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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.
3/16/2006 11:14:00 PM

Speed Vs. 'Power'

Glen Davis
Glen Davis scored 16 second-half points for LSU in Thursday's win.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- "Just run on their ass!" were the words that boomed out of the Iona huddle during a first-half timeout on Thursday, as the Gaels were afire with the spirit of a heavy underdog that had a No. 4 seed on the ropes. They were leading LSU -- a team that had Iona severely outsized -- 20-17 with 7:08 to go, and the climate was right for an upset: The crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena was flush with Florida fans who had willingly hopped on the No. 13 seed's bandwagon, creating thousands of honorary Gaels fans for the evening.

Iona (23-8), meanwhile, was running the SEC-champion Tigers (24-8) toward a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament; lightning-quick senior guards Steve Burtt Jr. and Ricky Soliver were en route to scoring 24 of Iona's 37 first-half points; as a team they created 12 turnovers, scored on double-pumping, fast-break layups, and contained the Tigers' Big Baby, 6-foot-8, 315-pound Glen Davis, to just five points at the break of a helter-skelter game.

Trailing 37-32 heading into the locker room, LSU could see its hopes of a darkhorse Final Four run about to evaporate in a one-and-done cloud, and even Davis admitted that, "Man, I got a little worried."

The final 20 minutes were when Davis took over, bringing his opponents' speed game to a crawl. Gaels head coach Jeff Ruland, during another first-half timeout, had issued one warning to his squad: "Watch out for the fat-ass coming down the lane." He was referring to Davis, obviously, in less endearing terms than Big Baby, and what Iona ended up watching, coming out of the locker room, was the same play, called by Tigers coach John Brady approximately 15 straight times to start the second half: "Power." And power, said guard Darrel Mitchell, "is exactly what it says -- get the ball inside and work off the big fella."

LSU forced two early turnovers and then began sending the ball almost exclusively through Davis in the post, and his point total ballooned to 21 by the final gun, when the score was LSU 80, Iona 64. The Big Baby scored on a series of power moves, turnaround jumpers and even handled the ball to break the press twice in the second half ("I think I can play the point," he said, semi-seriously, in the post-game).

Davis said the thought of the end of the season -- and the springtime barbecues that come with it in Baton Rouge -- had crept into his mind early on. "After you finish, and you ain't got nothing to do, you just barbecue all day," Davis said. "And I don't want that barbecue right now."

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3/16/2006 06:30:00 PM

Three For the Break

Joakim Noah
Florida's Joakim Noah was a one-man show against South Alabama.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few scenes for you, while we step out for some much-needed dinner:

- A good 15 minutes after Florida's 76-50 rout of South Alabama: A handful of reporters are eschewing their press-conference duties and instead gathering around a 12-inch television at center court, watching the end of Winthrop-Tennessee unfold. There are whoops as Chris Lofton's improbable, off-balance two falls to sink Winthrop's upset bid.

- In the hallway a few minutes after the Tennessee win: Florida's Joakim Noah is holding court with reporters after his sick, 16-point, eight-rebound, seven assist, five-block showing -- and stops when he sees LSU's Glen Davis strolling in to the locker room for the Tigers' 7:15 p.m. tipoff against Iona. "Boo-Boo!" Noah says to the Big Baby. "What's poppin?" And then Noah quickly returns to answering questions. "Being able to play at Rucker Park this summer," he tells the pack, "really helped me get my swagger."

- Davis stops to ask me what's going on -- "Who you writing about today?" -- and we talk about Wisconsin-Milwaukee's upset, and what just (nearly) happened to the Vols in Greensboro. "Tennessee almost lost to Winthrop?" said Davis. "Whoaaa. That's March Madness, baby."

UPDATE ... three more, following a rough meal of ballpark franks:

- There's no market for tickets outside here in Jacksonville. The Florida fans that filled the arena earlier this afternoon are trying to unload their night-session seats, and the going rate is well under face. I was offered $54 seats for $40 apiece on the way back inside.

- LSU forward Tyrus Thomas, who has been sidelined since the Kentucky game with a serious ankle injury, didn't start here tonight but looked fine in warmups, sporting two big ankle braces.

- Iona guard Ricky Soliver has the best fro-hawk in college hoops.

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3/16/2006 05:08:00 PM

The Mid-Major

Joah Tucker
Joah Tucker shredded through Oklahoma's zone to score 24 points, while Jason McCoy (right) held his own in the post.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In a darkened ballroom of their riverside hotel on Wednesday night, the Wisconsin-Milwaukee team sat and watched as scouting-report video of Oklahoma was played off of an Apple laptop and projected onto a pull-down screen. When clips showed 6-foot-9, 238-pound Sooners forward Taj Gray shredding through Big 12 defenses, there were some audible groans, and UWM head coach Rob Jeter paused the footage to tell his players, "There'll be extra space on the plane home if you allow this to happen. Because I won't be on it. You'll leave me down here" -- in the hospital, presumably.

By mid-afternoon on Thursday, with his No. 11-seeded Panthers (22-8) walking off the floor in businesslike fashion -- acknowledging their yellow-clad fans with fist pumps, but no Cinderella-esque celebration -- after an 82-74 upset of No. 6 Oklahoma (20-9), Jeter was in fully stable condition. Gray finished the first half with just four points and four turnovers, and fouled out with 3:35 remaining in the second. The undersized Panthers, by hustling and fronting Gray and frontcourt mate Kevin Bookout (a 6-8, 270 pound beast) limited the nation's No. 1 rebounding team to only a plus-three advantage on the boards (35 to 32), and never trailed in the victory at Veterans Memorial Arena.

"For 40 minutes on a national stage, you can't let teams get away with standing over you and out-jumping you," Jeter said. "I just want to make sure OU worked. They were just too big and too strong for us to stand behind them."

By outworking the Sooners -- both on the glass and by drawing fouls via penetration (UWM's free-throw advantage was 32 to 8) -- UW-Milwaukee played bracket-buster for the second straight season, riding its lineup of five senior starters to a likely second-round date with No. 3 Florida. In the 2005 tournament the Panthers used coach Bruce Pearl's 1-2-1-1 press to engineer upsets of Alabama and Boston College and earn a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

This year under Jeter, the darlings of the Horizon League used a hybrid of Pearl's press (forcing 18 turnovers) and the swing offense Jeter learned as an assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin to wear down the Sooners and get good looks for guards Joah Tucker (24 points) and Boo Davis (26). They retained some of Pearl's principles, but the calm, collected Jeter -- who only looked riled once during Thursday's contest, on a blown goaltending call -- should not be regarded as a mere steward. "Just because [Jeter's] not out there sweating through his suit, or stomping his feet [a la Pearl, who's now at Tennessee], doesn't mean he's not coaching," said forward Adrian Tigert, who had 14 points and five rebounds. "He's done a great job."

UWM's style may be slightly tweaked, a product of a season-long give-and-take between the swing-minded Jeter and his pack of seniors who intend to run ("There were times we could have put a sign up -- 'This is a work in progress, please be patient' -- but what matters is that you're playing your best ball in March, and we are," said Tucker), but one thing has remained the same: The Panthers' tournament upsets haven't been flukes. UWM, with seven seniors on its roster, is the most experienced team in the entire dance, and has guards in Tucker and Davis who can score on anyone in the nation. If they can pull off another win, over third-seeded Florida on Saturday, the Panthers could cement their status as a Midwestern version of 2000-era Gonzaga: The most feared mid-major in the dance.

When Jeter stood before his players on Wednesday night, he told them, "Absolutely, without a doubt, this is a game we can come out on the left side of and win. We come in and face an opponent that's a little confident, and put the pressure on them to beat a mid-major team. I've been on the other side [at Wisconsin] -- the pressure's always been on the bigger team."

It was no David-vs.-Goliath motivational speech. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which as an 11 seed was only a slight underdog against OU, isn't in the David position anymore. It has become, over the past two tournaments, the hyphenated school that makes everyone else extremely nervous.
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3/16/2006 02:45:00 PM

The Sooners Have Fallen

The clock read 8:04 in the second half, when UW-Milwaukee point guard Chris Hill lulled his defender to sleep with a slow, cross-over -- and then drilled a step-back 3 to put the Panthers up 60-46 on an Oklahoma team that had begun its season ranked No. 6 in the AP poll. The 11th-seeded Panthers' cheering section, a yellow-filled slice of the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, was on its feet, rowdy; while Oklahoma's fans, across the way, were silent.

The OU contingent didn't seemed stunned, however -- and neither did UW-M. After all, despite the seeds reading six and 11, this 82-74 UW-M win was hardly an upset. The Panthers, who went to the Sweet Sixteen last year under Bruce Pearl, could do the same in 2006 under Rob Jeter. As UW-M strolled off the floor, it was hardly celebrating. Florida, beware.

A couple of talking points while we do post-game reporting, and hit you back later with a real column:

1. Did this upset shock you at all?
2. Is UW-Milwaukee becoming the old-school Gonzaga of of the Midwest?
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3/16/2006 11:51:00 AM

Opening Day

JACKSONVILLE -- The dance begins. And there's nothing better than the opening Thursday. I strolled up to Veterans Memorial Arena before 11 a.m., and a found a subdued scene; only a handful of scalpers, and a couple of hundred fans waiting for the doors to open -- including these characters:

SI Cover
Luke Winn/SI

SI Cover
Luke Winn/SI

The sign, just for the record, is not for a strip club. Just a restaurant next door to the arena.

Once inside, camped in press row, we see the UW-Milwaukee Panthers begin to trickle out. Will they be our first Cinderellas?

SI Cover
Luke Winn/SI
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3/16/2006 01:07:00 AM

The Ultimate Upset

Fairleigh Dickinson
FDU's Brahn Jenkins and Andrea Crosariol played one great half against Illinois in 2005.
Elsa/Getty Images

The odds are heavily against these little guys:

- No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Southern.
Blue Devils favored by 25.

- No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 16 Oral Roberts.
Tigers favored by 13.
- No. 1 UConn vs. No. 16 Albany.
Huskies favored by 22.
- No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Monmouth.
Wildcats favored by 19.5.

A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, and the cycle of Goliaths-over-Davids is highly likely to continue in the next two days. But if the Ultimate Upset is to happen, how will it go down? For some insight and advice, we turned to Tom Green, the head coach (for the past 23 seasons) of Fairleigh Dickinson. His Knights came the closest of any 16 seed to toppling a 1 in 2005: They led top-ranked Illinois 20-19 in the first half at the RCA Dome, and trailed by just a single point at halftime before eventually losing, 67-55.

SI.com: What's the pre-game speech you used, in case a coach of a 16-seed needs a template?

Tom Green: It goes back to a long time ago -- I stole it from Gene Keady. We played Purdue in the 1988 NCAA tournament and Keady told his team before the game, "If we play Fairleigh Dickinson 100 times, we should win 95 out of 100." I turned it around -- I said to my kids, "If we played Illinois 100 times, they'd win 99. Let's make this the one time Fairleigh Dickinson goes out and beats Illinois."

SI.com: What do you remember from the moment you pulled ahead of the Illini?

TG: First, when we hit a shot to pull within three, there was a hush -- the RCA Dome was full of fans in orange, but you could hear a pin drop. We went ahead for about 15 seconds of the game, and during that stretch, I told my assistants to go find the power switch and cut the lights, because maybe the game would end. Later, I told my kids, if we hit the first shot of the second half (to take another lead), then definitely go find the power switch.

SI.com: Is it going to take a certain kind of matchup to finally end the No. 1 seeds' streak?

TG: The odds against it happened seem to grow greater every year -- but I do think it's going to happen one of these times. It'll be a No. 1 with a ton of confidence built up, that's looking ahead in the bracket and doesn't bring its A-game. The [16] will have to be very quick and athletic, and come out and have an extremely good shooting night.

SI.com: What's your advice for the 16s this year?

TG: You have to have unbelievably great shot selection, really take care of the basketball ... and block out until the cows come home.

My teams have always been loose, too. I've tried to downplay how good of an opponent we're facing. I want us to be the loosest and least nervous team in the NCAA tournament; I'll say, "Let's go out and play hard and play well, and let's make our opponent get nervous."

I usually buy a pack of Di-Gel tablets (antacids), and go through about four or five of them during a game. But I'll pull them out in the pre-game [during the tourney] and say, "I'm not going to need these," and throw them away. Then, after the team leaves the locker room, I'll take them back out of the wastebasket.

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3/16/2006 01:03:00 AM

The Last Pre-Pool Update

It's 12:42 a.m. here in the hotel in Jacksonville, about 100 minutes into Life Aquatic on Starz (the Sigur Ros/tiger shark scene), and the Tourney Blog Pool is up to a whopping 241 teams. If only we were playing for cash ...

Just wanted to throw out three bits of information:

1. There's still time for more entries; get yours in before the games begin on Thursday and be part of the action. Let's get the roster up to more than 250.

2. If you've already signed up and haven't altered your team name to something interesting, please do. Right now we have such squads as "Harold Arceneaux" (owned by a former college baseball teammate of mine), "Takoma Park Kazakhs," "I'm A Wheel" (good Wilco reference, Melissa), "B. Packer's Tough Monkeys" (from a famous blogger) and "Mookie's Headband." If you end up winning this thing, you don't want to do it with a generic squad.

3. The prize list has yet to be finalized. The original two items were a used, retro CNN/SI fleece and a burned DVD of a Guns 'n' Roses show from 1991. I'm now officially adding in a (case-less) copy of EA Sports' NCAA Basketball 2006 for Playstation 2. When I return to New York next week I'll scrape up a few more. I promise.
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