2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT MIDWEST REGION: Bracket Breakdown

4 Comments

There are really two things that stand out when looking at this region of the bracket:

  1. The committee did no one any favors in the midwest. The No. 2 seed has a better draw than the No. 1 line
  2. This is the least intriguing region of them all, and that probably means that something insane is going to happen.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Can Tony Bennett win in March?: That’s the biggest knock on the Virginia program, isn’t it? That they’re built for the regular season? They lost in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed in 2014. They lost in the second round as a No. 2 seed last season. (Both of those losses came to Michigan State, who Virginia could very well end up facing in the Elite 8.) The Cavaliers play the slowest tempo of any team in college basketball, which means they play into the hands of a team trying to upset them and also means they’re not built to come back from a deficit. Virginia has been the best program in the ACC for the last three years. Can they finally prove it in the tournament?
  2. Can ‘Mr. March’ do it again?: No one as more success in March than Tom Izzo, and this season he may actually have his best shot at winning an NCAA title since he, ya know, won the NCAA title back in 2001. For my money, Michigan State is the best team in the country. They have the nation’s best player, they shoot the you-know-what out of the ball and they have the size inside to avoid getting run over by bigger teams. They’re legit.
  3. Was the selection committee drunk when bracketing the midwest?: The most obvious issue here is that Syracuse not only got into the tournament, but they got in as a No. 10 seed. What? The Orange had an RPI of 71 — the highest for an at-large team ever — and must have gotten credit for not having their head coach for nine games during the regular season. That’s the only explanation, which isn’t a good one. But then there’s the issue of Virginia being the No. 1 seed in the Midwest when it would have made more sense for both parties if Kansas and Virginia had switched. Moreover, Virginia is a No. 1 seed in a region where they’ll likely see Michigan State and Purdue or Iowa State in Chicago. Those are three schools in the region with huge fanbases in Chicago. That’s brutal.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

Midwest

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Michigan State

I actually think Butler is a decent matchup for Virginia, but I don’t think anyone in the first three rounds can pick off the Wahoos. And Sparty, like I wrote earlier, is playing the best basketball of anyone in the country.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 3 Utah

Can a No. 3 seed be a Final Four sleeper? I’m going with it, but mostly because I really don’t love anyone else in the region. Iowa State doesn’t have the depth of the defensive toughness to win four more games. Purdue is no where near balanced enough, particularly if they have to go through a Virginia team that does a really good job of minimizing the impact of a front court. I don’t trust Seton Hall. They’re talented but mistake-prone. So I’m going with Utah, who I really do think is a dangerous team. They have the nation’s best big man in Jakob Poeltl, they surround him with big, athletic shooters and their guards have been better of late.

And we’re just going to go ahead and forget about that 31 point loss they took to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, OK? Good.

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 11 Gonzaga over No. 6 Seton Hall: There’s two reasons for this: Will Seton Hall play with the same intensity they did in New York? And how will the Pirates deal with a front line that includes Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis?
  • No. 12 Little Rock over No. 5 Purdue: Little Rock is really, really good. They won at San Diego State and won at Tulsa during non-conference. They also run a pack-line defense, which will help limit the impact of Purdue’s big men.
  • No. 13 Iona over No. 4 Iowa State: How good is this game going to be? First to 120 points wins. Iowa State will have the best player on the floor in Georges Niang, but A.J. English is a stud and the Gaels are dangerous when they get it going offensively.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 14 Fresno State over No. 3 Utah: Rodney Terry has done a terrific job with the Bulldogs and Marvelle Harris can really play, but I just cannot see them beating this Utah team.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: No. 6 Seton Hall to the Sweet 16

Like I said, I don’t love this Seton Hall team because they’re somewhat inconsistent. But they’re also playing fabulous basketball over the course of the last month. And while a lot of their success is a by-product of simply playing hard, they’ve got a dude in Isaiah Whitehead that can absolutely take a game over and he has enough of a supporting cast to get through a decidedly unimpressive pod.

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon has been UVA’s best perimeter defender and one of the most lethal scorers in college basketball. There’s a reason he was a first team all-american.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: He’s the National Player of the Year. Next question, please.
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: I love Poeltl. He’s actually developed a post game this season, he can pass out of trouble and he still has those physical tools. He’s a great college big man.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: Everyone knows who he is at this point, and he’s had his best individual performance this year.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • A.J. English, Iona: The only way you can truly appreciate how good this kid is is by watching him play in the tournament. He can go.
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: Harris has been the best player this season for the Bulldogs. I bet he has a big game in the first round, and I bet it comes in a loss.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Iona

These are two teams that eschew defense in favor of a run-and-gun style. They have superstars in English and Niang. They shoot a bunch of threes. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could see both of guys popping off for 40 points.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

  • No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Michigan State: The ‘Hoos have been eliminated by Sparty the last two seasons. Is this the year they get over the hump?

CBT PREDICTION: Michigan State cuts down Virginia’s

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

south carolina basketball
Jeff Blake/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

notre dame basketball
Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
0 Comments

BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

xavier basketball
Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.

Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

florida basketball
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.