Monday, March 31, 2008

Elite 8 loss tough pill to swallow

Coaches Bill Self of Kansas and Roy Williams of North Carolina can sympathize with Davidson’s Bob McKillop this week after his loss in the Midwest Regional Final.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches convention is held every year at the Final Four site. When you lose in a regional final – especially by a small margin – you attend the coaches’ convention and wander through the Final Four hoopla feeling like your team should be a part of it.

“Next to losing the championship game, I can't imagine there's a tougher game to lose than the Elite Eight game,” Self said.

I’m not sure if McKillop will attend the convention after his narrow defeat this season. Traditionally he meets George Mason coach Jim Larranaga and Michigan coach John Beilein for lunch at some point at the Final Four site.

Three years ago, Beilein missed the Final Four at West Virginia when Louisville staged a comeback and won in overtime in a regional final. Two years ago, George Mason defeated Connecticut in overtime to reach the Final Four.

On Sunday, Davidson lost 59-57 to Kansas. If they get together, all three coaches will be able to commiserate about how razor thin the difference between fulfilled dreams and shattered dreams can be in the Elite Eight. – Ken Tysiac

Four No. 1 seeds. Enjoy while you can

A colleague who doesn’t cover much college basketball called a few weeks ago and said he thought the four No. 1 seeds this year were extremely strong.

He thought they would all make the Final Four.

I told him he was crazy. Because all four No. 1 seeds never make the Final Four. Until now.

Guess who got an e-mail Monday from his colleague. At least Memphis coach John Calipari agrees with me.

“This is going to be a crazy Final Four,” he said Monday during a teleconference with reporters.

Last year’s Final Four was almost as strong, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. These high-powered fields come on the heels of a 2006 Final Four in which No. 11 seed George Mason enhanced the cause of underdogs and mid-majors eager to grab more NCAA tournament bids.

It’s tempting to call the last two years a smackdown that will put the mid-majors back in their places. But the reality is that No. 10 seed Davidson was one Jason Richards 3-pointer at the buzzer away from sending Kansas home.

So enjoy the star appeal of this Final Four. It’s not likely to be duplicated soon. – Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"We only love you, Jay ... "

Game's over and CBS announcer Jay Bilas's job is over for the night. As he begins to head out of the arena, he stops to shake hands with some UNC fans on the front row. They tell him he's the only (former) Duke player they've ever liked. He smiles and says thanks. As he walks away, we challenge the fans, telling them surely they must have liked Grant Hill, too. (I mean, who didn't like Hill?) They smile and concede. "We just wanted to make Jay feel good," one of them says.

-- Charles Chandler

Heels back in Final Four

Top-ranked North Carolina is back in the Final Four, and continues its bid for a second national championship in a four-year span.

The Tar Heels, who last won the title in 2005, moved on by beating Louisville 83-73 at Bobcats Arena, for the East Regional title.

It's the first Final Four bid for junior All-American Tyler Hansbrough, who led all scorers with 28 points.

UNC is assured of a compelling matchup next Saturday, either against Kansas or Davidson.

If it's the Jayhawks, it'll pit coach Roy Williams against his former team. If it's the Wildcats, it'll be a rematch of the Tar Heels' December win in Charlotte and will mark the second time that UNC and a Mecklenburg County team have made the Final Four.

The last time was in 1977, when the Heels and UNCC (that's what the 49ers were known as then, not just Charlotte) made the Final Four in Atlanta. The 49ers came oh-so-close to a semifinal upset over Marquette, which went on to beat UNC in the championship game.

-- Charles Chandler

Hansbrough from downtown ...

Tyler Hansbrough is known as one of the toughest inside players in the nation, but his outside shooting just might have put UNC over the top. On consecutive possessions, Hansbrough swished a shot from the top of the key, then made a shot from the left wing that was nearly a three-pointer. The two baskets turned a 71-66 lead into 75-66. The shots also bode well for Hansbrough's pro career. He'll need to hit those in the NBA.

-- Charles Chandler

FT shooting could doom Cardinals

Free throw shooting is hurting Louisville in a game that's this close in the final minutes. With 2:56 remaining, the Cardinals are only shooting 56.3 percent from the foul line (9 of 16). The Tar Heels are hitting 76.9 perecent (10 of 13). Considering it's a five-point game, the Cards' misses are more than enough to cover the deficit.

-- Charles Chandler

When Lawson's out, Cards' press looks good

Louisville's full-court pressure sure works a lot better when Ty Lawson isn't in the game. Though Quentin Thomas did a commendable job filling in for Lawson at point guard when he was injured last month, the Tar Heels' ability to beat the kind of press the Cardinals play goes down dramatically when coach Roy Williams make the substitution.

-- Charles Chandler

Cardinals showing a lot of fight

At the first TV timeout of the second half, Louisville is hanging tough. Just when it looks like UNC is going to pull away for a blowout, the Cardinals come fighting back. Louisville just made a layup and center David Padgett gave an emphatic fist-pump near midcourt. The Cards have a lot of fight, but can they stay with the top-ranked Tar Heels to the end?

-- Charles Chandler

Halftime: Green gets four stitches

Sitting on the second press row from the court has its advantages, especially if you're directly behind CBS announcers Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas. Someone just came over and told Bilas that UNC's Danny Green has four stitches over his left eye to close the gash he received on a first-half foul by Louisville's David Padgett. Of course, if you're watching on TV, Bilas probably already told you that. And if he hasn't, he will soon.

-- Charles Chandler

Tar Heels' speed wearing on Cards

UNC's ability to score quickly has got to be wearing down Louisville. The Cardinals are having to work very hard for their baskets, and it's got to be disheartening to see the Tar Heels follow that with a score at the other end in just a matter of seconds.

-- Charles Chandler

Green bloodied by Padgett

From the look of Danny Green's face, this is turning into a real slugfest. Green has blood dripping from a cut next to his left eye. He got hacked by Kansas center David Padgett on a layup attempt at the end of a UNC fastbreak.

-- Charles Chandler

Bobcats Arena: 95 percent UNC fans

Charlotte may as well be Chapel Hill. Bobcats Arena is about 95 percent packed with UNC fans and is getting really loud here midway through the first half now that the Tar Heels are playing better. Make no mistake about it, this is an away game for Louisville. If Rick Pitino is honest, he'll tell you it's not fair. He doesn't look very happy right now. His Cards are down 27-17.

-- When UNC's Marcus Ginyard wasn't able to quickly pick up a loose ball near midcourt, it not only cost him a possible breakaway dunk, it also led to am embarassing moment for teammate Wayne Ellington. Ginyard passed to Ellington, who soared high for looked like a sure layup -- until Louisville's Terrence Williams came flying through the air and swatted it out of bounds.

Williams is quite a player. He's continuing the show he put on Thursday night against Tennessee. He's a good outside shooter, is an excellent passer and has some serious hops.

-- Charles Chandler

Louisville looks like it'll test Heels

North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough scored his first basket
on a hook shot 69 seconds into tonight's East Regional final against
Louisville. Two nights earlier, it took him more than 18 minutes to
score his first points against Washington State.

-- From the look of things in the first five or so minutes, this
could be UNC's first test of the tournament. Louisville is playing like
they mean business.

-- Charles Chandler

Late games good for TV, bad for fans

In my first job after college, I worked for a small afternoon newspaper in Upstate New York that required me to be at the office at 7 a.m.

During my second month on the job, Atlanta was playing Minnesota in an epic World Series. My eagerness to see great baseball wasn’t as strong as the force of nature, and I fell asleep in front of the TV before the games were over.

I stopped watching baseball because of the late start times, and I suspect a lot of other fans did, too. I’m also convinced late starts are a reason Monday Night Football no longer is on ABC. Fans on the East Coast couldn’t stay up late enough to see the end, so they didn’t bother watching.

Which brings us to Saturday’s 9:05 p.m. starting time for Louisville vs. North Carolina at Bobcats Arena. My 7-year-old daughter would love to watch this game, but it starts after her bedtime.

CBS and the NCAA have a great thing going with this tournament. I believe it’s rivaled only by the NFL playoffs in terms of capturing the hearts and attention of sports fans in the United States.

But CBS and the NCAA can’t afford to lose my daughter’s attention any more than MLB and Monday Night Football could afford to lose mine. In order to squeeze a few more ratings points out of this game, they’re starting it late in prime time.

That’s a good short-term decision, but poor long-term planning if CBS and the NCAA lose the next generation of fans.

-- Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pitino: UNC has homecourt advantage

Rick Pitino isn’t buying Roy Williams’ line that North Carolina’s homecourt advantage in the East Regional final isn’t as big a deal as most people think it is.

Williams, who’s been asked about no fewer than 2,000 times the past couple of weeks, keeps saying that if it’s such a big advantage then why did the Tar Heels’ only two losses this year come in the Smith Center?
He has a point. What’s he going to say, sure, North Carolina should roll?
But Pitino isn’t biting.

"Tell Roy to get on a plane for the first time and let’s play the game at (Louisville’s) Freedom Hall and I’ll admit to a home-court advantage," Pitino said Friday. "Go to Lexington (where the University of Kentucky is) for that matter...and play at the Rupp.
"I think those are mostly mannequins dressed in powder blue. I don’t believe there is a homecourt advantage."

In case you couldn’t tell, Pitino was joking about that last part. Of course, it’s a homecourt advantage. But let Pitino say it.

"There is a very strong homecourt advantage but they deserve it," he said. "That’s the bottom line...That doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to win. They deserve the people because they were the No. 1-ranked team in the country."

Louisville's Williams is a player to watch

It's Louisville vs. North Carolina for the East Regional championship and a spot in the Final Four. The third-seeded Cardinals dominated No. 2 seed Tennessee 79-60.

One of the best storylines of Saturday's regional final will be Cardinals' center David Padgett facing the coach for whom he originally wanted to play.

Padgett committed to Kansas when Roy Williams was the Jayhawks' coach and stayed there for a year before deciding to transfer. He considered joining Williams at North Carolina before choosing to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.

Padgett is the centerpiece of the Cardinals' team, but their best player Thursday might have been forward Terrence Williams. He scored 12 points and showed a terrific knack for passing, hitting teammates for dunks three times with nifty assists.
-- Charles Chandler

Louisville could test UNC

Before the second game Thursday night, Louisville’s cheerleaders were standing in the tunnel marveling at the crowd they were about to rush into Bobcats Arena to entertain.

“Look at all that Carolina blue,” one of them said.

All that Carolina blue will be a huge obstacle for the Cardinals on Saturday evening in the East Regional final. But if you look purely at matchups, No. 3 seed Louisville shouldn’t be overwhelmed when it plays No. 1 overall seed North Carolina.

In David Padgett, Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter, the Cardinals have enough big, nimble bodies to contend with Tyler Hansbrough and the rest of North Carolina’s talented post players.

Louisville also has a lot of depth at guard and on the wings. Though Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa and Terrence Williams aren’t as talented as North Carolina’s Ty Lawson or Wayne Ellington, they shouldn’t get tired if the Tar Heels get their fast break rolling. And Tennessee’s frenetic full-court press in Louisville’s 79-60 semifinal win provided a good test for the Cardinals’ ability to handle a fast pace.

There is a sense among many writers and broadcasters on press row that North Carolina is a prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA tournament. But Louisville is good enough to keep the Tar Heels out of the Final Four if North Carolina doesn’t play well and if the Cardinals aren’t intimidated by all that Carolina blue. – Ken Tysiac

East Regional final Saturday 9:05 p.m.

It was just announced that Saturday's East Regional final will tip off at 9:05 p.m. North Carolina will play the Louisville-Tennessee winner, which is looking a lot like it's going to be the Cardinals. They're up 67-52 with 3:45 remaining.
-- Charles Chandler

Louisville keeps finding lanes

Louisville has done an amazing job of finding driving lanes in the Tennessee defense. Numerous times tonight, Cardinals players have driven straight throught the lane for layups. If Tennessee loses, it'll be painful for the coaches and players to watch the tape of those plays.

On another note, the prettiest play of the night might have just happened moments ago. Louisville's Terrence Williams drove the lane and flipped a pass over his back to center David Padgett for a dunk. It gave the Cardinals a 60-51 lead.
-- Charles Chandler

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The iron was unkind from long range

Bobcats Arena was not the place to be tonight if you like long-range shooting.

Midway through the second half of Game 2, the four teams who've played hear tonight have shot a combined 23.2 percent (13 of 56) from beyond the three-point line.

None of the four teams have shot any better than 33.3%. In the first game, North Carolina was 5-of-15 and Washington State was 2-of-16.
With 11:14 remaining in the second game, Louisville is 4-of-13 and Tennessee is 2-of-12.
-- Charles Chandler

Louisville refusing to fold at half

Second-seeded Tennessee has done a nice job of getting back into the game after trailing Louisville 24-8 early on. The Vols are down 37-30 at halftime, but still haven't come close to hitting full stride.

Tennessee shot 35.7 percent (10 of 28) in the first half, including 22.2 percent (2 of 9) on three-pointers. The Volunteers were outrebounded 23-15.

A better second half is critical if Tennessee is to keep alive its national title hopes. Remember, not long ago, the Vols were rated No. 1 in the country.
-- Charles Chandler

Volunteers charging back

And here come the Vols.

Tennessee has put together a furious comeback after training Louisville 24-8. Since a timeout, the Volunteers have outscored Louisville 15-6 to cut the margin to 30-23.

For what it's worth, Tennessee looks like the quicker, deeper, more athletic of the two teams.
-- Charles Chandler

Lawson fully recovered

-- Good news for UNC: Point guard Ty Lawson believes he's virtually fully recovered from his foot injury.
"I was able to do everything I'm normally able to do," Lawson said after scoring 12 points in the Tar Heels' 68-47 win over Washington State. "I feel like it's back to 100 percent, or close to it."

-- Bad news for Tennessee: The Vols are shooting only 16.7 percent (3 of 17) in the first 11 minutes, 3 seconds of the second regional semifinal game in Charlotte and trail Louisville 24-8.

Cougars starting to bicker

UNC's Ty Lawson just blew by the Washington State defense and made a sweet layup. As the ball was banking off the backboard, the sound of a hand smacking glass could be heard. It was a blocked shot attempt that didn't work. The score gave the Tar Heels a 55-32 lead. That left Cougars guards Derrick Lowe and Taylor Rochestie fussing at one another as they were preparing for the inbounds pass. Coach Tony Bennett quickly called a timeout to regroup his squad.
This one's about over, folks.

-- Charles Chandler

UNC's Stephenson block party

Advice to Washington State players: When you're on offense, steer clear of UNC's Alex Stephenson. He swatted back two of your shots in less than a minute. They were the "don't bring that stuff to my hood" variety. It'd probably be best if the Cougars obeyed him.
-- Charles Chandler

Hansbrough starting to find basket

Early in the second half, Washington State is getting done in by its poor shooting and good defense by UNC. The Tar Heels lead 41-25 and Washington State has hit only 31.4 percent of its shots (11 of 35, including 2 of 9 since halftime).

With Tyler Hansbrought starting out hot in the second half (six points in the first 5 minutes, 19 seconds), this is turning into a Tar Heel runaway.
-- Charles Chandler

Tennessee coach taking note of Heels

North Carolina led by 14, 35-21, at halftime despite the fact that All-American Tyler Hansbrough was held to two points.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who watched the first half from press row, said he was surprised by the margin given Hansbrough's lack of points. He noted that Washington State was double-teaming Hansbrough, but that the Tar Heels have some other very good players.

Of the 14-point lead, Pearl said: "It's impressive."

Washington State keeping it close

With 5:42 remaining in the first half, Washington State had to like the pace of the game so far even though it trailed 19-14.

The Cougars want to keep the scoring low and had North Carolina on a pace to score less than 60. The Tar Heels were only 8 of 21 shooting, All-American Tyler Hansbrough was scoreless and UNC had only six fast-break points.

That's about as good of a start as WSU coach Tony Bennett could've scripted.
-- Charles Chandler

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Echenique picks Rutgers over Duke

Two days after a second-round loss to West Virginia in the NCAA tournament, Duke basketball received more bad news.

Greg Echenique, a 6-foot-7, 240 pound junior center from St. Benedict Prep in New Jersey, has committed to Rutgers according to Internet reports. This means coach Mike Krzyzewski has lost out on his top targets in the post in three consecutive classes.

First Patrick Patterson chose Kentucky, where he was one of the SEC’s top freshmen until a late-season injury. Then Greg Monroe – regarded by some as the top player in the senior class – committed to Georgetown.

Now Echenique, who attended the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this month, has decided to stay close to home. And while Krzyzewski keeps missing on top big guys, rival Roy Williams is loading up on them at North Carolina.

This means that for the foreseeable future, Duke probably will have to keep using the fast-paced, spread-the-floor system it used this season. It means Kyle Singler and Taylor King will need to continue banging against opposing post players on defense while drawing them away from the basket with 3-point shooting on offense.

Duke went 28-6 with that style this season but didn’t prove it can make a deep NCAA tournament run playing its new system. With the way recruiting is going, though, the Blue Devils will get plenty more chances.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 24, 2008

ACC, outside Chapel Hill, is hurting

ACC coaches spent last week venting about the Division I men’s basketball committee after just four conference teams were selected for the NCAA tournament.

Now it’s time for those coaches to internalize their frustrations and figure out what’s wrong with the ACC in basketball.

The ACC placed at least two teams in the Sweet 16 every year from 1980 to 2006. But in 2007 and 2008, North Carolina has been the ACC’s sole participant in the Sweet 16. While ACC coaches mistakenly rave from the pulpit about how strong their conference is, an unparalleled college basketball tradition is crumbling underneath their feet.

Critics of expansion blame the addition of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech for damaging ACC basketball, but that’s neither accurate nor fair. Those schools represent 25 percent of the ACC but own 29 percent (five of 17) of the ACC’s NCAA tournament wins over the last three seasons.

The most obvious need for improvement comes in scheduling. The selection committee places heavy emphasis on defeating top-50 or top-100 opponents when considering at-large teams.
Virginia Tech was omitted from the 2008 tournament because it had just one top-50 win (over Miami) all season. There are two ways to improve the schedule.

One is to encourage coaches not to schedule opponents that were, say, in the bottom 200 of the previous season’s RPI. Another is to expand the ACC schedule to 18 games – an idea the coaches and ACC athletics directors rejected last spring.

If the Hokies had played North Carolina in Blacksburg, maybe they would have pulled off an upset that could have vaulted them into the NCAA tournament. We’ll never know, but it’s clear they would have benefited from a chance to play stronger opponents. Two conferences that play 18-game conference schedules – the Pac-10 and Big East – both have three teams remaining in the NCAA tournament.

Fortunately for the ACC, North Carolina’s astounding blowouts of Mount St. Mary’s and Arkansas have dulled the perception that this is a struggling conference. The Tar Heels might well win the ACC’s fourth NCAA title in eight years and give the conference more reason to boast.

But outside of Chapel Hill, the ACC is hurting in basketball. It’s time to stop complaining about external forces such as the selection committee and start coming up with solutions.

– Ken Tysiac

Stephen Curry on PTI at 5:30 today

Here's how much buzz Davidson's 74-70 upset win against Georgetown has created.

Star guard Stephen Curry will be the featured guest on ESPN's PTI at 5:30 p.m. today, and coach Bob McKillop has already been interviewed on ESPN's Mike and Mike show, which was broadcast on ESPN2 this morning.

But Stephen Curry isn't the only one in his family to benefit from the win. His mom, Sonya, is ranked 50th in Google's hot search trend list for today, and Dell Curry, Stephen's dad, is 90th.

Stephen Curry isn't ranked in the top 100 in that list, but he might be in line for another prize. Sports Illustrated needs a cover subject, and the Davidson guard seems like the logical choice for that.

-- Kevin Cary

Expect Vols-Cards to be a track meet

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It was fun while it lasted.

I am heading home from Birmingham today after a weekend of posing as a college basketball reporter. Once I get home and turn in a few last musings about Tennessee and Louisville, it's back to being the NASCAR monkey for me.

I saw some good basketball games here and two very good teams are coming to Charlotte out of this pod.

Louisville looked great in its two games here. I think people went to sleep on them after they lost at Georgetown and then in the Big East tournament to Pittsburgh. Both games were close and Georgetown and Pitt beat a lot of good teams this year.

The Cardinals play primarily zone defense, but they do it with a voracious hunger. They crave the basketball and use the turnovers they cause and the steals they get to create easy opportunities on offense. And they have a lot of players with the skill to convert those opportunities.

Tennessee didn't look as, let's say, precise in winning its two games here. But don't let that fool you. The Volunteers create a lot of havoc with their defense and that helps them play at a pace that sometimes makes them look hurried on offense, too. But the Vols have played a lot of good teams this year and haven't lost that often.

If you watched the two games played here Sunday, the tendency would be to think Tennessee will have to play much better than it did against Butler to win over Louisville on Thursday in Charlotte. But Butler is a very, very good team. Butler should have been no lower than a 5 seed, maybe as high as a No. 3. The fact they were a No. 7 and played Tennessee, another 30-win team, in the second round is baffling.

Tennessee won two games in Birmingham fighting and clawing all the way. I don't see any reason the Vols won't keep clawing and fighting as they try to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

If I had to bet on Thursday night's second game, I'd bet the over. I think it will be a track meet. But as for picking a winner, I will leave that one to the "experts."

Meanwhile, I'm going to Martinsville this weekend.

-- David Poole

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tar Heels and I take a back seat

Walking into the RBC Center in front of me Sunday afternoon was Pat Riley, the world’s only celebrity scout. He looked happy. Hey, why wouldn’t he be? He doesn’t have to watch the team he coaches, the Miami Heat.

Walking out past me was Patrick Ewing, who used to play for Riley. Ewing came to watch his son, who plays for Georgetown. Remember the glare he used to have as a player? It was back.

Between Riley and Ewing, we in the RBC Center were treated to Davidson’s dramatic and thrilling victory. My seat was behind the Georgetown bench. I know you think the media gets great seats, but this one was terrible, especially when 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert was in the game. Fortunately, when the game was at its most dramatic, the Hoyas had few reasons to stand and cheer.

The North Carolina fans embraced the Wildcats in the main event and the Davidson fans reciprocated, cheering for the Tar Heels. How often is North Carolina the lesser game of any twin bill in this state? As scintillating as the Tar Heels were against Arkansas, they were not the main attraction.

Several reporters, who came to write about North Carolina, didn't even watch the first half of the Davidson game but abandoned the Tar Heels and wrote about their beloved Wildcats.

-- Tom Sorensen

McKillop deserves kudos

Stephen Curry’s incredible late surge in Davidson’s historic, 74-70 defeat of Georgetown on Sunday won’t soon be forgotten.
It’s not every day a player scores 21 points in 96 1/2 minutes in the biggest game of his life. Deservedly, Curry will get most of the media attention in a nation that loves underdogs.
In America, gray-haired men who grew up in Queens don’t get nearly as much love as baby-faced shooting guards who are descendants of NBA players. But here’s hoping coach Bob McKillop gets some of the recognition he deserves after this win, too.
He has built the Wildcats into a mid-major power whose strength finally has been validated with a run to the Sweet 16 in this NCAA tournament. He prepared Davidson for the tournament by scheduling North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and N.C. State early in the season.
And despite having athletes who – let’s face it – were vastly inferior to Georgetown’s, he outcoached John Thompson III on Sunday at the RBC Center.
After the Hoyas led by 17 early in the second half, their half-court offense deteriorated. Patrick Ewing Jr. and DaJuan Summers were firing up 3-point attempts early in the shot clock when Georgetown should have been banging the ball inside.
Meanwhile, McKillop didn’t panic despite the deficit. He didn’t let his players shoot a bunch of guarded 3-point attempts that would have allowed Georgetown to widen the lead. And when Curry finally got hot and gave the Wildcats the lead, they never were in danger of turning it over.
All that is a credit to how McKillop coached the team. A trip to the Sweet 16 is his reward.
-- Ken Tysiac

Hibbert's absence no help to Wildcats

Davidson got exactly what it wanted Sunday when 7-foot-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert was called for his second foul with 12 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first half.
Or so it seemed.
The Wildcats don’t have anybody nearly as tall or strong as Hibbert, so Davidson coach Bob McKillop had to be relieved to see him go to the bench and play just five first-half minutes.
Problem is, Georgetown didn’t miss Hibbert much. Vernon Macklin replaced Hibbert off the bench and scored eight points with three rebounds. He drew some of the loudest Georgetown applause of the first half when he both ends of a one-and-one at the free throw line with 8 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the half.
Those were points the Hoyas weren’t counting on. Macklin entered the game 8-for-40 from the foul line.
Meanwhile, Davidson fans were still waiting at halftime for Stephen Curry to get loose for some baskets after scoring 40 against Gonzaga in a first-round game Friday. Curry missed four minutes of the first half because he fouled twice, and was just 2-for-8 from the field with five points at halftime.
-- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blue Devils' exit wasn't a shock

Perhaps the most telling thing about Duke’s second-round NCAA tournament loss to West Virginia Saturday was that it wasn’t a shock.
There has been a sense in recent weeks that the Blue Devils, who were so good through the first two-thirds of the season, were trending the wrong way. They were and it caught up to them in the Verizon Center.

The Duke players felt it.

Kyle Singler said something was missing near the end and it showed when Duke couldn’t reverse the action in the second half when West Virginia took control.

DeMarcus Nelson couldn’t make anything good happen. He kept trying but nothing changed.

Without an interior scoring threat, Duke was limited. Gerald Henderson has turned into an outstanding player and can score off penetration, but with Nelson in a funk, Duke had no other options inside.

When West Virginia limited Duke’s success from behind the 3-point line, the Blue Devils were done.

Part of the secret to success in the NCAA is how teams are playing when they get there. West Virginia has been getting better in large part because forward Joe Alexander keeps getting better. The Mountaineers didn’t rattle when they fell behind early and they’ll be a handful next weekend in Phoenix.

Duke, however, couldn’t reverse the slide that started with its homecourt loss to North Carolina two weeks ago. The Blue Devils weren’t bad but they didn’t have the little extra that made them special earlier in the season.
It showed at the end.

- Ron Green Jr.

Lovedale thrives as starter for Davidson

Davidson forward Andrew Lovedale sat in a deep corner of the Davidson locker room Saturday, calmly talking into the microphones and cameras thrust in front of him.

Lovedale has been overlooked for most of this season, but he came up huge in Davidson's win against Gonzaga Friday. His offensive rebound set up Stephen Curry's winning shot, and Lovedale also had a pivotal defensive rebound when he outjumped two Gonzazga players for the ball in the final two minutes.

He also hit two free throws and finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds. It was another step forward for the junior - who has been a big reason for Davidson's late surge. Davidson hasn't lost since he became a starter after Christmas, and he's thrived in his new role.

Lovedale is listed at 6-foot-8, but he's closer to 6-foot-5. Yet, he makes up for that with quickness and powerful jumping ability that allows him to get to the ball faster than other post players. He's also improved his free-throw shooting with long hours of practice.

Last season, his motion resembled a batting practice machine flinging a baseball, but he's much more fluid now.

Lovedale has only played basketball for seven years, but he might have to get used to those cameras more often. He could become a pivotal player for Davidson Sunday and especially next season, when two other post players graduate.

- Kevin Kevin

Davidson's Curry or UNC's Ellington?

Davidson's Stephen Curry is coming off a 40-point game against Gonzaga that's one of the greatest performances a player from North Carolina has ever had in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina's Wayne Ellington is the premier shooter on the tournament's No. 1 seed.

They will play in back-to-back second-round games Sunday at the RBC Center.

So here's a question. If you had to pick one sophomore shooting guard to lead your college basketball team, would you choose Curry? Or Ellington?

I'm not sure I want to choose. My e-mail inbox will be flooded by angry fans of one team or another if I pick one over the other.

Curry's shooting stroke is more pure. He can pivot to either shoulder with equal skill to fire an accurate jumper. His scoring average of 25.5 points per game is almost nine points higher than Ellington's.

Ellington is physically stronger and a better penetrator. He doesn't score as much because North Carolina has a center in Tyler Hansbrough who already has claimed two national player of the year awards.

There's no telling what Ellington what do if he were overwhelmingly the top option in a college offense as Curry is. But we know what Curry can do in that situation.

He scored 30 second-half points in the biggest game of his life. Ellington might be a better athlete and a better NBA player some day.

But Curry has shown he can carry a team. If I had to choose between them, I'd pick him.

Be gentle with my inbox. -- KEN TYSIAC

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tampa's upset city

Welcome to Tampa. Otherwise known as Upset City. Or Overtime Town.
Whatever, the two West Regional games played this afternoon at St. Pete Times Forum have made this regional site the place to be in the NCAA tournament.

But that might not bode well for Clemson, the Midwest Region's fifth seed which plays No. 12 Villanova tonight at about 9:50.

Both afternoon games went to overtime and they were both upsets, with No. 12 Western Kentucky blowing a 16-point second-half lead against No. 5 Drake before winning 101-99. Then, 13th-seed San Diego stunned No. 4 Connecticut 70-69.

Both games were decided by last-second shots. The Hilltoppers got a 3-pointer by Ty Rogers as the buzzer sounded to beat Drake. Then the Toreros' De'Jon Jackson hit a 16-footer with 1.2 seconds left in overtime to send the Huskies home.

The Midwest Region's evening session begins with No. 4 Vanderbilt going against No. 13 Sienna. The Saints are a popular pick to upset the Commodores.

That would be three for the day. Going on four? Clemson hopes not. --David Scott

W. Kentucky buzzer beater

When Western Kentucky broke its timeout huddle with 5 seconds left in overtime and trailing Drake by one point in Tampa, Hilltoppers guard Ty Rogers pulled point guard Tyrone Brazelton aside.

"Don't be afraid to kick it to me," Rogers said.
Brazleton remembered. With the clocking ticking toward zero, Brazelton found Rogers from deep beyond the 3-point line on the right side. Rogers launched the shot -- and with the buzzer sounding as the ball arched through the air -- it went in. Western Kentucky had a 101-99 victory and the most noteable kind of upset -- a 12th seed beating a No. 5.

It was probably the game of the tournament so far. Western Kentucky led by 16 points in the second half, but the Bulldogs' pressure defense, as well as a barrage of 3-pointers, brought Drake back.
Drake shot 42 3s and made 16 of them.

"What you just saw," said Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn, "is what makes this event special."
--David Scott

Curry like a star on Broadway

Leave it to a New York guy to come up with a New York way to describe a virtuoso performance.

Stephen Curry scored 40 points, setting a school record for points in a half with 30 in the second half of an 82-76 defeat of Gonzaga in a first-round NCAA tournament game Friday at the RBC Center.

“It was like an opening-night, star performance on Broadway,” said Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who was born in Queens.

Curry made six second-half 3-pointers as Davidson rallied from an 11-point deficit for its first NCAA tournament win since 1969. The national media were enthralled with the performance.

But it was the ninth time Curry has scored more than 30 this season, and one short of his career high.

“He’s averaging 25 points,” teammate Jason Richards said. “He’s done it all year for us. This game he kind of showed the nation even more what he’s capable of doing.”

Ex-Gonzaga standout and current Charlotte Bobcat Adam Morrison’s somber face, captured on the scoreboard video screen in the closing seconds, told the story from Gonzaga’s point of view.

Incredibly, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said his team did a decent job guarding Curry. Few cited Curry’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:05 to play, which came after teammate Andrew Lovedale chased down an offensive rebound, as an example of the kind of play Curry scored on.“A lot of his points come off plays like this,” Few said. “. . .They are trained to find him in a scramble situation. . . .They find him. They know their roles.”

Amid all the superlative talk about Curry, McKillop also called attention to the screens his teammates set for him. But Curry’s ability to run off those screens to an open spot and hit 3-pointers while pivoting in either direction was what made this a performance worthy of Broadway.

“He is one of a kind when it comes to using screens and getting shots off,” McKillop said.

The rave reviews in newspapers large and small Saturday will attest to that. – Ken Tysiac

'Good Ole Rocky Top'

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The tournament buzz finally got here Friday morning.
I walked out of my room in the Sheraton hotel adjacent to the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center at about 8 a.m. to get some breakfast and thought I was still asleep and dreaming for a minute.

The Sheraton is one of those atrium hotels, with all of the rooms ringing a central opening that goes all the way to the top. Way up on the 11th floor, I was hearing a recorded version of "Rocky Top."

Once I got down to the atrium lobby where all of the restaurants are, I found out I wasn't dreaming. A Tennessee alumni group was having a pre-game gaterhing before the Vols' first-round match with American, scheduled for a 11:15 a.m. tip local time.

I estimate that same version of "Rocky Top" was played eight to 10 times in the time it took me to eat pancakes. Then, as I was about to go back upstairs, the actual pep band and cheerleaders came in and, of course, the band played "Rocky Top."

During the game, the cheerleaders actually held up signs to help the Vols' fans remember the words to the song. "GOOD" said one sign. "OLE" said the second, followed by "ROCKY" and "TOP." If you're enough of a Tennessee fan to be at an NCAA basketball regional game, I am fairly sure you already know the words to that song cold.

As I walked the couple of blocks from the hotel to the media entrance, Tennessee orange was pretty much everywhere. I am guessing the Louisville folks were sleeping in, since the Cardinals don't play until the fourth game tonight.

There was a loud group of American fans in the stands right behind me during the game and they did their best to hold their own despite being outnumbered.

It was very cool to hear the backers of the Patriot League champions give their team a warm ovation after they played hard in a 82-57 loss to the Vols. That's one of the moments that makes it great to have the so-called Cinderella teams in this event. The Eagles gave everything they had against Tennessee but just couldn't get the job done.

I haven't been back out on the court for the second game yet, but it sounds like Butler has a rowdy bunch here, too. I sort of figured Butler-South Alabama would be a very good first-round game, so I am going to try to catch some of it before writing my game story from the Tennessee game.
But don't tell the boss that.

Curry's singular performance a sight

I’ve seen a lot of NCAA tournament games, but I’ve seldom seen one player single-handedly carry his team the way Stephen Curry has in the second half with Davidson against Gonzaga today at the RBC Center.

Curry went into halftime with 10 points on seven field goal attempts – nice numbers, to be sure. Then he scored 22 points in the first 10 minutes, 15 seconds of the second half, getting baskets off steals and drives, but mostly on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.

If there’s a better shooter in college basketball, I don’t know who he is. Gonzaga’s double-digit lead evaporated. Curry tied the game. And the Wildcats have a chance at a program-changing win.

Incidentally, I received complaints after the ACC tournament about the lack of replays shown on the scoreboard video screen last week at Bobcats Arena. As one fan explained, replay would confirm controversial refereeing most of the time. And when it didn’t , he wrote, the boos should rain down.

The RBC Center isn’t shying away from replay at the first-round opener. Yes, boos have rained down a couple times after questionable calls.

But a sweet Curry jumper is always worth a second look. So were the dunks by Virginia Tech’s Deron Washington against North Carolina and Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson against Clemson in the ACC semifinals.

But you only got to see those dunks once in Bobcats Arena.

– Ken Tysiac

Drake's Emmenecker: Student first

Drake senior Adam Emmenecker has a 3.98 grade-point average (which probably means he got one A-minus somewhere along the way), will receive four degrees when he graduates, has already accepted a job at Principal Financial Group and is the Missouri Valley Conference's player of the year and tournament MVP.

With all that going for him, maybe that's why he thought a wild-looking shot he attempted near the end of the first half against Western Kentucky in Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum would go in.

With the clock winding down, Emmenecker drove to the left side of the basket, where he found three Hilltoppers waiting to block his shot.

Emmenecker flipped the ball over his shoulder and...

It missed everything, flying straight over the backboard.

-- David Scott

Davidson-Gonzaga: The big difference

The comparisons between Davidson and Gonzaga are appropriate in a lot of ways.

Davidson is making its third NCAA tournament appearance in a row and is gaining respect as one of the nation’s most formidable mid-major teams. The Wildcats are close to achieving the status that Gonzaga has with its 10 NCAA tournament appearances.

But the difference between the teams is obvious when you see their players on the court next to one another. Gonzaga is bigger and stronger, with athletes every bit as impressive as those N.C. State puts on the floor at the RBC Center.

They look like they devoured all the choice morsels at the buffet. Davidson’s guys look like they ate the leftovers.

That doesn’t mean Davidson can’t win. Good coaching, a supportive crowd excellent 3-point shooting and general scrappiness could carry the day for the Wildcats.

Gonzaga led 41-36 at halftime thanks to a 19-11 rebounding advantage, but committed 12 first-half turnovers. But having excellent athletes helped Gonzaga win first-round games in seven of the last 10 years.

Davidson has some work to do in the second half to avoid an 0-3 first-round record over the last three years.

– Ken Tysiac

A spirited atmosphere in Raleigh

N.C. State athletics director Lee Fowler was standing in one of the tunnels leading onto the court during one of the open practices Thursday, wondering aloud what kind of crowd Friday’s NCAA tournament first session would bring to the Wolfpack’s home floor at the RBC Center.

It’s a given that the evening session, which will feature North Carolina, will have a spirited atmosphere. Turns out the afternoon session does, too.

There is a lot of Carolina blue in the stands, and there are fans wearing Duke jerseys, too. They bought tickets a long time ago anticipating that they’d be able to see their teams at the RBC Center. North Carolina’s fans will. Duke’s won’t.

Their teams have played Davidson during the season and gained respect for the Wildcats. And though there are pockets of empty seats, it’s a large crowd overwhelmingly in favor of Davidson.
If the Wildcats are a favorite regionally in their opening game against Gonzaga, there was plenty of evidence that they have a way to go before they grab the national recognition they crave.

Though Gonzaga West Coast Conference player of the year Jeremy Pargo clearly respects Davidson point guard Jason Richards, he had no idea until Thursday that Richards is from the Chicago area as Pargo is.

And on the Westwood One Radio pregame show, analyst John Thompson Jr. mispronounced the name of Davidson’s best player. Thompson either didn’t know or had forgotten that Stephen Curry is pronounced “Steffen,” not “Steven.”

Here’s guessing that John Thompson III, who’s Georgetown’s coach, wouldn’t make the same mistake if Davidson advances to play the Hoyas in the second round.

– Ken Tysiac

Too close for comfort for Duke

The Duke Blue Devils looked like they had seen a ghost.
And they had – their own.

They fully understood how close they had come to losing a game that one long-time Duke insider said would have been among the toughest losses in the program’s exceptional history. That’s not to diminish how good Belmont was – the Bruins were solid in so many ways – but a second straight first-round exit, especially as a No. 2 seed, would have blindsided Duke.

"Any time you can win in this tournament, it’s a good thing," Duke guard Greg Paulus said.

Watching Mike Krzyzewski during his post-game media conference, he looked as if he were still coming to grips with what had just happened. Part of it was probably the illness that has hit him this week – he sounded very hoarse after the game and not just because he’d barked so often at his players in the first half – and part of it was probably knowing how close his team came to going home.

Belmont did many things well – Bruins guard Alex Renfroe kept getting inside the Duke defense with his dribble penetration – and when Duke built a 10-point second-half lead, Belmont came back instead of wilting.

The Blue Devils can thank Gerald Henderson for keeping them in the NCAA tournament. He’s turning into an outstanding player and Duke needed everything he gave them because DeMarcus Nelson was a non-factor. Nelson made just one of six shots and made four turnovers.

Is the near-miss good for Duke?
Hard to say.
The Blue Devils didn’t play badly against Belmont but defensively they couldn’t dictate what their opponent did. If that happens Saturday, it will be bad news for Duke.

The good news for Duke is it has another game to play. That was in serious doubt Thursday night.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Davidson in the media spotlight

The national media has zeroed in on Davidson here in Raleigh, and that leads to lots of repeats of the same question to star Stephen Curry and coach Bob McKillop.

Why did they end up at Davidson, or, in McKillop's case, why will he stay?
Everyone here is amazed that someone like Curry, with his 25-point average, could end up at Davidson and not an ACC school. Curry has acknowledged he dreamed of playing at Virginia Tech as a youngster, but he changed his mindset later.

"Once high school and reality set in, I had to go somewhere else," he said. "Every player has dreams of where they want to go, but they have to look at what's on the table. You have to take what's out there."

That doesn't mean Curry feels like he "settled" for Davidson. He's happy to be a Wildcat.

"I don't have a chip on my shoulder," he said. "It's not like I say, 'hey ACC coaches, look what you missed out on. It has really worked out well for me. I'm pretty happy here."

McKillop has been at Davidson 19 years, and he's been asked about that longevity all week.

"This has been a great experience for my family," he said. "Without happiness for them, there is no happiness for me."

Don't expect either of them to leave for a while. But expect them to get those questions again, maybe before this season is over.

Wolfpack misses more than Wright's skills

Just a little over two years ago, Chris Wright’s commitment was seen as evidence that Herb Sendek was ready to take N.C. State’s program to a higher level.

Sendek coached the Wolfpack to five straight NCAA tournaments. Wright was the McDonald’s All-America point guard whose ability to create shots for himself and others was supposed to add sizzle to Sendek’s monotonous motion offense.

After Sendek left for Arizona State, Wright decided not to play for new coach Sidney Lowe in Raleigh. He enrolled at Georgetown instead and will play against Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Raleigh.

In many ways, this season was a disappointment for Lowe and Wright. N.C. State lost its final nine games and was the No. 12 seed for the ACC tournament.

Wright missed 18 games with a left foot injury. For that matter, Sendek might be the most frustrated person of all after Arizona State defeated Arizona twice but saw its rival make the NCAA tournament field when the Sun Devils didn’t.

But Wright doesn’t sound discouraged. He said he learned a lot this season from Georgetown’s veteran guards, including senior Jonathan Wallace, whom Wright is in line to replace as a starter next season.

“I think I have a good future,” Wright said. “Once I continue to learn more about the offense and aspects of the game, period, I’ll be able to contribute more at a high level. I’m trying to learn from the veterans. I have some great veterans in front of me.”

That’s the type of attitude N.C. State was desperately missing this season. After the Wolfpack struggled at point guard all season, it’s impossible not to think of what impact Wright could have made as he gets ready to take the floor at the RBC Center.

– Ken Tysiac

Davidson familiar with Gonzaga's style

When Davidson coach Bob McKillop looks at first-round NCAA tournament opponent Gonzaga, he sees components of the high-powered teams the Wildcats faced early in the season.

Like Duke, Gonzaga can spread the floor makes a high percentage of its 3-point attempts (39.7 percent).

Like North Carolina, Gonzaga is explosive in transition (82.9 ppg) and has a point guard, Jeremy Pargo, whom McKillop calls a one-man fast break.

Like UCLA, Gonzaga has tenacious defenders who use their length to bother opponents and are interchangeable at two or three positions.

Davidson was competitive against Duke, North Carolina and UCLA, but lost all three games. After the Wildcats lost five of their first nine, it appeared that McKillop’s strategy of scheduling strong outside the Southern Conference had failed because Davidson didn’t get a “marquee” victory.

Now it’s obvious that the scheduling strategy worked. Davidson played at NCAA tournament venues in Charlotte, Anaheim and Raleigh and got exposure to styles of play it wouldn’t see from Southern Conference opponents.

“The purpose of that nonconference schedule was to test us, to expose us, and maybe get us knocked to the mat,” McKillop said.

On Friday against Gonzaga, the Wildcats will see if getting knocked down early will help them get back up at the most important time of the season.

– Ken Tysiac

Tampa: Something's out of place here

Thoughts from Tampa, Fla., where Clemson faces Villanova in one of the last first-round games Friday at the witching hour of 9:40 p.m.:

-- Tampa hasn't always been perceived as a huge college basketball town. That was the case last season when it hosted the ACC tournament because, well, the North Carolina-centric ACC tournament was being held in Tampa. But by all accounts the city did a terrific job with the event.

With the NCAA tournament's first- and second-rounds in Tampa, there's another perception situation: The predominant image a visitor gets of the St. Pete Times Forum are huge photos on the side of the building of a Tampa Bay Lightning player hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Come to think of it, that's something else that seems out of place: Hockey in Florida.

-- Wonder if the Tampa Tribune felt like it got scooped when the naming rights of the arena -- located in the middle of downtown Tampa -- was named after a newspaper from another city? Memo to bosses: When Bobcats Arena's naming rights are sold, make sure it's not the Gaston Gazette Arena.

-- David Scott

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Adding a new twist to march madness

They had a big protest in downtown Washington Wednesday morning.
Somebody was mad about something, mad enough to organize a march that disrupted traffic, which just makes more people mad.

But this is Washington, where somebody’s always mad about something.
It was peaceful Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial, where fans from the various teams in town for the NCAA tournament were sightseeing.

It’s not unusual to see people wearing Duke sweatshirts or Arizona apparel. There’s even a chance you might see someone wearing a Georgia basketball shirt if you attend spring football practice in Athens. The shirt was probably a giveaway, but let’s not be picky.

But when was the last time you saw someone wearing Baylor basketball gear?

Even in Waco?

I saw two people wearing Baylor sweatshirts on the streets of D.C. Wednesday and, as far as I could tell, they meant to have it on.

Good for them.

To say Baylor has a history in the NCAA tournament is to be guilty of exaggeration.

Baylor has a paragraph in the list of scores, but no history. This is the Bears’ first NCAA tournament game since a first-round loss to Memphis State (it has since dropped ‘State’ from its name) in 1988. Before that, the Bears’ last NCAA appearance was in 1950.

In other words, this is a thrill for Baylor.

As it should be for every team, no matter how routine it seems.

--Ron Green Jr.

Critics hitting close to home

You knew this was going to happen.

Some critics are saying it’s not fair that No. 1 overall seed North Carolina can follow Tobacco Road all the way to the Final Four. The Tar Heels are scheduled for first- and second-round games in Raleigh.

If they advance, they will play in the East Regional in Charlotte. This is the result of the NCAA bracketing system introduced in 2002 designed to keep teams close to home when possible without ruining the integrity of seeding for the tournament.

This means some teams get something akin to homecourt advantages, and some people don’t like that. North Carolina, which earned its home-state path to the Final Four, isn’t the most offensive example to the critics.

Texas, a No. 2 seed, could play No. 1 seed Memphis in Houston in a regional final. No. 7 seed Gonzaga has to travel across the country to play No. 10 seed Davidson in Raleigh. No. 7 seed Butler plays No. 10 seed South Alabama in Birmingham, Ala.

But having a lot of teams close to home has advantages. Travel costs are reduced. Local favorites help sell tickets and create a more passionate environment in the arenas.

In Raleigh, most of that passion will be directed toward one team. But having fans – any fans – in the stands is a good thing for the teams and TV.

Generating local interest is one NCAA trend that should continue.

– Ken Tysiac

Clemson keeping Purnell is right move

It seems like just yesterday that I dined with a small group of writers and photographers from South Carolina at Gino’s East, a famous Chicago restaurant.

The deep dish, Chicago-style pizza was incredible. The server was incompetent. Not to mention belligerent. When we asked him to separate the check for us because we were on expense accounts, he tore the check into pieces and threw it on the table in front of us.

We were there to cover Clemson in the NCAA tournament. It was 10 years ago, and the Tigers haven’t been back since – until now.

Since then, I have moved three times, changed jobs twice, lost 30 pounds and been present for the birth of my two children. Clemson has changed coaches twice and renovated Littlejohn Coliseum, Memorial Stadium and Doug Kingsmore Stadium, where it plays baseball.

In 1998, the Tigers were making their third straight NCAA tournament appearance. It seemed that they would be a fixture in the tournament for years. Then Rick Barnes left for Texas.
You know the rest of the story.

That’s why coach Oliver Purnell’s contract extension was an important move for Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips this week. Purnell’s style and recruiting have the Tigers in position for another multi-year run in the NCAA tournament.

Though Clemson loses seniors James Mays, Cliff Hammonds and Sam Perry after this season, it has two excellent freshman guards in Demontez Stitt of Matthews and Terrence Oglesby. Charlotte’s K.C. Rivers should be one of the top scorers in the ACC as a senior next season, and sophomore Trevor Booker is a talented center who’s not so tall at 6-foot-7 that he should be looking for an early entry into the NBA draft.

Purnell has this train rolling. Sooner or later, an athletics director at a traditional basketball power is going to come courting him. Clemson saw how quickly a basketball program can crumble after Barnes left.

Though Purnell might leave eventually, he grew up dreaming of coaching in the ACC. Within reason, Clemson needs to do what it takes to keep him there.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

EA Sports: Davidson to Elite Eight

Davidson last reached the Elite Eight back in the 1960s under Lefty Driesell, but the Wildcats will do it again this year.

At least that's the prediction of EA Sports, in its simulation of the NCAA tournament using its March Madness 08 video game for Xbox 360.

According to the simulation, Davidson defeats Gonzaga 73-71, then edges Georgetown 67-65. The Wildcats then beat Wisconsin 67-63 in the Sweet 16, before losing to Kansas 71-62.

The simulation predicts UCLA will beat Tennessee 82-78 in the national championship game.

-- Kevin Cary

Hickson's exit just the start for Wolfpack

Now that J.J. Hickson has decided to put his name in for the NBA draft, N.C. State can start rebuilding the mess he’s leaving behind.

It won’t be easy.

Coach Sidney Lowe constructed his offense around Hickson from the moment this season started. It didn’t matter that Hickson was a freshman stepping into a frontcourt with experienced, proven ACC players Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley.

Hickson was the focal point, an impressively talented center with big-time NBA potential. He can rebound, catch the ball, score in the post and hit a 12-foot jumper on the baseline.

But when he was added to the roster, N.C. State’s production became less than the sum of its parts. The Wolfpack ended the season with a school record-tying nine losses in a row, a No. 12 seed for the ACC tournament, and a spectacular flameout.

The team’s chemistry was so far gone that it will take a lot of offseason team building to regain it. Lowe benched senior Gavin Grant in the second half of his last game, saying sophomore Dennis Horner played because he was part of the Wolfpack’s future and Grant wasn’t ready to play.

With that, one of N.C. State’s most disappointing seasons ever ended for a team the media picked third in the ACC in the preseason.

None of this is Hickson’s fault. He led ACC freshmen in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). He played hard and tried to learn how to find open teammates when opponents double teamed him.

He apparently won’t sign with an agent, which will allow him to explore his draft options without compromising his college eligibility. But unless he bombs in pre-draft workouts, it’s difficult to imagine him wanting to come back to a team that lost its last nine games.

So it’s time for Lowe to begin repairing the egos that have been hurting since November.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 17, 2008

McKillop feels the love from fans, committee

Before Davidson learned its place in the NCAA Tournament Sunday night, Davidson coach Bob McKillop addressed Davidson fans and mentioned a song that made him think of the occasion.

"It's from 'The Lion King,'" McKillop said, as a few in the crowd chuckled. "It's called, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight', and that's how I feel right now."

McKillop was referencing the large fan support that came for the selection show and throughout the season, but Davidson's fans must feel some love from the NCAA tournament committee now.

Davidson hasn't won a tournament game since 1969, but even CBS sports commentator Clark Kellogg said the Wildcats could make the Sweet 16 this season after seeing Davidson's matchups.

The Wildcats get a home-court advantage against Gonzaga, which will be playing a game that is like a 9:25 a.m. start for the Zags because of the time difference. Gonzaga does shoot almost 49 percent as a team, but also can be prone to turnovers.

If Davidson wins that - the Wildcats are a two-point favorite - Davidson would likely get Georgetown Sunday.

Georgetown features 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, but Davidson has been effective against big men this season, including North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and UCLA's Kevin Love. Georgetown is strong against the perimeter, holding teams to 30 percent shooting, and the Hoyas' depth could be trouble for Davidson.

-- Kevin Cary

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hansbrough held in check in 1st half

North Carolina assistant coach Joe Holladay should be seeing stars at halftime of the ACC final.

While chasing a ball out of bounds at the bench, Tar Heel center Tyler Hansbrough accidentally steamrolled over Holladay, the assistant who coaches North Carolina’s big men in practice.

Holladay is OK, but he wouldn’t be human if he weren’t dazed for a moment.

Hansbrough has yet to make a big impact on the game at halftime, as Clemson leads 39-38.

Clemson fans have long held that they would have won earlier in this season in Chapel Hill if the referees wouldn’t have called the game so tightly in the post so that Tiger center Trevor Booker got into foul trouble.

This time, Clemson is getting its wish. Booker has one foul at halftime, and Hansbrough has been held to six points. You know Hansbrough will come out fired up in the second half, but so far Charlotte’s K.C. Rivers has been the player of the game in his hometown for Clemson.

He has 15 points, including three 3-pointers, in what’s turned into a wing scoring duel with North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington (14 points).

– Ken Tysiac

No surprise ... Tar Heels dominate the crowd

Charlotte is a Tar Heel town, and the Carolina blue shirts that ring much of Bobcats Arena attest to the passion here for North Carolina basketball.

The Tar Heels usually can be considered a home team in Charlotte, but the passion for Clemson here is nearly as strong because its been 46 years since the ACC tournament final.

Louise Bradley, widow of the late Clemson sports information director Bob Bradley, is in the stands telling people about that loss to Wake Forest in the 1962 final.

Clemson fans have been waiting a long time for this day, but there are a lot of fans in Charlotte who’d like to see them disappointed again.

– Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Clemson is on the radar now

In the midst of Clemson’s on-court celebration after its 78-74 victory against Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals Saturday, there was Tigers forward Sam Perry dancing across the floor with his jersey pulled off.

Perry went looking for cameras while shouting out a message.

“I was saying, ‘Look at us now. It’s not the same old Clemson,’” Perry said, still chattering in the Clemson locker room.

No, it’s not.

Forget all the years when the Tigers showed up for one game and fans from other schools waited for them to lose in hopes of buying their tickets when they left.

This Clemson team is different from the one that played much of the year.

It made free throws when they mattered Saturday.

Guys who almost never make free throws – otherwise excellent players Cliff Hammonds and James Mays – made them one after another.

Even when those guys are on, they’ve tended to only make free throws occasionally.

Because of it, the Tigers are the ACC championship game for only the second time in the league’s 55-year history.

Perry, for his part, was talking the talk about his team.

“We were watching ESPN (Saturday) and they were previewing the Duke-North Carolina championship game,” Perry said. “I guess they forgot we were playing Duke at 4:17 this afternoon. And we weren’t mentioned in the newspaper until the 12th page today.”

Everybody’s talking about the Tigers now.

“We’re playing with a chip on our shoulders,” Perry said. “That’s our motto – ‘1, 2, 3, chip!’”

--Ron Green Jr.

Defense name of Clemson-Duke game

If you’re a basketball coach, get a hold of the game film from the first half of the Clemson vs. Duke ACC final at Bobcats Arena.

Show it to your players. They will learn a lot about how to play defense.

Both teams are starting their half-court offenses about five feet beyond the 3-point arc because the ball pressure is so intense. Clemson’s full-court press forced 11 first-half turnovers, and Duke’s half-court pressure caused 10 turnovers.

Clemson seniors Sam Perry and Cliff Hammonds have three steals apiece, and both teams are shooting just under 43 percent from the field as Duke leads 31-30.

Speaking of Hammonds, he was grimacing late in the first half and holding his heavily taped right wrist. The wrist has been fractured for a couple weeks, but Hammonds still had one of the best individual halves of anybody in the tournament.

Hammonds scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, in the first half. He also knocked the ball away from two Duke players on one incredible, full-court pursuit before saving the ball inbounds to a Clemson player.

He ran about 15 yards off the playing floor before he could turn around and hustle back into the play. There are other players with more skill, but few can match Hammonds’ heart.
– Ken Tysiac

Yes, the Tar Heels really do care about ACC title

Tyler Hansbrough has made a lot of big shots in his career.

But I've never seen him react the way he did Saturday after his 15-foot baseline jumper with eighth-tenths of a second remaining gave North Carolina a 68-66 win over Virginia Tech in the ACC semifinals.

Hansbrough pumped his fists in jubilation and relief as he high-stepped out to midcourt. A lot of people thought the Tar Heels (31-2) didn't care much about the ACC tournament because they are in such good shape for the NCAA tournament.

But Hansbrough's celebration showed otherwise.

Meanwhile, it's only natural to feel compassion for Virginia Tech (19-13), which is on the NCAA tournament bubble and also lost by a single point at Clemson last weekend in a heartbreaker.

I've seen a lot of teams give their all against super-talented North Carolina and Duke teams over the years. But I'm not sure I've seen a team play harder than the Hokies did Saturday.

(And by the way, Deron Washington's alley-oop dunk over Danny Green was one of the most highlight-worthy plays in college basketball all season.)

It's amazing what Seth Greenberg has done with this team, which counts so heavily on freshmen.

We'll see if compassion -- and the Hokies' credentials -- are enough to get the Hokies into the NCAA tournament. -- Ken Tysiac

Tense half ends in tie

After getting whistled for a foul against North Carolina's Ty Lawson nine seconds before halftime, Virginia Tech forward A.D. Vassallo came to the sideline and picked up a pen.

On the notebook belonging to a writer from the Lynchburg News & Advance, Vassallo penned his own protest: "A.D. Not foul."

It was a light moment in an otherwise intense first half that ended in a 38-38 tie. Tyler Hansbrough scored 16 points but Vassallo countered with 11 as the Hokies led for much of the half.

The biggest problem with the first half was the floor. There was some dust buildup on the ACC tournament logo at midcourt, which caused North Carolina's Michael Copeland to slip. The logo is swept at every timeout, but it begs the question of whether it's worthwhile to have logos on the court if players are going to slip on them.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in particular has been vocal in the past about the unnecessary injury threat logos pose. Perhaps it's time for an NCAA committee to come up with (gasp) another rule.

By the way, North Carolina coaching legend Dean Smith's Carolina blue suit coat was stunning when the ACC legends were introduced at halftime. With the arena full of North Carolina fans, Smith received a thunderous (and appropriate ovation in his home state. -- Ken Tysiac

Williams' chipper mood short-lived

North Carolina coach Roy Williams (above, left, with Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg) enjoyed a laugh with the referees before Saturday's ACC semifinal game with Virginia Tech.

A day earlier, Williams had taken off his suit jacket after a call against the Tar Heels. But he said he was mad at his players, not the referees.

Shortly before tipoff Saturday, Williams pretended to take off his coat, drawing laughter from the three referees. But it took all of one possession for his mood to sour.

After Tyler Hansbrough was called for a moving screen, Williams came off the bench to protest to Bryan Kersey. From courtside it appeared that Hansbrough did duck his shoulder into Deron Washington, but Washington fell hard to embellish the contact.

But the referees were the least of North Carolina's problems. Point guard Ty Lawson, who appeared sore in the quarterfinals, was gingerly fumbling with the laces on his left shoe before tipoff. His left ankle and left hip still seem to be bothering him.

Then Wayne Ellington came to the bench to have his left ankle taped. Most importantly, a Virginia Tech team that needs a marquee win to solidify its NCAA tournament resume was matching the Tar Heels basket for basket.

It could be the start of a fascinating day of basketball. -- Ken Tysiac

Deacons, Tigers show promise

As many of the bottom eight seeds exited the ACC tournament, writers in the media room at Bobcats Arena gave ominous forecasts for their future.

It's difficult to even imagine at least five teams getting better next season:

• N.C. State seems likely to lose freshman center J.J. Hickson, who scored 27 of its 50 points in its first-round loss to Miami. And some recruiting experts question whether incoming freshman Julius Mays will solve the Wolfpack's problems at point guard.

• Georgia Tech counted heavily on seniors Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Matt Causey.

• Florida State backcourt stalwarts Ralph Mims and Jason Rich were seniors.

• Senior Sean Singletary was just about Virginia's whole team.

• Maryland loses seniors James Gist and Bambale Osby and doesn't seem to have another post player who can catch the ball, let alone shoot it.

So you've got to wonder whether the ACC is entering a prolonged cycle where less than half its teams will get NCAA tournament bids. The conference seems likely to get five of its 12 teams, at most, in the 2008 tournament after getting seven bids in 2007.

The good news for the league is that two teams in the Carolinas seem to be building steam along with traditional powers North Carolina and Duke. Wake Forest's best players this season were freshmen Jeff Teague and James Johnson, and the Deacons add one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

Clemson will return leading scorer K.C. Rivers, post scorer Trevor Booker and capable freshman guards Demontez Stitt and Terrence Oglesby (at right in photo above).

Those two programs appear to be in position for prolonged success that will add to the already stellar quality of basketball in the Carolinas. -- Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 14, 2008

Clemson has a shot this year

It’s been a long time since there’s been an ACC tournament like this.

That’s to say, a tournament where it looked like Clemson had even a prayer of winning. But that seemed to be the case Friday night as the final quarterfinal approached halftime. Clemson was the last team to play at Bobcats Arena, tipping off 33 hours after the tournament started. And the third-seeded Tigers got off to a more impressive start than anybody else.

They scored 19 points in a row after spotting Boston College the first six. Clemson scored 42 of the first 60 points, and shot 18-for-31 from the field in the first half while forcing 13 turnovers.

“Clemson’s had one of those magical years,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Oliver (Purnell) and his kids have played so well. If they’d won some close games, they could have won our league. That’s how good they’ve been.”

Krzyzewski gets the next shot at the Tigers in the semifinals. Duke has the depth and fast-breaking ability to punish Clemson’s full-court press. And the Blue Devils have won seven of the last nine tournaments.

But Clemson has never won. And the chance to make history can be a powerful motivator. – Ken Tysiac

Duke back on track

Duke is showing no ill effects from its disappointing 76-68 home loss to North Carolina in the regular season finale.

The Blue Devils shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half of their quarterfinal game against Georgia Tech on Friday night. Gerald Henderson, whose injured right wrist continues to improve, was 2-for-2 on 3-point attempts as Duke raced to a 44-29 lead.

Coming into the tournament, a lot of people predicted that No. 3 seed Clemson could give Duke and/or North Carolina a run for the title. But if the Blue Devils continue hitting shots the way they did Friday, Clemson might not be able to stop them. – Ken Tysiac

Lawson: 'I'm probably 90 percent'

North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson looked tentative in the first half of the Tar Heels' 82-70 ACC quarterfinal win over Florida State Friday, but seemed more like himself in the second half.

That's good news for the Tar Heels, who will need Lawson to play well in Saturday's semifinal against a quick Virginia Tech team.

Lawson started the FSU game and finished with modest statistics -- eight points, three assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes. Quentin Thomas was a steady substitute, with four points and three assists in 18 minutes.

"I'm probably 90 percent," said Lawson, who missed six games with a sprained left ankle in February. "There were a couple of times today I tried to turn the corner on my man and just couldn't quite do it."

Said teammate Wayne Ellington: "Ty is not the 'one-man-fast-break' he used to be, but he's getting there."

Lawson obviously isn't as explosive and isn't driving to the basket as often, at least not yet. He said he thought his "turning-the-corner" problem was partly mental. "When my left ankle is on the inside, that's when I don't quite think I can do it," Lawson said. "When I'm turning fast on my right ankle, I'm fine."

Hokies win, to face Heels next

Virginia Tech knocked off Miami 63-49 in the ACC tournament's quarterfinals on Friday at Bobcats Arena.

Next up for the fourth-seed Hokies (19-12): No. 1 seed and top-ranked North Carolina in Saturday's semifinals at 1:30 p.m.

A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney each scored 15 points for Virginia Tech. Miami (22-10), which is hoping for an NCAA tournament berth despite the loss, got 16 points from Jack McClinton. -- DAVID SCOTT

Delaney taking control early

Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney is in the middle of things already.

Delaney, a freshman guard who averages 8.7 points per game, has scored eight already in the Hokies' quarterfinal game against Miami.

Delaney scored the game's first basket on a jumper, then made a pair of 3s as the Hokies took early control.

And Delaney isn't even Virginia Tech's best freshman: Forward Jeff Allen is an ACC all-rookie team performer. -- David Scott

Hansbrough leads Heels to semifinals

Top-seeded North Carolina advanced to the semifinals of the ACC tournament with an 82-70 victory against Florida State at Bobcats Arena.

The Tar Heels (30-2) were led by Tyler Hansbrough, who scored 22 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Wayne Ellington, who scored 19. The ninth-seeded Seminoles (19-14) got 23 points from Jason Rich.

The Tar Heels will play in Saturday's semifinals at 1:30 Saturday against the winner of Friday's Virginia Tech-Miami game. -- DAVID SCOTT

Back in Charlotte for 2015? Maybe

The official list of future ACC tournament sites is set through 2015 with Charlotte's name nowhere on the list.

But there's a least a chance that could change.

Not a great chance. But a chance.

The tournament goes to Atlanta next year, to Greensboro the two years after that, back to Atlanta in 2012 and then back to Greensboro 2013 through 2015.

There is, however, a provision in the contract with Greensboro that allows for the tournament to be moved somewhere else in 2015 with Greensboro getting it back in 2016.

That's where Charlotte might -- emphasis on the word might -- have a shot at getting the tournament back despite having only 20,035 seats in Bobcats Arena.

"An unofficial interest in having us back is definitely there," ACC commissioner John Swofford said Friday afternoon.

"There's a great energy here. It's a different experience in Charlotte than ever before because of the facility and all the hotels."

The tournament is just two days old so it's too early to determine the level of its success in Charlotte. Swofford acknowledged the scarcity of tickets is a problem for schools and it's an issue that can't be ignored.

However, there will be more than 40,000 tickets available in Atlanta next year and the 23,500-seat set-up in Greensboro is close to ideal, Swofford said.

He added, however, that part of the ACC tournament's mystique is the relative difficulty of getting tickets. The league doesn't want to lose that, Swofford said.

In Charlotte, that mystique could be alive and well.

UNC's Williams hot enough to remove jacket

With 2 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half Friday afternoon, North Carolina coach Roy Williams took off his suit jacket.

Tar Heel forward Danny Green had missed consecutive shots, and a foul could have been called on either one. Instead, a foul was called on Green after Uche Echefu rebounded.

It’s reputed that in the ACC, North Carolina and Duke get all the calls. But in the first half on the first quarterfinal, Florida State was called for five fouls to North Carolina’s 10.

From early in the game, Williams was urging the referees to make the same calls for North Carolina that they were giving to Florida State. Williams was hot.

The jacket was laid across his chair. At Bobcats Arena, where about half the crowd was Carolina blue, there were boos. After a lackluster day of first-round games Thursday, the ACC tournament was starting to heat up.

– Ken Tysiac

Davidson AD: We want a 6 or 7 seed

Davidson athletics director Jim Murphy says he has no idea where his men's basketball team will be seeded when the NCAA tournament pairings come out.

But he knows where he doesn't want the Wildcats to be.

"We would be very disappointed with an 11 or a 12 seed," he said. "We know it is inappropriate to get greedy, but we would be disappointed with that."

Davidson coach Bob McKillop lobbied for a No.6 seed earlier this week, and Murphy said he's hopeful for a No.6 or No.7 seed since the Wildcats are ranked in both polls.

Internet projections have put Davidson mostly in the 7-10 range, and Murphy understands that his team is hard to judge. The Wildcats don't have any wins against the Top 100 teams (according to RPI), but Davidson has other factors in its favor.

"There are certainly some other intangibles," Murphy said. "We have a second-team All-American (Stephen Curry) and the nation's longest winning streak (22 games). I think those are some positives that can help us."

Murphy said it is too early to get a definitive feel for the Wildcats' placement.

"It's like putting together a puzzle," he said. "The committee only has half of the pieces right now."

But history points to the Wildcats ending up in the nine or 10 seeding range. Winthrop had a similar profile last season, with a long winning streak and national ranking, and ended up as an 11 seed. But most bubble teams have fallen flat this week, and Davidson has enough national buzz to bump a little higher.

My guess: Davidson gets a nine seed, and faces Mississippi State in the first round in Little Rock, Ark. The winner would likely get Memphis in the second round.

-- Kevin Cary

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Singletary gets ultimate compliment

They do this thing during timeouts at Bobcats Arena where they focus a camera on a guy wearing team colors, and fans of all 11 other teams boo.

A guy in blue points to the “D-U-K-E” on his sweatshirt, and everybody else boos the image that’s shown on the giant video screen on the scoreboard. The camera focuses on a “C-A-R-O-L-I-N-A” guy who gets booed, and a “M-A-R-Y-L-A-N-D” guy, and so on.

That’s why the final minute of Virginia’s 94-76, first-round loss to Georgia Tech was so refreshing. ACC commissioner John Swofford likes to talk of the collegiality that exists in the conference.

Virginia senior guard Sean Singletary experienced that Thursday night. With 36.3 seconds remaining, Singletary came to the bench for the final time during an ACC tournament game as coach Dave Leitao substituted for him.

Singletary is a three-time, first-team All-ACC guard who had an outstanding career at Virginia. And the crowd showed how much they appreciated him.

Regardless of whether they were wearing orange, yellow, blue or red, they stood and cheered the guy with “V-I-R-G-I-N-I-A” on the front of his jersey. Singletary hunched over, exhausted as usual, after scoring 20 points with 10 assists and three steals, enjoying the ultimate compliment – the respect of his rivals. – Ken Tysiac

Crowd energy will pick up Friday

I’m not suggesting that the Thursday afternoon action at the ACC tournament was anything short of spectacular – perhaps the best that can be said is that everyone made it through those two games – but the tournament won’t gather its emotional energy until Friday.

That’s when Duke and North Carolina arrive.
That may not be what the other 10 teams want to hear but it’s true, at least right now when they’re clearly the best teams in the conference. The seats were mostly filled in both sessions Thursday but the juice hadn’t been turned on.

It gets turned on when the Tar Heels play the first game and it will go from there. It’s not just about Duke and North Carolina but a four-day tournament is a grind. Like a 747, it takes a while to get airborne.

Plus, when Duke and North Carolina are playing, most of the tournament house is pulling for them to lose. That’s the nature of the ACC tournament beast.

Hopefully, the roar arrives on Friday. -- Ron Green Jr.

Leitao, Hewitt imposing figures

The tradeoff for Bobcats Arena’s small capacity (20,035 for the ACC tournament, more than 3,700 fewer than Greensboro) is that almost all the seats in Charlotte are good ones.

In fact, the worst seats all day Thursday were behind the bench for the Georgia Tech-Virginia game that began the night session. That’s because Dave Leitao of Virginia and Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech are the tallest coaches in the ACC, and they spend much of the game standing.

Leitao stands about 6-foot-7 and stands much of the time with his hands on his hips. Hewitt is about an inch shorter and stands with arms folded. A lot of people say Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams try to intimidate referees.

If I were a ref, I’d be more intimidated by Leitao and Hewitt just because of their sheer physical size.

Incidentally, the first half of Virginia-Georgia Tech on Thursday night was infinitely more entertaining than either of the games in the afternoon session.

Mamadi Diane made all five of his shots, including four 3-pointers, off the bench for Virginia. Maurice Miller sank all four of his field goal attempts and made three 3-pointers for Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets led 44-42 at halftime, and for the first time in the tournament it appeared certain the game’s loser would score more than 60 points. – Ken Tysiac

No surprise - Wolfpack struggles against Miami

There is a reason N.C. State was the No. 12 seed for the ACC tournament.

It's been obvious all season in Raleigh, and today it's obvious in Charlotte. The Wolfpack averaged 68.4 points in ACC games -- last in the conference.

And in the first half of Thursday's first-round game against fifth-seeded Miami, the Wolfpack scored just 17 points to trail by seven at halftime.

It took 9 minutes, 25 seconds for N.C. State to score its first field goal ñ on a runner in the lane by Trevor Ferguson. Aside from freshman center J.J. Hickson, the entire Wolfpack team managed just six points in the first half.

Coach Sidney Lowe is wearing the red jacket that gained him fame as the Wolfpack won three games to reach the ACC finals a year ago. If that jacket held any magic, it's obviously long gone.

-- Ken Tysiac