Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:55 am
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C-USA quarterfinals preview

Apparently, the first day of the Conference USA tournament was a bust. Media members in attendance were mocking just how thinly attended the event was in Memphis. That will change Thursday, as the Tigers, the No. 1 seed, get things.

Let's look at today's matchups -- and why not -- do a little predicting.

Southern Miss (2) vs. East Carolina (10). Jeff Lebo's team advanced over Rice with a 68-66 victory. Good for Jeff Lebo, who's trying to make inroads at a tough place to win in college basketball. Coming from Auburn, Lebo knows that path well. Let me make this clear: Southern Miss has to win this. HAS TO. The Golden Eagles have skirted a lot of bubble talk, but I'm not sure why other than the RPI being way, way too high (17). The team's best wins are home over South Florida and home over Memphis. Gotta avoid a bad loss here. I think they do: 74-66, USM.

Tulsa (3) vs. Marshall (6). Can a three seed be a dark horse? If so, Tulsa qualifies in this tournament. Marshall's better than a six, though, so this amounts to the most interesting, toughest call of the day. It'll be interesting to see if the Thundering Herd opts to stay away from the 3 ball, or they trust their size to clean up the glass. Marshall's one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and I'd imagine Tulsa will have its hands full down low. Marshall lost in the first meeting, 79-70, but I think it gets revenge today. 69-66.

Memphis (1) vs. UTEP (8). I'd love to say the Tigers will roll over the eight seed, but UTEP is responsible for Memphis' most recent loss, a 60-58 result AT Memphis on Feb. 18. Ah, heck, I'm saying it -- the Tigers will exact revenge and roll over the Miners. It'll end somewhere in the neighborhood of 79-62.

Central Florida (4) vs. UAB (5). The Blazers and Black Knights played twice this season, and UCF won it two very different ways. It was 48-41, and then it was 71-63 in the season finale. How tough is it to be a like-minded team three times in one season? Very. UAB steals it, 66-60.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:22 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 11:23 am
 

South Florida done enough to get NCAA bid

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Stan Heath and South Florida hardly did it in picturesque fashion, but the Bulls knocked off Villanova for the third time this season and reached the 20-win barrier in the process. 

That means South Florida won a dozen Big East regular-season games, finished fourth in the league and has now won 20. The Bulls have reached the Big East quarterfinals for the first time in school history. It should be enough to get into the NCAA tournament -- and is definitely enough to get Stan Heath off that dreaded hot seat. 

Remember, this South Florida team was without its most important player, freshman point guard Anthony Collins, for the first five games of the season due to a hip injury -- including two losses to Old Dominion and Penn State. Gus Gilchrist missed three games -- including the loss to VCU. Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games of the year due to a suspension (two games) and a back injury (nine games). 

They aren't pretty to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has won enough -- in arguably the top league in America -- to earn a spot whether the Bulls knock off Notre Dame on Thursday or not. 

"Twelve wins in this league," Heath said when asked if he thought he team was in the field after the win over 'Nova. "I don't know. I don't know why we shouldn't be." 

If there's an argument, it's that South Florida hasn't beaten enough of the Big East's big boys. 

Remember, they drew Pittsburgh, Villanova and Providence as the teams they played twice in conference play this season. No one had a clue that Pitt and 'Nova would finish towards the bottom of the Big East. 

But South Florida did take care of both Cincinnati and also beat Louisville at the Yum! Center down the stretch. 

These guys may not pass the "eye test" in terms that they aren't exactly pleasurable to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has done enough to warrant inclusion in the Big Dance. 

Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:07 am
 

Big 12 quarterfinals preview

Not much of note went down on the first day of the Big 12 tournament. Texas A&M knocked off Oklahoma and Oklahoma State took care of Texas Tech. 

Now's when it gets interesting. 

Kansas and Texas are the two teams with the most to gain from the tourney. The Jayhawks can wrap up a No. 1 overall seed if they run through the tourney -- as has been the case each of the past two years. 

Rick Barnes' young Longhorns are playing for their NCAA tournament lives, squarely on the bubble and likely needing a victory on Thursday against Transfer U. - Iowa State. 

Teams like Missouri, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State are all playing for seeding while Oklahoma State and Texas A&M will attempt to play the role of spoiler. 

Now, let's look at Thursday's games in Kansas City: 

Kansas (1) vs. Texas A&M (9). The Jayhawks have won eight straight Big 12 regular-season titles and the last two conference tourney crowns as well. Bill Self has arguably the nation's top player in Thomas Robinson, but the key for KU is the play of point guard Tyshawn Taylor. Texas A&M has had a rough season with the health issues of its coach, Billy Kennedy, and the injuries to the Aggies top player, Khris Middleton. 

Missouri (2) vs. Oklahoma State (7). The Tigers have exceeded expectations this season under first-year coach Frank Haith, whose taken a veteran group and put them in position to receive a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. These guys have strong guard play -- led by Marcus Denmon and Phil Pressey. Oklahoma State has been disappointing, largely due to injuries and the erratic play of talented freshman Le'Bryan Nash. 

Iowa State (3) vs. Texas (6). This is the most intriguing matchup of the day. Fred Hoiberg has done a terrific job assembling a team loaded with transfers and getting them to click. The Cyclones are led by Royce White, but have lost six straight years in the first round. Texas is down this season due to a lack of size and experience. J'Covan Brown is the star of the team, but he'll need help in order for the Longhorns to pull off the win. Rick Barnes will be without senior big man Alexis Wangmene, who dislocated his wrist in the regular-season finale and is done for the year. 

Baylor (4) vs. Kansas State (5). There aren't many teams who possess more talent than Scott Drew and the Bears. Baylor jumped out of the gates strong, but have struggled in league play -- losing six times. However, four of the setbacks came against Kansas and Missouri. Perry Jones III needs to play with toughness because right now it's Pierre Jackson who is carrying the team, averaging 21.5 points over the past four games. Frank Martin's Wildcats are balanced and have won four of the past five against Baylor. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 3:12 am
 

Wakeup Call: Anticipation for Calhoun vs. Boeheim

Spike Lee at Wednesday night's NEC title game in Brooklyn. (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander
and Jeff Borzello

Wait, is this story for real? // Did misunderstanding the moon lead to the Titanic's wreck? This is fascinating. OK, onto the hoops links ...

★ Dan Wetzel on Calhoun. What will Thursday bring? Syracuse vs. UConn is going to be gooood.

★ Pete Thamel knows and has covered Boeheim on and off for about 15 years now. And Boeheim just sounds snidely in print here.

Forbes looks at the 10 highest-paid coaches in college basketball.

★ John Templon has such a great passion for mid-major basketball. He was at the NEC title game last night and wrote very well about it.

★ I've not yet had a chance to read this long profile on former Michigan star Rumeal Robinson. But I've heard it's absolutely outstanding.

★ Now this is (illegal) homecourt advantage.
 
★ Savannah State, the No. 1 seed in the MEAC, was knocked out in the quarterfinals by No. 8 seed Hampton.

★ Vanderbilt is hoping to learn from its past first-round upsets heading into this season's NCAA tournament.

★ Pretty good stuff from Paul Biancardi on the biggest adjustments certain freshmen had to make from high school to college.

★ The Pac-12 tournament was apparently not overly populated.

★ Kareem Abdul-Jabaar says UCLA needs to return to the principles of John Wooden that made the Bruins great

★ Georgetown, Indiana, UCLA and Georgia will meet in the championship rounds of next season's Legends Classic. It will take place Nov. 19-20 at the Barclays Center.

★ Grassroots Canada AAU coach Ro Russell was the subject of an expose by a Canadian news station -- and he's already responded to several of the allegations. Borzello might do a full post on this sometime.

★ Head coach Mike Rice: "Rutgers is going to happen." Okay ...

★ Jabari Parker, a Chicago native and the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013, is very, very interested to see what happens with the Illinois coaching situation.

► Liking the mindset and execution behind Amy K. Nelson's YouTube series. She gets deep into the UNC-Duke rivalry here. There's a Treebeard sighting!



♬ My heart is like a basketball. Let me roll it!

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 2:59 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 3:03 am
 

Blackbirds play big because of smallest man

Jamal Olasewere, left, and Julian Boyd, right, hold up Blackbirds point guard Jason Brickman behind LIU-Brooklyn head coach Jim Ferry, in front holding his son. (Matt Norlander)

By Matt Norlander

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The cube-like, royal blue scoreboard is mounted — it doesn’t hang — directly over midcourt at the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center on Long Island-Brooklyn’s campus. There are no other electronic indications of what the score is in the yellow-and-white-walled room. Players often retreat back on defense after a made basket and steal a look when their necks are forced to crane as the ball switches sides once again.

Jason Brickman, the shortest player on the floor, looks on every retreat. He has to.  

The pint, shy-as-hell point guard for Long Island University-Brooklyn has made himself into a role that’s vital and surprising. Vital because he’s a point guard, and so with that the vitality is obvious. Surprising because the 20-year-old is about as shy as any player commanding an offense in the country. Averaging 7.2 assists per game, he's fifth in the nation in successful distribution. He’s the counter to his booming teammates: NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd; and Jamal Olasewere, the flanking, flying, braggadocio wing that is at times even more unguardable than the formidable, big Boyd.

After the top-seeded Blackbirds earned their second straight NCAA tournament bed with a 90-73 home victory (their 26th in a row, the second-longest streak in the nation behind Kentucky) over No. 3 Robert Morris Wednesday night, when a media liason asked to have a microphone put in from of Brickman at the postgame press conference, teammate C.J. Garner, who had a team-high 21 points, responded, “He ain’t gonna talk anyway.” Boyd and Olasewere laughed. Then they said this:

Olasewere: “He controls the game night in and night out. Without him, we couldn’t do this. He’s a great point guard.”

Boyd: “I definitely wouldn’t have gotten Player of the Year, we wouldn’t have gotten all these accolades without him. I love that guy — just for now, though.”

The tongue-in-cheek post-note on the compliment came with a big brother’s sentiment of protection. Brickman is little brother that knows the way and leads the team and takes the jokes in stride, even coyly laughing along with them. The dynamic is an interesting one. He’s teased because his teammates know he can take it. He's grown into the role. He's tougher than he looks.

“I joke with them a little bit too, but I’m the serious type in the locker room,” Brickman said.

On the floor, his game is extremely serious. Brickman’s proved to be not a reliable, but a dangerous scorer in the second half of the season.  The personality patterns mirror each other. Boyd and Olasewere interact with the crowd and can be caught smiling constantly. Brickman goes about the game like he’s diligently finishing up Saturday morning chores for mom. Brickman finished with 18 points and 11 assists Wednesday night. Afterward, Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said he was clearly the most uncontainable aspect of the Blackbirds’ attack.

“I knew they were going to play hard on these other guys, they’re all-conference players, and I knew they weren’t going to leave them, so if I made a move I’d get to the basket,” Brickman said. “I think they were trying to play the pass more because I’m a pass-first guy. They were taking away the passing lanes, so it was opening the drives for easy layups.”

“I’ve always been a quiet guy, and don’t say a whole lot, but with these guys the relationships get better and I just try to lead by example,” Brickman said. “I don’t have a loud voice or a whole lot of emotions, but these other guys do.”

He’s not as nervous to talk to the media now as he was a year ago, or even two, when he was cripplingly shy, but he’s still avoiding eye contact when I’m talking to him and asking question.

“He fascinates me every day,” LIU-Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry said.

                                                            ****

On his official recruiting visit, Brickman arrived with his little brother and his mom. At one point during the courting, when Brickman wasn’t around, his mother turned to Ferry asked the coach not to take her son’s reactions the wrong way. He was loving the visit, she said, he just wasn’t outward about it. It’s just the way he is. The rare silent and effective leader is proving by example and plus action how much he’s needed.

Early in the season, LIU-Brooklyn was not only struggling, it was under .500 on Dec. 17. During the team’s 2010-11 NCAA tournament season, the group was never below average. A big part of the team’s struggles were related to Brickman’s inhibition with creating offense for himself. Ferry brought Brickman in, sat him down, and told him he had to be more aggressive—at least with the ball, if it wasn’t going to happen with his vocal chords. Ferry talked to Brickman’s father about it, too.

“He was trying to be a distributor too much,” Ferry said. “He was turning the ball over trying to get everyone involved. I told him, ‘Jason, you put up 22 points a game in high school. Go for it.’

Since that conversation, LIU-Brooklyn’s lost two games. And as it’s been, the rules for Brickman are the rules for only Brickman. Ferry calls him “the perfect point guard.” In practice, when the 44-year-old coach is collectively telling his guys what they’re doing wrong and what they need to change, Ferry will discreetly pull Brickman to the side and insist he not change a thing.

                                                            ****

Brickman ran the offense with Peyton Manning-like allowance in the NEC title game. He’d never been given so much leash so early and often in a game, but the noise mandated he run the team. Ferry’s voice couldn’t be heard, as his guys were running offense on the opposite end for the first 20 minutes. Brickman guides this team a way that’s unconventional. Often times you’ll hear the trite message of “leading by example,” only Brickman truly does that — because there’s no other way. Not only is he not shouting to players on the court, he’s likely not saying a word in huddles before free throws and during timeouts.

The only assumption you get upon seeing Brickman is that he could be the bus boy for famous Junior’s Restaurant, which sits a block from LIU-Brooklyn’s campus and proudly displays more than 40 cheesecakes of increasing flavor and calorie-count varieties in its windows.

“He’s a great point guard, and they’re very rare, so when you get them you have to cherish him,” Ferry said. “Those two guys’ personalities are so booming, it’s almost good there’s not another guy trying to get in there. Jason balances us. He controls the game.”

“Control.” An interesting word choice, because the team runs. It never stops running until the scoreboard stops counting. It’s not arrogant, it’s just the way they play — aggressive all the time. The NEC title game’s defining play came from a Garner alley-oop to Boyd that curled and unfurled, developed then exploded like a Hawaiian rip tide and gave the Blackbirds a 59-45 lead with 9:57 to go. The team practices those long-range, parabola passes when it closes out practices.

“I don’t think we ever threw one that far or that high,” Ferry said.

By the final two minutes, Robert Morris was reduced to a slow-death foul fest before the championship was taken again by the Blackbirds. All of this was a factor from Brickman’s heady play, which included many layups and four trips to the foul line.

After going nearly two decades without back-to-back representative in the NCAAs, the Northeast Conference has had repeated champs for four straight years. Brooklyn-born Spike Lee made the time to stop by and watch the game from underneath Long Island’s second-half hoop. The place was a constantly flaring nerve center for nearly two hours. And amid all that activity, the quietest person in the building killed and killed again the hopes and chances for Robert Morris.

Jason Brickman didn’t need to say anything and never will if he keeps playing like this. His teammates speak for, and up for, him. And the crowd always reacts; louder on this night than it ever had before.


Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:55 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 11:48 am
 

Big East Thursday lookahead

South Florida's tournament chances couldn't have possibly been helped with how it won over Villanova, right? The Bulls got yet another Big East win -- their 13th now, by the way -- yet plenty stil see USF as a team with more to prove. Stan Heath's team faced the easiest schedule in the Big East. Things shook out their way, but credit to Heath for actually getting his team to a one-day bye and not slipping up in the opening game.

I think the Bulls are in. They've compiled enough and had so many good players missing from the early parts of their schedule, I think to judge the team on what it's done when it's been completely healthy means USF is not only in, but just skirts out of the First Four and will have its first tournament game next Thursday or Friday.

Now, let's look at what Thursday has to offer in the World's Most Famous Arena.

Syracuse (1) vs. Connecticut (9). The day's most anticipated game if the first one, as 30-1 Syracuse gets its first Big East tournament game against Connecticut. It's the 14th meeting between programs in Manhattan; Syracuse leads the series 7-6. The intrigue behind this game has almost nothing to do with the basketball to be played. UConn's ensured itself of an at-large bid after coming back and beating West Virginia in overtime Wednesday. Syracuse is locked into a No. 1 seed and will play in the East Regional, even if it loses this game by 74 points.

The interest around this game, of course, is the coaches. Boe and Cal. Jim Calhoun's had a week of appreciation for his team and his feelings on this season. He's a fighter, but there's a tenderness coming through that's not typical of the man. Calhoun coaches this inconsistent team, chasing as many more wins possible this season knowing that 2012-13 could bring an academic-related NCAA tournament ban.

Jim Boeheim, on the other hand, walks into a situation where he'll be asked about why there have been problems with his program's drug-testing and if the team has looked the other way on positive tests. The Boeheim press conference around 2:20 on Thursday afternoon will be must-watch. Boeheim and Calhoun are the biggest of rivals in college basketball, but they also respect each other a tremendous amount. I wonder if they've shared a phone call leading up to this.

Cincinnati (4) vs. Georgetown (5). Like the first game of the day, this doesn't have much gravity to it. Both teams are easily in the tournament, and the loser of this one won't get shaken in the seed list overall, most likely. Cincinnati's probably in the 8/9 game right now, and if it loses to the Hoyas, it's going to stay there. Georgetown has potential to crack a top-four seed if it plays to Saturday, so that's what it's fighting for.

Marquette (2) vs. Louisville (7). The Cardinals fell in last year's Big East tournament to Marquette, but that was when Marquette was the shaky 11 seed needing one more really nice win to get into the NCAAs. It ended up 81-56, Golden Eagles Cardinals. (Sorry for the error, folks.) Buzz Williams' team made its way to the Sweet 16. This year, MU is clearly superior to Louisville, which uglied the world to its way to a win over Seton Hall Wednesday night. Both teams can do good for their seeding here, but obviously Louisville stands more to gain. This is the second meeting between these two this season. Marquette won the first, 74-63, on Jan. 16.

Notre Dame (3) vs. South Florida (6). We addressed the South Florida hideousness up top. So here's a thought. How many people will be in Madison Square Garden by halftime of this game? USF doesn't travel well, and Notre Dame's sidewalk alumni aren't potent in New York City. You combine that with the fact neither of these teams has a star, both need two games to get to 80 points, and this could be another late-night leper colony of a basketball game. Please, get us to the mid-60s, we beg you. The temperature will be that in Manhattan, at least.

-- Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:37 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:38 pm
 

Idaho State set to hire Montana assistant Evans

By Jeff Goodman

Idaho State is expected to hire Montana assistant Bill Evans, sources confirmed to CBSSports.com. 

Evans, who was the head coach at Southern Utah for 15 years, will replace Joe O'Brien -- who resigned after a 2-8 start this season. 

A news conference is scheduled for Thursday. 

Deane Martin had been the interim coach since O'Brien's resignation. 

Evans has been on the staff at Montana, which advanced to the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night after beating Weber State in the Big Sky tournament title game. He also received his master's from Idaho State. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:27 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Montana

Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies took down arguably the nation's top point guard, Weber State's Damian Lillard, to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

This Montana-Weber State championship contest wasn't quite as electric as the last time the two teams met with everything on the line, when Montana's Anthony Johnson went for 42 points, but the result was the same. 

Montana is led by junior guard Will Cherry, but Tinkle has plenty of weapons. 

The Grizz had all five starters reach double-figures in the championship game. Sophomore Kareem Jamar and junior Mathias Ward, who each had 18 in the semifinal win, led Montana with 23. Cherry had 13, senior big man Derek Selvig had 16 points and nine boards and Art Stewart finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. 

The Grizzles, who won their first outright regular-season crown since 1991-92, trailed by five at the break -- but outscored Weber State, 54-30, in the second half to blow the game open. 

Player to know: Will Cherry - The 6-foot-1 junior guard leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, but he's versatile and is also one of the nation's top defenders. He’s topped 20 points on 10 separate occasions this season, and has dramatically improved his outside shooting since last season.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-6 overall, 15-1 in Big Sky
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010
  • We’re thinking: 15
  • KenPom ranking: 97
  • Sagarin ranking: 102
  • RPI: 81
  • Best wins: Long Beach State, Weber State
  • Worst losses: North Dakota
  • Notable stat: The Grizzlies enter the game on a school-record 14-game winning streak.  

 -- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com