In Mark Few's 16 seasons as head coach at Gonzaga, the Zags have won more than 400 games, captured 14 league championships and advanced to the NCAA tournament every year.

The one thing Few had not done is taken a team past the Sweet 16.

Gonzaga checked that milestone off Few's list Friday night, riding a dominant performance by its frontcourt to a 74-62 victory over 11th-seeded UCLA. The second-seeded Zags will meet either Duke or Utah on Sunday in their first Elite Eight game since 1999 when Dan Monson was still their coach.  

The resounding victory over the Bruins surely was cathartic for longtime Gonzaga fans still scarred by the memory of their 2006 Sweet 16 collapse. A formidable Zags team led by national player of the year Adam Morrison led UCLA by 17 in the first half and by nine with three-plus minutes to go, but Gonzaga yielded the final 11 points of the game to fall in heartbreaking fashion.

Gonzaga avoided such a calamity this time by exploiting mismatches in the frontcourt.

Mammoth 7-footer Przemek Karnowski overpowered Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh with his back-to-the-basket game in the paint, scoring 18 points on only 11 shots and even dazzling the crowd at NRG Stadium in Houston with a gorgeous behind-the-back assist. Domantas Sabonis came off the bench to deliver 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting and Kyle Wiltjer had a couple nice hook shots in the paint too.

It was imperative for Gonzaga to find ways to score in the paint because neither team had any luck shooting in the domed football stadium. The Zags were an anemic 3-for-19 from behind the arc. UCLA was only slightly better at 3-for-13.

While NRG Stadium was also the site of the awful shooting display between Butler and UConn in the 2011 national title game, recent history doesn't suggest the venue is any worse for outside shooters than other NCAA tournament sites. In the previous six NCAA tournament games prior to Friday night, teams shot a very respectable 36.7 percent from behind the arc at NRG Stadium.

Gonzaga will probably need to hit some jump shots in its next game to advance to its first Final Four, but its interior game was more than enough to beat UCLA in a game that reflects how far the program has come during Few's tenure.

The last time Gonzaga made the Elite Eight in 1999, it was an obscure small-conference program known only for the upsets it sprung that March.

On Friday, the Zags won as No. 2 seeds and clear favorites over one of college basketball's most storied programs.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 28, 2015, 1:31 am

Las Vegas sportsbooks pay oddsmakers handsomely to set accurate point spreads that will split bets evenly on both sides, because without them there are no Las Vegas sportsbooks. Super Bowl XLIX was essentially a pick 'em game that came down to the final play. They try to be wiser than the wisest of guys.

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And so when the Westgate Las Vegas Race and Sports Book tells ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" that the New York Knicks would be heavy favorites over the Kentucky Wildcats, we should listen, and put an end to this silly debate over a 37-0 college basketball team's chances in the NBA — even against the Knicks.

NERD NOTES: If the Knicks & Kentucky played on a neutral floor with college rules, NYK would be a 13.5 point favorite. (via @Westgate_LV)

— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) March 27, 2015

For anyone who thinks that number is either too high or too low, David Malinsky — an oddsmaker turned gambling analyst — recently told the Associated Press his line would be Knicks by 15 without specifying the rules under which the two teams would play. Consider also the same Westgate Las Vegas sportsbook deemed the Philadelphia 76ers a 17-point favorite over Kentucky under NBA rules back in November.

For the record, Knicks rookie wing Cleanthony Early — whose Wichita State Shockers had their 35-0 record snapped in a two-point loss to Kentucky last season — concurred in the New York Post with most sane people who contend there is no comparison between college and professional basketball.

“I doubt it, I doubt it,’’ Early said when asked if they could beat the Knicks or any NBA club. “I completely doubt it. It’s a different game – in the paint – it’s 10 times more physical. I doubt it. Everybody makes statements they believe in. Some people believe that. I’m one of the people who don’t."

This does not lay to rest an argument over whether the Wildcats could beat an NBA team on a given night, especially since the Knicks just topped the San Antonio Spurs as 14.5-point underdogs last week. The better team doesn't always win, as March Madness fans can attest. But it should put to bed SMU coach Larry Brown's contention, "I honestly believe Kentucky would make the NBA playoffs in the East."

Heck, even Calipari conceded his team wouldn't stand a chance in the NBA when Georgetown College coach Chris Briggs raised this half-cocked hypothetical upon losing to Kentucky by 70 in November.

I hear Coach Briggs got excited after the game last night. Let me be clear: If we played ANY NBA team, we would get buried. ANY.

— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) November 10, 2014

Calipari knows. He lost 40 more games than he won in two-plus seasons on the New Jersey Nets bench.

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Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: March 27, 2015, 7:34 pm

The marriage between Steve Lavin and St. John's ended amicably Friday following a week of speculation regarding the fifth-year coach's job status.

St. John's announced the two sides are mutually parting ways because they could not come to terms on a contract extension. 

“We thank Coach Lavin for his leadership and all of his contributions to the University,” St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch said in a statement. “He infused excitement back into the program, brought us to the postseason four times and recruited student-athletes who excelled on the court, inside the classroom and within the community.”

Lavin's tenure at St. John's will neither be remembered as a smashing success nor an abject failure because there were plenty of high and low points.

Among the positives: He ended the program's nine-year NCAA tournament drought in 2011 by leading a group of Norm Roberts holdovers to a No. 6 seed, he recruited the likes of Maurice Harkless, JaKarr Sampson and Rysheed Jordan to St. Johns and he reached the NCAA tournament a second time as a No. 9 seed this month.

Among the negatives: He went 2-8 in the postseason at St. John's, he never won an NCAA tournament game and recruiting began to tail off late in his tenure. He also took risks on talented prospects with checkered academic or behavioral histories, often leaving the Johnnies with a shorthanded roster when some of those didn't pan out.

The game that perhaps best sums up Lavin's tenure was his final one, an NCAA tournament loss to San Diego State last week. The Johnnies played incredibly hard for Lavin, especially after falling behind by double figures, but their effort was undone by too many ill-advised shots, too many turnovers and fatigue brought on by a lack of depth. 

When Lavin arrived at St. John's in 2011 after spending most of the previous eight years at ESPN, he spoke of getting St. John's back to where it was when it competed for Big East titles and Final Fours under Louie Carnesecca. 

"I wouldn't have taken the job unless I saw the great potential and the ability to elevate the program," Lavin told Yahoo Sports in 2011.

Lavin did elevate St. John's, but he could never get the Johnnies to where either he or his administration desired. That's why he is out of a job and the school is looking for a new coach. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 27, 2015, 7:22 pm

The Sweet 16 continues Friday with the East Regional in Syracuse and the South Regional in Houston. Below is a preview and prediction for all four games.

SOUTH REGION

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 UCLA: This matchup between the Zags and Bruins is the ultimate role reversal. A small-conference power that rose from obscurity by pulling massive March upsets enters as a big favorite against one of college basketball's most storied programs. Where Gonzaga has an advantage in this game is with its multi-facted scoring attack and its superior depth. The Zags boast the nation's fourth most efficient offense, can score from inside and out and go two deep at every position. UCLA could not keep pace with Gonzaga in an 87-74 home loss in December, but the Bruins are better now than they were then. They're defending better as a unit. They're playing through Tony Parker more consistently. And Bryce Alford is taking smarter shots. To stay in striking distance or perhaps even pull an upset, one matchup UCLA needs to exploit is Kevon Looney's edge in quickness and athleticism over Kyle Wiltjer. While Wiltjer is likely to get his points at one end, the Bruins need Looney to take advantage of his defensive shortcomings at the other. Predicted winner: Gonzaga. 

No 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah: Duke looked dominant in stretches in victories against Robert Morris and San Diego State, but Utah poses challenges those teams did not. The Utes boast one of the nation's premier players in Delon Wright, a 6-foot-5 senior with the size and length of a wing and the court vision and pass-first instincts of a point guard. His size makes him a difficult assignment for either Tyus Jones or Quinn Cook and his ability in a pick and roll could pose problems for Jahlil Okafor. Defense has been one of Utah's strengths all season. They have three 7 footers to throw at Okafor and they've been good defending against the pick and roll all season, but they'll have to do a far better job than San Diego State did of stopping Duke in transition and forcing the Blue Devils to score against a set defense. Duke still has the talent advantage in this game because of its array of perimeter weapons and Okafor's unparalleled post game. But if Utah can keep Duke out of transition and shoots better from behind the arc than the Blue Devils, the Utes are a threat to pull an upset. Predicted winner: Duke

EAST REGION

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 NC State: Predicting an NC State game is always a challenge because you never know what version of the Wolfpack you'll get. Will it be the confident, aggressive group that owns victories against Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Villanova this season? Or will it be the listless, cold-shooting team that trailed Duke 42-17 in the ACC quarterfinals? The tough shot making ability of Trevor Lacey, the perimeter shooting of Ralston Turner and an improving interior game make NC State a tough out when the Wolfpack are playing well, but Louisville has looked dangerous as well in this tournament. Quentin Snider's emergence at point guard has softened the blow of Chris Jones' dismissal and Wayne Blackshear's scoring has provided badly needed support for Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell. What this game could come down to is whether Louisville can continue to make perimeter shots. The Cardinals have shot fairly well in their first two NCAA tournament games, but that was still a season-long weakness for them. Predicted winner: NC State.

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Michigan State: With Villanova and Virginia going down early, the winner of this contest will probably be the unlikely favorite to reach the Final Four out of the topsy-turvy East Region. Michigan State might be the favorite Friday in spite of its lower seed if Branden Dawson and Travis Trice continue to play at the same high level they have all postseason. Dawson has scored at least 14 points and grabbed at least six boards in all five of the Spartans' games since the start of the Big Ten tournament. Trice is coming off a 23-point performance against Virginia and has emerged as a dangerous scorer and facilitator off the dribble to go with his outside shooting. Michigan State has been comfortable all season at a fast pace, but Oklahoma's transition attack and ability to attack the offensive glass pose major challenges. The Spartans will also need Denzel Valentine to force Buddy Hield into tough shots because rest assured that the ultra-aggressive Big 12 player of the year isn't going to stop shooting. Predicted winner: Michigan State. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 27, 2015, 5:52 pm

Wichita State senior Darius Carter played the best game of his college career in the final game of his college career Thursday night in a Sweet 16 loss to hot-shooting Notre Dame in Cleveland. 

There was a reward awaiting Carter and his teammates in the Shockers' sad locker room. 

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Carter grew up in nearby Akron and earlier in the week he said he was hoping someone would bring him some food from one of his favorite hometown eateries, Swenson's Drive Ins. The restaurant got word of Carter's craving.

@GoShockers We want to make dreams come true for Darius Carter & the rest of the team tonight, how many people are on the basketball team?

— Swenson's Drive Ins (@SwensonsDriveIn) March 26, 2015

@FSOhioZJackson If you're at @TheQArena & talk to Darius Carter, let him know there will be Galley Boys in the locker room postgame. #akron

— Swenson's Drive Ins (@SwensonsDriveIn) March 26, 2015

Darius Carter scored a career-best 22 points with eight rebounds against the Fighting Irish. While his effort didn't result in a win, he at least had the comfort of some of his favorite grub to ease the pain. FOX Sports Ohio had visual evidence. 

.@SwensonsDriveIn delivers postgame meal to local product Darius Carter, Wichita State http://t.co/uKdVqwCA7t pic.twitter.com/hZWrZK7nOe

— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) March 27, 2015

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Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 27, 2015, 4:21 pm

In his first season at Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall coaxed 16 wins out of a threadbare roster, upset Arkansas, Butler and LSU and actually had the rebuilding Vols in contention for a postseason bid before a poor final four weeks.

It was a promising enough debut campaign that Tennessee cannot be happy there will be no encore.

Athletic director Dave Hart fired Tyndall on Friday morning because he felt any other course of action would have been impractical given the punishment the NCAA is likely to levy against the coach. Tyndall reportedly is under investigation for academic misconduct and impermissible benefits for players during his two-year stint at Southern Mississippi from 2012-14.

“It is disappointing that we have to take this action,” Hart said in a release. “It is highly likely that Coach Tyndall will face significant penalties at the conclusion of the NCAA’s infractions process. We believe that this decision is in the best interests of the University of Tennessee.”

Firing Tyndall had to be gut-wrenching for Hart because it's an admission he didn't properly vet the hire in the first place last spring. Tennessee will have its fourth coach in six seasons next year, having fired Bruce Pearl for NCAA violations in 2011 and let Cuonzo Martin leave for Cal last spring.

Tennessee is in such need of stability that it cannot take any risks with its next hire. It must find a coach who is squeaky clean in the eyes of the NCAA and committed to building a program in Knoxville for the long haul.

Whoever the new coach is will have a challenge on his hands initially because all the coaching uncertainty has hampered Tennessee's recruiting. Senior standout Josh Richardson will graduate this spring, but juniors Armani and Kevin Punter and sophomore Robert Hubbs III could be back to provide leadership next season.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 27, 2015, 3:00 pm

If it seemed like Kentucky was out to destroy West Virginia's confidence, it's because they were.

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Addressing West Virginia freshman guard Daxter Miles Jr.'s pregame guarantee that NCAA basketball's lone remaining unbeaten was "gonna be 36-1" after Thursday's Sweet 16 showdown, Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Ulis admitted in the aftermath of a 78-39 that his Wildcats were out for blood.

"They should have kept their mouth shut and it might not have been like that," Ulis told Kentucky Sports Radio's Matt Jones. “Our whole plan was to crush their spirit — beat 'em by 50 for disrespecting us."

If that was the plan, it worked to perfection, as Kentucky improved to 37-0 by handing the Mountaineers one of the worst losses in Sweet 16 history. But as much fun as it is to imagine Ulis & Co. studying "Bloodsport" instead of game film, Wildcats coach John Calipari denied any spirit-crushing game design.

"That didn't come from me, because that's not the way I coach," he told reporters in his postgame press conference. "I don't want my team playing angry. I don't want them to be mean, nasty, hateful. It's, 'Play with joy and love of the game and love for each other.' That wins every time. The other stuff turns to fear."

Of course, Ulis wasn't the only player in Kentucky's locker room basking in the glee of Miles' guarantee, as fellow Wildcats Devin Booker and Andrew Harrison took to social media to keep crushing WVU's spirit. 

36 and won

— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) March 27, 2015

Lot of talkn lot of tweetin till they........play

— Andrew Harrison (@DrewRoc5) March 27, 2015

As for Miles, who finished scoreless in 19 minutes, he eventually was convinced by a member of the West Virginia coaching staff to emerge from a bathroom stall and address the awaiting media scrum, according to CBS Sports, at which point he channeled Rasheed Wallace and repeated, "Kentucky played hard."

(h/t Larry Brown Sports)

Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: March 27, 2015, 1:45 pm

 

LOS ANGELES — They admit they've replayed last year's Elite Eight loss in their minds over and over. They admit that setback fueled them during offseason workouts. They admit they crowded around the TV in their locker room before their game to see who their potential Elite Eight opponent would be.

There's only one thing Arizona players would not concede Thursday night after their come-from-behind 68-60 victory over Xavier in the Sweet 16: That they're happy the last obstacle between them and the Final Four is a rematch with the Wisconsin team that ousted them last March.

"We're going to take it like we would any other game," point guard T.J. McConnell insisted.

"We're just happy to be in the Elite Eight regardless of who we were playing," forward Brandon Ashley protested.

"We're just lucky that we have the opportunity to still be playing," center Kaleb Tarczewski contended.

Credit Arizona for being smart enough not to provide pregame fodder for its next opponent, but don't let the Wildcats fool you. Even though taking Sean Miller to his first Final Four would be a milestone achievement no matter who the opponent is, there's no way a team as competitive as Arizona wouldn't find it just a little sweeter if that victory came at the expense of the team that eliminated it by a single point in overtime a year ago.

Frank Kaminsky torched Arizona's vaunted frontcourt inside and out for 28 points last year to lead the Badgers to a 64-63 victory and clinch their first Final Four appearance since 2000. Former Arizona star Nick Johnson had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but he could not get off a shot and the Wildcats fell for the second time in four years in the Elite Eight.

"After we lost to them, it gave us a long time to think about it," McConnell said. "We watched them go to a Final Four and lose at the buzzer to Kentucky. We thought that should have been us. But that's driven all of us to work as hard as we did in the summer and as hard as we did this season to be as good as we are."

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell reacts after the Wildcats beat Xavier. (AP) Both Arizona and Wisconsin returned many of last year's key players and both are probably even better than they were a year ago.

The Wildcats are still elite defensively, still dominant on the glass and perhaps a bit more dangerous on offense than they were last season. McConnell is more confident and aggressive, Ashley is healthy and scoring from the paint and the perimeter and freshman Stanley Johnson adds another wing scoring threat. The Badgers are an even more potent offensive team than last season despite the graduation of sharpshooter Ben Brust. Kaminsky has gone from unlikely breakout star to a national player of the year candidate, Sam Dekker is flashing his tantalizing potential more frequently and promising young standouts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have made great strides.

One advantage for Arizona is it will have more than just the 7-foot Tarczewski to defend Kaminsky. A healthy Ashley might have a better chance of defending Kaminsky out to the 3-point arc, where he hurt the Wildcats repeatedly last March.

"Having Brandon back better help us because Kaminsky is arguably the player of the year," Arizona assistant Book Richardson said. "One person isn't going to guard him. It's going to be a team effort because he doesn't allow one person to guard him."

Arizona will have an added layer of motivation Saturday because Miller has been saddled with the bittersweet label of being the nation's best coach never to reach the Final Four.

Miller first came close back in 2008 when his Xavier team advanced to the Elite Eight as a No. 3 seed before falling by 19 points to a UCLA team featuring Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. Derrick Williams helped Miller get back to the Elite Eight with Arizona in 2011, routing Duke in the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual national champion UConn by two. Throw in last year's Wisconsin loss, and Miller has endured plenty of Elite Eight heartache.

"Heck, it's both of us," Richardson said. "I've been with him to every Elite Eight. We go down in infamy if we keep losing, and that's not what we want. If it happens, we'll be elated. If Wisconsin happens to win, we'll look in the mirror and figure out how we can get better."

There were a few scary moments Thursday when it looked like Arizona wouldn't even get to the Elite Eight, but its interior defense tightened and McConnell made some big shots down the stretch to clinch the victory. As a result the Wildcats get Wisconsin in one of the most anticipated games of this NCAA tournament.

"I think any basketball player would want a rematch," junior guard Gabe York said before catching himself."

That's as close as any Arizona player would come to admitting the obvious.

 

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 27, 2015, 7:11 am

Mar 26, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard T.J. McConnell (4) moves to the basket against Xavier Musketeers guard Dee Davis (11) during the first half in the semifinals of the west regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports )It took nearly 35 minutes of play, but T.J. McConnell and the Arizona Wildcats finally figured out Xavier’s harassing 1-3-1 zone defense.

And when they cracked that code, the second-seeded Wildcats were able to muscle their way into the lead and past the No. 6 seed Musketeers, 68-60, punching their ticket for an Elite Eight rematch against No. 1 seed Wisconsin.

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With its pestering defense wreaking havoc on one end, Xavier ran its offense efficiently through skilled big man Matt Stainbrook, who put up 17 points and 10 boards, helping the Musketeers maintain a narrow lead for much of the second half.

While Arizona leading scorers Stanley Johnson (12 points) and Brandon Ashley (8 points) struggled to attack Xavier’s zone, it was McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski who carried the offensive weight down the stretch.

McConnell continually probed Xavier's defense and the Wildcats were finally able to tie things up at 53 with 6:11 to play via a Tarczewski layup and two McConnell free throws.

McConnell, who put up 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, continued to quarterback the offense, getting Tarczewski (12 points, 12 rebounds) back to the line to take the lead. McConnell then drilled his only three of the night (on six attempts) from the top of the arc to extend Arizona’s lead to four points.

The Arizona defense tightened up the rest of the way, finishing the game on a 19-7 run to pull out a gritty win.

It wasn’t just the 6-foot-10, 263-pound Stainbrook who was causing problems for Arizona. Sophomore 6-foot-9 forward Jalen Reynolds brought a spark off the bench and pitched in 12 points – including a beautiful spin move in the lane early in the second half. Senior guard Dee Davis (12 points) was also able to get in the lane for Xavier, but the Musketeers were miserable from long distance, hitting just 3-of-17 3-point attempts, allowing Arizona to stay within striking distance.

The Arizona win sets up a rematch in the Elite Eight with Wisconsin. The tables were turned in the 2014 tournament as the second-seeded Badgers, behind 28 points and 11 boards from Frank Kaminsky, outlasted the No. 1 seed Wildcats 64-63 in overtime in Anaheim, Calif.

You know the Wildcats are hungry for revenge.

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 5:13 am

It’s not like undefeated Kentucky needed any further motivation entering Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament against West Virginia.

The Wildcats were only four wins away from a perfect 40-0 season and second national championship in three seasons. But the added motivation came just the same. 

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The most significant blow to the beehive came from West Virginia freshman Daxter Miles Jr., who foolishly predicted Kentucky would be 36-1 after facing the Mountaineers. About halfway through the first half, it was clear it was no contest and the Wildcats eventually ran away to a 78-39 victory to advance to the Elite Eight.

The other extra boost in their tanks came from the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association honoring Virginia’s Tony Bennett with its National Coach of the Year award this season instead of coach John Calipari, who is now two wins away from leading his team to the national title game in three consecutive seasons. This is the fifth consecutive year the Wildcats have played in the Elite Eight. Mar 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins during the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

This one was far too ugly for prime time, the kind of uncompetitive dud television executives fear. It had CBS announcer Marv Albert checking the NCAA record book in the final minutes to find the most lopsided games in NCAA tournament history.

It was pure defensive dominance against a pressing West Virginia team with a defensive approach that has given opponents fits all year. The 39 points scored by West Virginia were the fewest in a Sweet 16 game in the shot clock era. 

West Virginia, a team that doesn’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter and needs to get to the basket, wasn’t able to. The Mountaineers were clearly intimidated at times by Kentucky’s size and length and starts one-for-10 from the field. West Virginia fell behind 18-2 and it never got much better.

The Mountaineers didn’t score their 20th point until 11 minutes 41 seconds remained in the game. Five players scored in double figures for Kentucky led by Trey Lyles, who finished with 14. 

The biggest problem Kentucky encountered in this one came in the middle of the second half when guard Aaron Harrison appeared to suffer a dislocated finger. He was taken to the locker room for treatment and came back to the bench with two fingers taped together. He even checked back into the game for a few minutes of mop-up duty.

It remains to be seen if the injury will affect Harrison in an Elite Eight game Sunday against a much better shooting team in Notre Dame.

Official word from UK trainer is "sprain" on Aaron Harrison's left ring finger.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 27, 2015

Aaron Harrison icing hand. Asked how it is. "Fine. It's my left."

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 27, 2015

When the game ended and Kentucky players returned to their locker room, guard Devon Booker took to Twitter with a subtle message directed at Daxter Miles Jr. and anyone else who might get the idea in their head that talking trash ahead of meeting the Wildcats is a good idea.

36 and won

— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) March 27, 2015

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 27, 2015, 4:26 am

LOS ANGELES — As everyone else in the Wisconsin locker room showered Sam Dekker with praise after the top-seeded Badgers' 79-72 victory over North Carolina, assistant coach Greg Gard took a more measured approach.

Gard was thrilled Dekker delivered 23 points and 10 rebounds in a high-stakes Sweet 16 game, but he views the junior forward's career-best performance as a tantalizing hint of what he's capable of rather than as a sign he is ready to put the Badgers on his back for the rest of March.

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"I think it's still in flashes," Gard said. "The sky's the limit for him, but I don't think he's anywhere near where he can be. He has to continue to get stronger, continue to mature and get more consistent as a ball handler and perimeter shooter. He has unlimited potential, but he has a ways to go to fully tap into that."

If Dekker's brilliant performance was merely a flash rather than a breakthrough, at the very least it was a well-timed one. Wisconsin needed a hero to emerge to keep its Final Four hopes alive with national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky off to a slow start, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig misfiring from the perimeter and upset-minded North Carolina burying threes and scoring in transition at an unnerving clip.

Fifteen of Dekker's points came in the first half when the rest of his teammates combined to shoot 5 of 22 against North Carolina's aggressive man-to-man defense. He kept Wisconsin within two at the half by attacking the basket off the dribble or scoring via backdoor cuts, giving the Badgers an offensive presence at the rim and making the Tar Heels pay for overplaying on the perimeter.

Other players stepped up to spearhead Wisconsin's comeback when its deficit ballooned to seven midway through the second half, but Dekker still came through with one of the game's biggest crunch-time baskets. When Isaiah Hicks switched onto Dekker because of a screen, the Wisconsin forward took his new defender into the post, called for the ball and spun around him for a layup that put the Badgers back up by four points with 1:08 remaining.

"I thought I played a pretty good game," Dekker said. "It wasn't a complete 40 minutes, but early in the first half I thought we needed a spark, and I saw some opportunities in the open court to give us a spark. ... I just tried to stay on attack mode. My shot wasn't falling like I'd like it to be, so I just tried to take it to the lane more and get some easy buckets."Sam Dekker (15) celebrates with Frank Kaminsky during Wisconsin's win over UNC on Thursday. (USAT)

If Kaminsky has become the face of Wisconsin basketball and one of the nation's most recognizable players during his brilliant senior season, Thursday was a reminder the Badgers are far more than just a one-man team. Dekker was one of several Badgers who stepped up to support Kaminsky on a night when he had to work hard to finish with 19 points and eight rebounds

Koenig and Josh Gasser both sank critical late 3-pointers. Gasser relentlessly chased North Carolina star Marcus Paige around screens the whole night. Reserve guard Zak Showalter delivered maybe the biggest spark, scoring a backdoor layup to give Wisconsin its first lead of the second half and then adding to it with a steal and layup on the ensuing possession.

"We're not defined by one player," Gasser said. "Tonight just showed the balance and depth of our team. Different guys can step up at different moments."

Nonetheless, the biggest star was Dekker, who flashed the same combination of size, skill and athleticism that had NBA scouts salivating at the LeBron James camp this past summer. Dekker's performance there was so good that it had some touting him as a potential first-team All-American candidate and future NBA lottery pick.

Though Dekker has instead served as a secondary scorer in support of Kaminsky, he has still averaged an efficient 13.3 points per game this season and taken great strides as a defender. He has averaged 20 points per game in the NCAA tournament and saved his best performance for Thursday night even if his coaches still see room for long-term improvement.

"Somebody was going to have to make plays at the rim," Gard said. "We had to have somebody break them down off the dribble or make some backcuts to relieve that pressure, and Sam was the one who was able to do it."

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 27, 2015, 4:10 am

West Virginia forward BillyDee Williams had zero points and a hard lesson learned in the first half of a Sweet 16 game against undefeated Kentucky on Thursday night. 

Williams got the ball in the lane and mistakenly thought he could get to the rim with Kentucky big men Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein in the area. Williams, who is 6-foot-6, jumped toward the basket and what followed is sure to be one of the defensive highlights of this year's NCAA tournament. 

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Lyles and Cauley-Stein simultaneously blocked Williams' shot cleanly. It was part of a dominant first half in which Kentucky took an 18-2 lead and eventually stretched it to 44-18 at halftime. West Virginia made just five field goals in the half and shot 19 percent from the field.

It didn't get much better for the Mountaineers in the second half as Kentucky kept cruising for a 78-39 win. The 39 points scored by West Virginia were the fewest in a Sweet 16 game in the shot clock era.

So the double-block was basically the game in a nutshell.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 27, 2015, 3:20 am

A lot of analysts are saying that only Kentucky can stop Kentucky this spring.

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But not even that is turning out to be true — quite literally as you can see what happened on Thursday when Devin Booker got in the way of a Marcus Lee alley-oop at Quicken Loans Arena.

Lee's dunk gave the top-ranked Wildcats an 18-2 lead over West Virginia in the Sweet 16 game in Cleveland, basically crushing any hope that West Virginia's Daxter Miles had of dealing Kentucky its first loss. The freshman guard made headlines on Wednesday guaranteeing that Kentucky would be "36-1" after the game.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!Follow @KevinKaduk

Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 27, 2015, 2:40 am

Aaron Rodgers went to Cal for college, but he's been the Green Bay Packers' quarterback for 10 years and he's become a big fan of the Wisconsin basketball program while calling the state home. 

Rodgers and his girlfriend, actress Olivia Munn, watched the Badgers beat North Carolina 79-72 on Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. 

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Rodgers has become close with the Wisconsin players and coaches over the years, including forward Sam Dekker, who had one of the best games of his career against the Tar Heels. Dekker scored a career-best 23 points and 10 rebounds in the game and gave Rodgers partial credit for inspiring him.

“He was talking to me this morning, saying he wants a good show,” Dekker said of Rodgers in a postgame interview with TBS. “He’s been so supportive all year. He’s really behind our backs and reaching out to me if I’m playing well or not playing well and just staying behind me as a good friend. When you have the MVP of the NFL doing that for you, it’s pretty cool.”

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan (jokingly) had a bit of fun at Rodgers' expense before lavishing praise on him when asked in the post-game press conference what he thought of the NFL MVP cheering on Ryan's team.

"Aaron Rodgers? The guy that – not Erin Andrews? Really? I didn't notice he was there." Ryan said. "...No, he's been great all along. He's been very supportive.

"Actually, he's got better jokes than most. But it was nice he was there. I didn't get a chance to see him. I had to ham it up in the locker room with him last year making faces. Hopefully he sticks around [for Saturday's game]. Is he going to be around? He doesn't have anything else [going on]."

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 27, 2015, 2:30 am

For every punch thrown by No. 4 seed North Carolina, No. 1 seed Wisconsin punched back.

Wisconsin faced a second-half deficit as large as seven in its West Regional semifinal, but the Badgers stormed back behind a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds from junior Sam Dekker en route to a 79-72 victory that got the Badgers a spot in the Elite Eight.

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In addition to a standout performance from Dekker, player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky added 19 points (8-of-8 FTs) and eight boards for the Badgers while sophomore forward Nigel Hayes had 12.

But when the Badgers needed a spark, it came from an unlikely source.

Down four with seven minutes to go, sophomore guard Zak Showalter, a former walk-on, came in off the bench for foul-ridden Bronson Koenig. All Showalter did in a three-minute span was hit a runner in the lane, feed Kaminsky for the go-ahead three, make a sweet reverse layup off a feed from Josh Gasser and give the Badgers a three-point lead with a steal and a lay-in in traffic.

From then on out, the pesky Tar Heels never regained a lead – but they did not go down quietly. The Heels, who led at the half and for much of the second half, cut the lead down to 71-70 with 54 seconds to play on back-to-back deep threes from Marcus Paige.

However, the experienced Badgers hit all eight free throws they attempted in the final minute to seal the win.

Though it finished with 79 points, this was far from a sparkling shooting performance from Wisconsin. A field goal drought of nearly five minutes to end the first half turned a five-point Badgers lead into a two-point halftime lead for UNC.

A similar Wisconsin dry spell of five minutes early in the second half allowed the Heels to extend that lead to seven behind a balanced scoring attack from Justin Jackson (15 points), Brice Johnson (15 points), Paige (12 points) and Joel Berry II (9 points).

Still, the Heels couldn’t pull away when they had the chance and the veteran Badgers hung around until their offense – sparked by Showalter – came around.

Next on the agenda for Bo Ryan’s bunch is an Elite Eight showdown with the winner of Thursday night’s matchup with No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 6 seed Xavier. 

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 2:17 am

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey experienced one of the great losses of his life last weekend when his mother, Betty, died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Five days later, Brey experienced one of his best moments as a head coach when his team dispatched a gritty WichitaState team Thursday night 81-70 in Cleveland to advance to the Elite Eight. The Fighting Irish haven’t fought this deep into the NCAA tournament in 37 years. 

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The 1978 team loaded with future NBA players went to the Final Four and Brey and his players find themselves a win away from the ultimate stage in the college game. It won’t be easy to get there. They will either have to conquer the undefeated giant known as Kentucky or a constantly pressing West Virginia team if it manages to slay the giant in Thursday’s late game in Cleveland.

 “Hey, we got as good a shot as anybody,” Brey said in his postgame television interview with CBS.

WichitaState started slowly in the Sweet 16 game against the Irish, falling behind 18-5 in the early going. Guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker combined for 19 of the Shockers’ 30 first-half points and they managed to pull within three at halftime.

WichitaState coach Gregg Marshall called the Shockers’ start ‘horrendous’ during his halftime interview. The second half was worse.

The Shockers had no answers in trying to defend the four-guard lineup Brey used, featuring Demetrius Jackson, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia. That foursome combined to make nine of 18 3-pointers.

Grant was the only Notre Dame starter not to score in double figures, but he played the role of facilitator perfectly. Grant drove and dished to open teammates repeatedly and finished with 11 assists.

Jackson led the Irish with 20 points. Connaughton scored 16 and Vasturia added 15.

WichitaState senior Tekele Cotton’s college career ended with a rough outing. He went 2-for-10 shooting and scored just six points. Fellow senior Darius Carter led the Shockers with 22 points, playing his final game not far from where he grew up in Akron, Ohio.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 27, 2015, 1:30 am

The Sweet 16 begins Thursday with the West Regional in Los Angeles and the Midwest Regional in Cleveland. Below is a preview and prediction for all four games.

MIDWEST REGION:

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia: Even though Kentucky is a heavy favorite to advance to the Final Four and win the national championship, this game is compelling if only because West Virginia will throw a different look at the Wildcats. Kentucky will have to avoid turning the ball over against a physical full-court press that forces 19.6 turnovers per game. The Wildcats will also have to emphasize rebounding against a Mountaineers team that makes up for errant outside shooting by leading the nation in offensive boards per game. Adding to the intrigue is that Bob Huggins is 8-2 all-time against John Calipari including a stunning upset in 2010 when West Virginia toppled the John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins Kentucky team in the Elite Eight.
A 1-3-1 zone got the best of the cold-shooting Wildcats that day, but this Kentucky team is better equipped to handle a pressing team than that one was a packed-in zone. Predicted winner: Kentucky.

No 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wichita State: A berth in the Elite Eight won't be Wichita State's only incentive to beat Notre Dame on Thursday. If the Shockers win, they'll likely earn a rematch with the same Kentucky team that ended their undefeated season last March in the NCAA tournament. To get there, Wichita State will have to summon the same intensity it displayed in a convincing victory over Kansas last Sunday. Notre Dame has surged in March, capturing the ACC tournament with back-to-back wins over Duke and North Carolina and validating those by advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Both these teams are loaded with guards. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton combine to average 38 points per game and complement each others' skill sets perfectly, but Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson are every bit as dangerous. Predicted winner: Notre Dame.

WEST REGION:

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 North Carolina: Of the three remaining No. 1 seeds in this field, none have a tougher remaining draw than Wisconsin. The Badgers face a North Carolina team that is peaking in March on Thursday and then could get a highly motivated Arizona team in front of a pro-Wildcats crowd in Los Angeles on Saturday. For Wisconsin, the key to avoiding an upset against the Tar Heels may be controlling the tempo. North Carolina is deadly in transition, but the Badgers are difficult to run against since they play at a slow pace, they don't turn the ball over and they score so efficiently that opposing teams often have to try to get fast breaks off makes instead of misses. Another big factor in this game is the availability of Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina's top low-post scorer and second-leading rebounder. Meeks may not play if he still feels the sprained knee he suffered against Arkansas in the previous round is limiting him too much. Predicted winner: Wisconsin.  

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 6 Xavier: The matchup on the sidelines could be as compelling as the one on the floor since it pits Xavier's current coach Chris Mack against predecessor Sean Miller. Mack will try to devise a way of attacking an Arizona team that is elite at rebounding, outstanding defensively and more capablet than it has been any other season under Miller offensively. Xavier will probably play through the post with Matt Stainbrook, a senior who's an excellent low-post scorer and also passes well out of double teams to open shooters. The Musketeers aren't as strong defensively as they are on offense, but they do have the capability of switching between a pack-line man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone. Arizona shredded Ohio State's zone in the second half last Saturday when Gabe York sank four of his five threes, but the Wildcats can be prone to occasional cold spells from the perimeter. Predicted winner: Arizona. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 26, 2015, 8:54 pm

Michael Jordan's next dinner out will be the rare time when someone else picks up the check.  

North Carolina basketball's wealthiest alum received the same gift from Dean Smith as every other former varsity letterman who played for the legendary Tar Heels coach from 1961-1997.

Tim Breedlove, the Charlotte-based trustee of Smith's trust, told Yahoo Sports that Jordan was one of the roughly 180 ex-North Carolina players who received a $200 check in the mail this week along with a note that read "enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith." Former North Carolina forward Dante Calabria tweeted out a picture of the letter he received on Thursday. 

(via Dante Calabria)

"It was Dean's idea and it was Dean's decision," Breedlove said. "It's a gesture of appreciation from him to his former lettermen."

That Smith would spend about $36,000 on his former players adds to his reputation as the ultimate player's coach. He was beloved among his former players for always making time to give them fatherly advice or encouragement no matter how many years removed from their playing days they were.

Lee Dedmon, a center for the Tar Heels from 1967-71, told Yahoo Sports last month that Smith negotiated his first pro contract for him and later advised him on how to act when he learned he was to be cut. Dedmon was a merely decent player at North Carolina and a margin pro, yet he could count on at least one hand-written letter from Smith every year before the coach was beset by dementia.

"You knew that you could dial that office number and if you didn't get him that second, it would be just a few minutes and you could talk to him," Dedmon said. "That really helped me and helped a lot of players, I'm sure. Just to know that person was there. Just to know you had another father figure who would listen to what you were saying and give you an honest assessment."

Smith died Feb. 7 at age 83. He led North Carolina to 11 Final Fours and two national championships in 1982 and 1993.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 26, 2015, 6:30 pm

Before any power conference programs with job openings could swoop in and lure Archie Miller away this spring, Dayton has signed its coach to a contract extension.

The Flyers announced the agreement Thursday morning. It runs through the 2021-22 season, though all the extension really means is that Miller is likely off the market this year.

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Only once in recent years has a coach agreed to an extension only to take another job days later. UCLA was able to woo Steve Alford away from New Mexico two years ago even though the Lobos coach had agreed to a new contract less than two weeks earlier. 

Miller is a coveted name among athletic directors with coaching vacancies because of what he has done at Dayton the past two years.

Last season, he led a deep Flyers team to the Elite Eight, knocking off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in the process. This year, Dayton went 27-9 and won two more NCAA tournament games even though the Flyers had only six scholarship players and nobody taller than 6-foot-6 for the final three months of the season.

Dayton has a chance to be even better next season with every key player expected back besides guard Jordan Sibert and reinforcements on the way to provide size and depth. The best available jobs so far are Alabama and Arizona State, though Texas has not announced whether it will retain Rick Barnes, nor has Indiana confirmed Tom Crean will be back.

Based on what Miller told the Dayton Daily News on Thursday, it may not matter which jobs come open the next few weeks.

"It’s a privilege to coach at a place like this,” Miller told the newspaper. “Me and my family feel really grateful. (Athletic Director) Tim (Wabler) has been outstanding to work with. There’s not a day that’s gone by that we haven’t had everything we need to be successful."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:23 pm

LOS ANGELES — As he scrolled through Instagram on Wednesday morning, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker discovered a message that made him chuckle.

A well-meaning fan had written on one of his photos expressing sympathy for how anxious the Badgers must be in advance of two season-defining games that will determine whether or not they make it back to the Final Four.

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"She said, 'I bet you guys are nervous and stressed out, but just know that we believe in you,'" Dekker said. "We're not though. By no means are we stressed out or worried because that just makes us play worse. We really stay loose and be ourselves."

If you're looking for a No. 1 seed to buckle under the weight of immense expectations, Wisconsin is definitely not that team. The fun-loving Badgers are so easy-going and carefree entering their matchup with fourth-seeded North Carolina on Thursday night that you'd swear they were preparing for a November scrimmage and not a win-or-go-home Sweet 16 game.

All-American forward Frank Kaminsky spent his off day Tuesday cracking jokes with the original "Frank the Tank" Will Ferrell as a guest host for Access Hollywood. Forward Nigel Hayes was so excited to have Kobe Bryant's locker at Staples Center on Wednesday that he snapped a photo with it while making a goofy face. Guard Bronson Koenig couldn't get Bryant's locker away from Hayes so he settled for a consolation prize.

In the Lakers Locker Room for practice..... Just pee'd in the urinal my idol @kobebryant goes in!!!! #Blessed

— Bronson Koenig (@BronsonK_24) March 25, 2015

It's Hayes' fascination with the fact a stenographer transcribes all of Wisconsin's news conferences that best sums up the fun the Badgers are having. The 6-foot-7 sophomore has made a point of throwing some vocabulary words into his responses during the past week to test the stenographer's spelling ability, anything from cattywampus, to syzygy, to antidisestablishmentarianism.

Want to give a job-well-done to @Saintsswimmom for her expeditious and impeccable stenography today... #Sesquipedalian

— Nigel Hayes (@NIGEL_HAYES) March 22, 2015

Of course, Hayes was impressed by more than just the stenographer's typing speed on Wednesday. An open mic picked up Hayes whispering "she's beautiful" to Dekker and Kaminsky, much to the amusement of his teammates.

"We try to collectively have fun because that's the time you play your best," senior point guard Traevon Jackson said. "That's why we've seen the results that we've had. We understand there's a time and place for everything. There's a time to be serious but basketball is a game at the end of the day. You've got to have fun with it."

Wisconsin players aren't sure why this particular team has so much fun together, but to a man they insist this is an especially close, tight-knit group. They credit coach Bo Ryan for keeping things loose by ribbing players during practice or splicing movie clips into film sessions to break up the monotony.

"When I went on my recruiting visits, the guys that you're with were a big influence on where I wanted to go to school," senior guard Josh Gasser said. "Coach Ryan recruits guys that have a sense of humor, that work hard and that fit the program.

"We're always hanging around the locker room together, hours before practice and hours afterward. We're in no rush to go home. We're always playing video games or watching games together or whatever."

Whatever Wisconsin is doing, the Badgers should stick with it.

They won 30 games last season, took Ryan to the first Final Four of his career and came within a late three by Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison of playing for the national title. They're two wins away from returning to the Final Four and perhaps getting another crack at the Wildcats, though a potential rematch with Arizona in the West Regional final will certainly be challenging.

Since neither the pressure of championship aspirations nor the challenge of slowing down North Carolina's quick-strike transition attack appear to faze the Badgers, Dekker was asked if there's anything that does stress out him and his teammates. He paused to think about it for a second or two before delivering a memorable answer.

"If the Packers lose," Dekker said with a straight face. "That's about it."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 26, 2015, 11:15 am
An inconsolable Adam Morrison after Gonzaga's 2006 loss to UCLA (AP)

Gonzaga had just finished shredding Iowa to secure a spot in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night when former Zags big man David Pendergraft took out his phone and tapped out a text message to one of Mark Few's assistant coaches.

"Congrats," he wrote. "Now please go get some revenge."

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Watching Gonzaga eliminate UCLA on Friday would be cathartic for Pendergraft because the Bruins are responsible for by far the most agonizing loss he has ever endured. On March 24, 2006, UCLA scored the final 11 points of its Sweet 16 showdown with the Zags to emerge with a 73-71 victory in a game it trailed by 17 in the first half and never led until the final 8.6 seconds.

UCLA's stunning comeback paved the way for the first of three straight Final Four appearances under Ben Howland and signaled that the Bruins had reclaimed their spot among college basketball's elite. Gonzaga's collapse cost the program maybe its best chance at a Final Four and left star Adam Morrison so heartbroken that he openly wept with time still on the clock and crumpled to the floor in tears at the final buzzer.

"The rest of us weren't like that on the court, but afterward in the locker room we were just as devastated, every single one of us," Pendergraft said. "We believed we had a Final Four-caliber team, we were looking forward to facing Memphis in the Elite Eight, and then in a few seconds, it was gone. To get something ripped away that that suddenly or unexpectedly, it definitely hurt."

The 2006 regional semifinal between Gonzaga and UCLA is one of the most memorable NCAA tournament games in recent memory. What follows is an oral history of that game featuring many key participants or witnesses, each of whom are listed by their 2006 title.

David Pendergraft and the Gonzaga Bulldogs bench look on during the final moments of the third round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament against the UCLA Bruins at the Arena in Oakland on March 23, 2006 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

One of the consequences of Gonzaga's blown lead against UCLA is we tend to overlook how good the 2006 Zags really were.

They defeated nationally ranked Maryland and Michigan State at the Maui Invitational, they rolled through the WCC with an unbeaten record and they entered the postseason with just three losses against UConn, Memphis and Washington, two of which went on to earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

The floppy-haired, mustachioed face of Gonzaga was Morrison, who led the nation in scoring at 28.4 points per game and waged a memorable battle for national player of the year honors with Duke sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Morrison's supporting cast included 6-foot-9 Brazilian double-double machine J.P. Batista, fearless point guard Derek Raivio, blue-collar big men Pendergraft and Sean Mallon and promising freshmen Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heyfeldt.

Derek Raivio (point guard, Gonzaga): In my four years at Gonzaga, I believe that the 2006 team was the deepest and most talented team I was part of.

Leon Rice (assistant coach, Gonzaga): Everyone talks about this year's team being Mark Few's best, but that group might have been able to beat any of them. You had a guy who could score against anybody. You had a big guy who was great. You had really good young guys. You had all the pieces. That team could have won it all.

Tom Hudson (radio play-by-play announcer, Gonzaga): It was maybe our first team people took seriously. Those other Gonzaga teams that came before it were viewed as plucky little underdogs. That team elevated Gonzaga from that Cinderella mold.

Rice: We knew had to get better defensively after the previous season. Adam was actually putting a lot of effort into that. I remember before we went to Maui, Few said to us in a staff meeting that he thought Morrison might have lost some of his scoring ability because he was working so hard on defense. The next game he goes out and gets 43 on Michigan State. We were like, 'Well, looks like he can still can score a little bit.'

David Pendergraft (forward, Gonzaga): Adam was phenomenally good that whole year. The battle between him and J.J. Redick was the first thing to hit SportsCenter every day we had a game. Even at road games, there were hundreds of people waiting to see him when we got off the bus. It was the closest thing to a rock star that I've ever experienced.

Hudson: It was almost like traveling with the Beatles. There were people at the airport or in the hotel lobby waiting to have stuff signed. I remember we flew into Portland, we get to baggage claim and there were three guys standing there with garbage bags of basketballs they wanted signed.

Hudson: The game at San Francisco that year, everyone was booing Adam. He was the villain and then he hits his first eight or nine shots, pull-up jumpers, post-ups, mid-range shots. All of a sudden the fans go from booing him to actually cheering. They were mesmerized. They knew they were seeing a special performance.

Pendergraft: Sometimes you caught yourself watching Adam and wondering how in the world did he do that?

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23: Ryan Hollins #15 and Cedric Bozeman #21 of the UCLA Bruins block out J.P. Batista #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the third round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Arena in Oakland on March 23, 2006 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Whereas UCLA didn't have any players scoring at a ridiculous pace and drawing Larry Bird comparisons, the Bruins still entered their Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga as slight favorites because of their stifling defense.

Howland's third UCLA team held opponents to 58.7 points per game, sweeping the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament titles and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. It was Howland's breakthrough season after taking over a team lacking toughness or discipline, enduring a losing season his first year and barely slipping into the NCAA tournament in year two.

One of the keys to UCLA's ascendance was the development of sophomore guards Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo, both Los Angeles natives and top 100 prospects who were the centerpieces of Howland's initial recruiting class. The Bruins also benefited from the return of do-it-all senior Cedric Bozeman from a torn ACL, the improvement of late-blooming center Ryan Hollins and the arrival of an outstanding freshman class that included point guard Darren Collison and Cameroonians Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya.

Brian Dohn (UCLA beat writer, Los Angeles Daily News): I remember going into the season thinking they were a year away from a big-time run.

Kerry Keating (assistant coach, UCLA): We'd lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Texas Tech the year before and brought all those young kids back. We thought we could be pretty good that next year, but I don't really remember thinking at the beginning of that season, 'Oh s---, we could go to a Final Four.'

Dohn: Afflalo and Farmar had so much success in high school that they didn't get they weren't supposed to win. I remember Afflalo telling me when he was a senior in high school that he couldn't wait to get to UCLA to turn around the program. It was brash for a high school kid to be telling his future teammates they needed to be tougher, but he didn't mean it in a cocky way.

Keating: One of the reasons we got better was Ryan Hollins. When we first got there, we weren't sure about Hollins and what we were going to do with him. We tried him at the four that first year, and it really didn't work out very well. But he got tougher and he got better. By the end of that year, he really started to figure out defensively how he could impact a game.

Dohn: That team took on Ben's identity. It started the year before, but they just didn't have enough players and enough experience. I really think the ones who made that happen were Aboya and Mbah a Moute. They were tough kids. They were mature kids. These were kids from Africa who had lived on their own already. They were able to grind through everything, and it helped the others.

Donny Daniels (assistant coach, UCLA): We had a good team with good players, but that team wasn't Kentucky. I wasn't sure we were a Final Four team until the clock was winding down to zero against Memphis in the Elite Eight.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs Erroll Knight (22) against the UCLA Bruins Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (23) during regionals of the NCAA playoffs in Oakland, Calif. Thursday March 23, 2006. The Bruins won 73-71. MANDATORY CREDIT:(Jay Drowns/Sporting News) DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPH

When Gonzaga overcame an off shooting night from Morrison to beat sixth-seeded Indiana and UCLA survived seven late missed free throws to edge 10th-seeded Alabama, it set the stage for a Sweet 16 showdown between the two best teams in the West.

It was Morrison and the vaunted Gonzaga offense against Howland's formidable defense with a trip to the Elite Eight at stake.

Overeager on offense and overmatched defensively, UCLA missed its first eight shots from the field, fell behind by double digits after eight minutes and trailed by 17 late in the first half.With Morrison and Batista scoring with ease at one end and Farmar and Afflalo clanking jump shots at the other, Gus Johnson politely noted on the CBS broadcast that the Bruins were looking "shaky."

"Shaky?" color analyst Len Elmore responded. "I think they should be embarrassed. Not only are they not able to score, they're not even able to hold onto the ball."

Keating: We kind of weren't ourselves early on.

Daniels: Adam was such a prolific scorer, he had so much size and he had such a high release point. We didn't have anyone that could guard him. Arron was our best defender, and Adam was too big for him.

Gus Johnson (play-by-play announcer, CBS): Watching Adam Morrison play that night, you thought you were watching the next Larry Bird. He had the floppy hair, the floppy socks, an incredible jump shot. I thought Adam Morrison was the best player in America and I thought Gonzaga had a chance to make a serious run.

Pendergraft: Coach Few did a good job keeping us focused at halftime. One of his lines I'll always remember was, 'One more half and you're the greatest team in Gonzaga history, no questions asked.' That was kind of the edge and approach we had the second half. And we kept a similar lead most of the game.

Dohn: I remember thinking, 'Man, I get to go home a few days early because I won't have to stay for the Elite Eight game.'

Hudson: I don't think I thought Gonzaga was going to beat UCLA by 40, but I wasn't really thinking that in an hour I was going to be sitting there speechless thinking, 'What just happened?'

UCLA rallied from nine down with three-plus minutes to go to advance to the Elite Eight (AP)

Gonzaga still had a firm grip on the game when Morrison sank two foul shots to increase the Zags' lead to nine with 3:27 remaining.

Only the brilliance of UCLA and the blunders of Gonzaga enabled the Bruins to wrest control away.

In the last three-plus minutes, Pargo had a ball slip through his hands and out of bounds, Morrison missed three jumpers he sank numerous times that season, Raivio had a wide-open corner three rim out and Batista blew a put-back in traffic. UCLA made some gutsy plays too, most notably an off-balance runner by Farmar to slice Gonzaga's lead to three and a pair of high-pressure free throws from Hollins to cut the deficit to one.

The game's decisive sequence began with Gonzaga clinging to a one-point lead with 20 seconds to go and inbounding the ball against full-court pressure from UCLA.

Farmar and Bozeman trapped Batista and swiped the ball from him in the corner. Farmar fed Mbah a Moute with a pinpoint pass for the go-ahead layup. Then Mbah a Moute displayed uncanny presence of mind for a freshman, racing back on defense instead of celebrating his basket and poking the ball away from Raivio from behind to seal the most improbable of UCLA victories.

Johnson: Nobody in the building thought UCLA had a chance to come back. Down by 17? It was over. Then slowly but surely they kept whittling away, whittling away, whittling away. All of a sudden you look up, and 'Oh my goodness, they're close.'

Raivio: Things went wrong when we tried to run the clock down each offensive possession. We got away from what was working for us, which led to forced and contested shots at the end of the shot clock. It spiraled from there. UCLA then sped us up, forced some turnovers and then it was a different ball game.

Rice: It was almost the perfect storm. Morrison drives, gets to the rim almost and it rattles in and out. That goes in, we win. Raivio had a wide-open three from the corner. That goes in, we win. Then there's a foul call on Batista that you're like, well that was a goofy call. Everything that had to go right for them went right. Everything that had to go wrong for us went wrong.

Pendergraft: There were just random things that happened like Hollins making those two free throws to cut it to one. I'm not taking anything away from Ryan Hollins, but he was a 60 percent foul shooter and he knocked both down under pressure.

Dohn: You would have picked 97 other people in that arena that you wanted on the line at that time before Hollins.

Keating: If you go back and watch the video of the steal that led to Luc's layup, you'll see them come out four across. This is how good Ben was scouting. We knew Pargo would go long, so Darren backs off Pargo instead of denying him and the other guys never got screened.

*Farmar: We were going to foul if they got past halfcourt. We trapped Adam in the corner. When he passed the ball to Batista. It was myself and Ced. We were both swiping at the ball. We didn't want to foul that early. We wanted to create pressure and get a steal.

Keating: We probably got away with a foul on Batista at the end.

*Batista: I thought he fouled me. But, hey, they didn't call it, so you just got to keep going.

Daniels: They inbound the ball really quickly to Raivio and I just know he's going to pull up and make a jump shot.

Keating: The biggest play that nobody talks about was Luc's presence of mind after he scored to track down the ball, tap it away from Raivio from behind and then dive on it. Unbelievable play on Luc's part. You could tell he had an unbelievable presence.

Rice: That was the most painful loss in all of our careers. At least it was for me. We had played Memphis at Memphis and it was a close game. You never know how that would go the second time, but we had a great group. I think we were all confident we were going to beat Memphis.

Arron Afflalo of the UCLA Bruins of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the third round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Arena in Oakland on March 23, 2006 in Oakland, California.While the details of UCLA's comeback have become hazy for all but the most fanatical Bruins supporters, the image from the game that remains iconic nine years later is the sight of Morrison seated on the floor with tears flowing down his cheeks.

It appears in CBS highlight montages every March. It's a popular meme on social media. There's even a Kentucky fan with the Twitter handle @MorrisonCrying.

Morrison declined an interview request from Yahoo Sports through a Gonzaga spokesman, but his former teammates and coaches universally praised his character and competitiveness and chastise those who make fun of him for crying. They each insisted they would rather have a teammate who bursts into tears after a heartbreaking loss than one apathetic enough to shrug it off in a matter of minutes.

The interest in Morrison's sorrow overshadowed the most heartwarming moment of the game. As the rest of the UCLA team was celebrating one of the program's greatest victories since the Wooden era, Afflalo took the time to approach Morrison, help him up and try to console him.

*Afflalo: I saw him laying there in tears a little bit. I just felt for him a little bit. He's a great player. There's really no reason for him -- outside of the fact he's a competitor and wanted to win, he has no reason to cry. He's a great player. He's going to have a great career.

*Morrison: That's just a sign of obviously a great program, you know, great people as far as they're concerned. They had enough guts as a man to come over in their moment of victory, pick somebody up off the floor. If I could thank them, I would.

Keating: For Arron to do what he did and show respect, that's just the type of kid Arron is. Everyone is out there going nuts, and he was over there like, 'This kid is out here suffering.' That kind of sums up Arron. He's just a great kid.

Dohn: Morrison was a trash talker and the whole game was going at him. To me, it just spoke about the character of Afflalo and that team.

Hudson: Adam hadn't announced it was his last collegiate game, but he knew it was over. So it was the combination of him realizing it was his last game and the way that it ended.

Johnson: I just applaud the kid so much for being able to show emotion like that on the court. He cared so much. He loved that school. That's where my "Heartbreak City" call came from. I saw Adam crying like his heart was broken.

Daniels: For Adam to feel so bad after a loss that he would collapse on the ground, that's a testament to him being a competitor. I really believe that. We respected Adam Morrison. That was the first time we had played against someone who competed like him. I mean, he was relentless.

Rice: Adam put it all out there every game. I'd rather have someone who cared about it like that than someone who could shake it off quickly and be like 'Oh well, we lost.'

Hudson: Last year, we were in San Diego for the NCAA tournament and there were some UCLA fans at the hotel. A couple of them came up and started giving Adam a hard time, telling him, 'We made you cry." Adam just looked at them, and said, 'No, you didn't make me cry. You had nothing to do with it.' I thought he handled that really well. I can't imagine having people remind me constantly of a moment like that.

The legacy of Gonzaga-UCLA depends entirely on your perspective.

For UCLA, it's the most memorable win of the Howland era and the springboard to three straight Final Fours. For Gonzaga, it's a painful memory made worse by the program's inability to advance past the Sweet 16 since then. For neutral observers, it's one of the most memorable NCAA tournament games of its era.

Johnson: I had lunch with Ben Howland the other day, and every time I see him, he always says, 'Man, that was my greatest moment as a coach.'

Dohn: Out of everything Howland did there, that run and that game was the most fun. The next two years, they had been there before so it was all about whether they could win it all. That first year, they lost in the championship game, but people were like, 'We're in the championship game? How great is this?'

Keating: I think our guys came out of the Gonzaga game even more confident than they were before. I do remember being in the locker room and we were all like, 'There's no way we're losing the next game. We're going to the Final Four.'

Dohn: It also gave a couple of key recruits — mainly Kevin Love — the vision that you can be successful at UCLA. Kevin used to do a lot of his interviews via email. I remember sitting in my hotel room in Indianapolis emailing him to get some thoughts on UCLA going to the Final Four. He was telling me that it showed they were a national program.

Raivio: I don't dwell on it. It happened, and it's over. If anything, I took some good lessons and apply those to when I play now. It doesn't bother me to discuss the game. Many of the teammates I've had in Europe will bring it up, especially around this time. The part that's tough, is knowing we worked so hard and positioned ourselves great and didn't close it out. We had a great group and didn't reach our full potential.

Pendergraft: Living in Spokane, just being a former Gonzaga player, you run into a lot of fans. Fans always ask you, 'What's your most memorable game?' Well, if you're not going to be a liar that's easily your most memorable game of your career. It's like, 'Oh, that would be the UCLA game.' You can't avoid it.

Hudson: I think the guys on that 2006 team would love to see this Gonzaga team win Friday and would love to see this Gonzaga team make a Final Four. That's the one thing that could get them out of the spotlight a little bit.

Pendergraft: There's pride in being part of that team, but the memory of that game isn't something I enjoy reliving. If Friday comes out in our favor, it will help a little bit.

* Quotes are from the postgame press conference in 2006

Full video of the 2006 UCLA-Gonzaga game:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 26, 2015, 1:20 am

Wisconsin sophomore forward Nigel Hayes certainly has an affinity for stenographers.

Before the Badgers’ round-of-32 game against Oregon, Hayes tested the stenographer in Omaha with a series of challenging words before answering a reporter’s question.

The moderator allowed him to do the same on Wednesday in Los Angeles, but Hayes was impressed with more than just her transcription abilities this time around.

Oops.

Those microphones pick up everything. Hayes' reaction, along with teammates Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, made the moment even funnier, too.

(Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes)

Oh, and for those who were wondering what word Hayes tested the stenographer with, the Wisconsin official Twitter account has you covered.

More fun w/ stenographers - Nigel Hayes test includes "syzygy" then mics pick him up saying "gosh she's beautiful." pic.twitter.com/2RHn2dVDOB

— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 25, 2015

Here, apparently, is the stenographer of Hayes' affection:

As for the word “syzygy”, that was a new one for me, too.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: March 25, 2015, 11:50 pm

LOS ANGELES — Even though doctors cleared Traevon Jackson before the start of the NCAA tournament, the senior point guard chose not to play in the opening two rounds.

He wasn't willing to play on his broken right foot before he felt confident in it even if it meant risking his team's season ending without him. 

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Jackson's gamble paid off because Wisconsin thumped 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina and thwarted eighth-seeded Oregon's spirited upset bid. Now Jackson says he's "100 percent playing" when the top-seeded Badgers meet fourth-seeded North Carolina on Thursday in a West Regional semifinal.

"Just to be able to play aggressive and play free, that's what I'm looking forward to," Jackson said. "I'm here to help. I'm here to be an addition to the team. That's all I can do. I think I can help out a lot."

Jackson had been Wisconsin's starting point guard until breaking his foot in the second half of a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 11. Promising sophomore Bronson Koenig has averaged 14 points in his last six games to tighten his grip on the starting point guard job, but Jackson still can be a huge asset to Wisconsin if he's healthy as the first guard off the bench.

"If he's physically capable of being on the court, he deserves some time," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I'm going to reward him for working so hard in the rehab and getting back because he deserves it. Now how many possessions or how many trips up and down the court, that remains to be seen. But no one is agonizing about it over here."

Jackson averaged 9.4 points and 2.6 assists prior to his injury. His ability to create off the dribble and play strong on-ball defense can be an asset to the Badgers.

"He's another fresh body," Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky said. "At this point in the year, that's what you need is people coming off the bench who are ready to contribute to the team. Trae obviously has been a good player in his career. He was a starter until he got hurt. Having him back is very good for us."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 25, 2015, 10:35 pm

This will always and forever be a yearly thing, so as long as Kentucky Wildcat head coach John Calipari decides to stay at the University atop his perch as coach of the best team in college basketball, while thought by some to be the best coach in college basketball. Of course John Calipari wants a chance to prove himself in the NBA, so says Unnamed and Anonymous NBA Guy, because it’s the supposed logical next step and because he failed badly in his lone NBA attempt as head coach. Because who could possibly be happy making millions as the head coach of college basketball’s great destination team?

You’ll recall this happened last spring, as former Wildcat and NBA journeyman Rex Chapman had Calipari on the fast track to taking over the Los Angeles Lakers’ gig as head coach. The Lakers had games left in their season and a head coach at the time – classy move there, Rex – and the self-sprung rumors did little for Chapman. Or the Lakers, while we’re at it, nor did it do much to stop Kentucky’s momentum heading into 2014-15 despite losing in the championship game.

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Calipari coached the then-New Jersey Nets from 1996 until early 1999 before being sacked, and outside of a short stint as an assistant under Larry Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers, he’s clung successfully to the college ranks in the years since. It’s that Net affiliation that has Steve Popper of the Bergen Record wondering if Calipari is best suited to help create a winner with the lacking pro team, now working in Brooklyn:

The one name that could return the Nets to all of those things they thought they could be, that they seemed primed to be, is currently guiding the best college basketball team in the nation, a coach who crashed and burned with the Nets once already. The Nets can be saved by John Calipari.

"He desperately wants it," the front office official said. "He won’t say it out loud. The NBA is the only place he’s ever failed and it drives him nuts. He’s not the same guy he was then. He came to the NBA and he wasn’t ready. He’s ready now."

[…]

"All these kids, if you look at a free agent list and check off the ones who he’s got a relationship with you could build an All-Star team," a person close to Calipari said. "Start with LeBron James."

Popper goes on to say that John Calipari “would have little left to accomplish at Kentucky if the team finishes off the greatest season in NCAA history,” which is a very-NBA’ish thing to say. Even dumb NBA guys like me aren’t misguided enough to assume that a coach hasn’t fully performed to the best of abilities unless he helps create a successful NBA team as head coach.

And to say that Calipari would have nothing left to accomplish in leading the Wildcats to a perfect season in 2014-15 is ridiculous: John Calipari has an entirely new roster of entirely new teenagers to work with year-in and year-out, as well as an unending stream of new teenagers on opposing teams to scout for every season. Working on the fly to create a new championship contender with new faces every year is quite the unending accomplishment, one made different every year by the disparate makeups in personalities and playing style.

NBA coaches? They have their work cut out for them, but they also have a pretty good working knowledge about how NBA vets like Gerald Henderson or Zach Randolph are going to look from year to year. To say John Calipari would have “done it all” in the NCAAs after finishing with a perfect season (or another in 2016, or another after that, even) would be a bit much – even coaches that aren’t as lousy with one-and-done studs still have to re-format rotations from year to year, while preparing for an entirely new batch of scouting reports for opposing underclassmen, or upperclassmen finally coming into their own.

Calipari’s affiliation with the Nets is a weak one at best. The owners that hired him to run the team in 1996 are long gone, having sold the Nets to another group in 1998 that then sold the franchise to a group led by Bruce Ratner in 2004. It was Ratner that encouraged the move to Brooklyn, and before selling the team to current (if barely) owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets have changed locations twice since Calipari was fired in his third season, and they went through eight coaches (counting interims) in the years between firing Calipari in 1999 and hiring Lionel Hollins in the summer of 2014.

Hollins’ Nets boast the NBA’s most-bloated payroll, one that works well past the $150 million mark after luxury taxes are counted. The team is a game and a half out of the playoff bracket even in the miserable Eastern Conference, and on track to win just 35 games despite Prokhorov’s largesse. One can argue that general manager Billy King is just working at Prokhorov’s behest in trading for or signing players to massive contracts while dealing away draft picks, but there is nothing in King’s executive past that paints him as someone to trust in running an NBA franchise.

Here’s where we briefly agree with Popper, and partially with the unnamed NBA exec.

Calipari may want to come back to the NBA at some point to avenge his earlier tenure, and it’s very possible that he could turn a team around if he shows a semblance of patience.

As was the case with Rick Pitino in 1997 with the Boston Celtics, Calipari was handed full personnel control of the Nets in 1996, with the respected John Nash working as his ostensible GM. Calipari respected the checks and balances system a bit more than Pitino, and actually wasn’t all that bad as a personnel chief – outside of being pressured to avoid Kobe Bryant in the famed 1996 draft. His team swindled both the Mavericks and 76ers in two very large deals, bringing the Nets Sam Cassell and Keith Van Horn, and it was only untimely injuries to Cassell and then Stephon Marbury and Jayson Williams that acted as Calipari’s undoing during his last, 3-17 season.

Could he have been a great NBA coach? It’s hard to tell. In comparison to other NCAA-to-NBA flameouts, and especially in comparison to flameouts like Pitino that also had executive power, Calipari was quite good – leading his Nets to the playoffs in his second season.

Here’s the issue with the Nets connection, however. The team is looking to trim payroll in anticipation of a sell, so eating the final last two years of Lionel Hollins’ $5 million yearly contract (the final season, in 2017-18, is a team option) seems like a bit much, to say nothing of Calipari walking away from his yearly $7 million at Kentucky. Popper cites 2016 – the 20th anniversary of Calipari’s initial Nets hire – as a good starting off point because the Nets will finally have cap space by then, which on the surface seems appropriate.

However, every NBA team will have major cap space that summer, and relationships between star coaches (or executives) and star players won’t matter as much as the stars won’t need any extended influence in order to create their own superteams as free agents. This is the same John Calipari that turned down millions from the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that had a direct shot (it later cashed in on) at LeBron James last June. Now John Calipari is going to join the Nets because they’ll be one two-dozen teams with a shot at a 32-year old James in 2016?

On top of that? The Nets have royally salted the earth in dealing away future draft picks.

This season, the East-leading Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets, which means that all of this Nets losing will only result in Brooklyn grabbing the 29th pick in this year’s draft. The Nets could vault up from the ninth slot to the top overall slot in this year’s NBA draft lottery, as Chicago did in 2008 and Cleveland did in 2011, and they’d still have to send their pick to a championship contender from Atlanta.

Boston owns Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2016 outright, and the Celtics (already better than Brooklyn, and improving daily under coach Brad Stevens) have the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017. In 2018? The Nets have to go back to outright giving their pick to Boston.

That is to say, if Calipari has designs on making up for an NBA run gone wrong, he’d be better off giving the Nets franchise a miss for the second time in his career.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: March 25, 2015, 10:34 pm

West Viriginia freshman Daxter Miles has apparently heard everything about Kentucky.

How the Wildcats are undefeated, stocked with NBA talent and seemingly destined for a national title.

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But while Miles knows there are plenty of reasons top-seeded Kentucky will beat West Virginia in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night, he wasn't afraid to also give the Wildcats some blackboard material.

Or, looked at another way, Miles wasn't afraid to guarantee a victory for the fifth-seeded Mountaineers, even if they're 13.5 point underdogs against 36-0 Kentucky.

Here's what he said to reporters in Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon:

West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. on UK: “I give them them their props. Salute them to getting to 36-0. But tomorrow they’re gonna be 36-1.”

— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonRivals) March 25, 2015

For emphasis, Miles repeated it: “They’re gonna be 36-1.”

— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonRivals) March 25, 2015

Daxter Miles: "They should be more intimidated, because they're the ones that got the high standard, and we're coming for them."

— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonRivals) March 25, 2015

Those are bold words for any player, let alone a freshman, and one wonders what went through coach Bob Huggins' head once he heard them filter back from the locker room.

Miles averages about 21 minutes per game and is coming off a decent debut to his first postseason. He scored 12 points and had two assists in the round-of-32 game against Maryland and had 10 points in the opener against Buffalo with no turnovers committed in either game. 

He's not the only West Virginia player feeling confident, either. When asked if the team's press would work against top-ranked Kentucky, senior guard Juwan Staten had only one reply: "Why wouldn't it?"

We'll see if Miles and Staten can back up their confidence on Thursday night. If the first rule of pulling off a monumental upset is playing like you have nothing to lose, then West Virginia has made a good first step — even if it does seem just a bit insane.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 25, 2015, 8:25 pm

When Virginia's Tony Bennett was recently announced as the USBWA's National Coach of the Year, a number of people — including Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel — believed John Calipari, coach of the 36-0 Kentucky team, had been unfairly overlooked for the honor.

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You can now add Louisville coach Rick Pitino to the list of people who believe Cal was cheated by the vote, which saw the Kentucky coach finish second to Bennett.

From the Associated Press:

Pitino, who has never won the award himself, praised Bennett and others for coaching jobs they have done this year. But the Louisville coach says, "I think John Calipari has done a brilliant job, so I'd put him at the top" of the list of candidates.

Pitino added, "When you're undefeated and nobody's beaten you, it's clear cut who the coach of the year is right now."

 Pitino and Calipari have long held a complicated relationship. Though they've often insisted they're friends — like before last year's Sweet 16 meeting between their teams, which Kentucky won — some of the sniping between each other over the years suggests a rockier bond. Pitino is 1-7 against Calipari since the latter took his old job in Lexington.

Still, none of that colors Pitino's view that Calipari deserves the honor. 

In his mind, the best is the best.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 25, 2015, 2:11 pm

In addition to thanking Kentucky superfan Ashley Judd for her support of junior forward Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin couldn't resist taking his shot with the actress while he had her attention Tuesday afternoon. 

Cronin slyly let Judd know he's single in case they ever meet in person someday.

Thank U to @ashleyjudd for her kind words for Octavius. Te' is a "Great"young man to those of us that actually know him.

— Mick Cronin (@CoachCroninUC) March 24, 2015

My advice to Ms Judd..Ignore ignorance...And I'm divorced as well (just sayin)

— Mick Cronin (@CoachCroninUC) March 24, 2015

Cronin's tweets came one day after Judd took to Facebook to apologize to Ellis for comments made about him on social media by other Kentucky fans. Ellis drew the ire of Big Blue Nation for his physical play against the Wildcats just two days after he was ejected from Cincinnati's opening-round win against Purdue for an elbow to the throat of Boilermakers center A.J. Hammons.

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Judd has spoken out against hateful online speech since she too became the target of a handful of Arkansas fans after Kentucky's SEC tournament victory over the Razorbacks earlier this month. When a Cincinnati radio host asked Judd to defend Ellis after he received a myriad of posts filled with racial slurs, threats and expletives, Judd responded with a lengthy Facebook post.

"Just as many Arkansas fans apologized to me for what a few of their fan base directed at me, with the whole of my soul, on my knees, I apologize to Octavius and his entire family for remarks made by some fans of my team.

"I also remind us, as I did Arkansas fans, that although this behavior is lamentably located within a sport and a time year that is supposed to give us something dizzyingly fun to share, the rage is a phenomenon that seizes our entire culture and society. Just as my original tweet was merely a delivery system ready abusers seized upon, so is Ellis' family narrative and some of his behavior those close to him describe as "admittedly exasperating."

"In the hatred directed at me, my being a survivor of sexual abuse and rape was also distorted and leveraged at me in bizarre ways. With pernicious creativity, some managed to yoke my being a rape survivor, my age, and marital status to their slurs.

"This happens. It should not.

"What are you going to do about it?"

Credit Judd for taking the time to pen such a heartfelt reply to the radio host and for championing a cause that is clearly important to her. She probably earned a lot of new fans in the Cincinnati area.

At the very least, she has one new suitor.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 24, 2015, 10:52 pm

The nature of sports is such that most coaches are labeled an unequivocal success or an indisputable failure as soon as their tenure at one job is over.

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Herb Sendek is the rare exception.

Arizona State's decision to fire Sendek on Tuesday after nine years at the school will probably evoke mixed feelings among most Sun Devils fans. Sendek elevated the program from where it was when he took over in 2006 by taking Arizona State to two NCAA tournaments and four NITs, but he never achieved the sustained success school administrators craved.

The pinnacle of Sendek's time at Arizona State was the James Harden-Jeff Pendergraph era when the Sun Devils narrowly missed the NCAA tournament in a historically strong Pac-10 in 2008 and reached the round of 32 in 2009. Arizona State achieved relevance again with star point guard Jahii Carson, making the 2013 NIT and nearly upsetting Texas last March in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.  

The timing of Sendek's firing was interesting because he probably did one of his best coaching jobs this season to propel Arizona State to a .500 record in the Pac-12 and an NIT bid.

The Sun Devils were projected ninth in the league at the start of the season after losing Carson and their two other most important players from the 2013-14 team. Not only did they finish fifth in the Pac-12, they also are expected to return four of their top five scorers next season including promising young players Savon Goodman and Tra Holder. 

Why would Arizona State fire Sendek now then? Well, a surprising opening-round Pac-12 tournament loss to last-place USC couldn't have helped, nor does the high bar being set down the road in Tucson. Sean Miller has Arizona in contention for the Final Four year after year, which surely made settling for NIT bids and early NCAA tournament exits more difficult for the Sun Devils to swallow.

History suggests that finding a coach who can build and sustain momentum at Arizona State will not be an easy task. The Sun Devils have made just five NCAA tournaments since going in back-to-back seasons in 1980 and 1981. Previous coaches Bill Frieder and Evans arrived in Tempe with strong track records, yet neither had more success than Sendek.

Two qualities Arizona State should look for in its new coach is the enthusiasm to galvanize a fan base that is often apathetic toward basketball and the recruiting ability to lure top talent from the Los Angeles area. The Sun Devils don't have to compete with UCLA and Arizona for elite prospects, but the right coach certainly could identify and land the types of second-tier prospects the Sun Devils currently aren't getting.

Whoever the new coach is, he'll inherit a program in better shape than the one Sendek took over. 

Sendek may not have gotten Arizona State to the point where it was a perennial NCAA tournament team and league title contender, but he did achieve a lot.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 24, 2015, 6:27 pm

As expected, Darion Atkins had some second thoughts about telling the media that he "wanted it more" than some teammates during Virginia's loss to Michigan State on Sunday.

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The senior forward apologized in a statement on Monday for questioning the desire of his teammates and for describing the second-seeded squad as "p------" after the upsetting 60-54 loss to the seventh-seeded Spartans. It was the second straight year Virginia had been eliminated from the tourney by Michigan State and the last college basketball game for Atkins.

Here's Atkins' apology from the Virginia men's basketball Twitter account:

"I would like to apologize for my inappropriate comments to the media in Charlotte. I let my emotions get the best of me during the NCAA tournament and I did not intend to offend anyone. In hindsight I wish I had used more appropriate words to express myself. I've met with my teammates and coaches to express my remorse for this unfortunate situation. I want everyone to know that I care so much about this program and I hope this does not become a distraction from all that we were able to accomplish this year."

Part of the reason we love the NCAA tournament so much is that the emotions of the participants are on such clear display. It's all real, whether it's a Villanova band member crying because it's the last game she'll ever play at or a senior forward so devastated that he says something he shouldn't.

Not that we condone Atkins' original remarks, but we can definitely understand why they happened. Credit to him for realizing the mistake he made in the heat of the moment and for apologizing for it later.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 24, 2015, 3:11 pm

Roy Williams doesn't sound optimistic his best low-post scorer will be available Thursday night.

The North Carolina coach said on his weekly radio show on Monday night that the Tar Heels are preparing as though they won't have Kennedy Meeks when they face top-seeded Wisconsin in the West Regional semifinals.

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Meeks suffered what North Carolina has called a sprained left knee Saturday night when Arkansas defender Anthlon Bell took a charge and fell into the big man's left knee. Meeks did not practice with the Tar Heels on Monday, but the 6-foot-9 sophomore is expected to travel with the team to Los Angeles.

"It's not good," Williams said on his radio show. "They're not completely ruling him out, and they're not saying that he can play. Let me say it that way — I don't think we'll have him, but we'll just have to wait and see."

By far North Carolina's most efficient back-to-the-basket scorer, Meeks shoots 56.6 percent from the field and averages 11.6 points per game. He is also North Carolina's leading shot blocker and second-leading rebounder this season.

If Meeks can't play, reserve big man Joel James would be the most likely option to start in his place alongside Brice Johnson in the frontcourt. North Carolina also could go small and insert guard Nate Britt into the lineup instead of James, but that could leave the Tar Heels more vulnerable defensively against a Wisconsin frontline that includes national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky and forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 24, 2015, 2:56 pm

Well, at least someone from Villanova is having a decent March.

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You know Roxanne Chalifoux, the Villanova band piccolo player last seen crying in the moments after the Wildcats' stunning Saturday night defeat at the hands of NC State. The entire world, or at least the part interested in the NCAA tournament, saw the video of tears in Chalifoux's eyes, playing on despite heartbreak. She showed a lot more energy and school spirit than at least some people we could name

Jimmy Fallon spotted Chalifoux and invited her onto his show to sit in with the Roots. While she was there, Fallon presented her with a big ol' gift basket and two tickets to see Taylor Swift. Sure, it's not a Final Four berth, but it's not a bad consolation prize, either.

Only drawback of this? Expect other band members of losing teams to start wailing like toddlers at naptime to try to get on camera.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 24, 2015, 1:26 pm

One of the greatest elements of the NCAA tournament is the way little teams from colleges you've never heard of can leap up and knock off a big dog. We call them Cinderellas, yes, even though they don't tend to stay around till the end of the ball. (This year, for instance, Cinderella didn't even make it out of the opening weekend.) Here, we take a look at the greatest Cinderellas in tourney history, along with a quick rundown of the five most entertaining coaches to watch. Check it out and see if you agree with us.

This is the latest entry in the Grandstanding series of debates, featuring Kevin Kaduk and Jay Busbee kicking around topics all across sports. Hit us up on Twitter (@kevinkaduk and @jaybusbee), Facebook (Kaduk here, Busbee here) or via the hashtag #grandstanding. Subscribe to the Grandstanding podcast via iTunes right here, or via other podcast feeds right here. Thanks for checking it out!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 24, 2015, 12:47 pm

1. Kentucky
How it got here: Defeated Hampton (16), Cincinnati (8)
Up next: West Virginia (5)
Outlook: Even though Kentucky is even money in Las Vegas to win the national title and an even heavier favorite to reach the Final Four, the Wildcats' Sweet 16 matchup with West Virginia is compelling if only because the Mountaineers will throw them a different look. Kentucky will have to avoid turning the ball over against the most physical full-court press it's seen all season. The Wildcats will also have to keep the Mountaineers off the offensive glass.

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2. Duke
How it got here: Defeated Robert Morris (16), San Diego State (8)
Up next: Utah (5)
Outlook: The way Duke shredded a formidable San Diego State defense in the paint and in transition was frightening for future opponents. The Blue Devils have yet to face an offense capable of exposing their defensive shortcomings, but that could change this week. Utah point guard Delon Wright excels attacking via screen and rolls and making smart decisions with the ball in his hands. He also has a significant height advantage on counterparts Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook.

3. Arizona
How it got here: Defeated Texas Southern (15), Ohio State (10)
Up next: Xavier (6)
Outlook: Arizona's one-sided victory over Ohio State was a great sign for the Wildcats. They shut down one of the nation's top scorers by throwing multiple defenders at him. They clobbered the Buckeyes on the glass at both ends. And they survived an off night from Stanley Johnson offensively and some first-half struggles against Ohio State's packed-in zone. Five 3-pointers from Gabe York helped loosen up the defense and T.J. McConnell was able to find gaps off the dribble, as was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the high post.

4. Wisconsin
How it got here: Defeated Coastal Carolina (16), Oregon (8)
Up next: North Carolina (4)
Outlook: Wisconsin didn't exploit its size advantage against Oregon or score with its usual efficiency, but what matters is the Badgers survived and advanced. Now they have to go through a surging North Carolina team to get to a potential Elite Eight rematch with Arizona. It will be interesting to see if Traevon Jackson is cleared to play this week and if he can provide the Badgers any spark. Though Zak Showalter played well in 15 minutes off the bench against Oregon, Jackson's experience and playmaking off the bench would be a valuable asset.

5. Gonzaga
How it got here: Defeated North Dakota State (15), Iowa (7)
Up next: UCLA (11)
Outlook: Forgive Mark Few and his team for celebrating a spot in the Sweet 16 with handstands and backflips in the locker room. The Zags hadn't been to the NCAA tournament's second week since 2009, so routing Iowa was a breakthrough win. Gonzaga can go a lot farther if it plays as well offensively in every game the rest of the tournament. The versatile Zags shot 60 percent from the field, dominating in the low post yet also hitting 10 of 20 threes. 

6. Oklahoma
How it got here: Defeated Albany (14), Dayton (11)
Up next: Michigan State (7)
Outlook: Somehow, without doing anything but thwarting the upset bids of a No. 14 seed and a No. 11 seed, Oklahoma has assumed the role of the East Region's Final Four favorite. Losses by top-seeded Villanova and second-seeded Virginia leave the Sooners as the highest-seeded team in Syracuse. They've gotten to this point with improved defense and quick-strike offense led by volume-shooting guard Buddy Hield.

7. Notre Dame
How it got here: Defeated Northeastern (14), Butler (6)
Up next: Wichita State (7)
Outlook: The matchup between the Irish and Shockers will pit two of the nation's best backcourts against one another. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton combine to average 38 points per game and complement each others' skill sets perfectly, but Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson are every bit as dangerous off the dribble and from behind the 3-point arc.

8. Michigan State
How it got here: Defeated Georgia (10), Virginia (2)
Up next: Oklahoma (3)
Outlook: Michigan State's presence in the Sweet 16 is essentially proof that Tom Izzo is an NCAA tournament wizard. The Spartans coach has his team in position to make a potential Final Four run despite losing stars Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling last spring and not bringing in his usual assortment of top high school prospects to replace them. The shooting of Travis Trice and Bryn Forbes and the assertiveness of Branden Dawson have gone a long way toward making the Spartans dangerous. 

9. Wichita State
How it got here: Defeated Indiana (10), Kansas (2)
Up next: Notre Dame (3)
Outlook: In-state bragging rights and a berth in the Sweet 16 weren't Wichita State's only reward for pulverizing Kansas on Sunday. The Shockers also kept alive the possibility of an Elite Eight showdown with unbeaten Kentucky, the same team that ended Wichita State's undefeated season last March in the NCAA tournament. To get there, Wichita State will have to avoid a letdown against a Notre Dame team that has surged in March. The Irish won the ACC tournament and validated that with an overtime win over Butler on Saturday night.

10. North Carolina
How it got here: Harvard (13), Arkansas (5)
Up next: Wisconsin (1)
Outlook: While North Carolina has redeemed itself for an underwhelming regular season by reaching the ACC tournament title game and advancing to the Sweet 16, the Tar Heels' path gets tougher now. Facing Wisconsin's multipronged ultra-efficient offense already will be challenging. Worse yet, North Carolina may have to do it without top low-post threat Kennedy Meeks, who injured his knee in the victory over Arkansas.

11. Utah
How it got here: Stephen F. Austin (12), Georgetown (4)
Up next: Duke (1)
Outlook: Utah's season is already a huge success after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, but now the Utes will take a crack at a Duke team that they match up against surprisingly well. The teams who have handled the Utes all season are the teams that are ultra-athletic and ultra-physical like Arizona. Great as Duke is, that's not the Blue Devils. Furthermore Delon Wright's ability to attack off the dribble and via pick-and-roll may give Duke problems. Utah also has three 7-footers it can throw at Jahlil Okafor.

12. Louisville
How it got here: Defeated UC Irvine (13), Northern Iowa (5)
Up next: N.C. State (8)
Outlook: Could be that I'm criminally underrating a Rick Pitino-coached team, but I don't trust Louisville's offense. The typically cold-shooting Cardinals needed a huge game from Wayne Blackshear to survive by two points against UC Irvine in the round of 64 and then played as well offensively as they have all season in beating Northern Iowa two days later. Maybe that's the start of a trend. We'll get a better idea watching the Cardinals against NC State and then potentially Michigan State or Oklahoma.

13. West Virginia
How it got here: Defeated Buffalo (12), Maryland (4)
Up next: Kentucky (1)
Outlook: When West Virginia met heavily favored Kentucky in the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Mountaineers employed a soft 1-3-1 zone that exposed the Wildcats' weakness shooting from the perimeter. Bob Huggins can only hope that his team's swarming full-court press and formidable offensive rebounding expose some similarly previously unforeseen weakness in Kentucky. Playing some zone again is an option, but this Kentucky team is a much better shooting one, thanks to Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and the streaky Harrison twins. 

14. N.C. State
How it got here:
Defeated LSU (9), Villanova (1)
Up next:
Louisville (4)
Outlook:
Boom-or-bust, N.C. State was a scary No. 8 seed because of its propensity for marquee wins and headscratching losses. A Wolfpack team that has beaten Duke, North Carolina and Louisville already this season was at its best again Saturday when it toppled No. 1 seed Villanova to advance to the Sweet 16. The question with N.C. State is whether it can be consistent enough to string together wins in this tournament. The Wolfpack have a tough shot-making guard in Trevor Lacey and an improving frontcourt, but they cannot afford off nights.

15. UCLA
How it got here: Defeated SMU (6), UAB (14)
Up next: Gonzaga (2)
Outlook: Having made the NCAA tournament when it wasn't supposed to, won an opening-round game on a controversial call and gotten a favorable draw in the round of 32, UCLA has earned a reputation as the luckiest team in the field. What that ignores is the Bruins have also gotten better. They're defending with more urgency, they're getting the ball to the post and they're benefiting from a Bryce Alford hot streak, which is why they're probably more of a threat to Gonzaga now than during a 13-point loss in December.

16. Xavier
How it got here: Defeated Ole Miss (11), Georgia State (14)
Up next: Arizona (2)
Outlook: Having dispatched of a pair of underdogs in Jacksonville, Xavier now becomes the underdog itself. The Musketeers head to a regional featuring national title contenders Wisconsin and Arizona and a blue blood in North Carolina that is playing its best basketball of the season. The matchup with Arizona is very compelling because of the coaching battle. Sean Miller was Chris Mack's predecessor at Xavier and led the Musketeers to the 2008 Elite Eight.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 24, 2015, 2:28 am

Princeton's Leslie Robinson is the niece of Michelle and Barack Obama.A phone call threatening President Obama's niece, a player on the Princeton women's basketball team, prompted increased security at Monday night's Maryland-Princeton NCAA women's tournament game.

The University of Maryland's athletic department received an eight-minute call on voicemail in which a female caller indicated that a man was driving onto the Maryland campus with a gun in his possession. The caller noted that the man's presence was linked to the appearance of Leslie Robinson, Obama's niece, at the game.

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Security presence, both visible and undercover, was increased at the game, which also featured in attendance Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Robinson is a backup forward for the team, which is 31-0. President Obama watched Princeton defeat Wisconsin-Green Bay 80-70 on Saturday afternoon. He was not in attendance at Monday night's game.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 24, 2015, 12:10 am

Three things bring Ben Howland the most joy in life: Family, fly fishing and coaching basketball. 

His passion for the final item on that list is so great that he eagerly traded a relaxing lifestyle and daily walks on the beach in his hometown of Santa Barbara for a high-stress rebuilding job in Starkville, Miss.

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Howland has reached an agreement to become Mississippi State's next coach, ESPN.com first reported on Monday. The hire comes only two days after Mississippi State abruptly fired coach Rick Ray after a third straight losing season, suggesting that the Bulldogs already had a very good idea that Howland would take the job if it became available.

The hire of Howland is a major upgrade based on his track record of rebuilding successfully in very different ways at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA.

He won two league titles at Northern Arizona by identifying below-the-radar prospects and plugging them into a system that emphasized outside shooting. He reached a pair of Sweet 16s at Pittsburgh by mining the New York City area for tough, hard-nosed players who fit into the Panthers' rugged style of play. He reached three Final Fours at UCLA by landing many of the Los Angeles area's best players and getting them to buy into a system that emphasized structured offense and physical man-to-man defense.

That history of success with different styles and in different regions should make Mississippi State feel good about the risk it is taking hiring a coach with no ties to the Deep South. There's also the potential that Howland could hire former UCLA assistant Korey McCray, whose Atlanta AAU background helped the Bruins land Georgia products Tony Parker and Jordan Adams in 2012.

One thing Mississippi State will never have to worry about is Howland's work ethic or attentional to detail. He was maniacal in those areas to a fault in his past jobs.

At Northern Arizona, players recall him checking their fingernails before practices and suggesting they dress in layers on the road to avoid catching a cold. At UCLA, Howland handed out down-to-the-minute itineraries before road trips and draped blankets over the clocks at Pauley Pavilion so players didn't know what time it was during practice.

If someone was a few minutes late to catch the team bus, Howland would leave him behind. If someone didn't dive after a loose ball to his satisfaction, Howland would roll a ball from underneath the basket and have two players scramble after it and wrestle for possession.

The problem with that obsessive attention to detail is that it tends to wear on players and staffers after a few years.

Kevin Love once told me during his lone season at UCLA, "It might drive you a little crazy sometimes, but at the end of the day the guy's going to help you win." Other players who followed Love weren't as willing to put up with it.

Between 2008 and 2012, 17 players left UCLA with eligibility remaining, some to enter the NBA draft early but the majority to transfer to other schools. Especially damaging were the departures of all-conference talents Chace Stanback (UNLV), Drew Gordon (New Mexico), Mike Moser (UNLV) and Joshua Smith (Georgetown).

Constant roster turnover, fractured relationships with Los Angeles area high school and AAU coaches and a string of mediocre recruiting classes led Howland's firing at UCLA. It's often cited that he won the Pac-12 regular season title the year he was fired, but the Bruins also missed the NCAA tournament twice in his final five years and failed to make it out of the opening weekend the other three times.

While the second half of Howland's UCLA tenure calls into question whether he is the right man to sustain success, the entirety of his body of work leaves no doubt that he is the ideal hire for a rebuilding job.

He's a hard worker and outstanding tactical coach who has proven he can win with all sorts of players in all parts of the country. There's no reason to believe he won't do the same for Mississippi State.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 23, 2015, 6:33 pm

Roxanne Chalifoux, Villanova's crying piccolo player who became an Internet sensation over the weekend, says she's taking her newfound fame "in good spirits."

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Chalifoux spoke with Philadelphia's WIP radio station on Monday morning and said she was crying because she's a senior and it was her last time performing with the school's pep band. She said she was aware the cameras were on her, but that viral fame was the furthest thing from her mind at that moment.

"I saw myself on the Jumbotron and all i could think about was that my dad was at the game," Chalifoux told WIP's Angelo Cataldi. "I didn't want him to see me crying. Little did I know that it was going to end up all over the Internet and that [my dad seeing me crying] was the least of my worries.

"It's just easy to get emotional, especially when you're a senior. That just changed the game for me."

Chalifoux says she's seen all the jokes on the Internet from a clip of her playing the theme from Titanic to being comforted by Joe Biden  to being yelled at by the music teacher from Whiplash. The inboxes on her social media accounts have been full of producers and reporters trying to find out more about her.

"It doesn't bother me," she said. "I think it's funny."

There's one thing she says she wants people to know: While some people have questioned whether she was actually playing, Chalifoux says the tears did not stop her from performing the song.

Chalifoux says she's over the loss, which resulted in Villanova being the first No. 1-seed eliminated from this year's NCAA tournament.  She was also a drum major during football season and plays the bassoon for Villanova's concert band. After graduating with a degree in biology, she plans to attend optometry  school in the fall and plans to become an eye doctor.

Will she ever play the piccolo again? Chalifoux says she's not sure.

"At least it's so tiny that I could pull it out and play it if I really wanted to," she said.

And she did just that for WIP.

Tear-free, this time.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 23, 2015, 5:57 pm

Even though Oregon became the first Pac-12 team to be eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Sunday night, senior guard Joseph Young still deserves a ton of credit for his performance. The Pac-12 player of the year averaged 28.5 points per game in a victory against Oklahoma State and a closer-than-expected loss against Wisconsin, torching the ninth-seeded Cowboys for 27 and the top-seeded Badgers for 30. Young's quickness off the dribble and ability to shoot from the perimeter should give him a chance to make an NBA roster next season even if he's undersized for a shooting guard and is more of a scoring guard than a point guard. At the very least, he helped his case this week in Omaha.

When Kansas guard Wayne Selden delivered 45 points in the semifinals and finals of the Big 12 tournament last week, Jayhawks fans hoped it meant the sophomore was poised for a big NCAA tournament. Turns out exactly the opposite was the case. Selden scored a quiet six points in a victory over New Mexico State on Friday and then went scoreless on five shots in a 78-65 loss to Wichita State two days later. Granted Kansas' game plan was to pound the ball inside against the smaller Shockers, but Selden still acknowledged after the game that he had let down his team by not being aggressive on offense and not playing well on defense.

Of the six ACC teams that reached the NCAA tournament, only regular-season champion Virginia has been eliminated. The league finished the opening weekend with an 11-1 record and will send an impressive five teams to the Sweet 16, tying the record set by the Big East in 2009. Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville entered the tournament amid expectations of deep runs, but the surprise Sweet 16 entrant is NC State. The eighth-seeded Wolfpack rallied to defeat ninth-seeded LSU in the opening round before toppling top-seeded Villanova two days later.

If the Big 12 was the nation's best conference in the regular season, its postseason has so far been a flop. Five of the league's seven NCAA tournament entrants failed to survive the opening weekend and four didn't even escape the opening round. Third-seeded Iowa State went cold on offense and couldn't keep UAB off the glass in a stunning loss. Third-seeded Baylor surrendered the final 13 points against Georgia State to fall in equally shocking fashion. Oklahoma State lost to Oregon, Texas lost to Butler, and Kansas could not match Wichita State's intensity or outside shooting in a round of 32 loss. The only teams left to carry the Big 12's flag in the Sweet 16 are third-seeded Oklahoma and fifth-seeded West Virginia.

Most mock brackets didn't even have UCLA in the field on Selection Sunday. Now the 11th-seeded Bruins are celebrating a second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. UCLA defeated sixth-seeded SMU by a single point in the round of 64 with the help of a questionable goaltending call in the final seconds. The Bruins then took advantage of seeing 14th-seeded UAB in the round of 32 instead of third-seeded Iowa State, pounding the Blazers 92-75 behind a career-best game from big man Tony Parker and strong play from guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell. UCLA's reward for its two victories? Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 in a rematch of the Adam Morrison game from 2006.

The clash between Kentucky and West Virginia in the Midwest Region pits the unbeaten Wildcats against a completely new kind of foe. The Mountaineers win by forcing turnovers with relentless full-court pressure, by converting those into fast-break chances and by attacking the offensive boards. Their inability to shoot from the perimeter is a major concern against a Kentucky team that defends the paint so well, but at least they'll throw a different look at the Wildcats. The matchup between Kentucky and West Virginia brings back memories of 2010 when a Bob Huggins-coached Mountaineers team stunned the John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats in the Elite Eight. This would be an even bigger upset if Huggins can find a way. 

The intrigue of seeing Wichita State and Kansas face off the for the first time in 22 years trumped games with better finishes. The Shockers did not let their one crack at the Jayhawks slip through their grasp, pulling away in the second half for a 78-65 win that ensures in-state bragging rights for years to come. Wichita State overcame Kansas' size and strength advantage with superior shooting and superior effort. Tekele Cotton had 19 points, Fred VanVleet had 17 and Evan Wessel sank four of the Shockers' 10 threes. 

Of all the games to get a stand-alone time slot, Duke-San Diego State was not ideal. The Blue Devils were a terrible matchup for a flu-ridden Aztecs team that has ridden its defense to a share of the Mountain West title but lacks the offense to keep pace with the nation's elite teams. Duke won 68-49 by holding San Diego State to 31.5 percent shooting and turning many of those missed shots into fast-break opportunities. When they didn't score before the San Diego State defense was set, they pounded the ball down low to Jahlil Okafor, whose deft footwork and hefty frame was too much for the Aztecs' array of quick but willowy big men. 

1. Choosing just one Ron Hunter moment is difficult because the Georgia State coach was the undisputed king of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend. There was his fall from his rolling chair after his son's game winner against Baylor. There was his hilarious pledge that he was taking the chair that made him famous home as a keepsake the next day. And there was the heartfelt moment after Georgia State's round of 32 loss to Xavier when he broke down in tears at having potentially coached his son for the final time before revealing this experience had been the best week of his life. Great stuff. The tournament needs more Ron Hunter every year.

2. Mark Few has received plenty of criticism for not getting Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 often enough, so it was fun to see him cut loose in the locker room after the Zags demolished Iowa in the round of 32 on Sunday night. Gonzaga star Kyle Wiltjer captured video of Few doing a handstand that evolved into a break dancing moving before getting up and telling his team they had four more of these celebrations to go. Gonzaga hadn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2009 and hasn't been to the Elite Eight since the last year of the Dan Monson regime. The Zags will have their chance to make a second trip if they can beat 11th-seeded UCLA.

3. Stuck on the bench for almost the entirety of Maryland's NCAA tournament opener against Valparaiso, former walk-on Varun Ram entered the game as a defensive substitution with only 13 seconds remaining. That was all the 5-foot-9 guard needed to reward his coach's trust and leave a legacy at his school. Ram foiled Valparaiso's final possession by stripping the ball from forward Alec Peters before he could try a potential game-tying shot. That swipe preserved Maryland's 65-62 victory and ensured a place in Terps lore for a kid who had only played 55 total minutes this year.

1. Maryland was in striking distance against West Virginia before point guard Melo Trimble got kneed in the head by a teammate and left the game with a head injury. He watched from the bench in tears as the fourth-seeded Terps gotten eaten alive by the West Virginia press without him en route to a disappointing round of 32 loss. Credit Maryland for doing the right thing and sitting Trimble because a win isn't worth jeopardizing his health. Nonetheless, it was hard to watch a star player have to sit helplessly as a team he led to a great season crumbled without him.

2. The anguish SMU's Yanick Moreira felt over the goaltending play that cost the Mustangs a victory against UCLA was powerful yet heartbreaking. It was Moreira who ripped down Bryce Alford's off-target attempt at a go-ahead 3-pointer as it was on a downward trajectory, a needless mistake that resulted in a highly controversial goaltending call. Moreira answered every question from reporters on the podium but also broke down in tears in the process. He later tweeted an apology to his teammates and SMU fans, insisting they deserved better.

3. Octavius Ellis is a physical player, but the Cincinnati forward crossed the line by striking Purdue center A.J. Hammons with a forearm to the throat in the Bearcats' opening-round victory over the Boilermakers on Thursday night. That move earned Ellis a quick ejection from the Purdue game and constant boos whenever he touched the ball two nights later against Kentucky.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 23, 2015, 4:31 pm

There have been 52 games played so far in this year's NCAA tournament, and each one is like a snowflake, special in its own way, particularly if your team was on the winning end. Even so, there are five games that rise above the others, five that we'll be talking about even after Kentucky or not-Kentucky cuts down the nets in Indianapolis in a couple weeks.

You can probably guess most of them, sure, but we run them down in this video. Thrilling upsets, heartbreaking losses, exuberant coaches, devastated fans ... we've got it all right here. Enjoy. Thursday can't get here soon enough!

____
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter.

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Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 23, 2015, 3:57 pm

Wichita State fans welcomed their team back to campus from the NCAA tournament Sunday night just a few hours after the Shockers soundly defeated Kansas in the Midwest Regional in Omaha, Neb.

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Wichita State has clamored for years for an opportunity to play the Jayhawks who have resisted, but the game finally happened thanks to the selection committee placing the teams in the same regional and each team winning its opening game in the tournament. The Wichita Eagle newspaper was on hand to report on the team's arrival and the welcome it received.

The significance of the victory was evident from the smiles and cheers that greeted coach Gregg Marshall and his players as they stepped off the team bus. It was also obvious in posts and pictures on social media, including one Shockers fan holding up a T-shirt in the arena moments after the game ended that read "Kings of Kansas."

“Shocker Nation has a lot of pride right now,” Marshall told the Wichita Eagle. “All those people who’ve had that ‘little brother syndrome’ have a chance to puff out their chest.”

The Shockers will play Notre Dame on Thursday night in the Sweet 16.

(Thanks to the Wichita Eagle for the video)

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 23, 2015, 5:11 am

The momentum swing was sudden and violent. 

At first glance, surging Northern Iowa is about to slice a 12-point deficit to four on a Wes Washpun transition dunk. Seconds later, the Louisville lead was eight again with less than four minutes to play because Wayne Blackshear came from nowhere to swat the dunk attempt and the ensuing Cardinals fast break resulted in a Montrezl Harrell lob dunk.

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That sequence proved to be the decisive blow in fourth-seeded Louisville's 66-53 victory over fifth-seeded Northern Iowa in a East Regional round of 32 game. The Cardinals ended the game on an 11-4 surge to dispatch of the Missouri Valley tournament champions and secure their place in a suddenly wide-open East Regional semifinals. 

With top-seeded Villanova and second-seeded Virginia both falling this weekend, the East Regional appears poised to produce the Final Four's dark horse entrant. Louisville has a realistic chance to fill that role since it will probably be a slim favorite against eighth-seeded fellow ACC squad N.C. State before potentially meeting either third-seeded Oklahoma or seventh-seeded Michigan State in the regional final. 

That Louisville is in this position is unlikely considering the chaotic season it has had.

The Cardinals already were a mediocre offensive team with modest outside shooting and limited weapons even before the dismissal of starting point guard Chris Jones last month. That decision seemed to weaken Louisville further considering only guard Terry Rozier, forward Montrezl Harrell and the sometimes erratic Blackshear averaged more than 3.3 points per game. 

In reality, the departure of Jones has seemingly hastened the development of freshman point guard Quentin Snider and brought out the best in Blackshear.

Snider, who spelled Jones for a handful of minutes per game most of the season, has played 29 or more minutes in Louisville's last seven games and has scored in double figures in four of them. Blackshear, who has a reputation for being erratic, has averaged 13.1 points in his past five games and lit up UC Irvine for 18 in Louisville's opening NCAA tournament win.

If those two guys can continue to provide enough offensive support to Harrell and Rozier, the Cardinals at least have a chance of surviving two more games. This is never going to be an offensive team the caliber of some of Pitino's best, but Louisville still defends well enough that even average offense and sporadic jump shooting can be enough.

Oklahoma boasts the highest remaining seed, a dynamic guard in Buddy Hield and a talented supporting cast. Michigan State has a coach who has reached six Final Fours and a team that is peaking in March. N.C. State is an inconsistent team that has shown it can beat the nation's best in victories against Duke, North Carolina and Villanova.

There's no juggernaut among that group, though, no team Louisville has no hope of beating. Considering where Louisville's season appeared to be headed just a couple weeks ago, the Cardinals can't be too disappointed with their position.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 23, 2015, 5:00 am

West Virginia’s pressure defense gave teams in the Big 12 Conference fits all season and it led the Mountaineers to victory Sunday over a Maryland team forced to play much of the second half without its best ball handler.

The Mountaineers forced more turnovers per game than any team in the nation and Maryland proved incapable of dealing with the relentless approach. West Virginia forced 23 miscues from Maryland in a 69-59 win that put the Mountaineers back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since it advanced to the Final Four in 2010.

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West Virginia’s reward is an opportunity to play giant killer against undefeated Kentucky, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Terrapins point guard Melo Trimble was knocked to the ground at the 15-minute mark in the second half by a moving screen from West Virginia big man Nathan Adrian. None of the three officials on the court called a foul.

Trimble returned to the court after a brief stay on the bench, but six minutes later he fell to the floor after leaping high into the air to try to intercept a pass. Maryland forward Damonte Dodd inadvertently kicked Trimble in the head as he ran past and Trimble was held out of the rest of the game with a head injury.Mar 22, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Melo Trimble (2) reacts after an injury during the second half against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

Trimble was vital to the Terrapins in the first half, scoring 12 points with five assists. Maryland shot 55 percent in the first half and made six of nine 3-pointers. But the Terrapins went 2 for 10 from behind the arc after halftime and had frequent trouble just getting into their offense. Maryland senior Dez Wells accounted for eight turnovers and scored just nine points.

Heartbreaking images of Trimble sitting on the bench unable to help his team were countered by images of elation from the West Virginia side. Coach Bob Huggins had criticized the NCAA before the game for scheduling tip-off times too late, but his team seemed unaffected by the start time.

Four starters scored in double figures for West Virginia, which accumulated 15 steals. Sophomore forward Devin Williams had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Gary Browne had 14 points and five steals.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 23, 2015, 3:54 am

They had secured their first trip to the Sweet 16 in six long years, so Gonzaga's players and coaches clearly felt they had earned the right to let loose.  

Moments after blasting seventh-seeded Iowa 87-68 in a South Regional game on Sunday night, the Zags piled into the locker room and celebrated a breakthrough victory.

Guard Eric McClellan pulled off a back flip. Coach Mark Few performed a handstand that evolved into a  breakdancing move. Few then announced to the team that they have four more of these celebrations to go as the players clapped and cheered all around him.

This is how we're feeling right now!!! Not done yet!!! #Sweet16 #ZagUp pic.twitter.com/wehf6gMHWg

— Kyle Wiltjer (@kwiltj) March 23, 2015

Sunday's victory had to feel especially good to Gonzaga even if the Zags' reputation for underachieving in the NCAA tournament is largely overblown. They haven't reached a Sweet 16 since losing to eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009, but they're also one of only two teams to reach the round of 32 each of the past seven years.

Of the five teams Gonzaga lost to in the round of 32 from 2010-14, Wichita State is the only one the Zags were clear favorites to beat. The 2013 Shockers buried 13 threes in their upset of top-seeded Gonzaga and have since proven that they were probably a tad bit better than the average No. 9 seed. 

The memory of that game and other losses to the likes of Syracuse and Arizona were surely on Gonzaga's minds as they faced a surging Iowa team that had dismantled Davidson in the opening round. The Zags quickly made it clear that this year would be different, building a double-digit lead 12 minutes into the game and extending it to 17 at halftime and to as many as 22 in the second half.

Kyle Wiltjer led Gonzaga with 24 points on absurdly efficient 10-of-12 shooting, hurting Iowa from the paint and the perimeter. The Zags shot 61.5 percent from the field as a team, scoring at will in the paint and hitting 10 of 16 threes.

Forwards Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White had some nice offensive moments for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes simply couldn't generate enough stops. They cut the deficit to 11 a handful of times in the second half but could never get within striking distance.

More NCAA tournament coverage:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 23, 2015, 2:23 am

The team's rhythm seemed off and the shots weren't falling, but top-seeded Wisconsin is advancing to its second straight Sweet 16 anyway after a 72-65 win over eighth-seeded Oregon on Sunday night.

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Though it never trailed in the game, Wisconsin had plenty of reasons to sweat as it struggled to put the Ducks away. The Badgers shot poorly from behind the three-point line (8-23) and national player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky was far from dominant with a fairly pedestrian 16-point, seven-rebound effort.

Couple that with 30 points from star Oregon guard Joseph Young  and an upset alert was put out across the sport with the game tied at 52 with just 5:55 remaining.

Wisconsin, however, responded with a 10-2 run to avoid the fate that befell Villanova against North Carolina State on Saturday night. After scoring just three points in the first half, Badgers forward Sam Dekker scored 14 in the second including a big driving layup and a 3-pointer that gave Wisconsin a six-point lead with 4:01 left.

"They made it tough for us," Dekker told Lewis Johnson of CBS after the game.

The Badgers are advancing to their seventh Sweet 16 since 2003 under Bo Ryan. They will face fourth-seeded North Carolina on Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner of that game will face the winner of Xavier-Arizona.

Thumbs up from Barry Alvarez pic.twitter.com/FFhgA5YECR

— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) March 23, 2015

The matchup came one year to the day that Wisconsin and Oregon met before a pro-Badger crowd in Milwaukee during the round of 32. The Badgers also won that game 85-77 en route to the FInal Four.

More NCAA tournament coverage:

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 23, 2015, 2:05 am

Oklahoma is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009 after eliminating Dayton from the NCAA tournament on Sunday 72-66 in front of a hostile crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

Coach Lon Kruger became the first coach in history to take four teams to the second weekend of the tournament. He previously guided UNLV, Florida and Kansas State to the Sweet 16.

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Buddy Hield, the Sooners' star guard, might have saved the day for Oklahoma with 64 seconds remaining when he recovered from a Dayton steal to swat away a layup attempt from Darrell Davis. If Davis had made the layup, the Flyers would have cut the Oklahoma lead to two with a minute left and significantly amped up the pressure on the Sooners.

Oklahoma simply had too much for Dayton, which was playing its sixth game in 10 days. The Flyers were trying to get back to the Sweet 16 for a second straight year after not advancing that far for three decades. But Hield and fellow guards Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker combined for 43 points.

Forward Ryan Spangler has rebounded from a painful moment in the Big 12 tournament to play well in the NCAA tournament. Spangler scored nine points with 11 rebounds in a first-round win over Albany and had six points and 12 rebounds on Sunday.

In the closing seconds of a Big 12 conference tournament semifinal game against Iowa State, Spangler missed a wide-open layup that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 23, 2015, 1:00 am

Sam Brownback doesn't believe in evolution, same-sex marriage or funding higher education.

On less important issues, the Kansas governor doesn't believe in picking a team and sticking with it.

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No stranger to controversy, Brownback was taking plenty of heat on social media Sunday night after showing up in a victorious Wichita State locker room wearing a "Kings of Kansas" T-shirt in Shockers colors.

The only problem? Brownback attended school at Wichita's top two instate rivals. He has a law degree from Kansas (which fell to Wichita State 78-65 in the much-anticipated NCAA tournament matchup) and a undergrad degree from Kansas State. 

He also spent the game at Omaha's CenturyLink Center — where he was booed after being shown on the big screen — wearing a decidedly non-partisan T-shirt that featured both teams.

Mary and I are ready for some great basketball from @KUHoops and @WichitaStateMBB. Rock Chalk and WuShock pic.twitter.com/m2lrzT6Unl

— Sam Brownback (@govsambrownback) March 22, 2015

Knowing how politicians work, there has to be a crimson-and-blue "Kings of Kansas" T-shirt sitting at the bottom of a garbage can somewhere in Omaha, right?

Brownback's boosterism was roundly roasted on social media where SB Nation declared him an even bigger bandwagon fan than the notoriously opportunistic Drake.

Meanwhile, others had their fun at Brownback's expense:

Sam Brownback is a real life Homer Simpson meme, used this very night on the @TBLightning scoreboard. pic.twitter.com/n1T6uHGM0K

— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) March 23, 2015

The Kansas Board of Education has declared this game a myth, not to be taught in public schools.

— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) March 22, 2015

Gov. Sam Brownback believes in evolution ... of allegiances (pix from @KWCHWill, @lukezim, @SBNationCBB) pic.twitter.com/HyqEFz1mQF

— Luke Winn (@lukewinn) March 23, 2015

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 23, 2015, 12:47 am

To understand how Wichita State toppled second-seeded Kansas and earned in-state bragging rights for years to come, you only need to watch one sequence from Sunday's hotly anticipated NCAA tournament clash.

The Jayhawks already trailed by nine points midway through the second half when Wichita State freshman forward Zach Brown deflected a Frank Mason pass and tipped it into the frontcourt. All the urgency should have been with Kansas considering the deficit it already faced, yet Brown outraced Kelly Oubre to the ball, attacked the rim and threw down a two-handed transition slam.

No play better sums up why seventh-seeded Wichita State claimed a 78-65 victory over Kansas than that one does. The Shockers may not have the size and strength in the paint that the Jayhawks do or a roster full of former McDonald's All-Americans, but they played Sunday's game like the outcome mattered more to them.

Wichita State's victory was meaningful to its program for more reasons than merely just securing a spot in the Sweet 16 against third-seeded Notre Dame or keeping alive the possibility of a rematch with Kentucky. Sunday's win also served as revenge against Kansas for its unwillingness to schedule the Shockers since 1993.

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has tried to publicly goad Kansas into agreeing to a home-and-home series for the past couple years to no avail. Kansas coach Bill Self feels his program has nothing to gain by deviating from his longstanding policy of not scheduling the Shockers even as they have ascended from quality mid-major to budding national power.

Two years ago, ninth-seeded Wichita State stunned Gonzaga and Ohio State en route to one of the most improbable Final Four appearances in college basketball history. Last year, the Shockers validated that and then some by completing the regular season unbeaten before suffering their first loss against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. This year, Wichita State has overcome the graduation of star Cleanthony Early to eclipse 30 games for the third straight year, win a regular season league title and reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.

Wichita State earned that Sweet 16 bid Sunday by outplaying Kansas in virtually every facet of the game.

Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet fueled Wichita State's offense with 19 and 17 points, respectively, but it was Evan Wessel's four threes that were the most meaningful. In the matchup in which Kansas appeared to have the biggest advantage entering the game, the 6-foot-4 Wessel played 6-foot-8 Perry Ellis to a near standstill, making up for the 17 points he gave up near the rim by using his quickness as an advantage on the perimeter.

Ellis and point guards Devonte Graham and Frank Mason combined for 50 of Kansas' 65 points, but many of the other top Jayhawks were no-shows. Ever-erratic Wayne Selden in particular went scoreless as Kansas shot only 35.2 percent from the field.Kansas kept alive the program's streak of advancing to the round of 32 or further for the ninth straight year, but the Jayhawks could not survive the opening weekend for the second straight year. Last year's team lost to Stanford in the round of 32 in a game in which Joel Embiid sat out with an injury and Andrew Wiggins hardly made an impact.While Kansas has a long offseason to ponder what went wrong, Wichita State has a few days to prepare for what should be a monumental week.The matchup with Notre Dame pits two of the nation's best backcourts. Should the Shockers win that, their reward could be a crack at the same Kentucky team that ended their undefeated season a year ago.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 11:52 pm

Charles Barkley is great at providing insight in his regular gig as an NBA analyst on TNT, but he leaves something to be desired at times when he shifts over to the NCAA tournament for a few weeks in the spring.

His take on the first half between Kansas and Wichita State on Sunday was one such case.

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Barkley said Cliff Alexander was 'playing pretty good' and that Frank Mason had to stay out of foul trouble.

The problem with that is Alexander has been out of the Kansas lineup for several weeks because of questions about his eligibility that haven't been addressed by the NCAA. Alexander hasn't played since Feb. 23 at Kansas State.

Hey, mistakes happen. No one is perfect. We've all been there. But Barkley ought to be more prepared than to make a mistake like that. This is the price we pay for CBS/Turner choosing to hire big names to cover the tournament instead of analysts who pay attention to the college game all season and know it inside and out.

Give Barkley credit for getting his take on Mason right. Kansas' point guard eventually fouled out with 2 minutes, 40 seconds remaining the Jayhawks trailing by a dozen.

 

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 22, 2015, 11:24 pm

To stay competitive with top-seeded Duke on Sunday, San Diego State needed to hit an abnormal number of jump shots, contain Jahlil Okafor on the low block and keep the Blue Devils out of transition.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they really didn't accomplish any of those things, which explains why they endured a 68-49 pounding at the hands of a superior team.

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A cold-shooting San Diego State team that has struggled offensively all season without graduated star point guard Xavier Thames endured an especially frigid performance. Winston Shepard was the only player in double figures as the Aztecs shot 31.6 percent as a team and 2 of 17 from behind the arc.

Wayward jump shots and 11 turnovers proved to be a terrible combination for San Diego State because they fueled Duke's fast break attack. Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook were especially effective attacking in transition and scoring before San Diego State could set its vaunted defense, which was one of the nation's best all season.

The other reason Duke shot 54.5 percent from the floor was because Okafor got pretty much anything he wanted in the paint against San Diego State's array of quicker but willowy big men. Nineteen of Okafor's 26 points came before halftime when the Aztecs were sometimes slow to double team.

Duke's dominant victory sends the Blue Devils to the Sweet 16 where they will face fifth-seeded Utah in Houston. Joining the Utes and Blue Devils in Houston is 11th-seeded UCLA and either second-seeded Gonzaga or seventh-seeded Iowa.

For San Diego State, Sunday's one-sided loss ends a season with some impressive accomplishments and frustrating moments. The Aztecs won 27 games, captured a share of the Mountain West crown and defeated St. John's in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, but they were never able to fully capitalize on their formidable defense because they simply could not score.

The biggest issue was the lack of a true point guard on the roster, forcing converted shooting guards Trey Kell and Aqeel Quinn to handle the role. A lack of consistent outside shooting also hurt, as did Dwayne Polee and Malik Pope both missing large chunks of the season.

Steve Fisher's Xs-and-Os wizardry briefly made Sunday's game competitive when he went to a small lineup that forced Okafor to defend to the perimeter. Pope buried two threes over Okafor that helped the Aztecs get within seven midway through the second half, but Mike Kryzewski countered by having his center guard non-shooter J.J. O'Brien and that was really San Diego State's only offensive flurry.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 9:09 pm

Virginia's Darion Atkins was so disappointed on Sunday that he couldn't hide his frustration over seeing his college career end with a 60-54 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament.

How bad was the senior forward feeling after seeing his college career end with a second straight loss to the Spartans in the NCAA tournament? Bad enough that the publicly questioned the desire of his teammates and then described the second-seeded Cavaliers using a pejorative for female anatomy.

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Here's the full-context transcript of Atkins two responses (via @martinrickman):

Q: You played so well in the first half. Did you feel like you were alone out there at times?
A: To be honest, yeah, I felt like I wanted it more than a few other guys on the team. I felt like I tried to rally everyone together and bring everyone together in the second half than the first half. It was just a little bit too late to get things going.

Q: About 16 and a half minutes left, [Branden] Dawson scores after Michigan State gets two offensive rebounds. [Assistan coach] Jason Williford jumped off the bench and stuck his finger in [Mike] Tobey's chest and started yelling at you guys. Was that a particularly heated timeout for you guys?
A: Yeah, that was. That was a gut check and heat check. I felt like we were just playing like some p------ to be honest. I mean, I don't know.

To his credit, Atkins did play with a lot of energy, turning in 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks. One early rejection of an Alvin Ellis dunk served as the lone early highlight for Virginia.

Of course, it's not news that the rest of the Virginia team struggled, shooting only 30 percent from the field and 12 percent from behind the 3-point line.

But while several of his teammates might agree with Atkins' assessment, it's probably a good bet that Atkins apologizes them for his comments once the heat of disappointment has worn off.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: March 22, 2015, 8:25 pm

We're all for trying to distract opposing players when they're shooting free throws: shouts, streamers, Thundersticks, giant heads, what-have-you. But Michigan State has a particularly potent weapon. Take a listen:

 Dear heavens, what is that shrieking? An animal with its leg caught in a trap? A freelancing soprano? A valkyrie from Valhalla?

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Nope, turns out it's Julie Trice, mother of Michigan State senior Travis Trice. Julie Trice has been making these noises whenever Travis' opponents go to the line ever since high school, and if you think that yelping is bad in a cavernous arena, imagine them in a high school gym. Lord have mercy. There's no documented proof that Julie's having any effect, but there's no proof she isn't, either.

(Fun fact: it's not the volume that causes most distraction, it's a sudden change. You can block out a solid wall of sound. If fans really wanted to mess with a shooter, they'd scream their heads off, then go tomb-silent right as he was about to shoot.

"I love her, but she's loud," MSU junior center Matt Costello said a few weeks back. "My freshman year, I was like, 'What is that?' But it's what she does."

And we'll get at least one more chance to hear that ululation next week in the Sweet 16. Lucky us.

____
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And keep up with Jay over on Facebook, too.

Author: Jay Busbee
Posted: March 22, 2015, 8:07 pm

The ACC's outright regular-season champion is also its first team eliminated from the NCAA tournament.

Second-seeded Virginia could not survive Michigan State's upset bid for a second straight season, falling to the seventh-seeded Spartans 60-54 on Sunday in the round of 32. Michigan State also ended the Cavaliers' season last year in the Sweet 16.

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Whereas Branden Dawson was the difference maker last season for Michigan State, what hurt Virginia most this year was the early and late heroics of guard Travis Trice. The senior had 13 of his game-high 23 points in the opening six minutes to power the Spartans to a 15-4 lead and then he also had a huge late shot clock 3-pointer to extend the gap to eight with less than three minutes to play.

Virginia cut the lead to two early in the second half and to four several times thereafter, but the Cavaliers didn't make enough shots to keep pace. They shot 29.8 percent from the field and 2-of-17 from behind the arc, staying competitive only because they got so many offensive rebounds and Michigan State missed 13 free throws.

Michigan State's victory earns the Spartans a Sweet 16 matchup with either third-seeded Oklahoma or 11th-seeded Dayton, a remarkable accomplishment considering the talent the team lost from last year. Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are all gone from last year's Elite Eight team and Tom Izzo didn't bring in his usual star-studded recruiting class.

The East Region bracket is wide open for the Spartans to make a Final Four push considering the top two seeds are now out. N.C. State upset top-seeded Villanova on Saturday and awaits either Louisville or Northern Iowa in the other regional semifinal. 

An early NCAA tournament exit is a sour finish to an otherwise sweet season for Virginia. The Cavaliers won 30-plus games and the ACC title for a second straight season, but they'll probably always wonder what might have been had second-leading scorer Justin Anderson not fractured a pinkie finger in mid-February.

Virginia never looked the same either without Anderson or after he returned in the ACC tournament.

Not only did outside shooting become a major weakness without Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon was also the only other player who could consistently create his own shot. Less efficient offense and more turnovers led to more transition chances for opponents who were all too eager to score before Virginia could set its formidable pack-line defense.  

Anderson looked more comfortable in the NCAA tournament than he did in the ACC tournament, but he still missed all four threes he attempted Sunday. Michigan State packed in its own defense, dared Virginia to shoot from the perimeter and the Cavaliers didn't make enough shots.

The score might have been closer had Virginia received a more favorable whistle. Darion Atkins was called for his fourth foul on a second-half blocked shot that looked clean and Izzo was able to avoid a turnover a few minutes later by calling timeout from the bench even though the Spartans did not have control of the ball.

Those were big calls. They also weren't the reason Virginia lost.

You can't shoot as poorly as the Cavaliers did Sunday and expect to win in the NCAA tournament.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 6:30 pm

The only silver lining to Friday's chalk-filled, drama-free slate was that it set up a pretty incredible Sunday teeming with compelling matchups. Here's a primer to get you ready for the second day of the NCAA tournament's round of 32:

1. Which Sunflower State program will emerge with bragging rights? More than just a bid to the Sweet 16 will be on the line when in-state foes Wichita State and Kansas meet in Omaha on Sunday. The game will also determine which fan base has bragging rights until the programs someday meet again. Wichita State has been clamoring for a shot at Kansas since even before the Shockers ascended to national relevance with three straight 30-plus win seasons. The Jayhawks have a chance to remind Wichita State it should be careful what it wishes for if they oust the Shockers from the NCAA tournament. The game itself may come down to whether Wichita State can defend Perry Ellis in the paint and keep Kansas off the offensive glass. The seventh-seeded Shockers have a backcourt as good as any in the nation, but they're undersized in the frontcourt and will probably start 6-foot-4 guard Evan Wessel on Ellis.

2. Is either No. 1 seed in jeopardy on Sunday? Unless San Diego State enjoys a second straight unusually good outside shooting game against top-seeded Duke, it's probably fellow No. 1 seed Wisconsin that has the slightly tougher matchup The Badgers have to contend with an eighth-seeded Oregon team that has won 13 of its past 15 games and has the perimeter quickness to spread Wisconsin out and challenge its defenders to stay in front of their man. Pac-12 player of the year Joseph Young lit up Wisconsin for 29 points in an 85-77 NCAA tournament loss last March, but the supporting cast around the Oregon star is totally different than a year ago. Of the players on Oregon's curent roster, only Elgin Cook and Young got into the game against the Badgers last March. While Wisconsin could struggle defensively against Oregon, it should have no trouble imposing its will on the Ducks at the other end. Oregon's soft pressure and zone defense should be no match for a highly efficient Badgers offense with too much size for the Ducks in the paint.

3. Will Gonzaga reach its first Sweet 16 since 2009?

Five times in the last five years, Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament's round of 32 only to fail to win its next game. The Zags will try to break that streak Sunday against a mercurial Iowa team that has proven it can be dangerous when playing well. At their best, the Hawkeyes have won at North Carolina and Ohio State and pounded 10th-seeded Davidson on Thursday in the opening round. At their worst, the Hawkeyes suffered bad losses to Northwestern and Minnesota and were unceremoniously dumped early in the Big Ten tournament by Penn State. The key for Gonzaga could be how it defends high-scoring forward Aaron White and whether it can keep Iowa off the offensive glass. The 6-foot-9 White has scored 21 or more points in each of Iowa's last six games.

4. Can Virginia avenge last year's Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State?

An already wide-open East Region is even more up-for-grabs after NC State unceremoniously knocked top seed Villanova out of the NCAA tournament Saturday night. Two programs capable of taking advantage meet Sunday afternoon in the round of 32 with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake. The last time Michigan State and Virginia met, the Spartans earned a hard-fought 61-59 win in the Sweet 16 last year. Three Michigan State players and two Virginia players logged at least 28 minutes in that game are gone, but the quest for revenge remains a motivating factor for the Cavaliers. Whether Virginia gets it could depend on if it gets a second straight strong game from wing Justin Anderson, the team's second-leading scorer who missed time with a fractured finger and with appendicitis in recent weeks. Anderson had 15 points in Virginia's opening round win over Belmont after being shut out in two NCAA tournament games.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 10:09 am

PORTLAND — The first few times he played with Delon Wright, Utah forward Chris Reyes paid a price for not being ready to receive a pass.

"I got hit in the face a couple times," Reyes said. "I learned in a hurry to keep my hands up."

Stories like that are common among Wright's teammates because Utah's senior point guard might be college basketball's most unselfish star. He is the antithesis of a volume shooter, the rare All-American who can dominate a game without taking more than a handful of shots.

Seldom has that trait been more on display than in the final seven minutes Saturday when fifth-seeded Utah pulled away from fourth-seeded Georgetown for a 75-64 victory to earn a trip to the Sweet 16. Wright had a hand in most of the baskets his team scored during its game-clinching 22-11 surge even though he only contributed three free throws and didn't attempt a shot.

Time and time again, Wright would use a high ball screen to attack off the dribble, force the Hoyas defense to collapse on him and kick to an open teammate. That formula got Brandon Taylor a key left-wing 3-pointer with 2:47 remaining and Dakarai Tucker a layup on Utah's next possession. It also helped a handful of Utes get to the foul line late in the game.

"He makes us all a lot better," Utah wing Jordan Loveridge said. "He's a fun guy to play with because you know when he can't get to the rim, he is going to kick it out. He trusts us to hit shots."

While Wright's pass-first approach has been the engine for Utah's breakthrough 26-win season, a frequent debate in basketball circles is whether he is too unselfish. Wright shot 56.1 percent from the field last season and 52.3 percent this season, yet 20 times this year he has taken fewer than 10 shots.

Asked if Utah can win potential South Regional games next week against top-seeded Duke or second-seeded Gonzaga without Wright calling his own number more and forcing an occasional tough shot, both the senior point guard and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak insisted the answer is yes. They both were adamant Wright's genius is his ability to assess what a defense is giving him when he drives and consistently make the right read.Delon Wright (back) and guard Brandon Taylor (11) celebrate after beating Georgetown. (USAT)

Said Krystkowiak, "He actually has a knack that is not very coachable in terms of his feel."

Explained Wright, "I kind of read the defense. If they're coming to me, I try to bait them into coming to me so I can dish it off to a teammate. If they stay with one of my teammates, I'll take my shot. It's playing a mind game with the defense."

There's no mystery what gave birth to Wright's unselfish approach.

The Utah star played numerous pickup games growing up in the Los Angeles area with older brother Dorell Wright and his friends. He is six years younger than Dorell, so he had to find other ways to contribute besides hunting his own shots.

Wright wasn't a coveted recruit despite his NBA bloodlines and the versatility he displayed at Leuzinger High and City College of San Francisco. His ascendance into an All-American candidate at Utah jump-started Kryskowiak's rebuilding process and enabled the Utes to develop into a Sweet 16 caliber team a year or two ahead of schedule.

Wright has averaged an efficient 14.8 points and 5.2 assists this season while playing outstanding defense, yet he hears from everyone from fans, to analysts, to even his older brother that he could be shooting more. Reyes admitted he can see both sides of the debate Saturday evening, noting that Wright's approach is what makes him an amazing teammate yet also admitting the senior guard might be leaving points on the board.

"Honestly, we think he can get a bucket anytime he wants because he's such a big guard and he's defended by smaller guards," Reyes said.

Duke has small guards. Duke has been susceptible on pick-and-roll defense all season. Will Wright look to score himself more frequently if Utah meets the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16? Don't count on it.

"The team is doing well with me playing the way I do," Wright said. "I just have to continue doing that."

 

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 5:24 am

Notre Dame is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 after surviving a dramatic turnover in the final seconds of regulation against Butler late Saturday night and winning 67-64 in overtime.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey announced after the game that his 84-year-old mother, Betty, died earlier in the day from a heart attack. Brey said he felt like she was watching over his team in the pivotal moments when the game was decided.

"It was kind of a tribute to her, really a special night," Mike Brey said. "An unbelievable woman, a woman ahead of her time and probably the real driving force behind everything I've done. It was an interesting day to say the least, and I felt I should at least address that. And I think she was definitely with us down the stretch."

Notre Dame's Zach Auguste almost gave the game away at the end of regulation. The junior grabbed a rebound in the final seconds of regulation and began dribbling up court hoping for a heave at the basket, but officials correctly called him for a double dribble, giving the ball back to Butler in its offensive end with two seconds remaining.

Butler junior Kellen Dunham worked his way free and took the inbounds pass, but Notre Dame senior Pat Connaughton leaped in from the side and blocked his potential game-winner out of bounds to save the day for the Fighting Irish.

Two minutes into the overtime Connaughton made a huge 3-pointer after going 0-for-5 from behind 3-point line in regulation before Jerian Grant sealed the game down the stretch on a driving runner.

This is only the fourth time Notre Dame has been to the Sweet 16 since it advanced to the Final Four in 1978. The Irish have lost three consecutive Sweet 16 games. They will face the winner of Sunday's Kansas-Wichita State game next week in the Midwest Regional.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 22, 2015, 5:06 am

When Villanova became the first No. 1 seed to lose in this year's NCAA basketball tournament on Saturday night, television cameras caught a piccolo player in the Villanova band steadfastly doing her job while her tears flowed.

She became an Internet sensation in a matter of minutes, with some choosing to have a little fun with her plight and others supporting her dedication to keep playing.

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I love the Villanova band girl that everyone is hating on. True fan. \\//

— Lizzie Rose (@h_to_the_izzie) March 22, 2015

The girl in the Villanova band playing the flute while crying..that's when you know you love what you do

— Billy Gorman (@BillyGorman3) March 22, 2015

Collegespun.com identified her as Roxanne Chalifoux. A post from a Twitter account under the same name voiced support for her school.

Villanova wildcat till I die, through the smiles and the tears✌️

— Roxanne Chalifoux (@roxiechalifoxie) March 22, 2015

And then the memes came and added some comic relief to the whole situation.

"That's right... you just keep on playing. Biden's here." #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/FGNJNMNjHf

— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) March 22, 2015

@CurlsAndSports pic.twitter.com/AnKUZZjHCe

— JGR (@JBronxville) March 22, 2015

@WorldofIsaac pic.twitter.com/HO5KULFmnP

— nick pants (@nick_pants) March 22, 2015

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 22, 2015, 4:01 am

President Barack Obama is a big basketball fan, so he fills out an NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN each year. This year, for some reason, teams seem to be taking his picks to heart.

Cameras were rolling in the locker room after N.C. State upset No. 1 seed Villanova on Saturday night and Wolfpack guard Anthony “Cat” Barber evidently wasn’t too pleased that the President picked Villanova to move on to the Sweet 16.

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“The [expletive] is wrong with Barack Obama?” Barber asked his teammates.

Here’s video of the incident.

(Obvious warning: Video contains strong language)

It was clearly a playful moment in a winning locker room, but it’s still pretty funny that was the first thing that came to Barber’s mind after his team pulled out one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

Barber isn’t the first one to call out the President this weekend. Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter joked that he hopes Obama makes better decisions in office than he did when he picked Baylor to beat Georgia State.

It ain’t easy being the President.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: March 22, 2015, 3:16 am

Villanova’s NCAA tournament woes continue.

For the fourth straight season, the Wildcats have failed to make it beyond the Round of 32. This time they lost as a No. 1 seed – the first top seed to get bounced – in a 71-68 loss to No. 8 seed N.C. State.

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Villanova struggled mightily from the field, shooting just 31 percent overall and 32 percent from three (9-of-28) while missing plenty of shots from point-blank range. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack used tough interior play and pesky defense – both on the interior and perimeter – to build and ultimately hold a lead. Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber led the way for N.C. State with 17 and 13 points respectively while forwards Lennard Freeman (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Abdul-Malik Abu (13 points, 12 rebounds) were tenacious on the glass and each registered double-doubles.

On the other side, the Wildcats hit just 8-of-28 shots in the first half, but clung to only a four-point half-time deficit. The Wolfpack would make them pay in the second half and ran out to a lead that reached as high as 12 points.

But whenever it looked like the Wildcats, who came into the contest with a sparkling 33-2 record, would finally regain the advantage, the Wolfpack responded.

Villanova cut the lead down to three on a three-point play from JayVaughn Pinkston with 2:26 to go, but the Wolfpack countered with a clutch fall-away jumper from Lacey and an acrobatic layup from Barber to extend the lead back to seven.

[Photos: March sadness - Faces of defeat]

After a Barber free throw, Nova’s Darrun Hilliard, who led all scorers with 27, responded with clutch back-to-back threes to cut it down to two. It wouldn’t be enough – even after N.C. State threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

On the Wildcats’ next possession, down two, Dylan Ennis bricked an open three, ultimately sealing Villanova’s disappointing fate.

Though Hilliard had a big game and Pinkston chipped in with 13 points, Villanova’s other stars came up small. Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Ennis all average double figures but combined for just 15 points on the night while shooting 0-of-11 from three. Additionally, big man Daniel Ochefu was held to only four points.

The biggest discrepancy was on the glass. As the Wildcats bricked three after three, the Wolfpack outrebounded them 45-32 and hauled in 13 offensive rebounds – six of which came from Abu.

If the Wolfpack can continue to get that physical inside play from Freeman and Abu, coupled with the steady play of Barber and Lacey, the Wolfpack could be a tough out moving forward. The Wolfpack will play the winner of Sunday’s showdown between No. 4 Louisville and No. 5 Northern Iowa in the Sweet 16 in Syracuse.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: March 22, 2015, 1:48 am

PORTLAND — All alone in the corner with no defender in 10 feet of him, Gabe York clapped his hands, whistled and did everything but wave pompoms to get point guard T.J. McConnell to notice him.

McConnell spotting him a half second too late isn't what's important. York having the confidence to demand the ball is.

On an Arizona team that features an all-conference point guard and four potential NBA prospects in its starting lineup, York is as important to the Wildcats' national title hopes as any of them. The undersized shooting guard is the best perimeter shooter on a team of explosive slashers and skilled big men, the guy most capable of shooting opposing teams out of the zone defenses Arizona is likely to see from now until its NCAA tournament run is over.

That's exactly what York did Saturday in second-seeded Arizona's 73-58 victory over 10th-seeded Ohio State in a round of 32 game in Portland. The 6-foot-3 junior scorched the Buckeyes for 19 points and sank four 3-pointers during a 19-8 second-half run that turned a back-and-forth game into a comfortable victory for the Wildcats.

"I'm definitely excited if teams want to keep playing that zone against us," York said. "I have the capability of doing this on a day-to-day basis and I have the confidence because of how I've played lately. It's just a matter of if I get those open looks."

If York is able to follow through on his words and consistently knock down outside shots the next two weeks, that would go a long way toward addressing one of Arizona's few weaknesses.

Defense is Arizona's trademark as it showed again Saturday by throwing multiple defenders at D'Angelo Russell and limiting him to a season-worst 3 of 19 shooting night. Rebounding might even be a bigger strength for this Wildcats team as evidenced by their 21 offensive boards against the smaller Buckeyes. But Arizona still occasionally struggles to score and the Wildcats are most susceptible to those cold spells when opposing teams go zone and outside shots aren't falling.

It happened against Oregon State in Corvallis when Arizona shot 4 of 17 from behind the arc in a 58-56 loss. It happened again in a loss to Arizona State a few weeks later when the Sun Devils mixed zone and man-to-man. Ohio State held Arizona to 10 of 31 shooting in the first half with a zone designed to wall off the paint, but York's outside shooting helped the Wildcats shred that zone in the second half.

"A huge part of our success in the second half was Gabe knocking down those threes," teammate Brandon Ashley said. "It made them space their defense out a little bit more and we were able to get the ball into the middle."

It's still exciting for York to play this big a role in an NCAA tournament victory because it wasn't that long ago he wouldn't have gotten off the bench in a game like this.

York didn't even play a minute in 20 of Arizona's games as a freshman including a season-ending loss to this same Ohio State team in the Sweet 16. That was so difficult for the former top 100 recruit from California's Orange Lutheran High School that York admits he considered transferring to a school where he could play a bigger role after that season.

"My freshman year, I don't even really like to think about it because I didn't play at all," York said. "I didn't really feel like I was part of the team. I did question whether I was good enough to play here before, but my mom, my brother and God, they got me through it and I pulled through."

For York, earning playing time was a matter of proving he could do more than just shoot.

He spent long hours the past two summers improving his playmaking ability off the dribble and working to become a more competent defender. Outside shooting still remains his greatest strength, but he is capable enough in other areas that he has earned the trust of the coaching staff and carved out a key role as a sixth man averaging about 25 minutes per game since mid-February.

In his last 10 games, York is an impressive 27 of 49 from behind the arc. He endured a rare scoreless night against Texas Southern in Arizona's opening round victory, but Sean Miller did not hesitate to play him 30 minutes on Saturday night.

The threat of York's outside shooting created space for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to catch the ball in the middle of the zone or T.J. McConnell to find driving lanes and attack off the dribble. Once Arizona did that, it was a pick-your-poison dilemma for Ohio State and frequently York benefited from that.

"They didn't want to leave me and they didn't want to leave Rondae in the middle," Arizona guard Stanley Johnson said. "We'd run him to the same side of the floor me and Rondae were on and have three people in a two-person area. You have to choose me or him. They chose not to leave me. He was open and he knocked those shots down."

Between the streaky Johnson and sweet-shooting reserve guard Elliott Pitts, York isn't the only player Arizona has who's capable of knocking down outside shots.

Nonetheless, York is clearly Arizona's most consistent shooter, the guy most capable of making an opponent pay from the perimeter for zoning the Wildcats.

"Some of the shots I had today, I don't think I've been as wide open all year," York said. "If I get those shots again, I have to keep knocking them down."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: March 22, 2015, 1:33 am

Xavier ousted Georgia State, the last remaining Cinderella story, from the NCAA tournament Saturday night 75-67, robbing college basketball fans of more chances to see coach Ron Hunter injure himself or fall off his scooter celebrating his son's game-winners.

Now we're all a bunch of Chicago Cubs fans, having to wait until next year to see a true Cinderella advance to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or even the FInal Four. There are plenty of underdogs left in this year's tournament but no true believers hoping the slipper still fits for another day.

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For example, if No. 8 seed San Diego State was to upset No. 1 seed Duke on Sunday, it would certainly fill a void created by the lack of a Cinderella, but we're not going to call a team coached by a man with a national championship and several Final Fours on his resume a Cinderella.

The lowest remaining seeds in the tournament are No. 11 seeds UCLA and Dayton. The Bruins are one of the sport's blue bloods, never to be confused with a Cinderella no matter their seed, and Dayton advanced to the Elite Eight just last season. The Flyers play Oklahoma on Sunday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

So we bid farewell to the Panthers, who popped onto the national radar when coach Hunter tore his Achilles tendon celebrating his team's Sun Belt Conference tournament title. They then gave us a thrill to open the tournament Thursday by upsetting Baylor as a No. 14 seed. Junior R.J. Hunter, the coach's son, made the game-winning shot, likely securing a spot in One Shining Moment at tournament's end.

Ron Hunter cried in his postgame press conference, making you want to root for him a little harder even though his season is now done. It was raw and genuine and exactly the kind of thing that will be lacking in the tournament going forward. 

"The greatest week of my life," Hunter said. "The greatest time I've ever had to be a father.

"...I don't want these guys to be sad. We helped Georgia State out. Georgia State people know about Georgia State. We'll be back."

Hunter then fell to pieces with his hand on his son's shoulder. R.J. Hunter scored 20 points in the game to lead the Panthers.

This is where we have to give Xavier credit for rising above expectations and playing well enough to advance to the Sweet 16 in a season in which they were pretty much written off at different points. 

The Musketeers seem to be have some moxie to them and feel like a gritty, blue-collar bunch from a town in Cincinnati filled with that kind of mindset. Jalen Reynolds came off the bench to score 21 points to lead Xavier to the win and Dee Davis added 15. The Musketeers are back in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in eight seasons having vanquished Cinderella.

"The greatest week of my life." Ron Hunter breaks down during postgame press conference. #MarchMadness https://t.co/hGoA4hhhLy

— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 22, 2015

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 22, 2015, 1:12 am

Wisconsin sophomore Nigel Hayes has a strong jump shot but an even better sense of humor.

The Badgers and coach Bo Ryan met with the media Saturday in Omaha in advance of their round of 32 game Sunday against Oregon. All NCAA tournament press conferences have a stenographer transcribing them in order to provide accurate quotes as quickly as possible to members of the media.

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So Hayes decided to test the stenographer in Omaha on Saturday. Hey, why not have a little fun when you've worked all year for this experience? Here is how the Badgers' press conference started:


THE MODERATOR: The gentlemen from Wisconsin are with us, Nigel Hayes, Frank Kaminsky and Bronson Koenig are here and ready. We are set for questions.

Q. Nigel, obviously if you look just statistically, you've taken quite a leap in the 3-point shooting, to whatever, and in other areas. Can you describe just the steps you took to kind of, you know, raise those parts of your game?
NIGEL HAYES: Hello, it works now. Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words: cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Laughs). Now, back to your question. It was just a lot of hard work, teammates giving me great confidence, and when you play with players that are very unselfish like the two next to me who also give you that confidence and involve the team, it's a lot easier to get things done.

Later a reporter followed up seeking clarification on what Hayes was trying to accomplish.

Q. Why did you start off saying those things and then I have to follow-up.
NIGEL HAYES: Well, the wonderful young lady over there, I think her job title is a stenographer, yes, OK. And she does an amazing job of typing words, sometimes if words are not in her dictionary, maybe if I say soliloquy right now, she may have to work a little bit harder to type that word, or quandary, zephyr, Xylophone, things like that, that make her job really interesting.

And finally there was this:

Q. Just curious about your vocabulary. Are these words like you looked up or is this just a thing for you? Not that you didn't know, I'm just saying like you had a list ready to go.
NIGEL HAYES: No, I actually like words. It started from a younger age when my stepfather would tell me to read a lot of things, and I would read words and I would not know what it means, and then once I learned and I tried to read more words. Then it's just fun to know words, and you can say certain words that put people in a quandary, and they don't know what you're talking about. And it makes for more fun, I guess. I'm sorry for my usage of words. I didn't mean to make your job any more difficult!

Turns out, Hayes wasn't alone in being fascinated by the stenographer. He and some of his teammates spent some time talking with the stenogrpaher in Omaha on Friday and learning about the craft. The Badgers' official Twitter account shared pictures.

Putting context to @NIGEL_HAYES quotes - #Badgers were enamored with steno machine last night pic.twitter.com/cDYBifYMtv

— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 21, 2015

But seriously - have you ever seen the magical powers of a stenographer? pic.twitter.com/36exonv2CG

— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 21, 2015

 

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: March 22, 2015, 12:00 am

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