2018 NCAA Tournament

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‘What’s better than this?’ Villanova celebrates hoops title

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Amid chants of “Nova! Nova!” Villanova students and fans loudly welcomed their men’s basketball team back to campus Tuesday night, a day after the Wildcats claimed their second national championship in three years.

Players were treated like rock stars as they made their way into the ancient Jake Nevin Field House for a celebration.

“What’s better than this?” coach Jay Wright said as the crowd roared.

Behind Donte DiVincenzo’s career-high 31 points off the bench, Villanova routed Michigan 79-62 on Monday in San Antonio to win the school’s third national title.

Junior forward Eric Paschall held the championship trophy and the bleary-eyed players wore hats lodged with strands of the nets they cut down a night earlier. Jalen Brunson, the national Player of the Year, led the fans in a chant of “Di-vin-cenzo” before he was introduced last among the players.

“The chances of a red-headed Italian with Rollie Massimino ‘RVM’ on his chest, coming off the bench to score 31 points in the national championship game,” Wright said before the crowd drowned him out, referring to the late Wildcats coach who led the school to the 1985 title.

The top-seeded Wildcats (36-4) won all six of their NCAA Tournament games by double digits, bucking the trend of upsets thanks to depth, buzzing offense and improved defense.

Go Cats!” junior guard Phil Booth yelled.

Rain forced the celebration to be moved inside from the football stadium, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm at the Catholic school of about 6,500 undergraduates in suburban Philadelphia.

The tributes began immediately as the Wildcats landed, when the Philadelphia fire department delivered a water cannon salute as their plane taxied.

On their Main Line campus, fans, many of whom had a blue “V” painted on their cheeks, stood in the rain in a line that snaked around the corner waiting for the doors to open.

Included in the crowd was Ron DiPietro, class of 1972, who said he turns 68 Wednesday. DiPietro clutched a gray 1985 Villanova national title T-shirt on a coat hanger.

“Too much firepower, well-disciplined, wonderful team,” DiPietro said. “They blew everybody out, let’s face it.”

The pep band and cheerleaders entertained the crowd before the team arrived. The balcony seats in the 1,500-seat arena were nearly full, with hundreds more on the floor crammed near a barrier to the stage. A banner hung that read “Congratulations 2018 men’s basketball national champions.”

Fans yelled “One more year!” to both Brunson and Mikal Bridges as they were introduced by Wright. Neither player wanted to comment on their futures, but Wright indicated returning to school was wishful thinking.

“We’re going to talk about it this week with those guys,” Wright said. “But both of them are going to graduate and both of them have a chance to become first-round picks.”

Next up, a parade Thursday in Philadelphia that will end with a rally outside City Hall as the region basks in its recent sporting success. The Eagles won their first Super Bowl two months ago.

“I’m proud of the Eagles and I’m proud we’re even part of it with them,” said Wright, an Eagles season-ticket holder. “I’m really happy for the city of Philadelphia.”

Donte DiVincenzo deletes Twitter account after offensive tweets discovered

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Donte DiVincenzo deleted his twitter account on Monday night after being named Final Four MOP when people with nothing better to do decided to dig through his old tweets.

What they found were tweets with derogatory language both homophobic and racist in nature. Some of the tweets used the n-word while quoting song lyrics.

Villanova initially claimed that DiVincenzo’s twitter account had been hacked, but later retracted that statement when made aware that the tweets were not sent on Monday night. That came after DiVincenzo, who is white, was shown the tweet in the locker room and asked for comment on it. He confirmed that the account was his but denied sending the tweet, stating that he hasn’t been on twitter “since 2015 or 2016.”

At some point, DiVincenzo will need to apologize for this. And when he does, hopefully everyone will realize that 15 year olds do stupid things all the time and move on.

The lesson here: Delete all your old tweets when you sign those scholarship papers. It’s better than dealing with the fallout if and when you become a story.

Kansas officials working to help Udoka Azubuike’s mother receive travel visa

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Three-plus years ago, the NCAA made the move to help families of players participating in the Final Four with expenses. A stipend of up to $3,000 is available in order to assist with flights, hotels and meals for family members of players taking part in Saturday’s national semifinals. That dollar amount increases to $4,000 for the parents of players whose teams advance to Monday’s championship game.

In the case of players from foreign countries the travel process can be a bit more difficult, as is the case for Kansas sophomore center Udoka Azubuike. A native of Nigeria, Azubuike’s mother has never seen him play in person during his time at Kansas. According to the Kansas City Star, Kansas head coach Bill Self said Tuesday that the school is working to address some visa complications in order to make it possible for Azubuike’s mother to get to San Antonio.

“Our staff is talking with all the proper political people to try to make something like that happen because we know how much that would mean to Udoka and his mother to be able to witness — can you imagine a parent coming over here who has never seen a basketball game, a real basketball game like this, and that’s the first time you see your son play? That would be just an unbelievable experience. We’re hoping that’s the case,” Self said.

According to Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star, Kansas congressman Kevin Yoder is among the officials working to get Azubuike’s mother a non-immigrant travel visa in time for Saturday’s game.

Why Villanova, Kansas, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago will (or won’t) win a national title

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VILLANOVA

WHY THEY WILL WIN: They’re college basketball’s best team

It really is that simple, I think. We’ve known just how good this team can be on the offensive side of the ball all season long. They are unselfish, they have an unbelievable amount of floor-spacing and they just so happen to be led by the nation’s best player in point guard Jalen Brunson. There is a reason that this team was college basketball’s most efficient offense.

But there is more to it than just the scoring, because Villanova has been excellent defensively all through March. That was the issue with this group all season long. They were capable of putting up 100 points on anyone, but on the nights where they put up 70 — on the nights where their threes weren’t falling — they struggled to find a way to defend at a level that allowed them to win. That’s no longer the case, at least not based on the evidence we saw against Texas Tech on Sunday.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: They won’t be able to take advantage of those mismatches

One of the things that makes Villanova so hard to guard is their versatility. They have big men that can make threes and a point guard that plays in the post. They can switch 1-through-4 without much of a problem, and they have at least three players on the floor at all times that can operate in ball-screen actions. They are the essence of small-ball.

But here’s the issue: Both Michigan and Kansas can matchup with that. Kansas essentially plays four guards while the Wolverines, who still need to get past Loyola-Chicago to get a shot at Villanova, play small as well and have a center that may actually be more versatile than Villanova’s Omari Spellman. Now it’s fair to wonder if it’s possible to out-Villanova Villanova, but taking advantage of mismatches is one of the strong suits for the Wildcats. That option won’t be there, at least not on Saturday night.

KANSAS

WHY THEY WILL WIN: The Jayhawks have gotten this far without Devonte’ Graham

OK, that might be overselling it, but outside of the game against Penn, Graham — the first-team all-american representative for Kansas — has not been all that good. Even against Penn, he was inefficient. Through four NCAA tournament games, Graham is shooting 34 percent from the floor and averaging just 16 points. Take away the 29 points he scored on 24 shots against Penn and he’s averaging just 11.7 points in the last three games.

I do not think that is something that can possibly last. Devonte’ Graham is just too good, and when he wakes up, with the rest of this roster — specifically Malik Newman — playing the way that they’ve been playing, the Jayhawks can hang with anyone.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: Who is Udoka Azubuike going to guard?

Udoka Azubuike has been a monster this season, so much better than I thought that he was going to be. But here’s my concern: Against Villanova, he is going to have to chase around Omari Spellman on the perimeter, a guy that bangs threes and that beats bigger defenders off the dribble. That does not seem like an ideal situation, not if the Jayhawks are trying to keep their best big man out of foul trouble. And if the do manage to find a way to beat Villanova, Azubuike is going to have to try and slow down Moe Wagner, who is a monster on the perimeter in his own right.

Bill Self is a genius when it comes to things like this, but these are matchups that would worry me quite a bit if I was a Kansas fan.

MICHIGAN

WHY THEY WILL WIN: Their defense is just so good

This is by far the best defensive team that John Beilein has ever had at Michigan. They are just unbelievable defensively. It starts with Zavier Simpson, who is one of the most annoying and pesky players on the defensive end of the floor in all of college basketball. Throw in a roster that is filled with lanky, tough and athletic wings and a center in Moe Wagner that has dedicated himself to being able to clear the defensive glass, and what you have is a team that can take anyone out of what they want to do on that end of the floor.

They are in the Final Four because their defense has been elite.

A John Beilein-coached team is winning because of their defense.

How about that?

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: They are too streaky shooting the ball

Michigan has played three tortuously-ugly basketball games in the NCAA tournament and one game where they looked like absolute world-beaters. The ugly games came when they played teams that could matchup with their versatility, which caused Michigan to struggle with their ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. When they played a team with two big men, they made 14 threes.

And in this tournament, they are not going to be playing teams that play two bigs the way that Texas A&M played two bigs. That doesn’t mean there is no chance that Michigan can win — Purdue didn’t play two bigs in the Big Ten title game, Michigan State didn’t in the semifinals, etc. — but it is easier for them to take advantage of what they do best when they are playing someone that has bigger bodies along the front line.

LOYOLA-CHICAGO

WHY THEY WILL WIN: It’s destiny

Someone needs to investigate Loyola-Chicago for accepting impermissible benefits, because I think that Sister Jean has some kind of deal with a higher power. They’ve won on three buzzer-beaters. Three of the four teams they’ve faced had a star player dealing with a major injury. Against Tennessee, the game-winning shot bounced off the rim and/or backboard a half-dozen times.

There is something going on here, and I’m not sure that it’s done yet.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: The talent gap is just too big

With all due respect to the teams that Loyola-Chicago has beaten thus far in the tournament, but they are not the most talented. Miami was missing their best player. Tennessee wins more on defense and effort than by being the most talented team on the floor. (I had Loyola in the Sweet 16, NBD.) Nevada was probably the most talented team they’ve played, but they play iso-ball. Kansas State was missing their best player.

And now, the Ramblers have to face-off with a Michigan team that has a pro in the middle, one of the best defenses in the sport and a masterful tactician on the sideline. Win that, and they get a No. 1 seed. I’m not saying they can’t win, but this is the first time where they are clearly the inferior team.

Southwest Airlines provided fan with live updates of Xavier loss

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For many who have taken a flight, the experience of using in-flight wi-fi can be a maddening one. While the internet connection works well for some, for others it can be equal to flushing one’s $8-$10 down the toilet. And that’s for simple tasks such as checking in on social media or checking email. Streaming video? Forget about it.

One Xavier fan ran into this issue while on a Southwest Airlines flight Sunday night, when all she wanted to do was watch her Musketeers take on Florida State with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

Renée Stoeckel was sure to tag the official Twitter account for Southwest in discussing her situation, and luckily for her the person manning the account came through with the score update.

Mike would continue to provide periodic score updates during the second half, which ended with the Musketeers suffering a crushing loss to the Seminoles.

You the real MVP, Mike.

h/t A.V. Club, Awful Announcing

Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.