Elite Eight Rundown: Saturday, March 25th

For today’s Under The Radar postseason games along with coaching carousel updates – CLICK HERE

WEST REGIONAL (San Jose, CA) (all times Eastern)

#11 XAVIER VS #1 GONZAGA (TBS, 6:09 PM).  These two do not play regularly, but they have played on occasion and the two programs seem to have an awareness of one another.  Neither has been to a Final Four, and although many expected Gonzaga to be here, almost no one expected Xavier to make it this far.  Xavier is not the same team they were fifteen days ago.  In the last two weeks, they’ve beaten three protected seeds away from home, including a full strength Arizona team (well, almost) in their last game.  It ranks up there with some of the most improbable tournament runs ever.  We’ve seen #11 seeds make it this far (and even farther), but we’ve never seen one who only managed to beat one team (albeit two different times) in the last five weeks of the regular season.  As for Gonzaga, I can’t help but get the feeling they haven’t played a really good game in the tournament yet, but yet here they are.  If they do manage to put it together today and play like they did during much of the regular season, it could be a long day for Xavier.

 

MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City, MO) (all times Eastern)

#3 OREGON VS #1 KANSAS (TBS, 8:49 PM).  Kansas blew past a pretty good Purdue team in the second half, whereas Oregon won in a thriller against Michigan.  Both teams were in the Elite Eight a year ago, and both failed to advance to the Final Four.  Kansas is obviously a storied program and this year’s edition of it has looked as good as anyone else in the country despite their off the court issues.  Oregon has had a great two year run with back to back Elite Eights and first place finishes in the Pac Twelve.  If it ends today, then all I can say is that I hate it had to end with them not being at full strength.  To be fair to Kansas, I think I’d pick them to win this even if Oregon was at full strength, but I just hate to see a team that’s been so good (be it Oregon or anyone else) lose when they’re not able to be at their best.

 

PUPPET NOTES AND RAMBLINGS

-The games last night weren’t nearly as good as Thursday night.  I thought Butler would really squeeze North Carolina and that just didn’t happen.  The Tar Heels blew it open early, Butler couldn’t knock down the open looks that they did get and it was never really in doubt.

-South Carolina sprinted ahead of Baylor in a game that was also blown open early on, but this was much more of a surprise.  South Carolina has played magnificently in this tournament and Frank Martin deserves a ton of credit not just for what he’s done this year, but for how much that program has progressed since he took it over.  They had almost no tournament history or history of success to speak of and now their games are sold out, people are excited, and last night they blew out a Baylor team that had been having a spectacular season.  Now they’re one win away from the Final Four against a familiar foe in Florida.

-UCLA vs. Kentucky was expected to be the game of the night, and while it wasn’t a bad game, it wasn’t exactly down to the wire either.  Kentucky played one of their better games of the entire season in that they were able to score against UCLA (I know a lot of teams have done that, but UCLA was pretty solid on defense against Cincinnati), but they were also able to limit UCLA’s high powered offense.  Kentucky moves on to face North Carolina on Sunday in a game that should give us a rather large volume of viewers.

-The game of the night was between Florida and Wisconsin.  Coming into last night, there had been no overtime games, nor were there any games won on a buzzer beater.  Well, this game gave us both of those things.  The two teams seesawed back and forth, and after Wisconsin appeared to be completely dead at the end of regulation, they forced turnovers and hit a game tying three to force overtime.  Wisky got a lead early in overtime, and it was then Florida who had to come back.  Canyon Barry ran the length of the court to block a breakaway Badger layup prior to a game-tying shot by Florida. After one final defensive stop, they went the length of the court in four seconds and hit a game winning three pointer to knock out the Badgers.  This is the second year in a row that Wisconsin has lost in the Sweet Sixteen in rather dramatic fashion.

-If Xavier wins tonight, everyone in the greater Cincinnati area needs to be on the lookout for John Stalica!!  He may lose control!!  He may not be able to handle himself!!

Sweet Sixteen Rundown: Friday, March 24th

SOUTH REGIONAL (Memphis, TN) (all times Eastern)

#4 BUTLER VS #1 NORTH CAROLINA (CBS, 7:09 PM).  This is a fantastic match-up.  If you look at the top of Butler’s profile and you see the wins away from home against Arizona, Villanova and Xavier, then it actually beats what is at the top of North Carolina’s profile, so although UNC is favored, you absolutely cannot count out Butler.  In fact, an argument could be made that North Carolina hasn’t beaten a team away from home that’s as good as Butler and that this would be their single most impressive win of the year if they’re able to pull it off.  UNC is definitely talented, but they had to really sweat out their Round of 32 game against Arkansas.  Butler’s road to the Sweet Sixteen involved beating a #13 and a #12 seed, but they are definitely battle tested based on what they did throughout the season and they are capable of winning this.

#3 UCLA VS #2 KENTUCKY (CBS, approx. 9:39 PM).  These two met earlier in the regular season and UCLA picked up a huge win at Rupp Arena.  I personally don’t agree at all with UCLA being the weaker seed in this match-up, but that’s the call the selection committee made and it’s also the call that our mock Hoops HD committee made and I guess it really doesn’t matter a whole lot now.  UCLA has one of the most potent offenses in the country and although their defense was weak throughout much of the season, it’s been rather effective in this tournament.  At the same time, Kentucky has struggled offensively at times and also had to really sweat out a tough Wichita State team in the Round of 32.  It should be a fun one!

 

EAST REGION (New York, NY) (all times Eastern)

#7 SOUTH CAROLINA VS #3 BAYLOR (TBS, 7:29 PM).  South Carolina is coming off one of the biggest wins in their program’s history in what was a whistle-happy affair against Duke.  Baylor had to sweat out USC to get here, but all throughout the season Baylor has been the better team.  They appear to have both a size and athletic advantage coming into this one, but having said that South Carolina has played fantastic basketball in the first two rounds of this tournament, so you can’t count them out.

#8 WISCONSIN VS #4 FLORIDA (TBS, approx. 9:59 PM).  Wisconsin pulled off one of the more surprising upsets of the tournament when they knocked off Villanova in the Round of 32, whereas Florida pulled off one of the more surprising results of tournament when they completely blew Virginia off the floor.  Both of these teams are coming into this game with a ton of momentum, and both of them are more than capable of winning the next game if they’re able to win this game.

PUPPET RAMBLINGS/REVIEW

We had four games last night, which means we had eight halves of basketball, and seven of them were outstanding!!  Purdue actually jumped out to a lead over Kansas, and stayed with the Jayhawks in front of a very partial KU crowd all throughout the first half, but early on in the second half Kansas just hit the gas and never looked back.  It was the most impressive performance of the night.

I was very curious to see how Gonzaga would respond to West Virginia’s pressure defense, and although the Mountaineers were able to force turnovers, I think it was West Virginia’s ability to rebound and play smothering defense in the half court that kept them in the game.  Gonzaga came out with a strong defensive effort of their own as West Virginia could not get their shots to fall.  It came down to the final possession when West Virginia needed a three pointer to tie and force overtime, but just couldn’t get it off.  Gonzaga is back in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years, and will once again have a shot at advancing to their first ever Final Four.

Michigan and Oregon gave us another thriller that seesawed back and forth.  Oregon has shown they can win despite the injury by advancing to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row after Michigan missed what would have been a game winning shot at the buzzer.  It was an incredible postseason story and run for Michigan as they had the incident with their plane, then managed to win the Big Ten Tournament after playing their first game in practice uniforms, then pulling off the thrilling upset against Louisville in the Round of 32.  As for Oregon, you have to really be impressed with what they have done as well despite some of the adversity they’ve faced.

Last but not least, the lowest remaining seed in the tournament is still in the tournament.  Xavier and Arizona seesawed back and forth last night as well, and it appeared to be over when Arizona built up an 8 point lead after the final media timeout.  But somehow Xavier, who had been getting dominated on the glass all night, came up with two consecutive defensive stops and converted on their end to get back into it.  After missing the front end of a one-and-one once the shotclock had been turned off, Arizona again had the ball with a chance to tie or win, but missed a three point attempt and Xavier managed to get a defensive rebound when it mattered and they dribbled out the clock.  They will face Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.  It’s rare that a team without football of any kind advances to the Final Four, but we will see it happen this year.  Recent examples include VCU (2011) and George Mason (2006) (both of whom were coincidentally #11 seeds just like Xavier).  We also saw Marquette do it in 2003 and Wichita State in 2009, but those are the only three examples I can think of off the top of my head.  Keep in mind that Butler does play football at the FCS non-scholarship level.  Xavier and Gonzaga don’t have football of any kind.

OTHER HISTORICAL NOTES (footnote, Chad Sherwood and John S.)

-Baylor looking for first Final Four since 1950.
-Oregon looking for their first Final Four appearance since 1939 – this was the first-ever sanctioned NCAA tournament which they won).
-Not only is South Carolina looking for their first Final Four ever, a win tonight would launch them into the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
-Both Xavier and Gonzaga are tied for the most NCAA Tournament victories (27) without an appearance in the Final Four. One program will come off this list tomorrow night – the next team on this list is Boston College with 22 NCAA Tournament wins.
-Xavier is also 2nd place all-time with 27 NCAA Tournament appearances without a Final Four. BYU remains #1 with 29 appearances and Missouri is 3rd with 25 such appearances.
-The East and West Regions will both give us a first time Final Four head coach, one of whom will play for the national title.  The Midwest could as well if Oregon/Dana Altman wins.  If Butler (Holtman) or UCLA (Alford) win the South, their coaches would be in the Final Four for the first time ever too.  In fact, Steve Alford has never made it past the Sweet 16 round.
OTHER COACHING NEWS
– It seemed inevitable, but Georgetown finally dismissed John Thompson III after 13 seasons. The atmosphere throughout the program seemed to get worse as the season wore on and finally reached critical mass after a couple of key departures this offseason.
– Pat Kelsey was announced earlier in the week as the next head coach at UMass, but abruptly did an about-face just prior to his introductory press conference at UMass. Kelsey has already returned to his original post as head coach at Winthrop.
– Cleveland State has announced that Dennis Felton will be their new head coach for the 2017-18 season. He will replace Gary Waters as head coach for the Vikings.

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Thursday, March 23

It may only be the NIT, but Cal State Bakersfield is STILL in the process of making a historic run through that tournament as a bottom seed. They nearly blew a 15-point 2nd half lead at Texas-Arlington, but managed to hang on for an 80-76 victory that will send the Roadrunners to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden next week. This is the first time in the history of the NIT that an 8-seed advanced to the NIT Final Four and also the first time a bottom seed advanced to the Final 4 of any postseason tournament since Penn pulled off a similar feat in the 1979 NCAA Tournament.

Johnny Dawkins is no stranger to success in the NIT and his Central Florida team also secured their place in New York for next Tuesday with a 68-58 victory over Illinois. Next week, Georgia Tech will play Bakersfield in one semifinal matchup and UCF will play TCU in the other game.

In the CBI, Wyoming held Utah Valley scoreless for the final 2 minutes of the game and finished the game on a 6-0 run to win 74-68 in their CBI semifinal game. They will play Coastal Carolina in the best-of-3 CIT Finals next week beginning on Monday night on ESPNU. The Chanticleers advanced with an 89-78 victory over Illinois-Chicago.

In the final 2nd round matchup in the CIT, Texas State advanced to the quarterfinals with a 64-55 victory over Idaho at home last night. They will host Saint Peter’s in the quarterfinal round on Saturday afternoon at 5 PM. Furman will also play at Campbell on Saturday at 2 PM. As for the Sunday matchups, Liberty goes to UMBC for a 2 PM game and Fort Wayne will play at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 3 PM (all times Eastern). All 4 quarterfinal matchups will be streamed on Facebook Live.

Sweet Sixteen Rundown: Thursday, March 23rd

For today’s Under The Radar postseason recap – CLICK HERE

For more extensive coverage and commentary, check out our latest Hoops HD Report by CLICKING HERE

MIDWEST REGIONAL (Kansas City, MO) (all times Eastern)

#7 MICHIGAN VS #3 OREGON (CBS, 7:09 PM).  Michigan has been one of the bigger stories in college basketball.  Since their plane failed to take off and went skidding down the runway, they’ve won the Big Ten Tournament and won two games in the NCAA Tournament which included beating Louisville in Indianapolis late last week after trailing by double digits.  Oregon really sweated out Rhode Island and while they’re still a good team, they’re not quite the same without Chris Boucher.  If Michigan can hit from the outside, then their dream of a postseason run isn’t likely to come to an end just yet.

#4 PURDUE VS #1 KANSAS (CBS, approx. 9:39 PM).  Kansas has dealt with a ton of off the court issues and I keep waiting for it to derail the team.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  I’m now beginning to think that it won’t.  They just keep winning and keep looking impressive.  They didn’t have any trouble at all in their first two games, and although Purdue is better than both Michigan State and UC Davis, they still have to play in Kansas City.  Still, they did manage to beat a red hot Iowa State team in their last game, so an upset isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.

 

WEST REGIONAL (San Jose, CA) (all times Eastern)

#4 WEST VIRGINIA VS #1 GONZAGA (TBS, 7:39 PM).  Gonzaga ran out to a huge lead against Northwestern in their last game, but had to hold on for dear life down the stretch.  Still, Gonzaga has been nothing but impressive all season long.  The Saint Mary’s team that gave Arizona a scare was blown out by Gonzaga not once, not twice, but three times.  Having said that, Gonzaga hasn’t really played a team that plays the pressure defense that West Virginia does, so it could be a real challenge for them.  Handing the pressure and controlling the tempo will be key.  It’s a really interesting match-up to say the least.

#11 XAVIER VS #2 ARIZONA. (TBS, approx 10:09 PM).  Xavier was unspectacular from pretty much February until the start of the conference tournament, but since then they’ve beaten Butler (who is a protected seed), nearly beaten Creighton, and then blown past Maryland and Florida State in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  Logic would indicate that they just don’t have what it takes to beat an Arizona team that was playing as well as any of the #1 seeds down the stretch, but given how strong Xavier has played in the last two weeks, I wouldn’t count them out just yet.  Having said that, Arizona has looked rather impressive as well.  They did win the Pac Twelve Tournament and beat both Oregon and UCLA along the way, who are also a pair of protected seeds.  Another element of intrigue is that Sean Miller used to coach at Xavier, and Chris Mack was his top assistant.

 

PUPPET RAMBLINGS

-This isn’t too unusual, but no UTR teams made it out of the first weekend, and Gonzaga is the only non-Power 5/Big East team remaining.  I LOVE the NCAA Tournament, and I love how each team builds its own storyline as they play their way through the tournament.  Having said that, when we get down to the Sweet Sixteen, and even more so the Final Four, a part of me feels like I’m at the point of the concert where the band its playing their biggest hit.  You love the song, but you also know the show is about to end.

It will also come as no surprise to those who follow the site when I say that the teams I find myself almost intrinsically attached to from year to year are the Under the Radar teams.  Chad and I actually created the weekly Under the Radar podcast simply because we wanted to talk about those teams on at least a weekly basis throughout the season.  We didn’t care if anyone watched or listened.  In fact I don’t think we expected that anyone would (although we’ve since learned that people have been).  So, when all those teams are gone, it feels like another part of the season is over despite how exciting everything is now.  But, it’s not done entirely.  The CIT Tournament has always been fun to watch, and John Stalica’s coverage of it has been great.  We’ve seen Cal State Bakersfield advance deep into the NIT after holding on for a win against UT Arlington (who had a great season and could have made some noise in the NCAA Tournament had it not been for injuries).  UCF is also deep in the NIT, and it’s been fun to watch them throughout the year.  I’m as excited about the rest of the NIT and CIT (for different reasons) as I am about the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

But, the NCAA Tournament has been great.  The viewership has been up, and there have been some great storylines, particularly Northwestern’s first appearance and how exciting (and strange) both of their games were, to Michigan’s improbable run of success since the airplane incident, to Xavier’s jar of ashes and how they’ve turned things around after a disappointing February, to Gonzaga who has been highly ranked all year and is still trying to reach their first ever Final Four, to South Carolina’s huge win over Duke for their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Field expanded to 64, to Kentucky’s exciting win over Wichita State, to UCLA’s explosive offense, to so many other stories.  Enjoy it while you can!!  As sad as I’ll be to see it end, I’m incredibly excited to see how it will end!

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Wednesday, March 22

Yesterday, there were a pair of head coaching vacancies filled in the Atlantic 10 Conference. First was the VCU opening – it lasted less than 24 hours after Will Wade announced that he would resign to take the head coaching position at LSU. They stayed within the family and hired Rice head coach Mike Rhoades (a former Shaka Smart assistant) to their open position.

Elsewhere in the A-10, UMass announced that now-former Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey will be their new head coach – he replaces Derek Kellogg. Kelsey does have ties to the A-10 from his playing and coaching days with the Xavier program.

As far as postsesaon games go, only 2 games were played last night in the NIT. The first game saw TCU withstand a 33-point performance from Richmond star TJ Cline. He had little support in TCU’s 86-68 victory over the Spiders. Jamie Dixon will be returning to familiar territory at Madison Square Garden from his days at Pitt. Georgia Tech will also join the NIT Final 4 thanks to their 74-66 victory at Ole Miss last night.

NIT

(2) ILLINOIS at (4) CENTRAL FLORIDA (7:00 PM, ESPN2). Illinois is the highest seeded team remaining in the NIT, but they are unable to host this game due to scheduling conflicts at the State Farm Center. Therefore, UCF will get to play host to the Illini tonight for the right to advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden. Dawkins is also no stranger to the Garden in March – his Stanford teams won a pair of NIT titles in 2012 and 2015, respectively.

(8) CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD at (6) TEXAS-ARLINGTON (9:00 PM, ESPNU). This would definitely have been a feature UTR Game of the Day had this been scheduled earlier in the season, but better late than never with both the Roadrunners and Mavericks involved in playing for the final spot in the NIT semifinals.

CBI

ILLINOIS-CHICAGO at COASTAL CAROLINA (7:00 PM). In what can be unofficially described as the CBI Eastern Conference final, a pair of former NCAA Tournament coaches go head-to-head. Cliff Ellis (Coastal Carolina) had prior tournament runs with Clemson and Auburn and Steve McClain (UIC) had a run with Wyoming in 2002 that included an upset of Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament that season. The winner advances to the Best-of-3 CBI finals.

UTAH VALLEY at WYOMING (9:00 PM). The Front Range will play host to the unofficial Western half of the CBI bracket. Utah Valley is coming off of a pair of road wins against Georgia Southern and Rice to advance to this point. Should they beat Wyoming on the road tonight, they are assured of at least hosting one game in the best-of-3 CBI finals to be played next week.

CIT

IDAHO at TEXAS STATE (8:00 PM, Facebook Live). This will be the last of the 2nd round games in the CIT that will take place tonight. Idaho has the biggest star power in this one (at least in our minds) with Victor Sanders and the Sherwood twins, but Texas State has been a tough out since their surprise trip to the Sun Belt championship game a week and a half ago.

Under The Radar Postseason News, Notes and Highlighted Games – Tuesday, March 21

For last night’s HoopsHD Report podcast recapping the NCAA Tournament – CLICK HERE

4 games were played last night in the NIT – this completed the second round and sets the quarterfinal matchups that will begin tonight. Cal-State Bakersfield’s surprising run continued last night with an 81-63 win at Colorado State. The Roadrunners are the eighth seed in their region and will move on to play UT-Arlington on Wednesday night. The Mavericks beat Akron 85-69; they have won both games by 16 points. Illinois State had a chance to host Illinois at home for the first time since 1920 with a win last night, but a costly foul with 1.4 seconds to go gave the Knights 2 free throw attempts in the closing seconds. They converted and move on to play an Illinois team that defeated Boise State 71-56 last night. UCF will actually host the Illini due to a scheduling conflict at the State Farm Center.

The CBI also had their 2nd round games take place yesterday. Both Coastal Carolina and UIC won at home against Loyola (MD) and GW to set up a semifinal game that will be played tomorrow night at Coastal Carolina. On the western half of the bracket, Utah Valley won their 2nd straight game on the road (this time against Rice) and will play at Wyoming on Wednesday – Wyoming beat UMKC 72-61 last night as well.

In the CIT, all 3 home teams won their 2nd round games. Liberty beat Samford 66-58, Campbell extended their surprising run with a 73-56 win at home over UT-Martin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi beat Weber State 82-73 at home.

Yesterday’s major move in the 2017 Coaching Carousel involved Will Wade – he will move on from VCU to take the open job at LSU after spending 2 seasons with the Rams. He will be formally announced as head coach later today.

NIT

(6) RICHMOND at (4) TCU (7:00 PM, ESPN2). Fresh off of an overtime win over Iowa on the road, TCU will play host to Richmond (who beat Oakland at home) for the first spot in the NIT Final 4 at Madison Square Garden next week.

(6) GEORGIA TECH at (5) OLE MISS (9:00 PM, ESPN2). After a pair of road wins at Monmouth and Syracuse, Ole Miss finally gets to play host for one final home game this season. They will play a Georgia Tech team that had a fairly comfortable win at home against Belmont on Sunday.