Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

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Butler put together a fairly dominating performance on Saturday, beating No. 9 Indiana 83-78 in a game they lead by 14 at halftime. Kelan Martin led the way with 28 points for the Bulldogs, who suddenly look like a team that we need to talk about at the top of the Big East this season.

They’re one of just two teams this season to beat the Hoosiers, who own wins over top ten teams North Carolina and Kansas. They’re one of just two teams to beat Arizona this season. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt and Northwestern. They won at Utah. Their lone loss on the season came on the road to an in-state rival that will likely finish in the top four of one of the best mid-major leagues in the country.

They have a star in Martin. They have a pair of talented point guards, Tyler Lewis and Kamar Baldwin, who compliment each other so well. Andrew Chrabacsz and Tyler Wideman makeup an underrated front court. Chris Holtmann has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the game.

Look, I don’t think anyone believes Butler is going to win the Big East barring some kind of season-altering injury to Villanova.

But is there really any reason to believe that the Bulldogs can’t finish second in the Big East?

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers came back from 17 points down in the first half to knock off Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. Caleb Swanigan was the star, but credit has to be given to Vince Edwards as well. He played his best basketball of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 boards.
  • Arizona: Give Sean Miller and Arizona credit. This team, with Ray Smith done for the year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright injured and Allonzo Trier out, just keeps winning. On Saturday, they handed Texas A&M a loss in Houston in the Lone Star Shootout, and while Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins all have continued to improve this season, it was Dusan Ristic who was the star on Saturday.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their push to get a bid to the NCAA tournament by handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. The Pirates may be without Isaiah Whitehead this season, but they still have a roster full of scrappy, athletic veterans that are not going to back down from anyone. I don’t know if anyone plays as hard as Angel Delgado.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers in a dominating performance. Brad Underwood has had this group playing better this season, but this was really the first time that the Pokes have landed a resulted that backs that up.
  • Northwestern: Is this going to be the year that the Wildcats finally make it to the NCAA tournament? They still have a ton of work left to do, but the job got a little bit easier on Saturday as Northwestern knocked off Dayton in the United Center in Chicago. Chris Collins has that team sitting at 9-2 on the season, with the losses coming by a total of six points against Butler and Notre Dame. They’ve beaten Texas, DePaul and Wake Forest already this year, but Dayton has a chance to be a top 25 win come Selection Sunday.

Houston-Miami matchup a battle for respect

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Top-seeded Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars don’t feel they receive the proper respect.

Heading into the second weekend of the tournament, that feeling lingers despite the Cougars being just one victory away from their third straight Elite Eight appearance.

“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Houston guard Tramon Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a real 1 seed because of the conference (American Athletic) we play in. But I think we’re one of the best teams in the country still, and we proved it.”

The Cougars (33-3) look to take the next step when they battle fifth-seeded Miami (27-7) on Friday night in Midwest Region play in Kansas City, Mo.

Houston spent the entire season near the top of the national rankings and surely isn’t a surprise Sweet 16 participant.

“I put ourselves in a whole different category,” forward J’Wan Roberts said. “I don’t compare us to other teams. We just stick to what we do, and it shows. Other No. 1 teams got beat, but we didn’t.”

The Cougars and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds still playing. Purdue lost in the opening round and Kansas fell in the second.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tries to simplify the approach during March Madness.

“We’ve been here many times in the final 16,” Sampson said. “The next 40 minutes are going to be big. We’ve got to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll move on from there. If not, it’s over.”

Star guard Marcus Sasser (groin) is still gimpy despite scoring 22 points in Saturday’s 81-64 win over Auburn. On Thursday, Sasser proclaimed he will be “around 90 percent” for the game. Teammate Jamal Shead (knee) said he is 100 percent recovered.

Mark scored a career-high 26 points against Auburn.

The Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight before being routed 76-50 by eventual national champion Kansas.

Star guard Isaiah Wong said it is a great era for the Hurricanes, who are just two victories away from matching the school record.

“It’s just an honor being part of this program, with the history we have,” Wong said. “We have a great team this year and last year too, and I feel like it’s great to see how we came up.

“My first year we wasn’t as good, but for the last two years, we’re going to the Sweet 16, and last year the Elite Eight.”

Still, guard Jordan Miller said that Miami also doesn’t receive the level of respect it should.

“I wouldn’t say underappreciated, but at the end of the day, all we can do is just come out and win basketball games,” Miller said. “I feel like winning a game in itself is a way to get recognition. We’re going to the Sweet 16. That’s a lot of recognition. We don’t necessarily care about what the media says.”

Wong averages a team-best 16.1 points and Miller is right behind at 15.1 Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both average 13.4 points with the latter collecting a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game.

Omier grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s 85-69 victory over Indiana. That was a program record for boards in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 14 he collected two nights earlier in a 63-56 victory over Drake.

“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know,” Omier said of his success. “I just like playing with my teammates. They always motivate me to go do what I love to do, and I love rebounding.”

Wong scored 27 points against Indiana.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar, who injured his back against Indiana, has yet to be cleared but will be in the starting lineup if he can play.

Houston holds a 9-5 series edge over Miami but the schools haven’t met in 52 years.

The winner faces either second-seeded Texas or third-seeded Xavier in Sunday’s regional final.

Punch thrown following Bowling Green-Memphis WNIT game

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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – A confrontation between two players in the postgame handshake line following Bowling Green’s win over Memphis on Thursday night in the Women’s NIT has been referred to campus police.

As the teams walked toward center court following Bowling Green’s 73-60 win in the Round of 16 game, Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes stopped to talk with Falcons’ player Elissa Brett. After a short conversation, Shutes appears to throw a punch at Brett’s face. Brett fell toward the scorer’s table and onto the sideline.

There was no immediate word about what caused the confrontation or if any player was seriously injured.

Bowling Green said in a statement that the incident is in the hands of the campus police.

“The incident that took place following tonight’s home WNIT game has been turned over to the BGSU Police Department,” the school said. “Bowling Green State University Athletics does not make comments about active police investigations. Our priority is with the health, safety and support of our student-athletes.”

Bowling Green coach Robyn Fralich didn’t directly comment on the incident after the game, saying only that they were “figuring all those things out,” as far as what happened in the handshake line.

Memphis’ office of sports information didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported that Shutes, who leads the Tigers in scoring, took an elbow to her face with 24 seconds left in the opening quarter and played just eight minutes in the first half. She returned to start the second half.

Shutes, a fifth-year player who finished with 13 points in her final game with the Tigers, was a second-team All-AAC selection this season.

Brett scored 15 points in the win.

South Carolina’s leading scorer Jackson heads to NBA draft

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina leading scorer Gregory “GG” Jackson II said Friday that he’s entering the NBA draft after one season in college.

The 6-foot-9 freshman said on Instagram Live that his year in college with the Gamecocks helped him mature.

“Now, I’m declaring for the NBA draft, just like that,” he said.

Jackson, 18, is projected as a mid-first round selection.

He started 29 of 32 games for the 11-21 Gamecocks, averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game. He also led South Carolina with 26 blocks and 24 steals.

Jackson, from Columbia, was rated the No. 1 college prospect in 2023. But he reclassified to join his hometown team and first-year coach Lamont Paris.

Gonzaga beats UCLA 79-76 in Sweet 16 on Julian Strawther’s late 3-pointer

Gonzaga's Malachi Smith
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga and UCLA played one NCAA Tournament game that left the Zags’ star player bawling, and another game that stunned the Bruins.

Add another to the list. Maybe the maddest one in March yet.

Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

“It’s moments like that you can’t make up,” said Strawther, a Las Vegas native. “Those are literally the moments you dream of. To even make a shot like that in March Madness and just to be back home in Vegas is like the cherry on top.”

The Bruins (31-6), the West Region’s No. 2 seed, stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

The Zags (31-5) brought the ball up the floor and Strawther stepped into a 3-pointer after a drop pass from Hunter Sallis, sending Gonzaga fans to their feet.

“As soon as it came off, it looked like it was on line,” Strawther said.

The Zags still had to sweat it out.

Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith stole the ball from UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, but Strawther only hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end, giving the Bruins a chance.

Campbell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, sending the Zags rushing off the bench and into the Elite Eight against UConn on Saturday while leaving the Bruins disappointed again.

“Every game, try not to get too high, try not to get too low,” said UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds. “He hit a big shot and we lost.”

Strawther’s shot was reminiscent of the one Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made off a drop pass to clinch the 2016 national championship – a shot that came after North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left.

There’s a reason it looked familiar.

“That’s Jay Wright’s play that he used in Villanova-Carolina, the championship,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s what we call it. He makes it all the time.”

It also is the latest chapter in what’s become the best West Coast rivalry in college basketball.

UCLA got the better of the teams’ first NCAA Tournament go-around, rallying from 17 points down to send the Zags out of the 2006 bracket and star Adam Morrison to the floor crying.

Jalen Suggs crushed the Bruins the last time, hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Zags to the 2021 national championship game.

“I can’t even describe what he did. It’s crazy,” Gonzaga’s Drew Timme said of Strawther’s game-winner. “It’s just like that Jalen shot, man.”

Timme had 36 points for his record 10th NCAA Tournament game with 20 points.

The flurry of a finish started off more like a prize fight, each team taking its turn landing blows in a game of wild swings.

UCLA led by 13 at the half, but went on an 11-minute field goal drought as Gonzaga went up by 10 with 2:40 left. The Bruins took their rally turn and retook the lead, but left Gonzaga with too much time on the clock.

“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We were the whole game. We just weren’t on that play. If we were tighter then he couldn’t have looped behind.”

Timme kept Gonzaga in it during UCLA’s torrid first half and Gonzaga’s porous first-half defense tightened in the second, giving them a seven-point lead with 53 seconds left.

Jaquez brought the Bruins back in his final college game.

The Pac-12 player of the year scored on a three-point play and a layup to cut it 74-71 with 45 seconds left. Timme then missed two free throws, setting up Bailey’s shot.

Thankfully for the Zags, Strawther was on the mark with his long 3-pointer and Campbell was off the mark on his, sending Gonzaga to the Elite Eight for the fifth time under Few.

Florida Atlantic makes first Elite Eight, bounces Tennessee

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NEW YORK — Florida Atlantic, playing in just its second NCAA Tournament, moved within a victory of the Final Four by using a second-half push led by Michael Forrest to beat fourth-seeded Tennessee 62-55 on Thursday night.

The ninth-seeded Owls (34-3) will play third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Even before the tournament started, this was the unquestionably the greatest season in FAU history. Now it the Owls are one of the biggest stories in all of sports.

Johnell Davis led the Owls with 15 points and Forrest finished with 11, eight in a crucial second-half run where FAU took control.

The Volunteers (25-11), who were looking for just the second Elite Eight appearance in program history, shot just 33% – including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo scored 10 points apiece.

UP NEXT

The Owls have never played Kansas State.