for two seasons at Oklahoma, but he transferred to Xavier in 2005 and took his
hard-partying reputation with him—at least until Musketeers coach Sean Miller
arranged an intervention of sorts in the spring of '06 that included Lavender's
mother, Shirlene Howard. "It was really emotional," Xavier assistant
James Whitford says. Lavender choked up while revealing his grief over the
death of Bruce Howard, his AAU and high school coach in Columbus, Ohio. The
coach died from liver failure in '03, which deeply affected Drew, who says
Howard "was everything to me."
rededicated himself to hoops, and he's no longer a fixture on the party scene.
"When he's playing at his very best, we can beat anyone in the
country," says Miller, whose Muskies will need a top performance from their
point guard against West Virginia on Thursday in Phoenix (and even more in a
potential West Regional final against top-seeded UCLA).
Butch suffered the emotional strain of a loved one's illness—his mother, Nancy,
battled breast cancer, now in remission—a year after he shocked the Badgers
faithful by deciding to redshirt his freshman season to gain strength for the
rough-and-tumble Big Ten. The result: Butch didn't earn a starring role until
his fifth year in Madison. "The development I've had is what [college
basketball] is all about," he says. "[Redshirting] definitely paid off
in the end. I would have been able to help the team [as a true freshman], but
not as much as I'm helping now." Underrated all season, the Big Ten
champion Badgers can return to their first Final Four since 2000 with wins this
week over Davidson and either 12th-seeded Villanova or, more likely, top-seeded
Kansas, one of the few teams that can match Wisconsin's size.
As Butch and
Lavender know, for seniors in the NCAA tournament the phrase time running down
on the clock takes on a whole new dimension. That's especially true this week
for three up-and-down senior sharpshooters whose teams' fates may wobble on
their (not always squared-up) shoulders. But who's to say they can't make like
Memphis's Dorsey and write their own happy ending?
Lofton was a preseason All-America and has made more three-pointers (429) than
all but two players in NCAA history, but his yo-yoing senior season continued
in wins over American and Butler last week when he shot a combined 4 for 18
(and 3 for 12 from beyond the arc). Sophomore forward Tyler Smith has taken
over as the Vols' go-to guy, but Lofton will have to stretch defenses with his
outside shot this week for Tennessee to have any chance of beating Louisville
and potentially the East's top seed, North Carolina (whose star forward Tyler
Hansbrough is seeking his first Final Four—the last, indisputable argument for
his player-of-the-year worthiness). "I've had two bad games," Lofton
said on Sunday, "but we still survived and advanced, and that's what this
tournament is about. I'm going to get some rest and then get back in the gym.
That's all I can do."
Even colder is
UCLA's Shipp, who admits "it would be hard" for the Bruins to win a
national title if he can't shake the worst shooting slump of his career. Shipp
scored 18 points in last year's Final Four loss to Florida, but he ended the
'07--08 regular season on an 8-for-47 bender from three-point range. In UCLA's
51--49 second-round win over Texas A&M, Shipp missed all four of his field
goal attempts, passed up several open shots and finished with zero points. The
Bruins may be able to beat 12th-seeded Western Kentucky without a third
credible scorer behind Kevin Love and Darren Collison, but "that won't
work" in a potential regional final against Xavier or West Virginia, Love
says, and he's right.
Neitzel is just as important to the Spartans' fortunes. If it seems as if
Neitzel was born to play college basketball, that's not a stretch: His father,
Craig, a high school coach, stuck a tiny goal and foam ball in his crib, and
Drew learned to eat and brush his teeth with both hands, one reason he's an
ambidextrous shooter. But Neitzel sometimes struggled to score with either hand
this season—after winning the Big Ten player of the year award as a junior, his
production slipped from 18.1 points a game to 14.1—and his team failed to win a
Big Ten championship for the fourth straight year. "It seemed like those
dreams started falling away," says Spartans coach Tom Izzo. "I told
him, 'You've quit dreaming! You have to keep dreaming!'"
AND SO, on the
eve of Friday's South Regional semi against Memphis, Neitzel is thinking big
again. "Going to the Final Four would be huge," he said after ending
his scoring skid (just five points on 2-for-11 shooting in Round 1 against
Temple) with 21 points in a gut-check 65--54 second-round win over Pittsburgh.
"I want to leave it all on the floor because every game could be my
One of Neitzel's
best friends in college hoops happens to be Memphis's Dorsey, his teammate on
last year's U.S. Pan American Games team, who says he likes to call Neitzel
"L'il Vin Diesel." When their teams meet on Friday in Houston, the
result may well hinge on Dorsey's fragile psyche. "If he shows up we're a
great team. If he doesn't...," Douglas-Roberts says, shrugging his
shoulders like a weary parent. Indeed, Dorsey is an inscrutable presence among
the Tigers. During last week's first media session, he lay on the locker room
floor with a towel over his head and refused to speak with reporters, claiming
he was catching up on his sleep.
It was just
another of his infamous mood swings. "Joey's one of those guys, when it's
really going good, that's when he's at his worst—that's when he reverts and
goes [to nightclubs]," says Calipari, who still shakes his head recalling
Dorsey's actions at a Memphis club last fall, when he sparked a brawl that
ended with the arrests of teammates Jeff Robinson and Shawn Taggart. "Joey
likes to go out and be with people and have them stroke [his ego],"
Calipari adds. "I'm like, 'Go to the movie theater! Go to the mall! Go buy
a dog! Because dogs love you.' But to go out at three in the morning? It's to
get stroked. I'm telling you, there are other ways to do it."