position to get into the NCAA tournament thanks to 38 points from Derrick Marks in a win over Colorado State on Saturday. with a trip to UNLV and a home game against San Diego State left before the MWC tournament, Boise State doesn’t have many chances left to make a major mistake before Selection Sunday.

UCLA: Believe it or not, UCLA is currently tied for the Pac-12 lead with a trip to the Washington schools standing between them and a share of the league title. Who saw that coming back in November, when the Bruins were hemorrhaging transfers, losing to Cal Poly and hearing on a daily basis about how Ben Howland was on the verge of being fired? This week, they beat Arizona State and Arizona in Pauley Pavilion.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

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East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

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Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

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East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

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All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude

North Carolina shakes off slow start, runs over Iona

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The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half.

Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by as many at 14 points before going on to win by 15. Duke trailed North Dakota State deep into the first half before taking a 31-27 lead into the break, but they went on to win by 23 points.

North Carolina completed the trifecta, digging themselves a 38-31 hole and taking a five-point deficit into the break before they finally found their rhythm, running No. 16-seed Iona off the floor, 88-73.

Cam Johnson led the way with 21 points, seven boards and four assists for UNC while Nassir Little chipped in with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. As a team, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive boards.

That said, the final box score doesn’t tell the whole story.

North Carolina was bad in the first half. They couldn’t get out in transition. They gave up 10 Iona three-pointers. It was the furthest thing from a quintessential North Carolina performance, the kind of showing that will get the Tar Heels on a plane back to Chapel Hill if they play this way against Washington in the next round.

It should be easier to be ready to play when the Pac-12 champs are on the other end of the floor.