Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Gonzaga in familiar territory as Florida State looks to become the elite

Photo Credit: Brian Losness- USA Today Sports

By: Devin Larkins
Twitter: @devin_larkins

If there were phrases for each to sum up Gonzaga and Florida State in Thursday's regional semifinal, they would be; “We are back, AGAIN!” and “Hey, it’s been awhile!” 

No. 4-seeded Gonzaga (32-4) takes to the hardwood against ninth seeded Florida State University (22-11) in this Sweet 16 match-up. Now back to the phrases, this marks the ninth time Gonzaga has made it this far in NCAA Tournament. This time being the fourth consecutive year. Their opponent; FSU will be making their first appearance in the round of sixth-teen since 2011.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton brings the team in to the game being focused and prepared for the challenge of playing a national power.

“We've been very focused the last couple of days, and I feel like the team has a sense of the importance of where we are,” Hamilton said. “They (his team) realize how we've gotten here by playing extremely hard and giving a tremendous amount of effort with an unselfish spirit.”

Understanding where they are and playing hard is something the team has dealt all tournament. Beating their first-round opponent, No. 8-seeded Missouri by 13 points. FSU followed the victory with a greater upset over No.1-seeded Xavier in the second round.

Their tournament has been spearheaded by a freshman-senior tandem of Mfiondu Kabengele’s and Braian Angola. Kabengele shouldering the load in the first game with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Angola highlighted the last game with 16 points, to go along with 6 rebounds to the stat sheet. 

Gonzaga has done a good job of advancing this season as well. Senior forward Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura have both been impressive. Williams finished with a double-double in the opening round— 19 points and 12 rebounds. Hachimura lit up the gym with 25 points, while only playing 25 minutes against the No. 5-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. 

“Rui, he's a match-up problem for whoever we play against,” Josh Perkins said of his teammate.

What is the surprising contrast of the two teams is how they have advanced. While being the underdog in all of their games they have won by an average of nine points. In contrast the highly favorite Gonzaga team squeaked past its two opponents by just over a five-point margin. 

Florida State plays a deep bench using a 10-man rotation for most of the year. 

“It does make it difficult in just trying to ascertain just the sheer numbers,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Usually what you see in college basketball is a tendency to kind of shrink your bench as you get farther along and deeper in the season and into the postseason."

To that, “no, I have not. I don't think that's who we are.” Hamilton said of his willingness to access less of his team this game. 

Strong guard play has been a staple of the success of Gonzaga’s team. Josh Perkins has shot a blistering 39 percent from long range throughout the season. 

Each will create problems for each other in more ways than one. Experience and pedigree for Gonzaga should play a factor. Yet, on the other side being energetic and youthful hungriness will be a plus for FSU. Two 20-minute half’s will tell which will remain supreme.

For the winner, they will advance to an Elite Eight matchup against the winner of the No. 7-seeded Texas A&M (22-12) vs. third-seeded Michigan (30-7) played beforehand.

No. 9-seeded Florida State vs No. 4 Gonzaga  

Site: Los Angeles, Calif.— Staples Center

Date: Thursday, March 21, 10:07 p.m. ET

TV/Online: TBS/Watch TBS/March Madness Live

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Texas A&M and Michigan look to make magic happen on the hardwood in L.A.

Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken— USA Today Sports

By: Devin Larkins
Twitter: @devin_larkins

These two football traditional schools make the long trip to Los Angeles to battle each other in the regional semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament. 
No. 7-seeded Texas A&M (22-12) collides with third-seeded Michigan (30-7) as both vie to move on to the regional final. Not to say history matters, but this will be Michigan’s 14th time in the Sweet 16, winning 12 of the last 14 contests. On the other hand, Texas A&M looks to break through in its seventh attempt to get to the Elite Eight.
Both teams have shown to be unlikely to be here for different reasons. A&M because they have proved to be inconsistent on the road with a record of 4-7. Michigan on the other hand got this game with an unbelievable shot from Jordan Poole to advance from the second round over Houston. 
The Wolverines have been moving along consistently well throughout the year. Coach Jon Beilein has gotten his team to hum at the right time of year. The Wolverines ride an 11-game winning streak, highlighted by victories over Ohio State, Purdue and Houston; all making it to the big dance. 
Junior forward Moritz Wagner has carried the Wolverines this year with a team-high 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Wagner has yet to find a groove in the tournament with an average of 8.5 points. 
On the other hand, Aggies leading scorer Tyler Davis has done more than his season average with 14 and 18 points of game production in the first two rounds. 
The Aggies come into the game riding high after beating No. 2 seed North Carolina in the second round, 86-65. T.J .Starks being the go to guy giving the Aggies their 13th NCAA Tournament win in school history.
Although both teams have a clear highlighted player— each team will need assistance from their supporting cast to oust the other. This may come from two likely people. Charles Matthews and Admon Gilder are the sous-chefs for Michigan and A&M respectively. Both taking the games to another level in prior tournament rounds. Matthews pushed his game points to 20 and 11 for the first two rounds. Gilder having in an eerily similar game of 18 and 12 points, respectively. 
Texas A&M has done a great job with a liberal scoring attack as five players have finished in double figures with one player coming just shy of that amount. 
Their well balance attack will be interesting up against of Michigan defense who only allowed 62.8 points per game which is eighth best in the country. Also, creating turnovers and problems for the oppositions back court with tough on the ball defense.
Whomever wins will be in Los Angeles for another two days as that team will take on the winner of fourth-seeded Gonzaga (32-4) and ninth-seeded Florida State (22-11). Gonzaga looks to continue on last year’s road to the Elite Eight— having been there in 2015 and 2017. If Florida State wins, it will be its first time in the regional final in 25 years when FSU beat a surprising Western Kentucky team in overtime with a 81-78 win to move on. 

No. 7-seeded Texas A&M vs No. 3 Michigan  

Site: Los Angeles, Calif.— Staples Center

Date: Thursday, March 21, 7:37 p.m. ET

TV/Online: TBS/Watch TBS/March Madness Live

The Geno Green Experience- Jeff Hauser

The Geno Green Experience returns with SB Nation and College Sports Overload's Jeff Hauser as we talk about UMBC's magical NCAA Tournament run and preview the Sweet 16 matchups.

Social Media:

Follow Jeff Hauser on Twitter @radiohauser.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Kansas State narrowly escapes with a win over UMBC, 50-43, advances to Sweet 16

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

By: Jeff Hauser
Twitter @radiohauser

CHARLOTTE— UMBC came into the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament with nothing to lose.

The No. 16-seeded Retrievers fetched their first-ever win with a 20-point blowout over top-ranked Virginia on Friday night, turning the sports world upside down. America’s favorite underdogs tried their luck at creating shockwaves again against ninth-seeded Kansas State. As luck would have it, the “top dogs” came up short when It mattered most losing a heartbreaker against the Wildcats by a final of 50-43.

Kansas State proved they were supreme through most of the unlikely matchup with UMBC, but were vulnerable at times. “I think if it didn’t get their attention that they beat Virginia by 20, the number one team in the ACC, in the conference that they won the conference and the tournament, it had to catch their attention," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said about his team.   

The Wildcats advance to the ‘Sweet 16’ for the third time in school history with the last appearance being in 2010. All with a terrible shooting performance, going 18-of-44 (40.9 percent) from the field and a season-low 1-8 (8.3 percent) from three-point range.

In what seemed like a back-and-forth affair, the Retrievers unexpectedly stormed back down by six with 18:45 left in the second half and would close within to 34-33, at the 11:08 mark. A forced drought by K-State kept UMBC without a field goal nearly eight minutes, until a three-pointer by Jairus Lyles with 6:33 left.

At that point with Lyles took a commanding tone over the entire court and the Retrievers hero of 48 hours prior helped push the deficit back down to one, 38-37, with 6:01 remaining. The luck of the Queen’s city wouldn’t spare UMBC another run at history, willing the Wildcats into a 12-4 run with monster dunks from Xavier Sneed to close the chapter on the Retrievers historic run. “The dunk gave us a lot of energy,” Sneed said. “A boost that we could win this game. We pulled through and got the win.”

The 50 points for Kansas State were the fewest in a winning outcome and also ties the fewest scored since defeating No. 1 seed Oregon State in the second round of the 1982 NCAA tournament. The 43 points for the Retrievers was the least amount the Wildcats have allowed an opponent to score all season.

For UMBC, the Cinderella team that came out of nowhere to win the American East Conference, held their heads high and realized what this moment meant for the program. “Certainly, we were a 16 seed, that’s where it all started,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said. “When you watch this team and how they played, they play with passion and with heart. They play together which is what we say when we’re in the huddle. We do things together for one another.” The Retrievers under Odom finish the season with a 25-11 record overall.

As for the Wildcats, they’ll move on to Atlanta for a ‘Sweet 16’ meeting on March 22 with No. 5 seed Kentucky. The “meeting of the Cats” features two defensive minded teams looking to play another night.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Texas A&M outruns UNC, 86-65; advances to West Region Sweet 16

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan- USA TODAY Sports

By: Jeff Hauser
Twitter: @radiohauser

CHARLOTTE— Old Carolina blues reigned down for the defending national champion No. 2 seed North Carolina Tar Heels on Sunday afternoon.

In what was setup as a less difficult road to the ‘Sweet 16’ turned into a home nightmare for Roy Williams team, losing 86-65 to the No. 7-seeded Texas A&M Aggies.

A matchup of UNC’s fast paced offense against the bigger A&M lineup started out going in favor the higher seeded home team, quickly morphed into a blowout. The Tar Heels took their largest lead of the game by a margin of seven points, 20-13, with 11:37 left in the first half and wouldn’t be out in front again.

UNC gave up a season high 14-point lead, 42-28, to the Aggies at halftime behind the frontcourt of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. The Aggies big men combined for 17 points and 14 rebounds in the first 20 minutes on the floor and would finish the contest with 26 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks. “We just played like it was 0-0, like it was the first half keep it up the whole game,” Williams said.

An outstanding effort, but not the story of the game for A&M, who shot 10-of-24 from 3-point range with a total of four players in double figures. It marks the second time in Texas A&M’s tournament history they’ve made 10 or more three-pointers (2016— Northern Iowa). “Great win. Great team win,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said postgame. “I thought we got a performance from everybody. I thought once we slowed them up in transition and our zone gave them some problems.”

The Tar Heels’ inconsistency was their Achilles the entire 40 minutes; shooting a low 33.3 percent (26-of-78) including 6-for-31 from beyond the arc and two made three’s in the first half alone. Despite not finding a decent range, Joel Berry II lead all scorer with 21 points and five rebounds in a losing effort. “I can’t think of any time where I’m sadder,” Williams said fighting back tears after the game.

Texas A&M’s lead never fell below 17 points in the second half never in a pure defensive beat down. We stuck to our game plan and played to our strengths,” Davis said. “We know we have the advantage on the inside against most teams. So we just did what we do everyday—go to war on the inside and eat glass.”

Coach Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M advances to their second sweet 16 appearance in the last three years; losing to Oklahoma that year by a score of 77-63 in Anaheim, Calif. This time, the Aggies head back west to Los Angeles for a shot at redemption to play for a spot in the Elite Eight against third-seeded Michigan. If the Aggies can pull off a victory over the Wolverines, it would be the deepest run in school history.