Buying What Steve Lavin’s Selling?

Posted on March 3, 2011. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Steve Lavin.  St. John’s.  Steve Lavin.  Madison Square Garden.  St. John’s.  And back to Steve Lavin.  Because that’s where it all began for the Red Storm.  We’ve heard a lot about it, right?  You could probably recite the rhetoric and pass a sobriety test. 

“Only one other team in the country has beaten six ranked teams, Texas.  Senior, Dwight Hardy has averaged more than 25 points in his last nine games.  St. John’s will be in the tournament for the first time since 2002.  Steve Lavin has swag.  Want them backwards now?  Officer?”

Steve Lavin Coaching 'Em Up

The new coach has swag.  That’s why New York City’s unexpected favorite sons are winning . . . because they bought in.  All in.  The brand name pedigree of Steve Lavin made the more mature players in the program take notice.  Former Coach with six consecutive NCAA appearances and an overall record of 145-78 at UCLA?  As in John Wooden and Ben Howland UCLA?  Cha CHING.  And if these guys don’t remember him as a coach, they do from watching and listening to Steve Lavin as he was calling the games.  On ESPN.  Cha CHING.

So in addition to the name-dropping power of UCLA, Lavin has the additional ESPN credibility builder.  Add in the age a.k.a. maturity of the players, national coverage of the Big East and mystique of playing in the Garden.  Smack dab in the hub of America’s largest city.  Cha CHING.  Would you like a receipt?  Sounds like a sell to me.  And if you’re still not sure:

Success-starved New York City basketball fans will adore you.

Fans of Big East detractors will adore you too.  America loves the underdog.

You want an opportunity to catch the eye of the Association?  Hello ESPN.

As seniors, this is it.  Not only is it your last chance to impress NBA scouts, it is your last journey wearing that uniform.


Notice that’s not a question.  Because there is NO QUESTION that the AD of St. John’s made the ideal choice.  Even though the program has the 7th most wins in NCAA history (bet you didn’t know that), St. John’s has not been regarded as a top level coaching job lately and their recent history has been anything but pretty:

  • Norm Roberts: 32-70 in Big East play, 81-101 overall, one NIT appearance where they were ousted in the first round in 2010.
  • Kevin Clark: Named interim coach in 2003 after Mike Jarvis was fired.  His only season was the worst in Red Storm history, 6-21 overall and 1-15 in Big East play, and was highlighted by an on-the-road team sex scandal resulting in school suspensions, expulsions and players kicked off the team.
  • Mike Jarvis: Although he had some success with an overall record of 110-61 and several postseason runs, his coaching staff reportedly paid players, leading to a forfeiting of 43 wins during his time, including the 2002 NCAA appearance and the 2003 NIT Championship.  He was fired amidst these off-the-court scandals.  A black eye on the program.  

Enter former UCLA Head Coach and ESPN Analyst, Steve Lavin. 

Can I bag that up for you?

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Hey Final Four! Where’s The Sexy?

Posted on April 2, 2010. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Final Four Weekend Is Here!  Who’s excited?  Anyone?  Going once . . . going twice . . . I’m not buying into the hype of NCAA’s main event this year either.  Unless you are a fan of Duke, Michigan State, WVU, or Butler, you probably aren’t planning your Easter weekend around college basketball.

Why?  There’s No SEXY:  If you love defense and inside play, then you will disagree, but if you lust after the fast paced, up and down the floor, gimme an alley-oop transition game, you won’t get it here.  You’ll get gritty work on the boards and nasty loose ball battles.   Here’s a rundown of each semi-final game:

Butler Bulldogs vs Michigan State Spartans:  The supposed undercard of the two games on Saturday is a matchup between the ambitious young gun leader and the unflappable final four mastermind . . . who wins?  Butler coach, Brad Stevens, doesn’t even look old enough to shave let alone lead a team to the Final Four.  Yet in just his third year at the helm, he has.   Ranked 6th in the country in defensive efficiency, the Bulldogs are riding a 24 game win streak and have to be confident heading into their first Final Four in school history.  But there’s one question . . . 

Is being close to home an advantage?  Not always.  Distractions are aplenty and players can fall victim to the HEY, AT LEAST WE MADE IT mentality and lose focus on accomplishing what you set out the season to do.  Not just get to the Final Four, but win the National Championship.  

It’s been well documented that Tom Izzo has gotten to the Final Four at a break neck clip.  To get to college basketball’s promised land six out of twelve seasons is remarkable.  But he’s only taken home one title.  So there’s plenty of motivation for Sparty to excel in Indianapolis and at the same time, there’s none of the pressure.  The loss of Kalin Lucas has brought this squad together as a team and as long as Korie Lucious takes care of the ball, they have a shot.  

Duke Blue Devils vs West Virginia Mountaineers:  The perceived elitists take on the perceived hillbillies . . . both with historically sucessful head coaches, this is the Final Four’s main event.  Bob Huggins is quickly becoming a legend in Mountaineer country and would cement his hero status with a National Championship for his hometown. 

Coach K is already an icon and would bookend this decade with titles if his Blue Devils went all the way, giving him four total (1991, 1992, 2001).   This will be a surprisingly physical match up, with the play in the paint the deciding factor.  

Rebounding will be huge and both of these teams rank in the top ten nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.  A less than stellar shooting team in the tournament, West Virginia relies on second and third chances for a big part of their offense.  Duke has a reputation to be a finesse team, but this year they have a sneaky good, physical, defense.  Although when spread out, they can be driven on.  If the Mountaineers game plan to drive into the lane, they can get to the foul line for some easy points,.  Overall, boxing out and rebounding will win this game.  

You would think the focus on defense and rebounding would lend itself to a Big East/Big Ten tempo . . . and even though Butler and Duke can hang with the physical play, you’d be right.  That’s why I pick West Virginia and Michigan State to win close, need to get a lucky bounce here and there type games and advance to the finals.

What do you think?

P.S.  Using the term “sexy” when talking basketball reminds me of one of the funniest Will Ferrell moments EVER.  Here it is for your laughing pleasure:

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What A QUACK . . .

Posted on March 31, 2010. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Why won’t money just SHUT UP already? 

Stop talking.  Let the foreign to the sports world concepts of loyalty and finishing what you started, have a say every once in a while, will ya?

Cross your fingers that money was mum Pitt basketball fans.  A 3:30pm press conference has just been called amid rumors of head coach Jamie Dixon being wooed by Oregon University and their chief athletic supporter, Daddy Big Bucks, Phil Knight, the owner of Nike.  Which will confirm one of two things:

A)  Money wasn’t talking, it was SCREAMING at Dixon.  It’s like the drunk heckler in the bleachers that wouldn’t quit yelling at the left fielder.  After a while, he just couldn’t ignore it any longer and took the job.

B)  Pitt wants to put all the Dixon to be a Duck chatter to rest, so they are announcing an extension and a raise to go along with it.   

The word on the street is that the latter is true, thanks to The Angry Fan for keeping me updated.  But do we ever know until we know?  Nick Saban or Ben Howland, anyone?

My personal opinion, which I know you are all waiting for, is that Jamie Dixon would be nuts to go to Eugene.  Who wants to live in a place that is named Eugene?  Doesn’t it sound like a nerdy dork city?  Actually, Pittsburgh sounds like well, the pits, I guess.  So I take that back.  Kinda . . .

No offense, Ducks fans, but what does the Oregon program have to offer besides money? 

Great facilities? Sure there’s the new $200 million Matthew Knight Arena.  But Pitt has the relatively new Peterson Events Center, which has been called one of the toughest places to play in the country because of the Oakland Zoo student section.

Competition?  The Pac-10 was a conference of cinders compared with the five alarm fire that blazed through the Big

Jamie Dixon Should Tell Oregon Where They Can Stick Their Millions . . .

 East.  Why leave arguably the best conference in the sport?

Talent?  Oregon finished 8th in the afore mentioned conference of cinders.  Pitt?  2nd in the Big East.  Next season, Pitt will be returning ALL of their starters, sans Jermaine Dixon.  Plus they have two recruits in the top 150 nationally.  Oregon?  ZIPPO.  Dixon’s staff has a pipeline into the NYC talent pool, where would he recruit out in Oregon? 

Cost of living?  Dixon would need to double his pay to live in Eugene.  The median home price is $225,890 with total cost of living 4.98% higher than the U.S. average.  Pittsburgh’s cost of living?  15.51% LOWER than the U.S. average. 

If Jamie Dixon DID leave to become an Oregon Duck, which again, I highly doubt, he would be a QUACK . . .

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Big Dance . . . Little Work . . . Random Thoughts

Posted on March 18, 2010. Filed under: Basketball, Life, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I know everyone is reading this because YOU ARE NOT WORKING. 

Don’t try to pretend like you are.  March Madness costs employers $1.8 BILLION in productivity during the first week of the tournament alone . . .  

So why swim upstream?  Everyone is doing it.  We might as well jump off the bridge too.  Here’s a few early thoughts:

‘OY WILLIAMS:  Just taking a moment to fathom how far the Tar Heels have fallen.  From National Champions of last year’s NCAA Tournament to almost getting ousted in the first round of the NIT by William & Mary.  OY.  Okay.  That’s it.  Moment’s over . . .

“Coach Dixon, how can I stop Villanova?”


Ya think Pittsburgh Panthers head coach, Jamie Dixon, gave his former assistant, now Robert Morris skipper, Mike Rice, some defensive pointers to use against Big East rival Villanova in the 2 vs. 15 seed match up this afternoon?  I do . . . 
Alas, the Colonials couldn’t hold on.  Even though they led almost the entire game during regulation, the tournament tested Villanova Wildcats hung around, and showed big time sticktoitiveness (I love that word) to win by three points in OT.  And according to my husband, it’s my fault.  Why?  I merely stated the truth.  When Villanova tied it up as the second half was winding down, I said it’s over.  If Robert Morris were to pull the upset they had to do it in regulation.  He said I jinxed them.  I said no, I’m just always right . . .  

THE LUCK ‘O THE IRISH RUNS OUT:  Notre Dame’s winning ways came to an abrupt end as Old Dominion bounced the Irish in the first round by hanging on in the waning seconds to pull the one point upset win.  That’s gotta be tough.  Mike Brey’s squad had to win their way into the big dance and barely made the cut, just to lose in an excrutiating fashion. 

The Monarchs held the second leading scorer in Notre Dame history, Luke Harangody, to just two points in his 23 minutes on the floor.  Notre Dame hardly sniffed a free throw, getting to the line only three times, and they shot a puny 23% from downtown.  When you shoot too many threes, you aren’t driving to the tin, and you’re not getting fouled.  You live by the three and die by the three.  Notre Dame just shot themselves dead . . .

More upsets and exciting finishes are happening right now!  Don’t get back to work!

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The Undefeated Trifecta Is Complete

Posted on April 8, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

With the 22 point lashing UConn gave Louisville in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Game, Geno Auriemma has led his Huskies to a THIRD undefeated season under his reign.  Not one.  Not two.  But THREE.  There are only five undefeated seasons in the history of Women’s NCAA basketball, and UConn has ownership of three of them . . .

Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball with 1002 wins under her belt at the University of Tennessee, has only one season with an unblemished record, 1998.  The other was Texas in 1986.

In addition to three seperate seasons without a loss, Auriemma has led UConn to an NCAA record streak of 70 consecutive wins and an unprecedented double digit margin of victory in ALL 39 games this year.

Geno Auriemma In A Familiar Position . . . Cutting Down The Nets

Geno Auriemma In A Familiar Position . . . Cutting Down The Nets

With five titles in the last ten years and six overall, Connecticut is second only to the eight championships Pat Summitt has brought to Tennessee.  Can you say DOMINANT?

The question is, with two programs controlling the sport, is women’s basketball weak?  Is the competition that bad?  Why are there typically no Cinderellas in the women’s tournament, like there are in the men’s?  You can bank on a handful of teams being in the final four every year.  Where’s the parody?  Where’s the challenge?

Should Geno Auriemma transition to the men’s game?  He seems to have women’s basketball on lock, why not take his game to the other chromosome?  Do you think he would be as successful?  Does he have a certain je ne sais quoi that helps him lead women to success?   

I don’t know, but I do know one thing . . . he’s good.  The king to Pat Summitt’s queen of the women’s basketball empire.

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Whoa Was I . . .

Posted on April 7, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

WRONG . . .  

I admit it.  When I am right I say so, so I have to fess up when I am not.  And it didn’t take long to figure it out, did it?  I knew at the opening tip when Tyler Hansbrough was not going to give up on that first possession and wrestled Michigan State’s Travis Walton for the ball.  That fire led to a jump ball between the two, which the much taller Hansbrough easily won.  I thought right there that State was in for a familiar experience against this team – domination.   

The senior who came back for one reason only, to win North Carolina’s fifth National Champinship, was focused.  WATCH OUT!  Although the man they call “Psycho T” always looks focused, doesn’t he?  Almost like his eyes are going to pop out of his head . . .

Tyler Hansbrough and Beaker . . . Seperated at Birth?

Tyler Hansbrough and Beaker . . . Seperated at Birth?

TALK ABOUT A CLINIC . . . North Carolina’s first half performance was nothing short of a statement in CAPS and looked like the best half of basketball that I have ever personally laid eyes on.  The much maligned defense – that has been anything but during the tournament – forced 13 Spartan turnovers which led to 17 points.  The Tar Heels led by three touchdowns at the half, which broke a title-game record for largest margin and with 55 points, they set another record for most first half points.

But they weren’t done yet . . .

Ty Lawson induced 8 steals – a record breaking number of thefts – with 7 in the first half, and led all scorers with 21 points.    North Carolina totaled only 7 turnovers the entire game and forced Michigan State into 21 gimmes.  Can’t beat a killer transition team by giving them fast break opportunities and extra possessions . . . Just not going to happen.  

When asked how he felt about the choice he made to come back for his senior year, Hansbrough said, “Sounds like I made a pretty good decision, nothing beats this feeling right here.” 

Congratulations to Michigan State for an inspired run in the tournament and to the North Carolina Tar Heels for fulfilling preseason expectations to take it all the way, bringing the title back to Chapel Hill for the fifth time. 

And for proving me wrong . . .

Just for fun, Hansbrough’s look-a-like has a song that might give One Shining Moment a run for its money . . .

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Who Wins The Title Tonight? Vengeful Home Cooking or Overpowering Talent?

Posted on April 6, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

75 PERCENT CORRECT. . . One and a half out of two ain’t bad, right?  In my Final Four picks, the North Carolina prediction rang true – are they on a mission or what?  I also got the Michigan State vs UConn game HALF right . . . You can’t get a pick half right you say?  Sure you can.  By predicting everything that needed to happen for a win, then picking the wrong team to do it.  

I said that the team who was more efficient offensively, worked the transition game and won the battle on the stripe would come out on top.  With 22 fast break points, Michigan State effectively took away Hasheem Thabeet’s shot blocking power (had 2 blocks, less than half his average) because he doesn’t run the court well and couldn’t get into solid defensive position.  Tom Izzo’s team had five less turnovers and UConn left 12 points on the table by going 21-for-33 at the line.  They lost to the Spartans by nine points.  You do the math . . .

So here we are.  North Carolina against Michigan State for the National Title.  Two savvy coaches.  Two talented big men inside.  Two quick fast point guards that can score and ignite their teammates.  One streaky defense that is on the right side of the streak and one lock down defense you can be sure will hold teams below their scoring averages. 

And ONE home court advantage . . .

But North Carolina has already eschewed the idea of playing Michigan State at Ford Field as an advantage for the Spartans – see the 35 point lashing Tyler Hansbrough and crew put on State early in December.  Don’t forget, Tar Heels fans, that the stakes are higher now and Tom Izzo has his entire roster to game plan for instead of the injury riddled squad previously pummeled by the basketball wonder boys that wear Carolina Blue.  Michigan State’s Goran Suton didn’t play due to a knee injury.  Kalin Lucas shot 20% from the field and Michigan State totaled 21 turnovers.  It’s a marvel they didn’t lose by more after giving the transition point machine Tar Heels so many extra possessions.

That embarrassing loss will be Tom Izzo’s motivating muscle, he will use it as a fire starter to keep the flames of desire burning in the pits of his team’s collective belly as he prepares his guys to battle against all odds for the National Championship.  But will it be enough?

DRUM ROLL PLEASE . . . I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Michigan State to avenge it’s early season ass whooping by North Carolina.  They will have to take care of the ball and continue to be like glue on defense so the Tar Heels’ outside shooting doesn’t get in a rhythm, and I think they can do it.  Kalin Lucas will have to outplay Ty Lawson.  Izzo is a whiz at the chess game inside the game and will concoct schemes to throw North Carolina off balance and out of their comfort zone.  PICK: Michigan State 81-79  

It will be interesting to watch Goran Suton versus Tyler Hansbrough . . .

Hey, who said White Men Can’t Jump?

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Quick & Easy Final Four Picks

Posted on April 4, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I say this will be quick and easy because most of you who are reading sports blogs in your spare time must have an already sophisticated knowledge of the game, so I won’t undermine your intelligence with a ton of information you already know, for instance:

No matter what anyone says to be politically correct, Villanova is the perceived underdog against North Carolina.

Goran Suton will have to be as effective, if not even more so than he was against Louisville to beat Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien under the rim, for Michigan State to win.

Plus I am in a hurry, so here you go:

Ty Lawson On The Drive

Ty Lawson On The Drive

Ty Lawson is in a zone and Villanova is collectively focused and playing insanely good basketball.  They had to be to outrebound Pitt.  Who does that?  Villanova . . . BUT I also think North Carolina is on a mission having lost in the Final Four last year . . . 



Jeff Adrien Doing A Slamma Jamma

Jeff Adrien Doing A Slamma Jamma

This game will come down to efficient offense since both teams are stout defensively.  If Michigan State turns the ball over, Uconn has a crazy transition game with a red hot Stanley Robinson but they also need smart play from AJ Price and Craig Austrie, who both turned the ball over more than they assisted against Missouri.  Eventhough the Spartans are playing in their backyard, I just think Uconn will beat them on the free throw line, and that tends to make the difference in high stakes games . . . Ask Pitt. 

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Pitt Doesn’t Like FREE Points

Posted on March 29, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , |

Is this how Memphis fans felt last year after coming oh so close to the championship just to have Mario Chalmers make a miracle shot to send it into overtime and then take the title right out of John Calipari’s hands after he swore up and down that his players didn’t have to be good at the FREE throw line because they would always come through when the stakes were highest?  The Tigers shot 63% from the stripe while Kansas sunk 93% during that game . . .

Is it something about the Pittsburgh Panthers’ team philosophy where they have to make everything tough?  They don’t want it to come easy?  Does this team have a mental block against sinking FREE throws?  It’s not like they don’t count as much because they aren’t contested shots – they are FREE . . .

I get that this game was to reach the Final Four and not for the National title, however for Pitt’s players and fandom everywhere, it stings.  Granted, the Panthers improved on their pathetic 67.6% team average for the season by going 21 -for-29 and shooting 72.4% but that doesn’t matter when your opponent is over 95% from the FREE throw line.

Yet there Levance Fields stood with two shots to tie the game with 5.5 seconds left and he sinks them both.  Why couldn’t his  teammates have that calm, cool and collected presence at the line throughout the game? 

I said in my Elite Eight Expectations blog that these things had to happen for the Panthers to have a chance to win:

Connect on more shots – they shot 48.1% CHECK

Not turn the ball over as much – Levance Fields went turnover-less and the team had 11 total CHECK

Stay out of foul trouble – No starter had more than three personal fouls – CHECK

But I forgot to mention the damn FREE throws. 

The Panthers were better than Villanova in every one of those categories but one.  You guessed it . . . friggin FREE THROWS!


Samy Young Consoles Levance Fields After Pitts 78-76 Loss To Villanova

Sam Young Consoles Levance Fields After Pitt's 78-76 Loss To Villanova

I feel sad for the seniors who really had a chance this year to win the title, Tyrell Biggs, Sam Young and Levance Fields.  There’s no doubt Sam Young will go to the NBA.  Maybe Tyrell Biggs plays in Europe.  But I truly hope to see Levance Fields playing for the Association.  He is small in stature, but huge in heart and toughness.  He almost Levanced his team with more late game heroics, but this time it didn’t work out the way it usually does for Pitt. 

Turns out those FREE throws were pretty darn costly . . .

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Elite Eight Expectations

Posted on March 28, 2009. Filed under: Basketball, NCAA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

BACK IN DA ‘BURGH . . . After a victorious Sweet Sixteen performance by the Pittsburgh Panthers, an equally as victorious appearance speaking at The Harvard Club in Boston, and a bumpy flight home, I am ready to watch the hopefully more competitive Elite Eight action with just one thing to say . . .

Told you Missouri would beat Memphis

During my March Madness Preview radio show that was the one pick that raised the eyebrows of bracketeers.  Now Mizzou’s match up with Connecticut will be one of the more intriguing games to watch on my list.  With the Huskies rolling through the first three rounds, the Tigers’ full court press and high flying offense will be a pace that Calhoun’s players aren’t used to playing.  Memphis spent much of the second half doubled over in exhaustion, and they ARE comfortable running for 40 minutes.  Missourui Coach Mike Anderson rotates players in and out with none averaging more than 28 minutes per game, so his guys are always fresh and looking to wear out the opponent.  Huskies’ point guard, AJ Price has been efficient and will need to continue to play mistake free to keep Missouri out of their transition game to survive.  Hasheem Thabeet is a force, but not if he has to be on the run. 

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Connecticut’s Stanley Robinson, who has been averaging  15 points 7 rebounds during his three tournament games, and CAN run the floor and finish strong. 

Of course, the other three Elite Eight games aren’t so shabby themselves:

PAYBACK GAME?  Villanova is a small team, but plays big with their guards turning the drive and dish into an artform as they pummeled Duke into their worst lost since UNLV beat them by 30 in the 1990 national title game.  Duke lived and ultimately died at the arc this year because they have no interior presence.  The same can not be said about the Wildcats’ next opponent, the familiar Pittsburgh Panthers, who has the top offensive rebounder in the country, DeJuan Blair patrolling the paint.  Villanova beat the Panthers as they closed down the Spectrum in Philadelphia back on Jan 28th, forcing Blair to the bench in foul trouble, limiting him to only 20 minutes on the floor.  These two only met once this year and with the sour taste of that loss in their mouths, and the pressure of not being able to break the Sweet Sixteen ceiling finally off their minds, Jamie Dixon’s squad can finally get back to playing good basketball, because they haven’t yet in this tournament.  Uncharacteristically turning the ball over and missing shots in the paint will NOT lead to an opportunity for late game heroics from Levance Fields against Jay Wright’s squad who IS playing good basketball. 

KEY TO THE GAME:  Panthers have to improve on their paltry 34% shooting against Xavier.  Watch for Villanova’s guards to get Pitt’s bigs in foul trouble early.     

IZZO vs. PITINO:  Louisville looks unstoppable with their uptempo full court press that induced a  39 point thrashing of Arizona, propelling Pitino’s crew to the round of eight.  Michigan State grinded out a win against defending Champions, Kansas, and will need to slow down the Cardinals and take care of the basketball against a swarming Louisville defense.  Similar to the challenge facing the Huskies, State needs to be sure not to let their opponents get out in transition.  Louisville’s Terrence Williams has gotten better and more confident as the season wore on and can do a lot of damage from ANYWHERE on the court.  After being snubbed for Big East Player of the Year, he seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and that does not bode well for the Spartans.  This is going to be a game of depth and athleticsim versus contolled tempo and ball security.

KEY TO THE GAME:  With two tournament tested head coaches pulling the strings, execution and taking advantage of mistakes will determine who wins.  

THE SELECTION COMMITTEE WINS:  This is the game everyone was hoping to see in the South Region.  Last year’s Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, versus this year’s imminent Naismith award winner, Blake Griffin.  Against Syracuse, Griffin put in his usual day at the office with 30 points and 14 boards, while the Orange couldn’t get their dangerous outside shooting game started, only going 7-for-24 from behind the arc.  North Carolina fared much better against Gonzaga, sinking 11 of their 19 attempts from downtown, and with Ty Lawson in mid-season form the Tar Heels should give Oklahoma’s defense, that played well forcing 18 Syracuse turnovers with 11 steals, a much tougher challenge.  The Tyler Hansbrough – Blake Griffin match up will be one to watch as both teams can score and run the court.  Expect this to be a high scoring game.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Oklahoma’s sharp shooting Tony Crocker, who had 28 points against the Orange, but only 8 in his previous two tournament games combined.  If he stays hot and North Carolina pays too much attention to Blake Griffin, the Tar Heels could get burned.

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