Bracketology: Temple vs. Penn State, 'Nova #9 seed

March 14, 2011 5:46:41 AM PDT
The Temple Owls were awarded the seventh seed in the West region and Villanova is the ninth seed in the East region in the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats (21-11) ended the season on a five-game losing streak that knocked them out of the Top 25. They will play eighth-seeded George Mason Friday in Cleveland.

The Patriots (26-6) lost in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and earned their first at-large bid since 2006, when coach Jim Larranaga led them to the Final Four.

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the Wildcats are ready to put the disappointing finish behind them. They started 16-1 when they hit the skids - the Wildcats lost seven of their last nine games.

"We just have to get back our midseason form," Wright said. In a Keystone State battle, the Owls (25-7) play 10th-seeded Penn State (19-14) Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.

The Owls had a 10-game winning streak snapped when they lost to Richmond in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinal. Coach Fran Dunphy is 0-3 with the Owls in the NCAA tournament. Dunphy has lost 11 straight tournament games dating back to his time coaching Penn.

The Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament before a 71-60 loss to Ohio State on Sunday in the conference title game.

The last time the Nittany Lions made the NCAAs was in 2001, they upset North Carolina in the second round to set up a regional semifinal date against the state-rival Owls. Temple won 84-72.

Villanova was hit with injuries late in the season, notably losing 3-point ace Corey Stokes for a stretch with turf toe, and big man Mouphtaou Yarou suffered bruised ribs and a bruised right shoulder in the Big East tournament.

Wright said Yarou will be 100 percent by Friday.

The Wildcats, who reached the Final Four in 2009, made their seventh straight NCAA tournament.

"I think there's a lot of people that will expect us to fail," Wright said. "I can't blame them."

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Princeton to face Kentucky in NCAA second round

Princeton is back in the NCAA tournament after a six-year absence and, as usual, one of college basketball's giants stands in its way - a situation followers of the Tigers are familiar with.

One day after beating Harvard in a playoff game on Doug Davis' buzzer beater, the Ivy League champion was given a 13th seed Sunday and will meet fourth-seeded Kentucky (25-6) on Thursday in a second-round game in the East Regional.

Kentucky beat Princeton 72-58 in a first-round game in 1977, the only other NCAA meeting between the schools.

Under coach Pete Carril, Princeton was famous for scaring major programs in the NCAA tournament. The most famous is still a one-point loss to top-seeded Georgetown in 1989 and there was also near-wins over Arkansas and Villanova.

The Tigers beat defending champion UCLA in 1996, Carril's final year. Current head coach Sydney Johnson played in that game, which occurred 15 years ago Monday.

Johnson, who was satisfied with the 13th seed, hopes a new generation can duplicate such magic.

"We've got to make our own history," the fourth-year coach said. "I've challenged our guys. Obviously, we've done some nice things in the tournament. But those teams have done that by, every year, stepping up to their challenge and that's what we have to do."

The game will be a marked contrast in style and philosophy.

Princeton is the academic powerhouse whose players grow up in the Tigers' deliberate system of precise ball movement. Kentucky coach John Calipari recruits blue chippers into his up-tempo program and often loses them to the NBA after one year.

Johnson's immediate concerns were Kentucky freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight.

"Knight controls the game and he can shoot it," Johnson said. "Terrence Jones is obviously an NBA talent." Dictating tempo will be a key.

"We have to play our style of basketball and I think we'll be fine," Davis said. "Those guys want to get up and down the court. But we're not going to back down."

If Princeton has one advantage, it's the vaunted system incorporated by Carril and tweaked by his successors.

"I think no matter who you are in the country you've heard about the Princeton offense, but I don't think a lot understand it fully, so we'll try to take them by surprise," said sophomore Ian Hummer, who averages a team-leading 13.9 points. "Sometimes I even get confused."

Princeton is making an Ivy League-record 24th NCAA appearance, but its first since 2004, the Tigers' longest drought since 1970-75. Princeton went to the tournament nine times in 16 years before going 38-45 with no postseason appearances under Joe Scott from 2004-2007.

After two rebuilding seasons under Johnson, Princeton went 22-9, finished second in the Ivy and went to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational last year.

Princeton's 25 wins are the most since the 1997-98 team won a school-record 27.

Johnson said there was never a timetable to get back in the tournament.

"I just wanted us to compete as hard as we could and try to win every basketball game," he said. "Finally, we've been able to turn the corner."

Johnson is one of three former Tiger players to coach a team into the NCAAs this year, along with Georgetown's John Thompson III and Richmond's Chris Mooney. Johnson played with Mooney and coached under Thompson before coming to Princeton.

"I hope we're getting the program back to where it was when Coach J played," senior Dan Mavraides said. "We have a lot of confidence in ourselves with what we've done this year, the teams we've beaten and how we played. We're definitely ready for this challenge."

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Big East gives new-look tournament a familiar feel By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer

Three more teams in this year's edition of March Madness. Three more networks to cover it.

And the Big East will have its hooks in practically every nook and cranny of that new-look NCAA bracket.

The NCAA selection committee released its newfangled, 68-team draw Sunday and included a whopping 11 teams from the deepest conference in the nation.

Leading the way for the Big East was Pittsburgh, seeded first in the Southeast even though it didn't win a game in the conference's postseason tournament.

"It has Hall of Fame coaches, great programs with storied traditions and heritage," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said, a few minutes before his team became the 11th and final squad from the Big East to have its name announced on the selection show. "It has athletic programs that understand the value of investing the dollars that are needed to run a topflight program."

All 68 teams in the NCAA tournament are aiming for one destination - the Final Four in Houston, set for April 2. At the Las Vegas Hilton, Ohio State was made an early 7-2 favorite to cut down the nets at Reliant Stadium after the title game on April 4.

The Buckeyes (32-2) of the Big Ten were the top seed overall, with Kansas (32-2) of the Big 12 next, while defending champion Duke aced out another Big East team, Notre Dame, for the fourth and final top seed. Led by one of the country's best guards, Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils (30-4) are trying to become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to repeat as national champions.

The tournament got a facelift this year, including the addition of three more at-large teams that will open the tournament in what the NCAA is calling the "First Four." Those games - UAB (22-9) vs. Clemson (21-11) and Southern Cal (19-14) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) - will take place Tuesday and Wednesday.

Those, along with every other game of the entire tournament, will be aired in their entirety on four networks. Before the start of the season, TBS, TNT and TruTV joined CBS in signing a new, 14-year TV contract worth $10.8 billion - the price to be paid to air the games that make up the ingredients for America's biggest office pool. The games used to all be shown on CBS, with the network deciding which part of the country got which games. Now, it's the viewers who will make the choice.

But more teams, more TV and more money don't solve every problem or erase every whiff of controversy.

As is always the case on Selection Sunday, there were plenty of head-scratchers - a list of teams that came out of nowhere to make it and other virtual shoo-ins that didn't.

In the first category: Georgia (21-11), given a surprisingly high No. 10 seed despite losing twice to Alabama, a team that got left out. Many experts thought VCU, UAB and Clemson making the tournament at all were equally big surprises.

Among those snubbed were Virginia Tech (21-11), which has come close but missed for four straight years, and Colorado (21-13), which beat tournament teams Texas and Missouri once - and another one, Kansas State, three times.

"I was shocked," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "That's the only word that comes to my mind. Just absolutely shocked we weren't in the field."

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who led the selection committee, said members investigated the resumes of the teams "more than I've ever done in my tenure on this committee."

"Colorado is a good ballclub, and there were many good ballclubs we considered," he said. "They just didn't quite get the votes to get in. That's just the reality."

Those that did make it include nearly three-quarters of the Big East - 11 of 16 teams from a conference that was formed in 1979 and gets credit for helping transform college basketball from something much smaller into a sport that produces the best single American sporting event this side of the Super Bowl.

Pitt (27-5) got the top seed in the Southeast - its second No. 1 in the last three years - despite losing to Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Notre Dame (26-6) was given a No. 2 seed in the Southwest after losing to Louisville in the semifinals. And Connecticut (26-9) got handsomely rewarded for winning five straight games against that tough competition to win the tournament. The Huskies, who missed the NCAAs altogether last year, are a No. 3 seed in the West and will open Thursday against No. 14 Bucknell.

"We were a good team in the league, but to be a No. 3 seed ... obviously our work this past week really paid off," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.

The Big Ten placed seven teams, including a pair - Penn State and Michigan State - with 14 losses each. Led by freshman big man Jared Sullinger, Ohio State got rewarded with opening-week games down the road in Cleveland. The Buckeyes open against the winner between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State, a pair of 16th-seeded teams that will also play in the First Four early in the week.

"There's a lot of great teams, a lot of great players in our conference," Buckeyes guard Jon Diebler said. "It's just unbelievable the amount of talent here, and I think the Big Ten should have a good showing in the tournament."

The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference got five teams each while the Atlantic Coast only got four - a list that included the usuals, Duke and North Carolina, along with Florida State and Clemson, but not Boston College, which finished 20-12.

"I'll put our top two against anybody. I'll put our middle pack against anybody else's middle pack," BC coach Steve Donahue said. "But, yet, there's 11 from one league and 3½, basically, from another. I don't see the drastic difference. I'm being honest."

Of the 37 at-large teams, 30 came from the top six conferences and seven came from the so-called mid-majors - the conferences that supply the underdogs and unknowns that have turned the NCAA tournament into what it is. The seven were one fewer than last year, even though there were three more spots available.

"It was more difficult, it really was, because there was so many good teams out there," Smith said of the selection process.

Some tidbits:

-Louisville and Morehead State are 130 miles apart in Kentucky, but will travel to Denver for their second-round matchup.

-UNLV coach Lon Kruger leads the eighth-seeded Rebels against his old team, Illinois, in an 8 vs. 9 matchup in the Southwest.

-Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State (32-2) is in the same region as Michigan, meaning Aztecs coach Steve Fisher may have to face the school he left in controversy.

-Last year's national runner-up, Butler, closed out an up-and-down season by winning its conference title and was rewarded with a No. 8 seed. Butler (23-9), the team from the 4,500-student campus that came two points short of winning it all last year, will play Old Dominion in its first game, but could face Pittsburgh in the second.

The East looks like the toughest region, maybe in part because that's where four of the 11 Big East teams were sent, including 11th-seeded Marquette (20-14), the only team from the conference that had to sweat out the selection show.

The Southeast could be the most wide open. No. 2 Florida lost by 16 to Kentucky in the SEC tournament final Sunday and while No. 3 BYU may have the player with the best name - Jimmer Fredette - the Cougars have not been the same since losing leading rebounder Brandon Davies, who violated the school's honor code last month. They lost 72-54 to San Diego State in Saturday's conference title game.

This year marks the return of UCLA, Arizona and North Carolina, a trio of perennials that missed the tournament last year and led many experts to call the 2010 field one of the weakest of all time.

That tournament, however, turned out to be one of the best - filled with exciting, close games and ending with a halfcourt shot by Butler's Gordon Hayward that bounced off the glass and nicked the rim while the buzzer was sounding - denying the Bulldogs a perfect ending.

But the pundits are at it again. They're pointing to five at-large teams with 14 losses (Marquette, USC, Penn State, Michigan State, Tennessee), which is only one fewer than in the combined history of the entire tournament since it was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

They're wondering how the committee could favor Georgia, UAB, VCU and the rest over the Colorados and Virginia Techs of the world.

Other surprising snubs went to St. Mary's (24-8, but lost to Gonzaga in final of the West Coast Conference tournament), Alabama (won the SEC West and beat Georgia twice) and Harvard (beat Colorado, lost to Princeton by one in the Ivy League tiebreaker game and ranked 32 in the RPI ratings that are used as a guideline.)

After his team's snub, St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett might have become the first in history to believe that college football, with its widely derided Bowl Championship Series, has a better postseason formula than college basketball.

"As a coach, as players, all you want to know is that you're given a fair deal," Bennett said. "You need to go by the numbers, exactly like they do in the BCS."

Others felt there needed to be a bit more expertise in the room where the teams' fates are decided.

"There are some people on the committee who don't know if the ball's round," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. "These are bad decisions."