2023 Archive

Day 7 of the NCAA Tournament

UConn Knocks Out Gonzaga 

The first half had the feel of two heavyweights testing one another's defenses but not able to land a solid punch much less a knockout blow. Although that Karaban 3 at the end of the half to put UConn up by seven landed pretty squarely. It bears mentioning that the Zags are not a bunch of sluggers; brawls are not their style. At all.

In the first half, Sanogo scored (6) and rebounded (8), as expected, but he also had 5 assists (!). He's a really good passer out of the high post. In the other half of the Battle of the Bigs, Timme had 9 and 3 and 3. Both impressive but advantage Sanogo.

Gonzaga starting guards have two points in the last game and a half. That's not gonna get it done.

The second half opened and Timme immediately commited an offensive foul, his third. Mark Few left him in the game. Didn't matter. UConn came out swinging to extend their lead to 12. Timme continued to play pretty aggressively, and got his fourth on a defensive rebound. He's lucky it wasn't called a flagrant foul. Smart player, dumb play. He went to the bench with 17:39 to go and his team down 10. 

With Timme on the bench, UConn started throwing haymakers. [Editor's note: In the pre-industrialized era, those who harvested hay did so by swinging a scythe. Something that required a lot of force. A sportswriter applied the term to boxing ("a powerfull knockout punch") at the turn of the 20th century. Back to the Notes.] With UConn up by 21, the Zags had no choice but to bring Timme back in with around 15 minutes to go. His team was already out on its feet. You can't throw in the towel in college hoops. The Zags had to endure a 28 point humiliation.

No one predicted a blowout, but this result shouldn't be too surprising. It certainly wasn't an upset, even though the Zags were somehow the higher seed. Timme is a great college player, but he's all they have. They miss a strong backcourt player like Jalen Suggs (who is playing well for the Magic). Gonzaga won the battle of the west coast, but they did it against a UCLA team with two starters out with injuries.

Sanogo didn't play much of the second half. He was replaced with 7'2" freshman Donovan Clingen. The kid impressed. Very active on both ends of the floor with an impressive motor. 

Timme finished with 12, 10 and 4 in what was probably his last game. Incredibly, he still has a year of eligibility even though it seems like he's been in Spokane since the days that Nirvana played in bars there. Timme says he's not coming back. Given a choice between a high six-figure NIL deal and playing god knows where overseas, I think I would spend another year in Lilac City (the birthplace of Father's Day, supposedly). [Editor's Note: I lived in eastern Washington for four years. 90 minutes south of Spokane. You drove and hour and a half...and you were in Spokane. Actually, it's a nice town but it is seriously in the middle of noplace.]

Bill Murray's son, Luke, is on the UConn staff.

UConn's star big man, Adama Sanogo, is from the capital of Mali (Bamako) the landlocked country in western Africa bordered by Algeria, Niger and Mauritania among others. Mali exports major world staples: gold and cotton and salt. And yet Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Famous folks from Mali include the musician Ali Farka Tore, one of Africa's great guitarists, and model Youma Diakite.

Like many international players, Sanogo grew up playing soccer. When he grew to 6'9" (he sure seems taller!) Sanogo came to the States to learn basketball. He ended up at the Patrick School (in New Jersey), the famous basketball factory. The school basically exists for basketball and I'm not kidding. Dozens of NBA players went to school there including Kyrie Irving, Al Harrington, Sam Dalembert and Jonathan Kuminga as well as a bunch of notable Kentucky Wildcats (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nick Richards, Dakari Johnson).

Adama Sanogo at Jersey's the Patrick School.

She resembles Naomi Campbell, but that's Youma Diakite.

Mali's Djinguereber Mosque built in 1327.

Cinderella is a Florida Man!

Great start to the Florida Atlantic-Kansas State game! If you like scoring and frentic pace, which I do.

None of the Kansas State players started school there. They are all transfers. Four KSU players are from New York City. When Coach Tang took the job last summer, KSU had two returning players (Nowell and Massoud, both previously transfers). He created the rest of the roster from scratch recruiting 10 players from the transfer portal.

The last time KSU made a Final Four was in 1964, when they were coached by legendary Tex Winter, the creator of the triangle offense made famous by Jordan's Bulls. 

FAU plays fours guards arrayed around  7'1" Vlad Goldin, who is from Nalchik, Russia (which is in the Causases between the Black and Caspian seas). Golden stays in his lane, which is the lane, which caused K State multiple problems especially in terms of rebounding. Goldin had room to operate because KSU was focusing on guarding the 3-point line because FAU is one of the best in the country from deep.

The good news for KSU at the half? Nowell overcame a slow start to rack up 15 points and 7 assists. The bad news, his team trailed 42-38. The FAU lead would have been up by more if not for 12 (!) turnovers. Highly entertaining first half.

That was one nasty dunk.

KSU's game plan in the second half was to get Johnson involved. It worked on the offensive end but then he picked up his third foul with over 17 minutes to go. Coach Tang left him in. Very risky. He picked up his fourth and went to the bench with just over 14 left with his team up five. He came back in around the six minute mark with his team giving up four points in his absence. FAU immediately posted up Goldin for a dunk and the lead.

We hit crunch time and FAU took control. They turned their defense up a notch, Goldin controlled the paint and they hit some big 3s. And then Jonson fouled out with 2:44 remaining with FAU leading by six. (Stupid and obvious push off by Johnson on an offensive rebound). The foul put the Owls on the line where they added two to their lead. 15-1 FAU run.

Exciting finish. Two more players fouled out, one on each team. KSU hit some big shots to make it interesting. But FAU's senior, Mike Forrest, hit his free throws in the last minute of the game to send the Beach Boys to the Final Four!!

The second half was a repeat of the first. FAU kept turning the ball over (22 for the game, the most by any team in the tourney). Markquis Nowell was brilliant for KSU: 30 points, 12 assists, five steals. Goldin, surprisingly, was the difference turning in a double double with 14 and 13. I found myself cheering for the underdog, but both teams proved they deserved a starring role on the big stage.

Who the hell is FAU coach Dusty May? That's my homework assignment. His team executed his game plan to perfection.

It didn't decide the game, but there were questionable held balls on both sides. Touching the ball does not equal shared possession. The refs have been too quick to make that call all tourney, IMO.

I am shocked that Nowell didn't take the last shot.

Goldin, the FAU big man, came up huge.

CONSPIRACY CORNER

Remember that incredible 40-foot pass Nowell threw for a reverse dunk on Thursday? The video is right over there to remind you.

In real time, I thought Nowell was arguing with his coach about the play call and then casusally threw the pass.

After the game Seth Davis, who is a bright guy, said it was a called play. How do you call a play that is prediated on spontaneously taking advantage of a blown defensive assignment? Smart people sometimes say dumb things.

Then the conspiracy theory emerged the next day, which posited that the whole argument was for show to distract the defense and then drop the dime.

What does Nowell have to say? According to him, he wasn't arguing with his coach at all. He was yelling at 2000 NCAA tourament MOP Mateen Cleaves, who was sitting courtside with Isaiah Thomas and had been giving Nowell crap all game. So, what did Nowell say to Cleaves right before he threw the pass? "Watch this!"


Coming into the weekend, Nowell is averaging 21.3 points, 14 rebounds and 3.7 steals while hitting nearly 50% of his shots for the tournament.

Day 6 of the NCAA Tournament

Texas to Elite 8 Without a Coach

Who needs Chris Beard? The Texas coach was fired in January after assaulting his fiancée. He was subsequently hired at Ole Miss. I'll revist this sorry state of events in a future post.

Beard was replaced by assistant Rodney Terry, who has been head coach at Fresno State and UTEP. I think it's about time Texas dropped interim from his title. The Longhorns haven't missed a beat under Terry beating ranked Kansas (twice), Iowa State and TCU.

Tonight Texas completely dismantled Xavier.

Creighton Eliminates Cinderella

Creighton University is a Jesuit university in Omaha, Nebraska. They are the Bluejays, which are notably cranky. I'm not opposed to birds as mascots, but they really need to be birds of prey. Falcons, Eagles, Ravens, all fine. Seahawks? Fine. Cardinals? Nah. Pelians? Definitely not. 

Princeton didn't go quietly, but Creighton was in control throughout ultimately winning 86-75. This is the first Elite 8 for Creighton. 

The Creighton Bluejay. Frightening for all the wrong reasons.

Quinerly, Wong and New Jersey Supremacy

One of the big stories of Thursday was Nowell and Massoud, prides of Harlem, leading Kansas State into the Elite 8 in Madison Square Garden. Not a word tonight, in contrast, about two star players from the Garden State: Alabama's Jahvon Quinerly (Hackensack) and Miami's Isaiah Wong (Piscataway, home of Rutgers including my lab).

Quinerly originally committed to Arizona but got caught up in the pay for play scandal involving Sean Miller and adidas. He ended up at Villanova, where he clashed with Jay Wright, and finally transferred to Bama. A point guard, Quinerly averaged over four assists a game this season. Quinerly had 10 points and 3 assists as his team fell to SDS tonight.

Isaiah Wong played his senior season of high school hoops in Philly and was named MVP of the city Catholic league. This is his senior season at Miami and he is their undisputed star averaging 22 points, 7.5 board and 2.5 assists. Wong had 20 points in the upset of Houston.

Jersey has long been a hotbed of hoops talent from Tommy Heinsohn to Shaq to Kyrie Irving to current top ranked hoops star DJ Wagner, who will look sharp in Kentucky blue next season. In fact, a third of this year's McDonald's All-American East team hail from the Garden State.

Fairleigh Dickinson and Princeton made huge statements in this tourney. Last year it was St. Peter's. Maybe Rutgers will get with the program one day.

Shaq, pride of Newark.

Kyrie Irving back in the day. I know a lot of Jersey teachers. Kyrie was not taught that the Earth is flat in New Jersey. So it must have been at Duke.

Miami blasts Houston

The Last #1 Seed Falls!

Fun first half. Miami came to play, powered by Pack and Wong both of whom were already in double figures in the first. The Hurricanes up six at the break.

Miami came out of the locker room hot, extending their lead to nine. They withstood a Houston mini-run and then won going away 89-75.

Kelvin Sampson's teams don't give up 89 points. Only four teams have scored more than 70 against the Cougars this season before tonight. The Hurricanes shot 51% from the field and 44% from 3. 

Piscataway's Isaiah Wong led the way with 20 points for the Canes. 

The brilliant career of Houston's Marcus Sasser comes to an end with a whisper.

I've always been impressed with Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. He was fired at Indiana because he texted recruits too frequently. What a stupid way to lose a job.

On the court, he's been successful everywhere he's coached. At Oklahoma, Indiana and now at Houston (with a rehab trip through the NBA assistant ranks after Indiana).

Sampson seems like a genuine person. The in-game coach interviews are annoying, I'm sure, but Sampson always treats the interviewer with respect and often gives an interesting analysis of the game. Other coaches should take note.

Sampson grew up in North Carolina, a member of the Lumbee Indigenous Community. His father is one of the tribe members who is revered for driving the KKK out of Maxton, NC in 1958 in what is known as the battle of Hayes Pond.

Sampson had a twin sister, Karen, who lost her battle with cancer two weeks ago today.

At Indiana, Sampson always wore a blue button down at games even though that is not a school color.

The confrontation at Hayes Pond where the indigenous community disrupted a major Klan rally, earning national attention and praise.

San Diego State Defeats Alabama

#1 Overall Seed Out of Tourney

Poor first half for the Tide. Their freshman star, Brandon Miller, was a little too eager to impress. He didn't. Two early fouls and only four points at the break on 2-9 shooting. Coach Oates continued to play him with the foul trouble. Miller didn't pick up a third but didn't help his team much on either end of the floor. Give the Aztecs credit. Their defense was legit as Bama only hit 27% of their shots in the first (1-11 from deep).

Alabama averages 82 points a game, fifth in the country. They scored only 23 in the first half, trailing by five at the break.

A different Alabama in the second stanza. After nine minutes, the Tide had already scored more than they had in the first half. A much greater sense of urgency and a complete role reversal.

SDS made defensive adjustments and promptly went on a 12-0 run to take a three point lead with eight minutes to go. The game settled into a defensive struggle as we eyed the stretch run.

SDS was relentless defensively and on the boards. The Aztecs hit enough free throws in the final minute to pull off the upset 71-64.

The stars didn't show up for either team. SDS's Matt Bradley finished with six points. Alabama's Brandon Miller, the most talented player in college hoops, was just terrible. Nine points on 3-19 shooting. 

The first Elite 8 for San Diego State, which is also the first to make it this far from the Mountain West Conference.

The most significant of the 8 blocks for San Diego State.

Most famous San Diego State b-ball alumnus?

Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 24, 6 and 4 back in 2011, his sophomore year. He led the Aztecs to the Sweet 16 that year where they lost to eventual national champion UConn (I forget who they beat in the finals). 

That tourney established Leonard as a player and he entered the draft, selected 15th by the Pacers who traded him to the Spurs. He won a title with the Spurs in 2014, partnering with Tim Duncan. He was traded to the Raptors, which he led to a title in 2019. He was the MVP in both finals. He is one of only three players to be awarded finals MVP on two different teams (the others are LeBron and Kareem).

Speaking of Kawhi, he's featured in the New Balance commericals that are running with annoying frequency during the tourney. He's paired with rapper Jack Harlow, who is ridiculously depicted as a legit opponent for Kawhi in a game of one on one.

I get it. You wear New Balance and you can compete with a two time finals MVP even if you are a pasty white rapper from Louisville, Kentucky. Shades of the Be Like Mike ads back in the day, but come on.

Harlow seems like a good dude, but he's a Louisville fan. So screw him. His rhymes are as weak as his jump shot.

Day 5 of the NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga-UCLA

The Zags Come Back and Hold On!

UCLA cruised into halftime, comfortably leading by 13 (46-33). Timme hitting everything he threw up, with 19 at the half. But he was all that Gonzaga had going. The Zags with 9 turnovers at the break.

Defense wasn't any better for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga couldn't stay in front of UCLA's Tyger Campbell. The UCLA point guard is named for Tiger Woods, although his parents obviously spelled it differently. Campbell grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa but attended high school at the La Lumiere school in La Porte, Indiana. 13 points and 5 assists in the first stanza. Two other Bruins, including Pac10 Player of the Year Jaime Jaquez, with double digit scoring in the first.

Then the second half started and suddenly UCLA couldn't score. Literally. They had no points at all for over 5 minutes with no field goals for over 11 minutes! That should have been the end of it, with the Zags leading by nine with 1:23 to go.

But uncharacteristic bone-headed plays by Gonzaga, missed free throws (two big misses by Timme, who's not great at the line) and Jacquez suddenly coming alive made for an exciting finish. Jacquez finally scored a layup and one with 1:17 to go to cut the lead to six.

The Campbell-Jaquez show re-energized and got UCLA within a bucket. A quick 3 by Amari Bailey put UCLA up 1 with 12 seconds to go! Gonzaga's Strawther then threw up an insane 3 from the logo that incredibly banked in. UCLA's Campbell drove the ball up court, lost control and fouled. The game wasn't even quite over at that point, but Gonzaga held on for the comeback victory.

Gonzaga went on a 22-4 run in the second half.

The Zags' pick and roll defensive was definitely better in the second, but UCLA missed a lot of layups and open 3s.

Jaime Jaquez hot and cold but finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds.

Drew Timme and his ridiculous moustache were dominant. 36 points and 13 boards. Respect.

These teams have played some memorable Madness games in recent years, to say the least. Advantage Gonzaga, but the margin is razor thin.

Named for Tiger Woods but Tyger Campbell seriously looks like Bob Marley.

FAU-Tennessee

Cinderella Lives!

Tennessee seemed in control in the second half, but FAU wouldn't go away. Then the Owls exploded, going on a 20-4 run over 6.5 minutes resulting in a double digit lead as they hit the stretch.

Tennessee missed their injured point guard, Zakai Ziegler.  The Vols have one of the best defenses in the country, but they couldn't contain the speedy FAU guards who drove and kicked to the wing for open shots over and over.

FAU was poised, holding off a final Vols push to win by seven.

Two teams in this tournament have won 33 games. Houston is one. Florida Atlantic is the other.

FAU is located in Boca Raton. There's a lot of Spanish spoken in my house. Mainly not by me, but I believe boca raton means mouse's mouth. Evidently, boca also means inlet. And raton in this context somehow means jagged not mouse. Anyway, boca raton is an anachronistic Spanish terms for a jagged inlet.

Tourism dominates the current "Boca" economy, but at the turn of the 20th century this area was known for its pineapple farms. 

FAU has over 30,000 students, which is nearly as many as Florida and Florida State. Famous alumni include Don Brewer, the drummer of Grand Funk Railroad.

"We're Coming to Your Town

We'll Help You Party Down

We're an American Band"

You don't learn rhyming patterns like that at UF.

The intercoastal waterway boosted development of Boca Raton.

President Johnson at the 1964 dedication of Florida Atlantic.

UConn-Arkansas


Adama Sanogo is a beast. Full stop. Absolutely killing Arkansas in the pick and roll. 16-2 UConn run the the first half. Total domination by the numbers. Rebounds: 22-9. Assists: 10-4. Field goal percentage: 60 (!) to 33.

Sanogo is observing Ramadan, which means he's had nothing to eat or drink all day. Johnson and Diarra from UConn doing the same.

UConn played great but Arkansas was totally out of control. Very sloppy and undisciplined play from the Hogs.

Evidently UConn destroyed Arkansas in the second stanza. I watched the other game like everyone else. UConn won by a lot. Sanogo was terrific (18 and 8).

The good news is that Arkansas coach Musselman kept his shirt on tonight.

That said, I would rather hang out with Musselman. UConn's Dan Hurley is wound a little too tight for my taste. But he's got a good team peaking at the right time. They are squarely in the top three of the remaining teams in this tourney. (They've got UCLA or Gonzaga in the next round, which will be a tough matchup either way.)

John Daly is from Arkansas and was at the game tonight. I'm not a golf fan, but when did he turn into father Chiristmas?

Kansas State-Michigan State

Instant Classic!

Great finish. Terrific game. Nowell was unreal. 20 points, 19 assists, 5 steals, 2 turnovers. He set the NCAA tournament record for assists. After turning an ankle early in the second half.

The videos are assist #18, which was insane. Nowell was arguing with his coach about the play call and then casually lobs a 40 foot pass to Johnson for a dunk (how was he that open??). Johnson pitched in 22 points and 6 boards.

Nowell had a performance for the ages, but jacking up those crazy deep 3s could have negated his spectacular effort.

Philly's own A.J. Hoggard had a great night for MSU with 25 points and 6 assists. Tonight, the Spartans nearly overcame a historic effort from Nowell and his Wildcats. Both teams left it all on the court.

Not a fan of that long Nowell 3 with 20 seconds to go in regulation, which he missed. Bad shot. Gave the ball back to MSU with the Spartans down two. Walker drove the lane for a contested layup. Tie game!

Five seconds to go. Contested layup by Nowell. Missed. Overtime!

Incredibly, the first overtime of the tournament!

They've mentioned it about a dozen times, but KSU-MSU is being played at MSG. Two K State players are from Harlem: Nowell and reserve Ismael Massoud (who hit some ridiculous 3s tonight, one from the logo). They were friends growing up, playing on opposing AAU teams.

Markquis Nowell playing for his Harlem team. His senior HS year, Nowell transferred to New Jersey basketball factory the Patrick School.

Nowell dropped 10 (!) dimes in the first half. Why do we call assists dimes? It actually dates way back to the Depression era when payphone calls cost a dime and everyone was broke. So, "dropping a dime" into the payphone was assisting someone.

Zoomers: Payphones were machines where the public could make calls after inserting money. A long distance call would result in an operator asking you to insert a pile of quarters into the payphone. They could be found on virtuallty every street corner in big cities, sometimes entire banks of them.

Zoomers part 2: Operators were employees of the phone company who would help with any of your communication needs. You could dial zero and ask the operator to call Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware and they would find the number and complete the call. No kidding.

That's a nasty assist right there.

I like Kansas Sate coach Jerome Tang. Seems like a good dude. I'm forgiving him the shots he took at my team after their big win last weekend. Emotions probably took over. Anyway, it's been quite a journey for Tang (a favorite space-age beverage from my youth). Jerome Tang and I are exactly the same age. That's 56 kids. I mention this because this is his first year leading a college program after 10 years as a high school coach and 19 years (!) as an assistant at Baylor (which included their championship two years ago). Seems like he's making up for lost time.

Kansas State has two star players, both of whom were named to All-American teams. Both have overcome adversity. Markuis Nowell is a supremely talented basketball player who was not blessed with height. He gets the most out of his 5 feet 8 inches (which is 5-7 on a good day). Kenyonte Johnson is lucky to be alive. I remember when he played for Florida. I also remember when he collapsed during a game at Florida State. Acute myocarditis. His heart stopped. Trainers kept him alive with mouth to mouth and then saved him with a defibrilllator (while Johnson lay on the floor in front of a capacity crowd).

That was in December 2020, when Johnson was a junior. His sophomore year, the 6'6" Johnson averaged 14 points and 7 boards. We was the pre-season SEC Player of the Year. 

The Florida medical staff, not surprisingly, advised Johnson to retire from the sport. Johnson stayed with the team, graduating from Florida in 2022. They played Kentucky on senior night. By mutual agreement, Florida tipped the ball to Johnson and immediately called a timeout to take him out of the game. His first time on the court since 2020. It was an emotional moment. 

Johnson was determined to play and found credible doctors to support him. Florida disagreed so he hit the transfer portal, ending up at Kansas State where he averaged 17.5 and 7 this season. He had 13 against UK last weekend including a dagger fade-away down the stretch.

As he was leaving work today, Tyler asked who I had K State or MSU. My head and my heart say the Wildcats from the plains.


I'm linking to the ABC story on the Johnson story from 2021. Warning: it includes him collapsing on the court.

Nowell and Johnson.


When he kissed the court, the camera was on Calipari. Great job CBS!

Madness News Never Stops

I think I've seen the Jacob Toppin ATT&T commercial approximately 5,000 already. Good thing I like it. The premise is good. Comparing someone who trades in their phone asap to a one-and-done (like UK's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who is currently averaging over 30 points for the Thunder). Contrast this with the less tech obsessed and a four-year player like Jacob Toppin (who has a bonus covid year of eligibility left, although few expect him to use it). I'm biased, but Jacob, younger brother of the Knicks' Obie Toppin, is a pretty good actor. I'm not saying he's De Niro, but he's better than a lot of pros in national ads (looking at you Patrick Mahomes). Toppin says the experience was enjoyable (the trailer he used belongs to Paul McCartney, for some reason) but harder than you would think (4 hours on set to produce a 30 second commercial).



The Toppin ad is basically running on a loop even though my team is done, but there are versions for other schools. I guess this commercial features Gozaga although no one in it has anything to do with the Spokane college. Grizzlies center Steven Adams is from New Zealand and did not attend college. The woman playing Lilly is Uzbekistanian actress Milana Vayantrub (not kidding), who attended UC San Diego. The other two dudes are random extras. Makes total sense.

Jacob Toppin, UK mascot, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lilly. But who's that guy at the white board?

Is there a reason the dude in the Gonzaga jersey low fives Adams not once but three times?

Drew Timme may be a little too comfortable in these post-game interviews (which are now in the triple digits, I think).

I'm coming around to the idea that Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue is the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. My intial hesitation is due to my disdain for the antiquated style of basketball employed by Matt Painter. A few examples to demonstrate the lack of infrustructure supporting FDU athletics.

The total FDU athletic budget is $14 million. Purdue's is $82 million.

The FDU director of media relations is a student, Jordan Sarnoff. He's a junior. Jordan had to drive all night Sunday to get back to Jesey so he could attend class on Monday.

FDU does not have a band. Yes they do, you might exclaim, I saw them on TV! You saw A band, but that was not the FDU band. FDU's games were played in Columbus, home to one of the historically great college bands. But FDU reached out to Dayton University, which is about an hour away from Nationwide Arena, and asked them to help a brother out. The Dayton band showed up and learned the FDU fight song minutes before the Purdue game. There was just one problem. FDU doesn't have a band so none of their fans recognized the fight song. No one stood up, no one clapped, certainly no one sang words that no one knew. Gotta appreciate the enthusiasm of the Dayton band director, regardless.

Calipari lives rent free in Pitino's head. Don't believe me? At his first press conference as the St. Johns coach Pitino noted (jokingly) that "I want to take St. John's to another Final Four, so I can get rid of Calipari off my resume." He's refering to the fact that only two coaches have taken three different programs to the Final Four: Pitino (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and Calipari (UMass, Memphis and Kentucky). The takeway, as always, is that Kentucky is the bluest of the blue bloods, the ultimate coaching destination, college basketball at its most precious and pure.

Creighton is in the Big East? When did that happen? I guess they aren't a mid-major anymore. Quick, in which state is Creighton University?

The Coaching Carousel Starts Spinning

Rick Pitino's name came up in the Georgetown job search. But everyone expected he would take the St. John's job and stay in New York. That's exactly what happened and Iona went right out and hired Tobin Anderson, who coached upstatrt Farleigh Dickinson to an epic upset of #1 Purdue in the first round of the tourney. Anderson has only been at FDU a year, but he turned a four win team into 21-16 giant slayers. Fun fact, the last coach to lead FDU to a NCAA tourney victory was Jim Valvano in 1980. Georgetown wasted no time snapping up Providence's Ed Cooley to replace Patrick Ewing, who was just terrible at his alma mater (he lost 29 straight conference games; ouch!). Cooley is a Providence native, but DC is a high school hoops Mecca. Recruiting should be a whole lot easier for Cooley with the Hoyas.

Cinderella is a Florida Man!

Great start to the Florida Atlantic-Kansas State game! If you like scoring and frentic pace, which I do.

None of the Kansas State players started school there. They are all transfers. Four KSU players are from New York City. When Coach Tang took the job last summer, KSU had two returning players (Nowell and Massoud). He created the rest of the roster from scratch recruiting 10 players from the transfer portal.

The last time KSU made a Final Four was in 1964, when they were coached by legendary Tex Winter the creator of the triangle offense made famous by Jordan's Bulls. 

FAU plays fours guards arrayed around  7'1" Vlad Goldin, who is from Nalchik, Russia (which is in the Causases between the Black and Caspian seas). Golden stays in his lane, which is the lane, which caused K State multiple problems especially in terms of rebounding. Goldin had room to operate because KSU was focusing on guarding the 3-point line because FAU is one of the best in the country from deep.

The good news for KSU at the half? Nowell overcame a slow start to rack up 15 points and 7 assists. The bad news, his team trailed 42-38. The FAU lead would have been bigger if not for 12 (!) turnovers. Highly entertaining first half.

That was one nasty dunk.

KSU's game plan in the second half was to get Johnson involved. It worked on the offensive end but then he picked up his third foul with over 17 minutes to go. Coach Tang left him in. Very risky. He picked up his fourth and went to the bench with just over 14 to go with his team up five. He came back in around the six minute mark with his team giving up four points in his absence. FAU immediately posted up Goldin for a dunk and the lead.

We hit crunch time and FAU took control. They turned their defense up a notch, Goldin controlled the paint and they hit some big 3s. And then Jonson fouled out with 2:44 to go with FAU leading by six. (Stupid and obvious push off by Johnson on an offensive rebound). The foul put the Owls on the line where they added two to their lead. 15-1 FAU run.

Exciting finish. Two more players fouled out, one on each team. KSU hit some big shots to make it interesting. But FAU's senior, Mike Forrest, hit his free throws in the last minute of the game to send the Beach Boys to the Final Four!!

The second half was a repeat of the first. FAU kept turning the ball over (22 for the game, the most by any team in the tourney). Markquis Nowell was brialliant for KSU: 30 points, 12 assists, five steals. Goldin, surprisingly, was the difference turning in a double double with 14 and 13. I found myself cheering for the underdog, but both teams proved they deserved a starring role on the big stage.

Who the hell is Dusty May? That's my homework assignment. His team executed his gameplan to perfection.

It didn't decide the game, but there were questionable held balls on both sides. Touching the ball does not equal shared possession. The refs have been too quick to make that call all tourney, IMO.

I am shocked that Nowell didn't take the last shot.

Goldin, the FAU big man, came up huge.

CONSPIRACY CORNER

Remember that incredible 40-foot pass Nowell threw for a reverse dunk on Thursday? The video is right over there to remind you.

In real time, I thought Nowell was arguing with his coach about the play call and then casusally threw the pass.

After the game Seth Davis, who is a bright guy, said it was a called play. How do you call a play that is prediated on spontaneously taking advantage of a blown defensive assignment? Smart people sometimes say dumb things.

Then the conspiracy theory emerged the next day, which posited that the whole argument was for show to distract the defense and then drop the dime.

What does Nowell have to say? According to him, he wasn't arguing with his coach at all. He was yelling at 2000 NCAA tourament MOP Mateen Cleaves, who was sitting courtside with Isaiah Thomas and had been giving Nowell crap all game. So, what did Nowell say to Cleaves right before he threw the pass? "Watch this!"


Coming into the weekend, Nowell is averaging 21.3 points, 14 rebounds and 3.7 steals while hitting nearly 50% of his shots for the tournament.

Day 6 of the NCAA Tournament

Texas to Elite 8 Without a Coach

Who needs Chris Beard? The Texas coach was fired in January after assaulting his fiancée. He was subsequently hired at Ole Miss. I'll revist this sorry state of events in a future post.

Beard was replaced by assistant Rodney Terry, who has been head coach at Fresno State and UTEP. I think it's about time Texas dropped interim from his title. The Longhorns haven't missed a beat under Terry beating ranked Kansas (twice), Iowa State and TCU.

Tonight Texas completely dismantled Xavier.

Creighton Eliminates Cinderella

Creighton University is a Jesuit university in Omaha, Nebraska. They are the Bluejays, which are notably cranky. I'm not opposed to birds as mascots, but they really need to be birds of prey. Falcons, Eagles, Ravens, all fine. Seahawks? Fine. Cardinals? Nah. Pelians? Definitely not. 

Princeton didn't go quietly, but Creighton was in control throughout ultimately winning 86-75. This is the first Elite 8 for Creighton. 

The Creighton Bluejay. Frightening for all the wrong reasons.

Quinerly, Wong and New Jersey Supremacy

One of the big stories of Thursday was Nowell and Massoud, prides of Harlem, leading Kansas State into the Elite 8 in Madison Square Garden. Not a word tonight, in contrast, about two star players from the Garden State: Alabama's Jahvon Quinerly (Hackensack) and Miami's Isaiah Wong (Piscataway, home of Rutgers including my lab).

Quinerly originally committed to Arizona but got caught up in the pay for play scandal involving Sean Miller and adidas. He ended up at Villanova, where he clashed with Jay Wright, and finally transferred to Bama. A point guard, Quinerly averaged over four assists a game this season. Quinerly had 10 points and 3 assists as his team fell to SDS tonight.

Isaiah Wong played his senior season of high school hoops in Philly and was named MVP of the city Catholic league. This is his senior season at Miami and he is their undisputed star averaging 22 points, 7.5 board and 2.5 assists. Wong had 20 points in the upset of Houston.

Jersey has long been a hotbed of hoops talent from Tommy Heinsohn to Shaq to Kyrie Irving to current top ranked hoops star DJ Wagner, who will look sharp in Kentucky blue next season. In fact, a third of this year's McDonald's All-American East team hail from the Garden State.

Fairleigh Dickinson and Princeton made huge statements in this tourney. Last year it was St. Peter's. Maybe Rutgers will get with the program one day.

Shaq, pride of Newark.

Kyrie Irving back in the day. I know a lot of Jersey teachers. Kyrie was not taught that the Earth is flat in New Jersey. So it must have been at Duke.

Miami blasts Houston

The Last #1 Seed Falls!

Fun first half. Miami came to play, powered by Pack and Wong both of whom were already in double figures in the first. The Hurricanes up six at the break.

Miami came out of the locker room hot, extending their lead to nine. They withstood a Houston mini-run and then won going away 89-75.

Kelvin Sampson's teams don't give up 89 points. Only four teams have scored more than 70 against the Cougars this season before tonight. The Hurricanes shot 51% from the field and 44% from 3. 

Piscataway's Isaiah Wong led the way with 20 points for the Canes. 

The brilliant career of Houston's Marcus Sasser comes to an end with a whisper.

I've always been impressed with Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. He was fired at Indiana because he texted recruits too frequently. What a stupid way to lose a job.

On the court, he's been successful everywhere he's coached. At Oklahoma, Indiana and now at Houston (with a rehab trip through the NBA assistant ranks after Indiana).

Sampson seems like a genuine person. The in-game coach interviews are annoying, I'm sure, but Sampson always treats the interviewer with respect and often gives an interesting analysis of the game. Other coaches should take note.

Sampson grew up in North Carolina, a member of the Lumbee Indigenous Community. His father is one of the tribe members who is revered for driving the KKK out of Maxton, NC in 1958 in what is known as the battle of Hayes Pond.

Sampson had a twin sister, Karen, who lost her battle with cancer two weeks ago today.

At Indiana, Sampson always wore a blue button down at games even though that is not a school color.

The confrontation at Hayes Pond where the indigenous community disrupted a major Klan rally, earning national attention and praise.

San Diego State Defeats Alabama

#1 Overall Seed Out of Tourney

Poor first half for the Tide. Their freshman star, Brandon Miller, was a little too eager to impress. He didn't. Two early fouls and only four points at the break on 2-9 shooting. Coach Oates continued to play him with the foul trouble. Miller didn't pick up a third but didn't help his team much on either end of the floor. Give the Aztecs credit. Their defense was legit as Bama only hit 27% of their shots in the first (1-11 from deep).

Alabama averages 82 points a game, fifth in the country. They scored only 23 in the first half, trailing by five at the break.

A different Alabama in the second stanza. After nine minutes, the Tide had already scored more than they had in the first half. A much greater sense of urgency and a complete role reversal.

SDS made defensive adjustments and promptly went on a 12-0 run to take a three point lead with eight minutes to go. The game settled into a defensive struggle as we eyed the stretch run.

SDS was relentless defensively and on the boards. The Aztecs hit enough free throws in the final minute to pull off the upset 71-64.

The stars didn't show up for either team. SDS's Matt Bradley finished with six points. Alabama's Brandon Miller, the most talented player in college hoops, was just terrible. Nine points on 3-19 shooting. 

The first Elite 8 for San Diego State, which is also the first to make it this far from the Mountain West Conference.

The most significant of the 8 blocks for San Diego State.

Most famous San Diego State b-ball alumnus?

Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 24, 6 and 4 back in 2011, his sophomore year. He led the Aztecs to the Sweet 16 that year where they lost to eventual national champion UConn (I forget who they beat in the finals). 

That tourney established Leonard as a player and he entered the draft, selected 15th by the Pacers who traded him to the Spurs. He won a title with the Spurs in 2014, partnering with Tim Duncan. He was traded to the Raptors, which he led to a title in 2019. He was the MVP in both finals. He is one of only three players to be awarded finals MVP on two different teams (the others are LeBron and Kareem).

Speaking of Kawhi, he's featured in the New Balance commericals that are running with annoying frequency during the tourney. He's paired with rapper Jack Harlow, who is ridiculously depicted as a legit opponent for Kawhi in a game of one on one.

I get it. You wear New Balance and you can compete with a two time finals MVP even if you are a pasty white rapper from Louisville, Kentucky. Shades of the Be Like Mike ads back in the day, but come on.

Harlow seems like a good dude, but he's a Louisville fan. So screw him. His rhymes are as weak as his jump shot.

Day 5 of the NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga-UCLA

The Zags Come Back and Hold On!

UCLA cruised into halftime, comfortably leading by 13 (46-33). Timme hitting everything he threw up, with 19 at the half. But he was all that Gonzaga had going. The Zags with 9 turnovers at the break.

Defense wasn't any better for the Bulldogs. Gonzaga couldn't stay in front of UCLA's Tyger Campbell. The UCLA point guard is named for Tiger Woods, although his parents obviously spelled it differently. Campbell grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa but attended high school at the La Lumiere school in La Porte, Indiana. 13 points and 5 assists in the first stanza. Two other Bruins, including Pac10 Player of the Year Jaime Jaquez, with double digit scoring in the first.

Then the second half started and suddenly UCLA couldn't score. Literally. They had no points at all for over 5 minutes with no field goals for over 11 minutes! That should have been the end of it, with the Zags leading by nine with 1:23 to go.

But uncharacteristic bone-headed plays by Gonzaga, missed free throws (two big misses by Timme, who's not great at the line) and Jacquez suddenly coming alive made for an exciting finish. Jacquez finally scored a layup and one with 1:17 to go to cut the lead to six.

The Campbell-Jaquez show re-energized and got UCLA within a bucket. A quick 3 by Amari Bailey put UCLA up 1 with 12 seconds to go! Gonzaga's Strawther then threw up an insane 3 from the logo that incredibly banked in. UCLA's Campbell drove the ball up court, lost control and fouled. The game wasn't even quite over at that point, but Gonzaga held on for the comeback victory.

Gonzaga went on a 22-4 run in the second half.

The Zags' pick and roll defensive was definitely better in the second, but UCLA missed a lot of layups and open 3s.

Jaime Jaquez hot and cold but finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds.

Drew Timme and his ridiculous moustache were dominant. 36 points and 13 boards. Respect.

These teams have played some memorable Madness games in recent years, to say the least. Advantage Gonzaga, but the margin is razor thin.

Named for Tiger Woods but Tyger Campbell seriously looks like Bob Marley.

FAU-Tennessee

Cinderella Lives!

Tennessee seemed in control in the second half, but FAU wouldn't go away. Then the Owls exploded, going on a 20-4 run over 6.5 minutes resulting in a double digit lead as they hit the stretch.

Tennessee missed their injured point guard, Zakai Ziegler.  The Vols have one of the best defenses in the country, but they couldn't contain the speedy FAU guards who drove and kicked to the wing for open shots over and over.

FAU was poised, holding off a final Vols push to win by seven.

Two teams in this tournament have won 33 games. Houston is one. Florida Atlantic is the other.

FAU is located in Boca Raton. There's a lot of Spanish spoken in my house. Mainly not by me, but I believe boca raton means mouse's mouth. Evidently, boca also means inlet. And raton in this context somehow means jagged not mouse. Anyway, boca raton is an anachronistic Spanish terms for a jagged inlet.

Tourism dominates the current "Boca" economy, but at the turn of the 20th century this area was known for its pineapple farms. 

FAU has over 30,000 students, which is nearly as many as Florida and Florida State. Famous alumni include Don Brewer, the drummer of Grand Funk Railroad.

"We're Coming to Your Town

We'll Help You Party Down

We're an American Band"

You don't learn rhyming patterns like that at UF.

The intercoastal waterway boosted development of Boca Raton.

President Johnson at the 1964 dedication of Florida Atlantic.

UConn-Arkansas


Adama Sanogo is a beast. Full stop. Absolutely killing Arkansas in the pick and roll. 16-2 UConn run the the first half. Total domination by the numbers. Rebounds: 22-9. Assists: 10-4. Field goal percentage: 60 (!) to 33.

Sanogo is observing Ramadan, which means he's had nothing to eat or drink all day. Johnson and Diarra from UConn doing the same.

UConn played great but Arkansas was totally out of control. Very sloppy and undisciplined play from the Hogs.

Evidently UConn destroyed Arkansas in the second stanza. I watched the other game like everyone else. UConn won by a lot. Sanogo was terrific (18 and 8).

The good news is that Arkansas coach Musselman kept his shirt on tonight.

That said, I would rather hang out with Musselman. UConn's Dan Hurley is wound a little too tight for my taste. But he's got a good team peaking at the right time. They are squarely in the top three of the remaining teams in this tourney. (They've got UCLA or Gonzaga in the next round, which will be a tough matchup either way.)

John Daly is from Arkansas and was at the game tonight. I'm not a golf fan, but when did he turn into father Chiristmas?

Kansas State-Michigan State

Instant Classic!

Great finish. Terrific game. Nowell was unreal. 20 points, 19 assists, 5 steals, 2 turnovers. He set the NCAA tournament record for assists. After turning an ankle early in the second half.

The videos are assist #18, which was insane. Nowell was arguing with his coach about the play call and then casually lobs a 40 foot pass to Johnson for a dunk (how was he that open??). Johnson pitched in 22 points and 6 boards.

Nowell had a performance for the ages, but jacking up those crazy deep 3s could have negated his spectacular effort.

Philly's own A.J. Hoggard had a great night for MSU with 25 points and 6 assists. Tonight, the Spartans nearly overcame a historic effort from Nowell and his Wildcats. Both teams left it all on the court.

Not a fan of that long Nowell 3 with 20 seconds to go in regulation, which he missed. Bad shot. Gave the ball back to MSU with the Spartans down two. Walker drove the lane for a contested layup. Tie game!

Five seconds to go. Contested layup by Nowell. Missed. Overtime!

Incredibly, the first overtime of the tournament!

They've mentioned it about a dozen times, but KSU-MSU is being played at MSG. Two K State players are from Harlem: Nowell and reserve Ismael Massoud (who hit some ridiculous 3s tonight, one from the logo). They were friends growing up, playing on opposing AAU teams.

Markquis Nowell playing for his Harlem team. His senior HS year, Nowell transferred to New Jersey basketball factory the Patrick School.

Nowell dropped 10 (!) dimes in the first half. Why do we call assists dimes? It actually dates way back to the Depression era when payphone calls cost a dime and everyone was broke. So, "dropping a dime" into the payphone was assisting someone.

Zoomers: Payphones were machines where the public could make calls after inserting money. A long distance call would result in an operator asking you to insert a pile of quarters into the payphone. They could be found on virtuallty every street corner in big cities, sometimes entire banks of them.

Zoomers part 2: Operators were employees of the phone company who would help with any of your communication needs. You could dial zero and ask the operator to call Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware and they would find the number and complete the call. No kidding.

That's a nasty assist right there.

I like Kansas Sate coach Jerome Tang. Seems like a good dude. I'm forgiving him the shots he took at my team after their big win last weekend. Emotions probably took over. Anyway, it's been quite a journey for Tang (a favorite space-age beverage from my youth). Jerome Tang and I are exactly the same age. That's 56 kids. I mention this because this is his first year leading a college program after 10 years as a high school coach and 19 years (!) as an assistant at Baylor (which included their championship two years ago). Seems like he's making up for lost time.

Kansas State has two star players, both of whom were named to All-American teams. Both have overcome adversity. Markuis Nowell is a supremely talented basketball player who was not blessed with height. He gets the most out of his 5 feet 8 inches (which is 5-7 on a good day). Kenyonte Johnson is lucky to be alive. I remember when he played for Florida. I also remember when he collapsed during a game at Florida State. Acute myocarditis. His heart stopped. Trainers kept him alive with mouth to mouth and then saved him with a defibrilllator (while Johnson lay on the floor in front of a capacity crowd).

That was in December 2020, when Johnson was a junior. His sophomore year, the 6'6" Johnson averaged 14 points and 7 boards. We was the pre-season SEC Player of the Year. 

The Florida medical staff, not surprisingly, advised Johnson to retire from the sport. Johnson stayed with the team, graduating from Florida in 2022. They played Kentucky on senior night. By mutual agreement, Florida tipped the ball to Johnson and immediately called a timeout to take him out of the game. His first time on the court since 2020. It was an emotional moment. 

Johnson was determined to play and found credible doctors to support him. Florida disagreed so he hit the transfer portal, ending up at Kansas State where he averaged 17.5 and 7 this season. He had 13 against UK last weekend including a dagger fade-away down the stretch.

As he was leaving work today, Tyler asked who I had K State or MSU. My head and my heart say the Wildcats from the plains.


I'm linking to the ABC story on the Johnson story from 2021. Warning: it includes him collapsing on the court.

Nowell and Johnson.


When he kissed the court, the camera was on Calipari. Great job CBS!

Madness News Never Stops

I think I've seen the Jacob Toppin ATT&T commercial approximately 5,000 already. Good thing I like it. The premise is good. Comparing someone who trades in their phone asap to a one-and-done (like UK's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who is currently averaging over 30 points for the Thunder). Contrast this with the less tech obsessed and a four-year player like Jacob Toppin (who has a bonus covid year of eligibility left, although few expect him to use it). I'm biased, but Jacob, younger brother of the Knicks' Obie Toppin, is a pretty good actor. I'm not saying he's De Niro, but he's better than a lot of pros in national ads (looking at you Patrick Mahomes). Toppin says the experience was enjoyable (the trailer he used belongs to Paul McCartney, for some reason) but harder than you would think (4 hours on set to produce a 30 second commercial).



The Toppin ad is basically running on a loop even though my team is done, but there are versions for other schools. I guess this commercial features Gozaga although no one in it has anything to do with the Spokane college. Grizzlies center Steven Adams is from New Zealand and did not attend college. The woman playing Lilly is Uzbekistanian actress Milana Vayantrub (not kidding), who attended UC San Diego. The other two dudes are random extras. Makes total sense.

Jacob Toppin, UK mascot, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lilly. But who's that guy at the white board?

Is there a reason the dude in the Gonzaga jersey low fives Adams not once but three times?

Drew Timme may be a little too comfortable in these post-game interviews (which are now in the triple digits, I think).

I'm coming around to the idea that Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue is the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. My intial hesitation is due to my disdain for the antiquated style of basketball employed by Matt Painter. A few examples to demonstrate the lack of infrustructure supporting FDU athletics.

The total FDU athletic budget is $14 million. Purdue's is $82 million.

The FDU director of media relations is a student, Jordan Sarnoff. He's a junior. Jordan had to drive all night Sunday to get back to Jesey so he could attend class on Monday.

FDU does not have a band. Yes they do, you might exclaim, I saw them on TV! You saw A band, but that was not the FDU band. FDU's games were played in Columbus, home to one of the historically great college bands. But FDU reached out to Dayton University, which is about an hour away from Nationwide Arena, and asked them to help a brother out. The Dayton band showed up and learned the FDU fight song minutes before the Purdue game. There was just one problem. FDU doesn't have a band so none of their fans recognized the fight song. No one stood up, no one clapped, certainly no one sang words that no one knew. Gotta appreciate the enthusiasm of the Dayton band director, regardless.

Calipari lives rent free in Pitino's head. Don't believe me? At his first press conference as the St. Johns coach Pitino noted (jokingly) that "I want to take St. John's to another Final Four, so I can get rid of Calipari off my resume." He's refering to the fact that only two coaches have taken three different programs to the Final Four: Pitino (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and Calipari (UMass, Memphis and Kentucky). The takeway, as always, is that Kentucky is the bluest of the blue bloods, the ultimate coaching destination, college basketball at its most precious and pure.

Creighton is in the Big East? When did that happen? I guess they aren't a mid-major anymore. Quick, in which state is Creighton University?

The Coaching Carousel Starts Spinning

Rick Pitino's name came up in the Georgetown job search. But everyone expected he would take the St. John's job and stay in New York. That's exactly what happened and Iona went right out and hired Tobin Anderson, who coached upstatrt Farleigh Dickinson to an epic upset of #1 Purdue in the first round of the tourney. Anderson has only been at FDU a year, but he turned a four win team into 21-16 giant slayers. Fun fact, the last coach to lead FDU to a NCAA tourney victory was Jim Valvano in 1980. Georgetown wasted no time snapping up Providence's Ed Cooley to replace Patrick Ewing, who was just terrible at his alma mater (he lost 29 straight conference games; ouch!). Cooley is a Providence native, but DC is a high school hoops Mecca. Recruiting should be a whole lot easier for Cooley with the Hoyas.

Day 4 of the 2023 NCAA Tournament

Second Cinderella: Florida Atlantic! 

When did the "Air Raid" out of bounds become a thing? Kansas State ran it against us and Florida Atlantic used it against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Farewell Fairleigh Dickinson. The Knights (not to be confused with the Devils, that's the Florham campus) got frisky in the second half but Florida Atlantic never lost control of the game, winning by eight.

We mentioned that FDU is the smallest team in the tourney. FAU starts a seven footer, but he is grouped with four guards, two under six feet. Those small guys are quick, but their size (or lack thereof) gave this game a definite junior varsity vibe.

Omaha! Omaha!

Hike!

Not a fan of the cries for attention that Baylor (who was upset by Creighton today) and Kansas State (who beat someone) call uniforms.

Then again, Indiana (which lost badly to Miami) hasn't changed it's look since 1978, which really doesn't work either. You decide. Fierce or no wow factor.

Candy stripes. There's no way to make it work.

According to K Sate, that's lavender. Which is not royal purple.

Baylor's inspiriation was a highlighter marker.

UConn is in the Discussion

St. Mary's was a 5 seed. Seriously? Those guys looked like the roadies for a yacht rock band.

Izzo's Spartans Back in Sweet 16

Tom Izzo is a great coach. A whole generation has passed since his team won a title (in 2000) but his Spartans have made eight Final Fours, which goes to show how difficult it is win the whole thing even if you are among the best coaches to ever roam the sideline. The jury is definitely still out on Shaka Smart and today’s effort by Marquette gave ammunition to his detractors. We all remember Smart’s VCU and their magical run to the Final Four in 2011. That was the springboard to the gig at Texas, which is really the perfect position. The largest athletic budget in college sports and the fan base is more interested in Spring football than conference basketball. Smart finally seemed to get things on track at Texas in 2021, when his team won the Big 12 and were awarded a 3 seed in the tourney. The Longhorns were immediately upset in the first round by Abilene Christian. That was the end of the Smart era at Texas.

 

Today, Marquette was only down a point heading down the stretch. At which point they completely fell apart. Hero ball on offense, missed assignments on defense. MSU ended up winning by nine.

Hey, that’s Barry Sanders! Nick Sanders, son of the Detroit Lions legend, is a freshman walk-on for Michigan State. He wears the number 20, just like his Dad.


Sanders rushed for over 15,000 yards in the NFL, which still ranks fourth on the all-time list.

YouTubeTV introduced split-screen capability for the NCAA tournament, which was very thoughtful of them.

Resigned to the Inevitable

The afternoon game pitted Wildcat All-Americans in Kansas State's Markquis Nowell and Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe. They couldn't be more different players. Nowell is listed as 5'8" and avereaged the third most assists per game this season. Oscar is a 6'9" 260 pound wall of muscle who led the country in rebounding for the second straight season putting up numbers not seen in decades.

In what may have been his last game at Kentucky (he has another season of eligibility) Oscar left it all on the court scoring 25 and pulling down 18 boards. Nowell matched his effort, scoring 27 and dishing out 9 assists. Down the stretch, Nowell took over. He hit a huge 3-pointer and nailed his free throws. The team from Manhattan (the little apple) moves on to a Sweet 16 game in Manhattan (the big apple).

Disappointing loss from a supremely frustrating team. Making out of the first weekend would have been nice, but there was no way this Kentucky team was winning four in a row much less six.

This was definitely the last game for our freshman star, Cason Wallace. 21 points, 9 boards (!) and 4 assists.

Oscar switched off on Nowell frequently. 

Markquis Nowell received no Division 1 scholarship offers out of high school. Here he is with his older brother, whose name is Marcus. I am not making this up.

The Kansas State basketball coach is Jerome Tang, who genuinely seems like a good guy. I consulted Mrs Notes, a purple afficionado, about the color of the quarter zips the KSU coaches are sporting. She is torn between lilac and periwinkle, leaning toward the former. I can tell you what color it isn't. Blue! Evidently their color is "royal purple" - I guess the lettering on their home jerseys might be dark purple. I sure ain't lilac.

Kentucky and KSU are both the Wildcats. Mrs Notes like our mascot better. "Their's looks like a mouse."

Or maybe a rat.

Blue

Not blue

Xavier may be the most under-rated program in all of college sports. They are overshadowed to a certain extent by their cross-town rival, the University of Cincinnati, itself an overlooked program (Oscar Robertson, two straight titles, #11 on the all-time win list). Xavier is a cradle of coaches. Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller and Chris Mack all passed through. Xavier qualified for the Dance 18 times this century, earning a #1 seed in 2018. The Musketeers have made the Sweet 16 nine times (before today)  and the Elite 8 in 2004, 2008 and 2017. Not too shabby. They’ve put lots of guys in the league, most recently Jordan Crawford (brother of former UK guard Joe). And yet no one thinks of them as an elite program.

 

The school is named for St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish priest who was one of the original seven Jesuits. Considered the greatest missionary since the Apostle Paul, Xavier traveled to Africa, India, China. Japan, Borneo and many other Pacific islands, which was a pretty good trick in the mid-1500s. He was canonized as the “Patron of Catholic Missions”.

 

Xavier handled Pitt (coach Miller’s alma mater) with relative ease today. The Musketeers had six guys score in double figures. Xavier really distributes the ball well. 22 assists on 30 made buckets today. There are no blue bloods left in this NCAA tournament, but under-appreciated Xavier is back in the Sweet 16!

Xavier recruited and played an African American player, Ray Tomlin, far earlier than most schools. This photo is from 1954.

Cinderella Story

Around here, we operationally define a Cinderella as a team seeded 9 or lower that makes it out of the first weekend. It's what we do. Free of charge. You're welcome.

That means Princeton is a bona fide Cinderella. And it also means we'll have at least one more by the end of the day since #9 Florida Atlantic faces off against #16 Fairleigh Dickinson. The only other possibility is #11 Pitt, which is in the first game of the day against Xavier.

I've always liked Amy Adams. Mrs Notes will appreciate Dr. McDreamy.

Day 3 of the 2023 NCAA Tournament

On last thing about Uruguay. They were actually the first country in the world to legalize marijuana. What about the Netherlands? I'll let Vincent Vega explain it.

Houston and Alabama are your favorites

Coming into the weekend, there were serious questions about the health of Marcus Sasser and Brandon Miller. Both looked great tonight. Sasser had 22 and seemed as quick off the bounce as ever. Miller scored a smooth 19 against the Terps. They are the best players left in the tournament and their teams should be the favorites.

Unfortunately for Maryland, they were the other team on the court as Bama activated beast mode. Terps coach Kevin Willard was hired away from Seton Hall 362 days ago. Kevin Willard played at Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh, where he was coached by his father, Ralph Willard. Willard Sr. also was an associate coach under Rick Pitino for the Knicks as well as at Kentucky. Kevin Willard was an assistant under Pitino at Louisville. When he left to take the Iona head job, he was replaced by Ralph Willard. After three successful seasons at Iona, Kevin Willard left for the Seton Hall job....and was replaced by Pitino!

The Terps' talent is not on the level of Alabama and the first round game was played in Birmingham in front of a highly partisan crowd. Willard tried to slow the game down to limit possessions, which worked for about a half. Despite the blowout loss, I think Maryland is moving in the right direction. 

Kevin Willard and Rick Pitino

Sasser's jumper was falling too, and from deep.

Jahvon Quinerley, who had 22, was also terrific for the Tide.

Sasser Returns for Houston

Auburn and Penn State came to play, but in both cases talent won out. Houston and Texas to the Sweet 16. Dylan Disou took over for Texas down the stretch, pouring in 10 of his 28 points in the final 4.5 minutes. In terms of Houston, significantly, Marcus Sasser played and played well. Even though he was saddled with foul trouble, Sasser scored an efficient 22. Tramon Mark also terrific with 26 points and 9 boards. Auburn led by 10 at the half but were outscored 50-23 (!) in the second. With Sasser healthy, Houston should be the favorite to win this thing.

The Shoe Fits for Cinderella Princeton!

I wish I could tell you more about Dennis Gates. Probably next year. Gates replaced Cuonzo Martin at Missouri this season and changed everything. From slow-down, defensive-minded hoops, to a fluid dribble-drive aesthetic. Missouri improbably won 25 games this season and were a more than legit 7 seed. Princeton totally dominated them today. Princeton. A place I don’t think Mat Wimmer has ever even been. I watched it and I can’t explain it. Princeton’s Blake Peters hit five 3-pointers. In the second half. Princeton outrebounded Missouri by 14. Inexplicable.

This is the first Sweet 16 for the Tigers since 1967. Have any other Ivy League teams made it to the Sweet 16? A few. Penn (my old boss) in 1978 and 1979 as well as Cornell in 2010. Shockingly, Penn made it to the Final Four in 1979.

 

Princeton’s Caden Pierce had 16 rebounds today. The 6’6” Pierce (nice name) comes from an athletic family. Mom and Dad met at Northwestern, where he played football and she volleyball. Brother Justin played hoops at North Carolina and now is a pro overseas. Caden’s other brother Alec is a wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.

 

This is the third straight year that a 15 seed (like Princeton) has made the Sweet 16 (previously Oral Roberts and St. Peter’s).

Penn really did make a Final Four. There are black and white photos and everything.

Woo Pig Souie!


Terrific game between Arkansas and Kansas. Unless you are a Kansas fan (sorry Suzanne). Kansas led by eight at the conclusion of the first half, which they controlled completely. This shouldn’t have come as a shock. #1 seed Kansas is led by All-American Jalen Wilson. Arkansas has a lot of talent but had an up and down season. They limped into the tourney losing six of their last nine. The good news for the Hogs? Devonte Davis took over in the second half, scoring 21 of his 25 points after the break. The bad news? He fouled out going down the stretch. Next man up and that meant it was time for Ricky Counsil IV, who dominated the end of the game on the way to a 21-point night. 


Kansas' Bill Self, who is 60 years old, did not coach this game as he recovers from a cardiovascular procedure. Assistant Norm Roberts coached the team in Self's absence. Would Self have made a difference? Probably, although there were no obvious Kansas coaching blunders.

 

At the end, Kansas was down three and at the line for two. After making the first, Jalen Wilson tried to miss the second but banked it in. Arkansas quickly got the ball in bounds and ran out the final three seconds. Ball game.

 

Devonte Davis is known as Devo. I can only assume that’s because his parents are big fans of post-punk new wave electronic synth-pop.


Arkansas has a quality coach in Eric Musselman, who is older than I am. I mention this only because he insists on stripping his shirt off after big wins like today. Appreciate the enthusiasm, I guess.

Yea, no.

Interviews like this are what Mrs Notes likes about March Madness (0:50 mark).

Are we not men?

Couldn't They Both Lose?

Some think that Tennessee’s Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL a few weeks back, is Tennessee’s best player. With respect to Zakai, who is a quality player, I would go with the Vol’s Santiago Véscovi, the pride of Montevideo, Uruguay. Véscovi reminds me a bit of Argentinian Manu Ginóbili (although he shoots it nowhere near as well). There has been a grand total of one Uruguayan NBA player (Esteban Batista – I obviously had to look that up). Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, which is on the east coast of South America, tucked between Argentina and Brazil. For decades Uruguay fought off colonization efforts from Spain and Portugal. When the Europeans gave up, Brazil and Argentina took turns invading them. The fact that Uruguay still exists speaks to the fact that they can be fierce warriors. Somewhat surprisingly, modern Uruguay is a model liberal democracy, having legalized marijuana, abortion, same-sex marriage and prostitution while protecting LGBTQ rights.

 

Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo basically line up on the same meridian, but Montevideo is slightly further south making it the most southern capital in the Americas. Ranching (horsemeat?!) and agriculture (beeswax and quinces) are major drivers of the economy as is tourism. The seaside city of Punta del Este evolved from a vacation spot primarily for Argentinians into a playground for jet setters in the mold of St.-Tropez or St. Barts.

Punta del Este

Montevideo, Uruguay.

Punta del Este

Tennessee plays an uber-physical brand of ball. Put another way, they are a bunch of thugs. Coach Rick Barnes clearly believes that the refs won’t call all the fouls if you foul constantly, and he’s right. I hate playing them. There’s a not so fine line between aggressive and dirty. Duke was clearly not prepared for the onslaught, and several Devils ended up bloodied early on. It takes a lot to make me feel sorry for that private school in North Carolina with the wrong color blue but Tennessee managed it.

 

The Vols led 27-21 at the half. Tennessee imposed their grind it out style while forcing Duke into 11 (!) turnovers in the opening stanza. Tennessee was still up six at the mid-point of the second half. Duke decided to go to a 2-3 zone, which Tennessee proceeded to methodically pick apart. Scheyer stuck with it for the rest of the game, why I have no idea. The Vols gradually pulled out to a double-digit lead and ended up winning by 13. Vescovi is not the most athletic guy, but he had a huge block on the break down the stretch. He ended up with 14 points, 5 assists and provided steady leadership in the absence of Zeigler. The player of the game, however, was Olivier Nkamhoua with a career-high 27 including 13 straight after Duke went to that 2-3 zone.

 

Duke started four heralded freshmen. They are all good players. None lived up to the hype, however. They should all return to school. I sure hope they don’t. Tennessee, in contrast, started four seniors who looked comfortable on the big stage.

Filipowski, who looks like a prizefighter here, caught two elbows early in the game.

Vescovi's girlfriend, Maria Nelson, is a member of the Tennessee soccer team. They are quite the handsome couple.

At the end of the Alabama-Texas A&M Corpus Christi game yesterday, with time running out and CC trailing by 24, the CC player kept acting like he was going to shoot or drive or something. He ultimately hoisted up a 3-pointer that improbably went in as time expired. I thought it was odd at the time.

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but turns out that the betting spread was 22.5 meaning that the final shot was far from meaningless from the perspective of gamblers, degenerate and otherwise. 

The CC player in question is Ross Williams, who worked his way up through stops at NAIA and Division II schools before landing at Texas A&M Corpus Christi as a graduate student (with an extra year of covid eligibility). This was probably his final competitive basketball game. Williams received advice and encouragement through this basketball journey from his father figure, Willie Green, the current New Orleans Pelicans coach and former NBA journeyman (including a seven year stint with the 76ers). When Ross was little, he attended a Green basketball camp. Evidently, he was the only camper who failed to notice that Willie Green was getting awfully friendly with Ross' mother, Terrah. Willie and Terrah dated for several years before marrying in 2010. Ross proudly calls Willie Dad.

Skip all the way to the 9:56 mark to see Williams' last shot.


The Green family. From left, Ross, Willie and Terrah.

A free morning! And there's still snow on the ground so I invited the Cormier boys for a ride (all three of them including Dad!).

With all this snow, you might wonder why we haven't been skiing. Mrs Notes thought the same. The answer, as always, is because I am an idiot. I left my skis in Philly after my trip to Utah in January with Mathieu Wimmer, who is defintely not from Princeton, NJ despite the scurrilous rumors and even though his accent sounds kinda mid-Atlantic but it's actually 100% Marseilles and don't you forget it.

10 feet of snow in Utah.

Day 2 of the 2023 NCAA Tournament

As Friday turned into Saturday, I must admit that I wished the late games were blowouts so I could just go to bed. The promise of exciting finishes kept Mrs Notes and I awake and we were rewarded with a couple good ones.

Arizona State looked like it was cruising to an upset when TCU stormed back and made of game of it. Both teams hit clutch shots down the stretch, with TCU coming away with the victory.

The rumbling about Penny Hardaway's coaching ability will undoubtedly crescendo after Memphis lost to Florida Atlantic (yet another Owls). A 9 beating an 8 is barely an upset and this was a gritty back and forth contest. But it's one more example of the futility of the Hardaway era (which just ended year five).

FAU's Nicholas Boyd drove the lane and nailed a floater to secure the victory, the first NCAA tourney win ever for the surprising large (30,000 students) state college in Boca Raton.

The exciting finish to FAU-Memphis is why I am bleary-eyed this morning.

TCU-ASU also had a fun ending.

The contingent from 14 seed Grand Canyon University arrived in Denver. Well, most of it. Team? Check. Cheerleaders? Check? Band? Yep. Cheerleader and band gear. Uh huh. Team gear and uniforms? Needle scratch. The airline lost their uniforms, practice gear, everything.

Baylor is also playing in Denver. Baylor is coached by Scott Drew, whereas younger brother Bryce Drew helms GCU. Baylor loaned Grand Canyon a set of practice gear - otherwise it was t-shirts and cargo shorts.

A new set of uniforms arrived well before the Friday tipoff.

Grand Canyon lost to Gonzaga by 12. Mrs Notes approves of their team colors.

Fairleigh Dickinson!!!!!

Sorry to brag, but I sorta called this one. My first post of the day focused on Purdue coach Matt Painter and his outdated style of play. It was on full display today. Statuesque big men nailed to the post clogging up driving lanes is so 2008.

Purdue's Zach Edey got his - 21 and 15. But Edey and the rest of the Boilermakers had a distinct deer in the headlights vibe down the stretch. FDU, the shortest team in the tourney, just kept coming. Relentless on both end of the floor. FDU's front line goes 6'6", 6'4" but they harrassed Edey every time he touched the ball. Two of their guards are under 5'9", but they are quick. The Knights had no fear. They earned one of the two biggest upsets in tourney history.

When I mentioned that Princeton was one of two Jersey teams in the tourney, how many of you knew that Fairleigh Dickinson was the other?

FDU is located in Teaneck, NJ, a couple miles from the George Washington Bridge. It is named after an early benefactor, Fairleigh S. Dickinson, the founder of Becton Dickinson (now a gigantic medical device company). Founded in 1942 as a junior college, they soon became a four-year college to take advantage of the GI bill. In 1956, Fairleigh Dickinson became a university and moved to a new campus. The new FDU bought the Twombly-Vanderbilt estate, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame). 

The top famous alumus was described as a model and murderer (Playboy and the murder story is too sad to repeat). Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell also went there. 

Peggy Noonan graduated from FDU. Current WSJ columnist and former Reagan speechwriter, I disagree with almost everything she says. However, among many others, she wrote the speech that Reagan gave after the Challenger explosion. Saying that the astronauts "slipped the surly bonds of earth ... and touched the face of God" is pretty good stuff.

The Twombly-Vanderbilt mansion is the centerpiece of the FDU Florham Campus.

That breeze you just felt is the collective sigh of relief coming from the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky. After four freaking years, we finally won a tourney game.

Oscar was a beast. 25 freaking rebounds. That just doesn't happen.

Our former player, Bryce Hopkins, didn't have a great game. 7 points, 8 boards. The guy Hopkins couldn't beat out, Jacob Toppin (brother of Obie), had 18 and 6. They shared a heartfelt hug at the end, which was nice to see.

A pretty poorly played game on both sides (both teams scored in the low 20s in the second) but I'll take the win.

Iona led UConn 39-37 at the half. They had to shoot almost 70% to do it. That couldn't last.

UConn's Adama Sanogo took over in the second stanza. He finished with 28 points and 13 boards. UConn outscored Iona by 26 in the second half. 

Bill Murray reacts when Sanogo improbably hit a 3-pointer. Murray's son Luke is an assistant at UConn.

The Gaels were on a collision course in the second round. The 5 seed Saint Mary's Gaels did their part, taking out VCU. The Iona Gaels got Sanogoed in the first round. A Gael is a member of the Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Iona is an island on the western coast of Scotland known for Iona Abbey. So that tracks. But Saint Mary? I'm pretty sure she didn't speak Gaelic. Actually, they were called the Gaels because there were so many Irish guys on the team in the 1920s. The person who named them was Grantland Rice, one of the first great American sportswriters. 

Iona University is in New Rochelle, NJ (home of Rob and Laura Petrie).

Saint Mary's College is in Moraga, CA (which is home to many Olympic swimmers including Matt Biondi).

Iona Abbey.

Rob and Laura Petrie

An upset (finally)

Hey, that’s Jeff Capel! He’s looking a little looser on the Pitt sideline than back in his buttoned-up Duke days. His 11th seed Panthers suffocated Iowa State today, holding the Iowa State Cyclones (great mascot) to 18 points in the second half. After coaching stops at Oklahoma and VCU, Capel has been at Pitt for five years, four of them not so great. His team went 23-11 this year and Capel was named the ACC coach of the year.

Pitt's Jeff Capel

Marquette took care of Vermont easily. Vermont are the Catamounts, which means cat of the mountains. Catamounts, the largest of the "small cats", are native throughout the Americas. This vast range has led to many names for this critter, whose scientific name is Puma concolor. In fact, according to Guinness, Puma concolor holds the record for the animal with the most names. These include puma, cougar, panther and mountain lion. 

I did a Google image search on cougar and this came up for some reason.

Cal Santa Barbara led Baylor by a point at the half. The Gauchos (great mascot) ended losing by 18. Their thoughts have probably already turned to surfing.

The cost of living in Santa Barabara is so high that some students are forced to live in their cars.

The upset that wasn't

Who says you can’t go home again? Sean Miller established himself as a coach to be reconned with at Xavier. Sean Miller then established himself as a coach who cheats at Arizona. I won’t rehash the whole scandal, but basically several adidas schools got in NCAA trouble for paying players during the recruiting process. This eventually led to dozens of Arizona wins getting vacated and Miller fired (ditto Pitino at Louisville, another adidas school). I have to admit, the amounts of money seem quaint in 2023. $5,000? The athlete with the most lucrative NIL deal is LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne. She also is a social media star with over 6 million TikTok followers. Dunne’s NIL deal with American Eagle, etc. is worth well over a million bucks a year. Nonetheless, paying players back in 2017 was not allowed. The investigation dragged on and on but the axe finally came down in 2021 costing Miller his job.

 

Xavier was clearly keeping an eye on the situation in Arizona. After four seasons as Xavier coach, Travis Steele had failed to impress, not even coming close to getting an invitation to the big Dance. Xavier fired Steele in March 2022 and rehired Sean Miller three days later. The Musketeers had a solid season, finishing 26-9 and second in the Big East.


Xavier's Sean Miller. His brother is Archie Miller, former Indiana coach and current coach of Rhode Island.


LSU's Olivia Dunne.

Kennesaw State University, a public school in the Atlanta suburbs established as a junior college in 1963, should have been a good matchup for Xavier. KSU coach Amir Abdur-Rahim likes to play zone defense. The easiest way to beat a zone is to shoot over it. Xavier was #2 in the country in 3-point percentage this season at almost 40% a game. Today, Xavier was 2-12 from deep. Not surprisingly, Xavier found themselves down 13 with 10 minutes to go. The KSU Owls (several owls in this tournament) played relentless 2-3 and (occasionally) 1-3-1 zones. Then they ran out of gas. Which was surprising since KSU played 11 guys, whereas Xavier basically only played 6. KSU’s bench outscored Xavier’s 19-1.

 

Starting at about the 10-minute mark, Xavier went on a15-0 run to lead by a bucket as the game headed down the stretch. After missing 9 shots in a row, the Owls finally hit a couple free throws to tie the game with 3:46 to go. 8 minutes without a field goal.

 

The ending was tense and strange. Xavier players got into a heated verbal altercation. With each other. Both teams blew layups with seconds remaining. Xavier 7-footer Jack Nunge came up with a huge block in the lane with time expiring to save the game and their season. Xavier’s Jerome Hunter scored a career best 24.

 

Two good coaches in this game. Amir Abdur-Rahim is going places. His first season at KSU in 2019, his team went 1-28. This year they were 23-8 and Abdur-Rahim was named the ASUN coach of the year. 

 

Amir Abdur-Rahim has 12 siblings. His brother is Sharif Abdur-Rahim, who played 13 seasons in the NBA and won a gold medal on the USA Olympic basketball team in 2000 in Sydney.

Kennesaw State has campuses in Kennesaw and Marietta, Georgia.




Cool logo.

Adapt or Die

Purdue prefers their big men to be huge – in recent years they have consistently had guys 7’2” feet or more on the roster. Matt Harms, at 7’3”, was the tallest player ever in the Big 10. When Harms transferred to BYU, coach Matt Painter found an even taller replacement: 7’4”, 305-pound Canadian Zach Edey, who is now a junior. Edey grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL, not the NBA. It wasn’t his height that ended his hockey career; it was the fact that they couldn’t find skates for his size 20 feet. Not surprisingly, Purdue runs plays through the post more than virtually any team in the country.

 

Purdue may be an extreme example, but the Big 10 refuses to join the 21st century in terms of style of play. Literally. The last NCAA title from the Big 10 was Michigan State in 2000. The Big 10 still prefers its big men to be gigantic plodding monsters and its guards willing to get the ball to them resigned to the fact that the post may as well be a massive void from which the ball will never return. Purdue also seems to think that Indiana is a hotbed for hoops talent. Four of this team’s starters are Hoosiers (the fifth, of course, is Edey) and 10 of their 16 players hail from Indiana. Sorry, Jimmy Chitwood is not walking through that door. Purdue coach Matt Painter also eschews transfers, another staple of the NIL era. Painter doesn’t get one-and-done players because they don’t want to play his style (Edey was barely ranked coming out of high school). Painter rationalizes this by saying he prefers 4-year players anyway (Top prospect D.J. Wagner? “I wouldn’t take him.” Remember that when Wagner is leading my Cats to the Final Four next year).

 

I’ve got nothing against Zach Edey, a quiet kid who is a fantastic college player. But, just like Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme, there’s no place for him in today’s NBA. And my bet is that Purdue’s anachronistic offense will lead to yet another early exit in this year’s tourney.

Edey played hockey and also baseball growing up in Toronto. He didn't take up basketball until 2018, when he had reached 7'2".

Day 1 of the 2023 NCAA Tournament

Penn State destroyed Texas A&M. You'll remember that some (ahem) felt that A&M, which finished second in the SEC, were disrespected by the selection committee who slotted them as a 7 seed. Tonight, they were thoroughly outclassed by the 10th seeded Nittany Lions, who basically couldn't miss: 48% from the field, 59% (!) from 3, 82% from the line. This was the first NCAA tournament win for Penn State in 22 years.

Other than A&M, the SEC was perfect on the first day with wins by Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennesse. 

I'm resisting the urge to say "Houston, we have a problem". But, clichés aside, Houston may be in trouble. Their star, Marcus Sasser (the first Houston All-American since Hakeem Olajuwan in 1984) aggravated his groin injury in the first half and was done for the evening. The short-handed Houston team had all they could handle with Northern Kentucky before winning 63-52. Northern Kentucky shoots a lot of 3s - they have the green light as soon as they cross half court, Tonight they missed almost all of them (5-34 from deep, that's not even 15%). Auburn is next up for Houston. This is not one of Bruce Pearl's great teams, but they are far more talented than NKU. Sasser shouldn't play on Saturday - if he does he will not be anywhere near 100%. After the game, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said that Jamal Shead also has an injury (leg). Shead sured didn't play well - 6-15 from the field and 6 turnovers. Did I mention that the Auburn game will be played in Birmingham? Keep an eye out for an upset on Saturday.

Northern Kentucky have a unique mascot - they are the Norse.

13 seed Louisiana narrowly lost to Tennessee (58-55). But they have a Hall of Fame mascot. The Ragin' Cajuns!

What the hell is that a picture of, you may be asking. Here's a hint: the nickname of the Louisiana mascot is Cayenne.

Tough break that Iowa had to face off against Auburn in Birmingham. The Hawkeyes sure weren't intimidated by the partisan crowd. Auburn was the better team, but they could not put Iowa away. Johni Broome was terrific for the Tigers with 19 points, 12 boards and 5 blocks. 

Auburn's KD Johnson was undercut in the first half, causing him to cartwheel in the air, coming down hard on his behind. Scary play. Johnson came back to participate in the second half.

Leftovers (literally)

The brisket I smoked yesterday turned out great. Thanks for asking. Hickory smoke; cumin and smoked paprika-based rub. 

The classic brisket sandwich is, of course, the Rueben. A sandwich I love even though sauerkraut is not my favorite thing. In Phily, they switch out cole slaw for sauerkraut. It's called a Rachel and that's what I had at tea time. It was delicious. Back to basketball.

Alabama destroyed Texas A&M Corpus Chrisi 96-75. Bama's star, Brandon Miller, was held scoreless. He has a groin injury that he suffered in the SEC tourney title game. Next to the upsets, that's the revelation of the day. The other Miller news is that Alabama hired an armed security guard to protect him at the tourney beacuse of unspecified threats related to his role in the murder of Jamea Harris.

Coach News

Rick Pitino, who is 70 years old, says he wants to coach another 10 years. He also says the speculation linking him to the St. Johns and Georgetown jobs is not a distraction for his team. Sure, Rick. His completely focused Iona team plays Friday.

Kansas blasted Howard 96-68 today without coach Bill Self on the bench. Doctor's orders. His ability to coach on Saturday is in doubt after he had a heart cathaterization including the placement of stints to treat blocked arteries.

Madness! Princeton over Arizona.

There are two teams representing New Jersey in this year’s tourney and neither of them are Rutgers. [Editor's Note: Jersey Governor Phil Murphy blasted the NCAA selection committee stating that "Rutgers should have made the tournament. Full stop." The Scarlet Knights were the top overall seed in the NIT. They lost Tuesday to Hofstra on Rutgers' home court. Back to the Notes.] 

Princeton’s star is Torisesan “Tosan” Evbuomwan. His nickname is pronounced pretty much as you would expect (Toe-san), his last name is not (Owomma). Tosan is English of Nigerian descent. His parents are both over-achievers. Mom was the first female commercial pilot in Nigeria (sadly, she died of cancer in 2012). Dad is a gynecologist. Tosan grew up doing English things like playing soccer, cricket and rugby. Given his height (he’s now 6’8”) he finally picked up basketball when he was 15. His under-18 coach suggested that they send highlights to American college coaches. Tosan’s father agreed, but insisted on limiting the scope to the Ivy League. Seven schools ignored them; Princeton sent an assistant to Newcastle, England. To say he was impressed may be an understatement. His report back to Tiger’s coach Mitch Henderson: Tosan is “a brilliant blinding light from heaven”. Judging Princeton academics to be acceptable, Tosan Evbuomwan enrolled in 2019. He was the 2022 Ivy League Player of the Year.

Princeton knows how to finish halves. They went to the break after scoring the final eight points of the half. They finished the game on a 9-0 run, winning 59-55. Tosan was the only Tiger to score in double digits, with 15 (also 7 boards and 4 assists). Arizona scored a season low 55 (on 42% shooting, 18% from deep). This season Zona averaged 83 points per game (fourth in the country). Princeton played a lot of zone; Arizona obviously had no luck shooting over it. On offense, the Tigers ran a few “Princeton sets” resulting in layups off back-door cuts. Sadly, long-time Princeton coach Pete Carril didn’t live to see this one (he died in August, 2022 at 92).


In the video, they show Tosan missing a free throw. They don't show the one he had just made to ice the game. Just before that Princeton's Caden Pierce (Ivy League Freshman of the Year with an excellent surname) hit two freebies to give the Tigers a three-point lead. Those were the only free throws they hit all night (3-5).

 

Arizona is the first #2 to lose to a 15 seed. Twice. The last time was a loss to Santa Clara in 1993. Santa Clara’s point guard: Steve Nash.


The Virginia and Arizona upsets were both in the South region. With the 2 and 4 sees out, overall #1 seed Alabama has a much easier path to the Final Four.


Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was the captain of the last Princeton team to win a NCAA tourney game. 

Skip to the 2:30 mark to see the ending.

Steve Nash playing in Santa Clara's upset of Arizona in 1993.

#21 is Mitch Henderson. That's right, he coached the upset of Arizona today and played in Princeton's upset of UCLA in 1996 (the last game Pete Carril coached).

That didn't take long.

Furman over Virginia!

Furman University received an automatic bid as the Southern Conference tournament champions. This is their first trip to the Big Dance since 1980. Furman is a private, liberal arts university located in Greenville, SC. The school, originally a theological college (started in 1825), was named for the prominent 19th century Baptist preacher Richard Furman. Nearly 3,000 students currently attend Furman, which dropped its religious affiliation in the 1990s. They have quite a few famous alumni, my favorite being Herman Lay, founder of potato chip maker H.W. Lay & Co. In the 1940s, Lay signed an agreement to distribute Fritos in the southeast U.S., with the companies eventually merging in 1961 to become Frito-Lay. Pepsi bought the company in 1965.

 

Furman is one of four schools that are beneficiaries of the Duke endowment (Duke, Davidson and Johnson C Smith are the others – JCSU is an HBCU). Furman has always been the general Greenville area in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. But the campus has moved six times, most recently to Travelers Rest in the 1960s.

A replica of the bell tower that was the defining feature of the original Furman campus.

A taste of my childhood.

Furman are the Paladins. A unique mascot, one of many the school has had over the years. In fact, in the 1950s the baseball team was known as the Hornets and the football team the Purple Hurricanes. A local sportswriter dubbed the basketball team the Paladins of the court (sending the entire town of Greenville racing for their dictionaries, which used to be books). In 1961, the university adopted a common mascot, the Purple Paladin. Mrs Notes approves of the color. The Paladins were the twelve most courageous knights in the court of Charlemagne (from the 8th century). The Knights of Arthur’s Round Table were modeled after the Paladins.








When I was filling out my bracket, I resisted the urge to pick against Virginia. It is well known that I deplore whatever it is that Tony Bennett coaches his players to do; It sure ain’t basketball.  I was far more surprised that Virginia managed to win a national title than lose to a 16 seed. Still, Furman? The Southern Conference champs? I went with the Cavs against my better judgement. UVa reminded us all that 2019 was a fluke.

Furman was down as many as 12 in the second half, but the Cavs slowed the game even beyond their usual plodding pace. This strategy backfired as it managed to ice the Cavs shooters. Up two and with the ball, Virginia’s Kihei Clark got trapped in the backcourt corner in the final seconds of the game. Even though UVa had a timeout, Clark panicked and launched a Hail Mary pass. The ball made it to halfcourt, right in the hands of Furman’s Garrett Hien. Quick pass to JP Pegues for a wide open 3 with 2.4 seconds to go. Money. Virginia actually got a decent look from deep with time remaining, but the banker did not go down. 

 

This is Furman's first trip to the Big Dance since 1980. Their last NCAA tourney win was in 1974.


He. Had. A. Time. Out!

And we're off!

Maryland-West Virginia

The first game of the tourney pitted Bob Huggins and West Virginia against Kevin Willard's Maryland Terrapins (under-rated mascot). About half-way through the first half, West Virginia had a 16-4 lead. If my calculations are correct, that put the Terps on pace to score 16 points for the game. It wasn’t that Maryland was cold; they weren’t even getting shots off (the Terps turned it over on five of six possessions at one point). The Terps woke up at the 10-minute mark and took a 32-30 lead going into the half. It was a back and forth second half, with the teams taking turns making runs. The score was tied down the stretch leading to an exciting (if sloppy) finish. Down two, WVU got the ball right where they wanted it. In Kedrian Johnson’s hands behind the 3-point arc. The shot was rushed and glanced harmlessly off the side of the rim. Johnson was spectacular otherwise, efficiently pouring in 27 points. Maryland had a more balanced attack, with four staters scoring in double figures (and the fifth getting nine).


A reporter asked Huggins about retirement after the game. He replied: "People think I should keep doing this for a while. Some people think I should pack it in and let some young kid come in and screw it up.”


Nice play by Maryland at the 2:30 mark.

The games have begun!

16 March 2023

The first weekend of the Notes is coming to you from snowy New Hampshire. This is a challenge when one plans to watch 48 basketball games over four days because there is no food delivery up here in the frozen north (and a 25 minute drive into town). So, I was up bright and early on Madness eve. I shoveled out the carport and set up the smoker. Over 20 pounds of smoked turkey and brisket should get us through the weekend!

I've also been trying to get caught up on the work that I actually get paid for. I needed to resubmit a manuscript. As painful as responding to Reviewer 2 was, wrestling with the AAAS web site was equally annoying. [Editor's Note: If any of you were Reviewer 2 then of course I meant Reviewer 3. Back to the Notes.]

With turkey in my belly and the paper submitted, I gazed longingly at the foot of fresh snow which is the reason we are here. Mrs. Notes and I fired up the sleds and shredded some powder, which incredibly was still virgin in the mid-afternoon. Beautiful ride. 

That's the behind-the-scenes. Time to check in on Maryland-WVU!

Note the UK sticker on Andrea's sled.

This tourney is wide open

15 March 2023


This just in: teams that play good defense and good offense are good teams. Forget that nonsense about offense wins games but defense wins championships. In college hoops, the teams still dancing on the last weekend are balanced teams. This season, Houston is the most balanced team. They have the best defensive efficiency and are ranked fifth in offensive efficiency. And they have a go-to scorer in Marcus Sasser. Assuming he is playing at full capacity. If Sasser is good to go, Houston should be favored to win it all.

 

As usual, Gonzaga has the best offensive efficiency. Defensively they check in at #174. And you know what they say about defense. Alabama comes in at fifth defensively. Somewhat surprisingly, they are only the 44th most efficient on the offensive end. Purdue? 12 offense, 56th defense. Kansas? 109th offense, 43rd defense. UConn? 10th offense, 14th defense. UCLA? 48th offense, 3rd defense.

 

The numbers say Houston and UConn stand out on both ends of the floor. Houston and UCLA have injury issues, the Huskies do not. Just saying…

Pistol Pete Lives!

14 March 2023

Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis is not the most prolific scorer in NCAA history, although he came awfully damn close. The men’s NCAA scoring champion has remained the same for 43 years, a title held by Peter Press “Pistol Pete” Maravich. Pete Maravich scored 3,667 points over three years at Louisiana State in the late 60s. That amounts to an amazing 44.2 points per game. He did this without the benefit of the 3-point shot, on which he would have feasted. The LSU coach was Press Maravich and he gave his son the ultimate green light to shoot from anywhere. Maravich played for only three years not because he left school early for the pros. Nope. Incredibly, back in those days freshmen were ineligible for varsity sports. Can you imagine having a freshman Kareem or Walton on your team and not being able to play them? Also, no shot clock. Teams routinely stalled against LSU just to keep the ball out of Maravich’s hands.

Pete was also known for wearing floppy socks.

Before this season, Detroit Mercy was probably best known as the place that launched the career of one Dick Vitale (who coached there from 1973 to 1977 before leaving to lead the Pistons). Brad Calipari, son of John, also was a grad assistant there. Now, Detroit Mercy is synonymous with Antoine Davis, who is coached by his father Mike Davis. You undoubtedly remember Mike Davis as the coach who took over at Indiana when Bobby Knight was fired in 2000. Davis’ Hoosiers made an improbable run to the 2002 title game. UK fans remember when Davis said that he “hates Kentucky with a passion” before his team played us in December, 1999. Mike had a little too much passion in that game. With 2.6 seconds to go and his team trailing by a point, Davis was so incensed by a foul that he felt should be called that he stormed the court while the ball was in play. That’s a technical. UK’s Keith Bogans hit the free throws to ice the game. [Editor’s Note: It was a memorable game. And you knew if there was a Kentucky tangent it would be taken. Back to the Notes.]

This is the only clip I could find. I recommend turning down the volume. That's Davis on the court at the top of the video at the beginning.

Mike Davis has coached Detroit Mercy since 2018. His son Antoine has a green light to shoot it from anywhere, and he does. The 6’1” combo guard is the all-time NCAA career leader in 3-pointers made with 588 (JJ Redick made 457, Steph Curry hit 414). Antoine Davis averaged 24.6 PPG over four years, which amounts to 3,664 points total. That’s three less than Maravich. Davis just finished his senior year and his team has a losing record. So, no NCAA or NIT tournament. But what about the CBI? I am obsessed with college hoops and I’d never heard of the College Basketball Invitational, which has existed since 2007. The CBI chooses 16 teams and then charges them $27,500 to participate. Detroit Mercy said they wouldn’t pay it. People wondered what they could be thinking, passing up the opportunity to have the scoring leader from their school. It ended up being a moot point as summarized by Maravich’s son Jaeson, who said that he is “very relieved this is all over as it’s been a stressful two weeks and I’m glad the CBI did the right thing and not invite Detroit Mercy to the tournament because they had a losing record and I think it would have been an extremely bad look."

Pete Maravich, who was named one of the 75 greatest NBA players of all time, is no longer with us. In 1988, Maravich collapsed while playing a pickup game at a church gym in Pasadena (evangelical author James Dobson, a friend, was on his team). Pete Maravich died of heart failure at 40 years of age. His record lives on.

Statue of Maravich at LSU with the floppy socks. He also was know for behind the back passes before that was a thing.

2023 Conspiracy Theories

Tis the season for various fan bases to complain about getting screwed by the selection committee. Kentucky fans have made this an art. Shockingly, we aren't complaining this year (more on that in a bit).

Not that we weren't worried. The Cats were among the last teams announced. And Texas A&M was tabbed with a 7-seed. The Texas A&M that finished second in the SEC regular season and tourney. If they were a 7, we might be looking at a 9. But Kentucky ended up with a 6 and a pretty reasonable path to the Final Four.

A rational person would note that outside the SEC, Texas A&M didn't play anyone. In NCAA-speak, A&M had two Quad 4 losses and went 7-6 against Quad 1 teams. Twitter is usually the opposite of rational and it took less than a hot minute for Alex Jones wannabe’s to point out that A&M coach Buzz Williams went after the committee when his team was left out of last year’s tourney entirely. And he did it in the geekiest way possible, by compiling a nine-page treatise explaining why A&M not making the tournament “defies logic”. This he distributed to reporters, who might have forwarded it to select NCAA officials. NCAA retribution being the conspiracy of the moment. Did I mention that Texas A&M may be looking at Texas in the second round? I don’t need to read the book that Buzz will write about this year’s bracket - A&M got screwed.

Breaking news: Rick Pitino can coach. He also looks like the crypt keeper. Pitino’s Iona Gaels just qualified for their second tourney in the past three years. Folks are making a huge deal about this. Speculation was rampant that Iona would get paired with Kentucky in the first round. Instead, they will play UConn to start the tourney. This led to a lot of hand wringing in Storrs. Huskies fans need to pump the breaks. Before Pitino, Iona was coached by Tim Cluess who took them to four straight NCAA tourneys from 2015-2019. Cluess stepped down because of serious health issues, which led to the Pitino era. As I said, Rick knows what he’s doing. But let’s remember that Iona is in the MAAC conference (bonus points if you know what that stands for). Their current 14-game winning streak includes victories over Mount St. Mary’s, Marist and Niagara. Iona lost to Quinnipiac by 23 in January. I’m going out on a limb and predicting that UConn wins this one going away. Which will have no influence on St. John’s hiring Pitino to replace (former Arkansas coach) Mike Anderson, who just got the boot after four seasons of futility leading the Red Storm.

(MAAC stands for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference - you're welcome)

We’ll end with (shockingly) Kentucky. They won’t face Pitino but their first-round matchup against Bryce Hopkins may be more problematic. Hopkins currently plays for Providence after spending a futile year in Lexington. Hopkins was a terrible fit for Kentucky. He came to UK as a 6’7” 220-pound small forward who couldn’t shoot. He left exactly the same. There were pretty loud whispers that Hopkins didn’t put in enough work on his shot and seemed allergic to the weight room. Calipari doesn’t play small ball, so Hopkins got no run at the 4. Not so at Providence, where Hopkins has excelled playing power forward. As the focal point of the offense, he’s averaged over 16 points to go along with an impressive 8.5 boards a game for the Friars. There’s no question that he was one of the best players in the Big East this season. Hopkins appears to be a bit bitter about his year as a Cat. This caustic quote is one of many: “I feel like last year when I got out there, I was under a microscope. (Calipari) only wanted me to do certain things, and it was like I was playing like a robot. Now when I get on the court, it’s like coach Cooley is allowing me to do whatever I want, but under his system. I just can’t thank him enough for that.” I’m guessing that Hopkins jacks up about 30 shots Friday against Kentucky. That should be good for us, but the way this season has gone he’ll probably hang 40 on us. I doubt the selection committee schemed to pit Hopkins against his former team. Regardless, it’s one of the stories to watch in the first round.

2023 NCAA Tournament Preview

Who I’ll be watching in the 2023 NCAA Tournament

12 March 2023

Purdue’s Zach Edey is a virtual lock for player of the year. A 7’4” center, he’s been terrific this season. Averaging over 22 points per game and nearly 13 boards while shooting at an incredible 62% (his sky hook is reminiscent of Kareem - accurate and unguardable). His Boilermakers won their 29th game in the Big 10 tourney title contest on Sunday and secured a well-deserved #1 seed in the East. Edey is great, but he is not the best player in college hoops.


Houston’s Marcus Sasser also had a terrific season, averaging 17.5 points. Unfortunately, he suffered a groin injury that kept him out of the AAC tournament title game. It was perhaps no surprise that Memphis beat the Cougars with relative ease on Sunday. Maybe he was held out with an eye on the bigger prize (Houston still got the #1 seed in the Midwest). Remember the Sasser injury as you decide how far Houston will advance in the tourney.

Kentucky had a disappointing season but the reining National Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe, remains a beast on the backboards - the best rebounder in the college game since Bill Walton back in the age of polyester suits and disco fever.

 

Add to the list: Kansas’ Jalen Wilson and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. (Wait, the Hoosiers are relevant again? No, not really.) Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and his ridiculous moustache are still winning games out there in the west that no one sees. Super players all, but not the best in the game either.

The first choice in a mythical NCAA hoops pick-up game without question would be Alabama’s Brandon Miller. He’s the essence of modern basketball. 6’9”, 200 pounds. Led all freshmen scoring nearly 19 points a game. Super smooth. Good handle. Three level scorer. High motor. The first freshman since Anthony Davis to win SEC Freshman of the Year and also Player of the Year. Every tall, skinny kid who can dribble and shoot gets compared to Durant, but I think Brandon Ingram is a better comparison (and that’s not faint praise). Miller led Bama to the overall #1 seed in the tourney. Brandon Miller and the Crimson Tide are for real. I wish the story ended there. Tragically, it does not.

Last Friday former Alabama player Darius Miles was indicted on murder charges. Miles was kicked off the team in January. He didn’t pull the trigger. He provided the gun that Michael Davis used to gun down Jamae Jonae Harris, a young mother. Earlier, Miles called Miller and said he needed his gun. That weapon passed from Miles to Miller to Davis and ended Harris’ life. Alabama coach Nate Oates says that Miller had no idea that the gun would be used in a crime, so he’s done nothing wrong. The game after the murder, Brandon Miller poured in 41 to lead Bama to an overtime victory over South Carolina. Of course, he hit the game winning shot. It’s a bad, bad look for Alabama. It gets worse.

A couple of weeks ago Bama hosted Arkansas. When introduced, Brandon Miller struck a pose with his arms outstretched while another player patted him down Law and Order style. Classless. The crowd went wild. Clueless. Oats defended Miller and refused any punishment. Unbelievable. Suspending Miller should not be a tough call. Alabama could win this thing. I hope they don’t.