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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/10/2006 10:08:00 PM

Playing To Rave Reviews

Gerry McNamara
Gerry McNamara, Mr. Clutch.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- We keep coming back. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. And Gerry McNamara just keeps putting on crazy show after crazy show.

Syracuse left the buzzer-beater scene out of day three of G-Mac At The Garden, filling in that plot hole with a comeback from 15 down at half -- including 15, second-half points from McNamara -- to beat Georgetown 58-57 in the Big East tournament semifinals. And the final sequence had McNamara's fingerprints all over it, as he drilled a 3 with 48.1 seconds left to cut the Hoyas' lead to 57-55; then hit Eric Devendorf on a fast break for a layup that put 'Cuse up 58-57; and finally, reached in to force Georgetown's Ashanti Cook to travel with 1.5 seconds on the clock.

"He's going out with a bang -- and that's the way to go out," teammate Demetris Nichols said of McNamara, the senior who finished with 17 points and five assists.

In the closing seconds, McNamara was slapping the Big East logo at center court with his hands, riling up a pro-'Cuse crowd that had, like their team, trickled into Madison Square Garden, and was quiet the early minutes but in rowdy form by crunch time. Ex-'Cuse stars Derrick Coleman, Lawrence Moten and Pearl Washington (all dressed to the nines) made their way out of the crowd and onto the floor, with Coleman burying G-Mac in a bear-like embrace.

McNamara, who played just 12 minutes of the first half -- scoring two points -- to rest a groin injury, was on a mission in the second. "I saw the scoreboard at halftime," he said, "and how I was feeling or not, it didn't matter, it was time to play."

Anyone willing to bet against this kid in the finals?

- 'Cuse coach Jim Boeheim remains on a mission (albeit with a more lighthearted approach) to find the "anonymous" assistant(s) who dubbed McNamara overrated in the Syracuse Post-Standard's annual league poll. "We keep playing all these teams, we're going to find that assistant who said he was overrated pretty soon," Boeheim said in the press conference. "Or that guy's already home. One or the other." (No mention of trying to track down the players from SI's poll who said the same thing.)

- A question for you, the readers: How does the Orange's run affect your rankings of the most dangerous NCAA tournament teams coming out of the Big East? Here's what I'm feeling now: 1a. UConn. 1b. Villanova. 3. Pitt. 4. Syracuse. 5. Georgetown. 6. West Virginia. 7. Marquette. 8. Cincinnati. Type away while you watch the Panthers try to oust 'Nova in the nightcap ...

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3/10/2006 06:52:00 PM

The Pregame

This is how Syracuse warms up ...

Eric Devendorf
Luke Winn/SI

... and this is how the media warms up.

Press Room
Luke Winn/SI


We promised to take you behind the scenes here in Big East-land, and that pic proves just how un-glamorous the media side of it is. After you watch the games, we retreat into that cave in the bowels of the Garden.

A few thoughts with just under 30 minutes to tip-off in the Syracuse-Georgetown semifinal:

- The hero-worship of Gerry McNamara is at an all-time high. The Garden was sparsely filled at 6:15, when the Orange were going through their stretches -- and still, yells of "Gerry" were echoing about.

- South Carolina coach Dave Odom described his team as "a slow-baking cake" after its 79-71, upset win over Tennessee today in the SEC quarterfinals. "Sometimes you can force it to move along and sometimes you can't," Odom said of his 17-14 Gamecocks. "What you have to keep doing is keep coaching, keep loving and keep kicking." This is apparently what you do to a cake. Love it and kick it. And hope it does well again in the NIT.

- If South Carolina is slowly baking, then Tennessee (2-4 in its past six games) is rapidly deflating.

- Unranked Indiana -- which beat Wisconsin today, 61-56 -- is a scarier team right now than at least three squads in the top 25 (and those would be N.C. State, West Virginia and Tennessee). The Hoosiers could be putting together a nice, multi-week farewell tour for Mike Davis.

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3/10/2006 02:12:00 AM

Friday's Talking Points

Shelden Williams
Are Shelden Williams and the Dukies deserving of the top overall seed?
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Discussion topics from around the hoops world:

- How has the NCAA tournament's No. 1-seed picture been altered? Entering Thursday, it was (in this order): UConn (Washington D.C.), Duke (Atlanta), Villanova (Minneapolis) and Memphis (Oakland). As of this morning, it's Duke (Atlanta), Villanova (Washington D.C.), UConn (Minneapolis) and Memphis (Oakland).

Why? Seeing that UConn and Villanova split their two meetings and shared the Big East title, it would follow that, since 'Nova has gone deeper in the conference tourney, it gets the privilege of playing in D.C., while the Huskies are shipped to the Midwest. The bigger question at this point is, if 'Nova keeps winning, can it overtake Duke for the No. 1 overall seed? At present, I think the Blue Devils (with wins over Texas and Memphis, and the ACC regular-season title) have a substantial edge.

- Was "Victoria" the season's greatest prank? The San Francisco blog rangelife (named after the famed Pavement tune?) chronicled this incident from the USC-Cal game on March 10: Apparently, a few Cal students obtained Trojan guard Gabe Pruitt's IM screen-name and had been messaging him as "Victoria," a fictional UCLA coed, all week, and had set up a "date" with him after the game.

When Pruitt made his first trip to the free-throw line against the Bears, the pranksters dropped the bomb on him. "VIC-TOR-IA, VIC-TOR-IA," the student section yelled out in concert, and then chanted Pruitt's phone number, which he had provided over IM. A shocked Pruitt missed both throws, went 3-for-13 from the field on the day -- finishing with 12 points, 4.7 under his average -- and the Trojans lost, 71-60. Pruitt recovered for his reunion with the Bears on Thursday night in the Pac-10 tournament, scoring 22 points ... but still lost, 71-60.

- Is this the saddest bubble story of all? My Northwestern Wildcats lost to Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, dropping to 14-15 and, most likely, out of the running for an NIT bid (although the revised rules do allow sub-.500 teams this year, so there is a sliver of hope). It marks the third straight season NU has finished one game below .500, making my alma mater, I think, the decade's unluckiest NIT hopeful. This, from the school that played host to the first Final Four in 1939, at the old Patten Gym on Sheridan Road.

(Comment away, and we'll check back in with you from the Big East semifinals on Friday night. Remember, your replies are moderated, so they won't appear until approved by an SI.com editor.)

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3/10/2006 12:36:00 AM

Trouble On The Mountain?

Kevin Pittsnogle
Kevin Pittsnogle scored 22 points for WVU, but his teammates were a combined 6-of-22 from 3-point land.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- When the clock ticked down under 5:30 in the first half on Thursday night, Pittsburgh had just 10 points to its name. Total. West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle had eight on his own, and the score was Mountaineers 22, Panthers 10. WVU was going to cruise into the semifinals ... and then it went ice-cold, and was outscored 58-35 for the remainder of the game, a 68-57 loss.

Should the Mountaineers (20-10) be sweating the fact that they've lost six of their last nine games entering the Big Dance? Last year's improbable run to the Elite Eight was preceded by a streak to the finals of the Big East tournament. Should WVU be worried that it shot 34.0 percent -- and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc -- on Thursday against Pitt (23-6)? The Mountaineers depend on offensive execution and hot 3-point shooting to trump everything else, including massive rebounding deficits and a lack of big bodies in the post.

"For whatever reasons, we could not make some of the shots we made last year," said coach John Beilein. "I think we shot 40 percent throughout this whole tournament [last year]. We only shot 33 today."

WVU was also outrebounded 44-25, and allowed Pitt center Aaron Gray to have a monster, 19-point, 15-rebound game. The Mountaineers of '04-05 -- with Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer -- were much more well-equipped to defend on the inside. "I've been concerned all year that we weren't as athletic as we were last year," said Beilein. "D'or Fisher and Tyrone Sally were very quick, very good defensive players. And any time we lose, I'm concerned."

Are you, the fan, as hesitant as I am to send the Mountaineers on another deep NCAA tournament run in your bracket?

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