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.
3/24/2007 01:37:00 AM
Closer Look: North Carolina-USC
Marcus Ginyard ignited the Tar Heels' 18-0 run with three baskets from offensive rebounds.
Michael Heiman/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On their locker-room whiteboard during the NCAA tournament, North Carolina coaches have been in the habit of drawing a large box in blue marker, and then writing a number inside. You could even call it a superstition. When reporters were allowed inside after the top-seeded Tar Heels' 74-64 comeback win over fifth-seeded USC early Saturday morning, the box contained a giant and ominous "8".
Eight, as in, eight teams left in the dance, and we're one of them, courtesy of a furious 18-0 run that buried the Trojans midway through the second half. "If we win, we chop the number down," explained point guard Tywon Lawson, who had a cold shooting night (2-of-10, four points) but outraced fatigued USC late in the game. There was, however, one complication with the box at the outset of the evening: UNC forgot to draw it before tipoff. And at halftime, said Lawson, "some guys were blaming our bad start on us not ever putting up the 16."
That's right: The Heels are superstitious enough to actually blame their nine-point halftime deficit -- to a USC team that was not only matching but surpassing Carolina's athleticism -- on the absence of digits on a markerboard. That should serve as an example of just how fragile life can be for a No. 1 seed in the tournament, even if all four have advanced to the Elite Eight. Ohio State went down to the wire with Tennessee. Kansas survived a dogfight with Southern Illinois. Florida trailed Butler in the second half before winning. And Carolina, without the all-important "16" in its head, played a passionless first 25 minutes against USC and had Roy Williams worrying that his golf season might begin early this year.
"We feel very fortunate," Williams said of the comeback. "Please understand it was not any great coaching strategy; we just got kids that did give us the effort in the second half. We had a lot saved up because we didn't use very much of it in the first half."
As the Trojans' Taj Gibson dominated inside (12 points, nine boards in the first half) and guards Nick Young (11 in the first half) and Gabe Pruitt (nine) lit up the scoreboard with an array of slashing moves early on, UNC looked almost helpless. It wasn't pushing the pace, and its unmasked star, Tyler Hansbrough, was invisible. He had only two points in the first half and five in the game.
"We knew, coming in, that we were going to be able to get what we wanted," said Pruitt. "We took advantage of penetration and got the ball Taj in the lane, but they just played bigger down the stretch, especially on the glass."
The leader of the Tar Heels' put-back parade was unheralded sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard, who ignited their epic run -- which lasted from 11:03 to 4:28 in the second half -- with not one, not two, but three follow-up buckets. The third, with 7:38 left, cut the USC lead to one at 59-58 and all but deflated the Trojans' hopes of holding back the flood. Ginyard, the player who had publicly questioned Carolina's toughness during its pre-ACC tournament malaise, came from the left baseline for a one-handed tip-in of a Wayne Ellington miss, and then let out a scream that was audible over the roar of the crowd. After three more minutes of the Heels' high-paced onslaught, USC was completely submerged.
"Those extra-effort plays are the ones that get everybody's emotions high," Ginyard said. "That gave this team the energy and the spark to play better defensively and get going on offense."
Ginyard and the Heels found the spark just in time to set up a 1-vs.-2 duel with Georgetown on Sunday. Before that showdown begins, one assumes, the whiteboard number will be prominently posted.
Player Who Impressed: Brandan Wright, UNC. Wright was underwhelming against Michigan State, getting pushed around by the tougher Spartans and held to just three points while playing limited minutes. He looked soft again in the first half against USC, as the more active Taj Gibson (who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds) worked him inside. Just when we were starting to write UNC's obituary, though -- with Wright's ineffectiveness as part of the cause of death -- he came up huge in the second half. Once Gibson got into foul trouble, the 6-foot-9 Wright used his length to elevate over the Trojans, and scored 13 second-half points to finish with 21. Roy Williams likes to use Tiger Woods references when talking about Wright, and on Friday he said this:
"Yesterday again, Tiger shot 71, last week he shot 76 in the final round; but he's still Tiger," Williams said. "Today he shot 66. So Brandan shot 76 the other night but he shot 66 today. He doesn't know what the heck I'm talking about, so I can say anything I want about golf."
Courtside Confidential: UNC's media relations staff distributed a sobering press release late in Friday's game. It stated that the team's mascot for the past three years, senior Jason Ray, had been hit by a car outside a hotel in Fort Lee, N.J., that afternoon. He was listed in critical condition at the Hackensack Medical Center. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was informed of the situation just seconds before his opening press-conference remarks. "It sort of makes everything else pale in comparison," Williams said. "It's nerve-wracking right now to think about that." ... There was one celebrity sighting other than ol' Pat Ewing in East Rutherford: Giants quarterback Eli Manning. ... USC's players were mostly sporting closely shaved heads for Friday's game -- a big change from the wild cuts they wore to Thursday's practice. Said Nick Young, who had mini-frohawk with intricate designs shaved into the sides during that workout, "Coach had a talk with us and he thought it would be better if we go out there looking the same -- so everybody on the team's got bald heads."
The Big Picture: Both Carolina and Georgetown overcame miserable starts to reach the East Region final. But while the Hoyas seemed more upbeat about overtaking Vandy -- perhaps it was the last-second nature in which they won -- some Tar Heels were still expressing concern over their early sluggishness. "We can't keep doing this," said Ginyard. "It's tough to say that, but it's even tougher to do that. We've really got to start playing 40-minute games, and from this point on we have to get tougher."
Much of the pressure to step up will fall on Hansbrough, who had one of his worst performances of the season on Friday but said, "I always play better after I've played poorly." Whether or not he wins the star battle with Georgetown's versatile Jeff Green will go a long way in deciding the game. While Kansas-UCLA is considered by many to be the tournament's marquee regional final, is there really anything bigger than UNC-Georgetown? It'll be a classic contrast of styles, pitting the Hoyas' methodically efficient halfcourt scheme against the Heels' relentless up-tempo attack. "We don't feel like anyone can run with us for 40 minutes," said Hansbrough. The Hoyas aren't interested in running, though. They just want to pick UNC apart.
DaJuan Summers (right) chased down Jeff Green (left) after the buzzer sounded.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jeff Green squeezed between two defenders and Georgetown squeezed out a win.
Michael Heiman/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- How Jeff Green wanted to celebrate his shining moment, we'll never know. Green isn't a particularly flamboyant player, so perhaps he didn't have any jersey-popping or arm-waving planned after he banked in the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left to lift Georgetown over Vanderbilt 66-65, and into the Elite Eight. Thanks to freshman teammate DaJuan Summers, though, Green's party consisted of being enveloped in a suffocating bear-hug near halfcourt.
"I just said, 'Gimme a hug, man, just hug me, because that was amazing'," Summers explained later, neglecting to consider that he gave Green no other option but to hug. "Jeff's made big shots before, like against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament, but this was different. It was on a whole different stage."
In a game that the second-seeded Hoyas nearly bumbled away -- falling behind by 13 points late in the first half, erasing that deficit in the second, then watching their star center, Roy Hibbert, foul out with 3:58 left, and giving Vandy the lead back with under 20 seconds left -- they were rescued by the player who had carried them through many of the 29 wins that had preceded this one. And even then, Green, who would finish with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nearly coughed up the ball -- and Georgetown's season with it -- on the final possession. The play had him receiving the the rock near the right elbow, with instructions to look for Patrick Ewing Jr. on a backdoor cut, but that option wasn't available.
That would have been the storybook East Coast ending to this Friday night in Jersey, with one Ewing hitting the game-winner while another Ewing (his pops, Patrick, the ex-Knicks star who received an ovation when he appeared on the scoreboard in the first half) looked on from behind the bench. This game, however, was more stormy than scripted, and Green had to improvise against a double-team with the clock running down. He lost the ball at first as he spun, then recovered, calling it a "fumble play I had to make," and somehow found a way to kiss it off the glass and in. He appeared to have traveled on the replay, but at that crucial juncture, the refs' whistles were buried. "I got lucky," Green said of the shot, "and it went in."
"We knew what was coming," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "It looked like we had him covered, and I'm certainly not going to take away from the dignity of the game [by questioning the refs]. I haven't seen the replay, and I don't care to. He made a great shot."
After Commodores guard Alex Gordon had his prayer from just inside halfcourt blocked at the buzzer, Hibbert came running off the bench to join the mob scene. The gentle giant, whose bonehead foul on Derrick Byars' three-point attempt with 3:58 left both disqualified him and resulted in a 3-point Vandy lead, admitted that it hurt to watch the final four minutes from the pine. "But," said Hibbert, "I had faith they would pull it out in crunch time."
Hoyas guard Jessie Sapp, who was sitting next to the hug-happy Summers in the corner of the locker room, felt that crunch time was not the appropriate description for Green's situation.
"That's Jeff Green time," said Sapp. "And Jeff Green does what Jeff Green does. If he didn't do it again today, we're not moving on."
What Green has done, just in the past three weeks, is hit a game-winning jumper to beat Notre Dame in the Big East tourney semifinals; devastate Boston College with his late work on the offensive glass -- plays he made when his normal moves weren't working -- in the second round of the NCAA tournament; and Friday, push the Hoyas to within one game of the Final Four. In what is likely his last year in college before entering the NBA draft, the junior forward is relishing every opportunity to take the big shot.
"I like to have the ball in my hands in the [close] games, because I have confidence in myself that I can make plays," Green said in Georgetown's postgame press conference, with coach John Thompson III sitting at his side. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to try to win the game, If that's having the ball in my hands or making another play to get my teammate open. Hopefully I'm one of those top players that can make those plays."
It was then that Thompson felt the need to chime in and confirm the hopes of his star. "His coach," said Thompson, "feels that way."
Good, then. We're all in agreement. The Hoyas are in good hands when Jeff Green Time rolls around, and he does what he does. It's usually something worthy of an embrace.
Memphis' (from left to right) Kareem Cooper, Joey Dorsey and Willie Kemp felt the suspense in the final minute against Texas A&M on Thursday.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
NEW YORK -- What a crazy night. Thursday was my first opportunity to sit back and watch an entire day's worth of tournament games on TV rather than from press row, and I was blessed with five and a half riveting hours of basketball. Makes me worry that there won't be any magic left over for East Rutherford (where I'll be on Friday).
Memphis had a counter-punch for every aspect of Texas A&M's physical play, and the Tigers' relentless offensive glasswork in the last minute -- which resulted in Antonio Anderson's game-clinching trip to the foul line -- was a thing of beauty. With Joey Dorsey, who shed his jersey after fouling out, looking on in a white undershirt, and Anderson grabbing what Grant Wahl referred to as "nether regions" to punctuate the win, Memphis appeared to have the raw, ballsy edge it'll need to take down Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, pulled off an epic comeback with more long-distance wizardry from Ron Lewis. I question how long they can keep tempting fate, but I encourage them to continue trying. It makes for amazing drama.
I can't sign off for the night, however, without feeling slightly depressed. I'm confident the better team won each game in San Antonio, and both (Memphis 65-64 and Ohio State 85-84) were one-point thrillers. It's just that the losers' failed shot attempts at the buzzer left something to be desired. A lot to be desired, actually. Two of the tourney's clutchiest (that's my Stephen Colbert word for it) players, Texas A&M's Acie Law and Tennessee's Chris Lofton, were bounced from the dance as a result. And why is that depressing?
Because, despite their well-deserved big-shot reputations, neither guy was given the chance to take the last one on Thursday.
On the Aggies' final possession, an inbounds play from beyond halfcourt with 2.0 seconds left, Law was used as a decoy, streaking toward his basket with a couple of Memphis players tracking him. This was probably the smart chess move by Billy Gillispie, since it guaranteed a quick, open look for someone else. Law had also just missed a breakaway layup that he would later claim "cost us the game." That said, I'd still put money on Law taking a double-teamed three at the gun over Dominique Kirk taking one in single coverage. Every time.
The Vols' last play was a scramble situation, with the ball in the hands of freshman point guard Ramar Smith, who had no intention of passing it and drove the right side of the lane. He put up a floater that might have had a chance, had its flight pattern not been altered -- drastically and disastrously -- by Greg Oden's right hand. All the while, Lofton was camped on the left wing, well-covered, waiting for a kick-out that never happened.
I'm sitting here looking at the box scores, which say that Law took 17 shots and Lofton took 18. Both players hoisted more than any of their teammates, but those numbers are irrelevant when they don't include the two shots that mattered.
A parting thought for Texas A&M and Tennessee: You lived on Law and Lofton's cold-bloodedness all season. While it's possible you still would have died with the ball in their hands on Thursday, we'll never know if they were capable of heroics. They were owed, at the very least, a chance to find out.
Vandy's Shooting Star (And It's Not Derrick Byars)
Vandy's Shan Foster and Alex Gordon sign autographs in East Rutherford.
The open practices at Continental Airlines Arena were sparsely attended.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kevin Stallings stood by himself at halfcourt of Continental Airlines Arena on Thursday during Vanderbilt's practice, picking up basketballs and nonchalantly launching them, from behind his back, at the basket 47 feet away. They kept bricking, mostly wide left off the backboard, until he eventually gave up and called an end to the workout.
"That's coach's party trick, and he usually hits it in three tries, so he's probably sitting outside right now frustrated with himself," junior forward Alan Metcalfe joked while standing in the sixth-seeded Commodores' locker room afterward. "He hates losing at HORSE, so he makes up these random things that no one else can do. He's also figured out how to double-bank a shot -- first of the backboard, then the rim, then the backboard again and in -- and he's pretty good at it."
For most of the nation, the indelible image of Stallings is that of a man defiantly playing dead-ball keep-away from Joakim Noah in Vandy's upset of the then-No.1 ranked Florida on Feb. 17. But many of the Commodores -- among them some of the most dangerous long-distance shooters left in the NCAA tournament -- associate their head coach with those trick shots. Shan Foster, the 6-foot-6 junior guard who once chose Vandy over Kansas, Notre Dame, LSU and Illinois, still remembers what Stallings did when he visited Foster's hometown of Kenner, La.
"He came to my high school when I was getting recruited, and we were playing HORSE," Foster said. "He made that shot three times in a row to beat me, So I've seen it before."
Asked if Stallings' marksmanship, which was honed as a player on Purdue's 1980 Final Four team, swayed his decision, Foster said, somewhat jokingly, "I thought, if a coach can make a shot from half-court behind his back, I needed to be on his team."
Considering that Foster is the 'Dores' second-leading scorer, at 15.6 points per game, and that he's averaging 19.0 during the run to the Sweet 16, Stallings' circus move was a rather valuable recruiting tool.
Stallings' 17-year-old son, Jacob, was standing in the corner of the Vandy locker room on Thursday, watching his dad's press conference on a wall-mounted TV. Jacob, a prep gunner at Brentwood Academy in Nashville who was launching his share of 3-pointers during the practice, said that he doesn't play much HORSE against his pops -- only about 20 times, ever -- "because he always beats me, and then makes fun of me afterwards."
Metcalfe, the big Englishman who was still standing nearby, glanced up at the TV and decided to let Jacob know that, "I dropped out of that Facebook group you made for your dad."
"That wasn't my group," Jacob said. "I don't care."
The Facebook group Metcalfe was referencing? "Kevin Stallings: Sexiest coach in the NCAA," which has more than 250 members, mostly from Jacob's high school.
"I didn't really feel like my relationship with coach was on that kind of level," Metcalf said, laughing.
Understandable. Stallings may be phenomenal at HORSE, and leading a team that has more than a halfcourt-around-the-back-shot's chance of knocking Georgetown out of the dance tomorrow. But sexy?
• 6-11 Vandy center Ted Skuchas is the star of a black-and-white, YouTube commercial spoof that popped up on Deadspin last week. It's an old-timey advertisement for professional "Tall Guys," who can help with tasks like changing lightbulbs, rescuing frisbees, etc. (defending Roy Hibbert is not listed as one of the available services).
I asked Skuchas for an explanation while he was standing outside the Vandy locker room. "I did that in high school [at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia]," he said. "That was the idea of one of my friends who's now out in L.A., working in the movie industry. He actually sent me that link a long time ago, but after it was up on Deadspin this last time, I came into practice on Monday and one of my coaches asked, 'What was that thing?'"
The stylish Jayhawks moved on to face Southern Illinois in the Sweet 16.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
It's been about a month since I last expanded the Style Archive, and so much has happened. Brent Petway shaved his head like a Michigan football helmet. Nike ran a questionable jersey experiment. Tyler Hansbrough was fitted for a mask. Most important, by being in Chicago on Sunday -- and lingering around the Kansas locker room, which was abuzz with talk about the diamond rims on Michael Jordan's Range Rover -- I was able to get the back-story on one of the Archive's previous entries: The shaved-in hair designs of Chicago-area products Julian Wright and Sherron Collins.
Wright, perhaps the season's best Q&A subject, was too mobbed by TV cameras to be bothered about barbers, but Collins took time out from throwing tape-balls at Mario Chalmers to answer. "Those designs are something we always used to do when we were little," he said, "so me and Ju thought it would be a real good way to bring back some Chicago flavor to Kansas."
Collins said he and Wright hit up Watson's Barber in Lawrence together "about every week and a half when it grows out," and usually let their go-to razor man, Marty, pick the designs. "They're just little graphics," Collins said. "Sometimes Marty just does them, or he draws them out for us on a piece of paper, and we go with it."
Both Collins and Wright were in need of fresh cuts. Let's hope we see something new on their domes in San Jose. While waiting for those games to begin -- and still laughing over the fact that KU's Brandon Rush actually said, "I saw [Jordan's] rims; I wanted to give him a good performance" -- we unveil 10 additions to the Archive:
(For the tourney-bandwagon readers unfamiliar with the Style Archive, this is its fifth expansion after opening on Dec. 4, 2006. It has grown to 44 exhibits, which can all be found here. Readers are encouraged to make archive nominations either in the blog comments or by e-mailing email@example.com.)
>> March 20 Exhibits <<
The Chicago Shave Julian Wright and Sherron Collins, Kansas Classification: Shaved-in hair designs Submitted by: Reader Dustin Fox Notes: It's good to now have the full scoop on the Wright/Collins barbershop work, and confirm that it was in fact "Chicago flavor." Collins also told me that his original Chicago barber went by the name of "Razor Red."
Dreadlock Duo Randal Falker and Jamaal Tatum, Southern Illinois Classification: Extra-long-dreads duo Spotted: While tearing up the Valley Notes: Falker, a Photoshop whiz and frontcourt menace, and Tatum, a clutch scorer, form the most hirsute 1-2 punch in college hoops. The Saluki is the Royal Dog of Egypt, and Falker actually appears Sphinx-like at times.
Plexiglass T Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9 forward, Soph., North Carolina Classification: Protective Face Mask Spotted: During the ACC/NCAA tournaments Notes: Psycho T went through two masks -- a god-awful one that crippled him during the ACC tourney, then a new one that he ditched vs. Michigan State -- after being clubbed by Duke's Gerald Henderson.
Nice 'Stache, Bro Jason Cain, 6-10 forward, Sr., Virginia Classification: Porn-style moustache Spotted: For about four seasons now ... Notes: The 2007 NCAA tournament was the farewell tour for the 'stache, which was such a phenomenon even back in 2004 that it inspired the creation of a UVA student group named The Assemblage of Cain.
Helmet Head Brent Petway, 6-8 forward, Sr., Michigan Classification: Winged-helmet shave Spotted: March 3 vs. Ohio State Notes: Brent isn't in the NCAAs, but the intricately-shaved Wolverine-helmet hair he sported on Senior Day at Michigan might be the single greatest style statement of the season. Air Georgia, the Tourney Blog salutes you.
The Classic Last-Name Tat Mike Nardi, 6-2 guard, Sr., Villanova Classification: Self-referential shoulder tattoo Spotted: Over Nardi's whole career ... Notes: Seeing UNLV's Wink Adams' "Wink" tattoo last weekend reminded me of Nardi's shoulder-ode to himself, which consists of a large "NARDI" somewhat crudely written over a basketball. It's beautiful.
Glitter City UNLV's Nike jerseys Classification: Numbers painted with silver glitter Spotted: On the road to St. Louis Notes: The Rebels are the only team -- to the best of my knowledge -- in college basketball with their numbers (on the front and back) displayed in glittery metallic paint. And really, why shouldn't they be?
The Rick Fox Curtis Terry, 6-5 G/F, Jr., UNLV Classification: Curly Locks Spotted: vs. Wisconsin in Round 2 Notes: Curtis is the little brother of Dallas Mavericks point guard Jason, and while he wears high, white socks like JT, he has apparently chosen to model his hair after the infamous recruiting host from Tech U.
Magic Shave Kammron Taylor, 6-2 G, Sr., Wisconsin Classification: Zig-zag curly-Q design Spotted: vs. UNLV in Round 2 Notes: Taylor, the Badgers' resident magician, usually sports a freshly shaved design in the front-left portion of his closely cropped hairdo. He also looks like a certain comedian, but that's so old by now.
Duct-Tape Shoulders Ohio State's new Nike jerseys Classification: Silver-ish shoulder flair Spotted: On the road to San Antonio Notes: The Buckeyes (along with Arizona, Syracuse and Florida) are participants in Nike's System of Dress experiment, which includes tighter tops, baggier shorts and, as far as I can tell, duct tape.
Memphis Mesa Andre Allen, 5-10 G, Jr., Memphis Classification: Mohawk-ish crop of hair Spotted: vs. Nevada in Round 2 Notes: Allen, who scored 10 points and dished out four assists in the win over the Wolf Pack, is sporting the edgiest shave by someone other than Brent Petway. It's like a mesa in the middle of his head.
The oddsmakers like Jo Noah's Gators more than the efficiency numbers do.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The SI tourney team re-assessed allfourregionalstoday in regular space, covering everything from clutch players, to X-Factors, to Final Four picks. (I was assigned East Rutherford and took Georgetown). That leaves the Blog free to examine the bracket from more esoteric angles.
For the second week in a row we have a guest contribution from Emory University student Jacob Wheatley-Schaller, who has added a new dimension to his odds-based analysis. In the chart below, Wheatley-Schaller has used futures odds from four online sportsbooks (bodog.com, betus.com, sportsbetting.com and vip.com) to calculate a "Vegas Percentage" -- the percent chance oddsmakers are giving teams to win the national title. He then compared those figures against Ken Pomeroy's efficiency-based percentages to see where bettors and stat-heads don't see eye-to-eye.
Four quick observations, followed by the full chart:
• Vegas' favorite teams are Florida, Kansas, UNC and Georgetown, in that order. The average percentages come out the same way. Seems like a bad sign for Ohio State. • Kenpom's favorites are Kansas, UNC, Florida, Ohio State, in that order. • According to the percentage gaps, Kenpom's numbers most differ with Vegas on the subjects of North Carolina (the efficiency-based percentage is 10.03 higher for the Heels) and Kansas (9.45 percent). • Conversely, Kenpom's percentages say that Florida (by 3.40 percent) Memphis (by 3.07 percent) are the most overrated in Vegas.
Odds vs. Efficiency
How Vegas, Kenpom Handicap the National Title Picture (arranged by region)
VCU's Eric Maynor buried Duke with the biggest shot of the tourney thus far.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
It was Friday afternoon in Buffalo, near the conclusion of Virginia Commonwealth's closed practice at HSBC Arena, and Eric Maynor was describing to me his newfound fame. The sophomore guard measured this not by the size of the CBS audience for his first-round heroics against Duke, but by the bump in traffic on his Facebook page. "I went on the computer this morning, and I had 69 new messages," Maynor said, and then quizzed me excitedly. "And guess how many friend requests. Take a guess. 247!"
Maynor's Rams didn't make the Sweet 16, but he did earn a spot on the Blog's All-First Weekend Team, an honor that may or may not generate additional Facebook friends. The starting five is a mix of old standbys and those, like Maynor and UNLV's Wendell White, who were launched out of obscurity and into the national consciousness by their big-time performances. The All-First Weekend Team
G: Eric Maynor, Soph., VCU Stats: 8-of-16 shooting, 22 points, eight assists, three turnovers, three steals vs. Duke; 5-of-14 shooting, 14 points, eight assists, one turnover, three steals vs. Pitt
Macmain (they nicknamed him after a Lil' Wayne sidekick) saw his numbers take a dip on Saturday, but he did hit the sickest shot of the tournament thus far -- the game-winner against the Blue Devils -- and will undoubtedly be a part of the One Shining Moment montage.
G: Acie Law IV, Sr., Texas A&M Stats: 6-of-15 shooting, 20 points, six rebounds vs. Penn; 6-of-14 shooting (13-of-15 FTs), 26 points, four rebounds vs. Louisville
The Aggies escaped from an inhospitable environment on Law's back, as he gave the Cards' defense fits in Lexington, getting to the line for 15 free-throw attempts and making 13. "We have a point guard who has played at as high a level as I've seen a guy play," said A&M coach Billy Gillispie. "His leadership has gone out of the roof just like his game has."
F: Wendell White, Sr., UNLV Stats: 8-of-12 shooting, 19 points, eight rebounds against Georgia Tech; 8-of-12 shooting, 22 points, three rebounds vs. Wisconsin.
The Rebels list the 6-foot-6 White as a backcourt player, and he calls himself a "power guard," but in reality he's an Alando Tucker-type wing whose 66.7 percent shooting against the Yellow Jackets and Badgers makes him the most efficient offensive star of the dance. Had White kept the afro he wore last season, he'd be getting a lot more national love right now.
F: Tyler Hansbrough, Soph., UNC Stats: 9-of-11 shooting, 21 points, 10 rebounds vs. Eastern Kentucky; 10-of-17 shooting, 33 points, nine rebounds vs. Michigan State.
Pyscho T (or Spaz-bro, if you ask Wes Miller) ripped off his mask at the 12:33 mark of the first half against the ultra-physical Spartans -- and then went nuts on offense, putting up the second 30-point game of his career.
F: Kevin Durant, Fr., Texas Stats: 6-of-13 shooting (15-of-16 FTs), 27 points, eight rebounds vs. New Mexico State; 11-of-24 shooting, 30 points, nine rebounds vs. USC
The Longhorns went out with a whimper in the second round after Trojans guard Gabe Pruitt shut down Durant's freshman sidekick, D.J. Augustin. But Keb-Keb -- who was deprived of much-needed touches early in the USC game -- still turned in two monster performances in his one and only NCAA tournament.
Sixth Man: Nick Young, G/F, Jr., USC Stats: 5-of-13 shooting, 20 points, seven rebounds vs. Arkansas; 8-of-13 shooting, 22 points, seven rebounds vs. Texas
While Pruitt was the Trojans' hero on D, Young was the leader of a balanced scoring effort against Texas that saw all five USC starters finish in double-figures. He said he's never been to New Jersey, but he'll no doubt make some noise there.
Second Team: G: Aaron Brooks, Sr., Oregon G: A.J. Graves, Jr., Butler G/F: Derrick Byars, Sr., Vanderbilt F: Julian Wright, Soph., Kansas C: Roy Hibbert, Jr., Georgetown Sixth man: Ron Lewis, G/F, Sr., Ohio State Late addition: Virginia guard J.R. Reynolds -- a worthy All-Weekender -- was left off the original list. When you're embedded at first- and second-round sites, as I was in Buffalo and Chicago, it's possible for brilliant performances elsewhere to slip your mind. And what Reynolds did, with 54 points over two days, certainly qualifies as brilliant.
Wendell White leads seventh-seeded UNLV into the Sweet 16.
CHICAGO -- All hail the tuba! Florida's basketball team may have been mediocre through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, but one of its band members is dominating.
David Wunderlich, a UF grad student who plays the tuba in one of the Gators' pep bands, is putting the rest of the Tourney Blog Pool to shame. After the first weekend, Wunderlich's "Lee For Three" entry has 70 points (on 43 out of 48 correct picks) and is not only first in our pool, but fourth in the entire Hoops Bracket Challenge. He took the time to send us a note (something I encourage all Tourney Blog leaders and near-leaders to do), not to talk smack to the other 640-or-so entrants but just to introduce himself. "Of course, now that I've sent an e-mail acknowledging my success thus far, I expect everything to promptly fall apart," Wunderlich said.
Memo to whoever runs the Florida pep band: Wunderlich said he'll be at the St. Louis Regional but is not on the list to go to the Final Four. If he's still leading our pool, that has to change, right? How else will we be able replicate last year's courtside picture from the title game with now-famous winner Bradley White -- who also happened to be a Florida fan? (White has fallen from grace this year; his Jo Noah-themed '07 entry, "It's yours against mine," is in 514th place.)
University of Wisconsin student Joe Madden, whose "Blackhawks > Illiniwek" bracket was tied with Wunderlich's after the first round -- and who hails from my original hometown of Fort Atkinson, Wis. -- flopped like Vlade Divac in the second and plummeted to 76th. Joe wrote in to say that whatever happens, he'll still provide late-night bar-taxi service when I'm home visiting my 'rents. Reader Bryan Brooks, who has not e-mailed yet, is in second with his "Pink Squirrels" entry, and as for myself, I'm tied for 173rd. Not great, but not entirely embarrassing, either.
My last act before boarding a plane here at O'Hare is to honor my eight favorite team names in this year's Blog Pool. Since there were more than 600, I tried my best catch all of them; if you had a brilliant name and I missed it, I apologize.
• Durant Durant, by Tim Louman-Gardiner. Just wish Kev had hung around a little longer. • Acie Law XXIII, by Alex Mitchell. Will the 13th Acie still inherit clutch genes? • Nigel Dixon's Spare Tire, by Brett Hainline. Before Big Greasy, there was Big Jelly. • My Morning Bracket, by Craig Chin. I'm a sucker for Jim James references. • Company In My Backcourt, by Melissa Tuttle Carr. Ditto for Jeff Tweedy references. • Peaches and Kareem, by Craig Josselyn. If that's a play on the Beck song, Craig, I like it. • Tim Hardaway's Merry Men, by John Robus. Tim ruined my retro shirt, and I'm still ticked at him for it. • RashardGriffithAutograph, by Nathan Winn. Nate's my brother. But the Rashard autograph is a classic story: In the 1994 NCAA tournament, he took approximately 20 seconds to laboriously sign his name on my game program -- and it took up about 50 percent of the page.
The Runnin' Rebels sometimes have two Coach Krugers -- Kevin (2) and Lon.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
CHICAGO -- Is it still possible, in an age when college basketball is on TV six days a week, and everyone is on a four-month hunt to identify giant-killers, that a team with Final Four potential can sneak up on the nation in March? Because that is exactly what UNLV seems to have done at the United Center.
Quick poll for readers outside of Mountain West country: How many times had you seen this Rebels team on the tube before it went and beat Georgia Tech -- and then upset No. 2-seeded Wisconsin, 74-68, on Sunday? Once? Twice? Not at all? That's what I figured. In its mid-major mania, the country was well-acquainted with Butler, which starred in the NIT Season Tip-Off and the BracketBusters weekend, and earned a No. 5 seed out of the Horizon League. Southern Illinois was no secret, either; the Mo' Valley had Cinderella cred after producing Bradley and Wichita State in '06, and its '07 powerhouse, the Salukis, were handed a No. 4 seed. Yet somehow, the scariest team out of a conference that isn't even considered a mid-major -- a school that won a national championship in 1990, no less -- was slapped with a No. 7 seed and therefore generated very little early buzz in Bracketland.
Mostly, I blame the Mountain West's TV contract; the Rebels played one game on ESPN (ESPN2, actually) all season -- and that was only because they were potentially the backdrop for Bob Knight's record-breaking victory in December (they postponed the General's party). The rest of their contests appeared on either CSTV, which isn't on standard cable in reasonably important media cities such as New York and Atlanta; The mtn., a regional subsidiary of CSTV, or Versus, which is more well-known for televising the Tour de France. UNLV was ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and was No. 10 in the RPI, but it had an exposure problem -- and it affected everything from the Rebels' national reputation to, quite possibly, their seed in the big dance. After winning the Mountain West tournament, the Rebels (30-6) deserved at least a No. 5 seed, and quite possibly a No. 4.
"People didn't watch us," said senior point guard Kevin Kruger. "It would be nice to be on ESPN every night, and have people talking about you on a little podium, but they're not, and there's nothing we can change about that. It's perfectly fine with us. We'll fly under the radar, and you can give me a ring at the end if you want."
That's the catch: The Rebels' underexposure meant much of the nation, up until this week, was unfamiliar with an astoundingly good basketball team. One that, even at this late juncture, is still in need of a proper introduction.
The first thing you must know is that this UNLV team has little in common with the final squads from Jerry Tarkanian Era, who were Vegas' last representatives in the Sweet 16 way back in 1991. The 2007 edition is loaded with veterans who are at best marginal NBA prospects, and squeaky-clean coach Lon Kruger -- who led Florida to the Final Four in '94 and was brought in in '04-05 to reshape the UNLV program -- has squeezed the renegade factor out of its rep.
"He's always been a straight-arrow guy," Kevin Kruger said of his father. "Our biggest problem as a team this year was someone sleeping through class; I don't think any other team in the country can say that. We have no selfishness issues, we don't have people getting in bar-fights, and with everything you can get into in Vegas, I think that speaks volumes."
What the Rebels have become is a crafty father-and-son operation, with Lon pacing the sidelines and Kevin, who had 16 points, seven assists and zero turnovers against the Badgers, running the show on the floor. Forward Wendell White (pronounced WHEN-dell), who led UNLV with 22 points on Sunday, said Kevin was "like another Lon Kruger on and off the court," and called him "the best point guard I've had in my life."
The NCAA's short-lived fifth-year transfer rule, which was repealed in January, allowed 23-year-old Kevin -- Arizona State's junior point guard in '05-06 -- to reunite with his father in Sin City after coach Rob Evans was fired from the Sun Devils. The Rebels would not be this deep in the NCAA tournament without Kevin's steadying presence in the backcourt, and he is well aware of the strange circumstances surrounding his family reunion. "How many times does a kid graduate in four years, happen to have redshirted his first year, have his coach get released, his dad coaching at another college -- and take that team to the tournament?" said Kevin. "The stars are aligned."
The Rebels' personnel also happened to be perfectly aligned around Kruger. In 6-foot-6 senior White, their second-leading scorer, they have a versatile wing player who calls himself a "power guard." He looked like an equal to UW's Big Ten Player of the Year, Alando Tucker, scoring in myriad ways around the basket to counter the Badgers' second-half runs. In sophomore Wink Adams (nine points) and senior Michael Umeh (seven points, seven rebounds), they have two ultra-athletic, albeit undersized, complements for Kruger on the perimeter. And in role players like Jason Terry's little brother, Curtis, a junior who drilled a dagger 3 with 0:33 left in the game to put the Rebels up 72-67, they have a formidable bench. "Different guys at different times have stepped in and contributed in more than just significant ways," said Lon. "They've done it almost weekly."
Kevin, who stepped in as a fifth-year gift to his father in the offseason, and stepped up to score 13 second-half points when they needed him most on Sunday, said there were three reasons that he decided to play his collegiate swan song in Las Vegas. The first was to rejoin Lon, whom he had once tagged along with as a 10-year-old at the Final Four. The second was to help bring the UNLV program back to glory. The third was to "make noise" in the NCAA tournament -- something he predicted would happen in November, after the Rebels were picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West and miss the dance altogether.
Kevin's words, which hardly raised any eyebrows back then, turned out to be prophetic. UNLV no longer has to worry about an underexposure problem. The revived Rebels' bracket racket has been heard nationwide, and won't easily be silenced in St. Louis.
Player Who Impressed Me: Other than Kruger? Other than White? How about Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor, who for the second straight game tried to put the Badgers on his back in the second half and keep them in the tournament. The Madison Magician was customarily cold in the first 20 minutes, shooting 1-for-5 from the field, he but turned it on down the stretch, scoring 19 in the second half and hitting all nine of his free throws. Wisconsin had been plagued by scoring troubles even since it lost Brian Butch to an elbow injury against Ohio State on Feb. 25, and Taylor was its only ballsy playmaker when it mattered.
Courtside Confidential: Last week, colleague Grant Wahl made mention of the Shelley Smith jinx, and it reared its ugly head on Sunday in Chicago. Smith is the ESPN all-access reporter who was embedded with the Badgers during the tourney; she followed Tennessee, another No. 2 seed, in 2006, and the Vols were upset in the second round by seventh-seeded Wichita State. ... UNLV, to the best of my knowledge, is the only college basketball team with glittery silver paint on its jerseys. The Rebels' numbers -- front and back -- are the sparkliest in the tournament. ... The red blazer Bo Ryan wore is much less famous than Sidney Lowe's coat, probably because Ryan's is a deeper color and doesn't make him look like a tomato. Ryan said he wore the blazer for the Badgers' alumni game, and then on Senior Night -- but caught flak from fans for keeping it in the closet during the Big Ten tourney, so he brought it back out during the NCAAs. ... UNLV's band played a song with Wisconsin ties in the second half, busting out the Violent Femmes' Blister in the Sun, and then segueing it into Viva Las Vegas, with its fans singing along.
The Big Picture: Oregon, the Rebels' opponent in the Sweet Sixteen, is far more skilled offensively than either Georgia Tech or Wisconsin, the latter of which probably peaked in mid-February. But can anyone definitively say that UNLV can't beat the Ducks? This is a team that starts four seniors, hasn't lost since Valentine's Day, and matches up well with Oregon. The fact that Kruger & Kruger & Co. managed to scored 74 points against UW, which hadn't yielded that many since an 89-75 win over Pitt on Dec. 16, bodes well for the Rebels hanging with the Ducks' high-efficiency attack. The only problem is, from here on out, UNLV won't be sneaking up on anyone.
CHICAGO -- The Blog has relocated to the Midwest. Rather than calling it a weekend after last night's overtime madness, I grabbed a flight out of Buffalo on a couple of hours' sleep, rented a car at O'Hare and made it to the United Center in time to, well, sit courtside and post these pictures. Thanks goes to good old WXRT, a staple from the Northwestern days, for keeping me awake on the drive.
This dude was guarding the media entrance, ready to blow pipe-tobacco smoke in the face of anyone without a proper credential.
Near the Jordan statue, faux Kammron Taylor seemed to be wondering, like I was, if this UCLA guy got lost on the way to Sacramento.
And finally, friend of the Blog Billy Packer was kind enough to give us a window into his game-preparation process. Packer is ultra old-school and anti-computer; he takes notes from newspaper clippings and copies them onto blank manilla folders.