2005 March Madness Preview

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2005 March Madness Preview ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>

MARCH MADNESS-5 TEAMS WHO WILL MAKE NOISE!
By Bob Acton

Regardless of how UCLA does in the PAC 10 tournament, they willmake some noise early in the “Big Dance’ as they hada great year on the road, including a cross country win over NotreDame at South Bend.

The Bruins may think they’re qualified to play in the NCAA Tournament— probably do, in fact — but you won’t hear it fromthem.

Coach Ben Howland issued an edict to his players that he wantedno more talk on the subject. As a result, after UCLA (18-9, 11-7)equalled its season-best four-game win streak with a 73-61 winover Oregon in the regular-season finale, there wasn’t a peepfrom players on the topic.

Senior Dijon Thompson, who a week before predicted 18 wins woulddo the trick, suddenly backed off.

“I’m not ready (to say it), because I’ve seen so many timesteams have good records and still don’t get in,” Thompsonsaid. “We’ve got to take care of business in the Pac-10 Tournament.”

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Added freshman Arron Afflalo, who said severalweeks ago that 18 would get the Bruins in: “A lot of peoplesay 18 is the magic number, but, again, I say 19, knowing we haveone more game.

“If we win Thursday (against Oregon State), I’ll be saying20. Realistically, the only thing that guarantees it is if wego out and win that Pac-10 Tournament.”

Wow, the company line is a strong one.

Gradually, the Bruins are establishing the type of balance thatwill make them tougher to defend the rest of this season … andinto the future.

In the regular-season finale against Oregon, senior Dijon Thompsonhad a quiet 10-point game, and freshman point guard Jordan Farmarhad 10 points and five assists, but also four turnovers and fourfouls.

“It was a team effort again,” Farmar said. “Ididn’t have my best game for sure, but other guys picked up theslack.”

That included freshman Josh Shipp, who scored 20 points, andcenter Michael Fey, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blockedshots.

— NCAA credentials: The Bruins are 8-3 in their past 11games, and have won 11 Pac-10 games. Sixty of the past 61 teamsto win at least 11 games in Pac-10 play have reached the NCAATournament.

— UCLA outrebounded Oregon 40-21 and shot 54 percent fromthe field.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Jordan Farmar, shooting guard ArronAfflalo, center Michael Fey, forward Dijon Thompson, forward JoshShipp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I feel good (about the NCAAs), but I’mnot taking anything for granted. There’s one way we know for surewe’re in, and that’s to keep winning. I’m really pleased aboutthis. I think we have some momentum now. We’re playing our bestbasketball at the right time of year.” — Coach BenHowland, declining to predict whether his Bruins have earned anNCAA Tournament berth.

UPCOMING GAME: vs. Oregon State in first round of Pac-10 tournament,Thursday, March 10 at Los Angeles.

KEYS: The Bruins might be tempted to approach OSU’s playersbefore the game and remind them they’re in L.A. The Beavers didn’twin a Pac-10 road game this season, and if UCLA can get out toan early lead, the visitors might begin doubting it’s possible.Still, UCLA must control the 1-2 frontline punch of David Lucasand Nick DeWitz.

ROSTER REPORT: Senior forward Dijon Thompson was named to theAll-Pac-10 team for the first time, a year after being an honorablemention pick.

Thompson leads UCLA and is third in the Pac-10 in both scoring(18.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.1 rpg). He scored 39 points againstArizona State this season and has logged 1,415 career points.

— Point guard Jordan Farmar was voted Pac-10 Freshmanof the Year after averaging 13.5 points and 5.3 assists and shooting80.9 percent from the foul line this season.

He is the fifth UCLA player to earn the award, the first sinceJason Kapono shared the honor in 2000. Farmar also was an honorablemention All-Pac-10 selection, the only freshman so named.

— Guard Arron Afflalo, who averaged 11.0 ppg, joined Farmaron the Pac-10 All-Freshman team.

— UCLA’s other freshman starter, forward Josh Shipp, waslisted among honorable mention All-Freshman picks. Shipp tiedhis career high with 20 points in the win that knocked Oregonout of the Pac-10 tournament. The beneficiary was Cal, the almamater of Shipp’s older brother, Joe.

___MISSISSIPI STATE!

Beware of Mississippi State who has had a very ho-hum seasonand have nothing to lose. Anytime you have a Lawrence Robertsin your arsenal, one game sudden death matches are there for thetaking.

Most pundits pretty much have long conceded Mississippi Statean NCAA berth, but the Bulldogs really didn’t solidify that untilstopping its five-game road losing streak with a victory at GeorgiaFeb. 23.

They then followed with a hard-fought victory over Ole Missthree nights later that gave the Bulldogs a 20-8 overall recordwith two regular-season games plus the league tournament to go.

With an 8-6 SEC record, the Bulldogs are assured of no worsethan a .500 mark even if they do lose their final two games —on the road against Arkansas and back home against Alabama.

But while they can clinch the third spot in the division bywinning one of their two remaining games, they can’t earn a first-roundbye that goes to the top two finishers in each division.

That could be significant because no team since Arkansas in2000 has won four games in the post-season tournament to capturethe title. In fact, those Razorbacks from five years ago remainthe only tournament champ that has come out of the opening roundsince the league went to its current format in 1992.

Mississippi State had to overcome a hot start by Ole Miss andreally didn’t take command of the game until the last two minutesin registering a 71-68 victory over the Rebels Feb. 26. Ole Misswas 7-of-14 on three-pointers in building a 41-38 halftime leadand still led 58-53 with 8:15 left. State caught Ole Miss at 61-61with 4:50 left and finally closed out the game at the free throwline, hitting 6-of-6 in the final 1:49.

— The Bulldogs, who had a 16-game road winning streakended earlier this season, finally ended a five-game road losingstreak in conference play with a 76-62 victory over Georgia Feb.23. State compiled a 45-25 rebounding advantage in the game thatfeatured a total of 37 turnovers by the two teams, 19 by MississippiState.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Gary Irvin, guard Shane Power,center Marcus Campbell, forward Ontario Harper, forward LawrenceRoberts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The thing that we knew is that you haveto get to 8-8 in your league. I think that if you look at ourRPI, it’s in the low 30s coming into this game. I think it ishard to keep us out of there.” — Coach Rick Stansbury,on the Bulldogs’ NCAA chances now that the Bulldogs are 8-6 inSEC play

ROSTER REPORT: Still recovering from a foot injury that sidelinedhim eight games, senior Winsome Frazier scored only six pointsin the Bulldogs’ victory over Ole Miss. But his coach and teammatescredited him with the play that turned the game in the Bulldogs’favor when he blocked Cavadas Nunnery’s break-away layup attemptwith the Rebels holding a 58-53 lead. “I’ll promise you,if you want to single out a play, it was that play right there,”coach Rick Stansbury said. “That was about effort and toughness.”

— If the bruised thigh he suffered in the loss at KentuckyFeb. 19 was bothering him, forward Lawrence Roberts didn’t showit. He had 19 points and 12 rebounds against Georgia Feb. 23,then followed that with 20 points and 15 rebounds against OleMiss.

PITTSBURGH

There’s a good possibility that this team may lose to Villanovain the first round of the Big East, if the 3-guard lineup of theWildcats is on their game. But come tournament time, this clubis capable of beating anyone as wins at Boston College, NotreDame and Connecticut proved!

If there’s one thing that’s been true about Pittsburgh thisseason, it’s that this team is totally unpredictable. It is capableof beating anybody it’ll see in the NCAA Tournament — andalso suffering an embarrassing early-round exit.

The Panthers are probably the only team to spoil three SeniorDays this season. It went to Boston College and shellacked theEagles 72-50, then followed that with a trip to South Bend andan 85-77 victory. That took Pitt from a spot on the bubble toa shot at a good seed in the NCAAs in one week’s time.

Of course, before that the Panthers spoiled their own SeniorDay, as the fans booed in frustration at the team’s 73-64 homeloss to Connecticut.

Along the way, Chris Taft has gone from all-conference centerto enigma and then possibly back again. Carl Krauser has grousedabout the officiating and struggled with his shot, then had spectaculargames where he looks as good as any point guard in the country.Most of the rest of the team seems to vary from game-to-game;Antonio Graves, the starting shooting guard, had had back-to-backgames in double figures, but preceded that with a two-point effortagainst the Huskies.

The one constant has been senior forward Chevon Troutman. Theteam’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been therock that Jamie Dixon has relied on all season, and he was rewardedby being selected to the All-Big East First Team. Krauser madethe Second Team; Taft won honorable mention.

— The first time Chris Taft played Notre Dame this season,he finished with one point and spent a good portion of the secondhalf on the bench. The rematch was much different; Taft scoreda career-high 26 points and made 12 of 17 shots.

— Pitt may get a better seed than some observers expectbecause it has shown the ability to win on the road. The Pantherswere 5-3 away from home in Big East play, including victoriesat Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut and Notre Dame.

— The victory over Notre Dame gave Pitt its 20th victory,the fourth season in a row the Panthers have won 20 or more.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard AntonioGraves, center Chris Taft, forward Levon Kendall, forward ChevonTroutman.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I told myself after that game that if Idon’t play good, it’s going to be real hard for us to win. Thisis the perfect time to do it. It’s March. March Madness is here.I told myself that I have to step it up as best I can. This isthe time players can show how good they really are. Hopefully,I can do that.” — Pitt center Chris Taft, on his changeof attitude following a 73-64 loss to UConn last weekend. ThePanthers haven’t lost since.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Villanova in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals,March 10:

KEYS: First of all, Pitt needs to play better defense on theperimeter. Villanova made 12 of its 23 three-point attempts inthe first meeting between the two teams. What it also needs isa continued strong performance from Chris Taft on a nightly basis.The center has been up-and-down all season, but when he’s on hejoins Chevon Troutman as one of the best inside tandems in thecountry.

ROSTER REPORT: Chevon Troutman joined Chris Taft to form a dominatinginside presence. Though he couldn’t match Taft’s 26 points and11 rebounds, his final numbers (22 points, nine boards) weren’ttoo shabby either.

— In the two games prior to the Big East Tournament, Taftaveraged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds. In the previous five games,he averaged 8.6 points and eight rebounds.

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MICHIGAN STATE!

Chris Hill, Paul Davis, Alan Anderson and Tom Izzo are four verygood reasons why this club will be around. Some coaches just alwayswant their camera time and Izzo knows how to inspire his team’sto new heights in March!

The Spartans have lived up to expectations — and thensome — this season.

After a disappointing first-round exit in the NCAA tournamenta year ago, head coach Tom Izzo was determined to rebuild histeam into one that was fundamentally strong and featured toughnessand intelligent play at its core.

The results of the 2004-05 regular season, were a 22-5 recordwith a 13-3 record in conference play.

While the Spartans could not handle Big Ten champion Illinois,they appeared to get better as the season progressed and shouldbe in good position to make their mark on both the conferencetournament and the NCAA tourney.

In the regular-season finale, the Spartans looked sluggish formuch of the first half and had just a 39-35 lead over Penn Stateat halftime. But the Spartans started raining threes in the secondhalf and rolled to a 90-64 win.

“If we play like we did in the second half, with a lotof emotion and playing hard, I feel we can make a big run, notonly in the Big Ten tournament but in the NCAA tournament, too,”said guard Kelvin Torbert. “We know from here on out, itcould be the last game we play in a Spartan uniform and that’sa motivating factor in itself.”

The Spartan seniors were sentimental at the idea of playingtheir last home game at the Breslin Center, but the idea of preparingfor the postseason meant even more. The Spartans made 36-of-72shots from the field against Penn State — including an eye-popping13-of-26 from beyond the arc.

Their first assignment in the Big Ten tournament will be againstthe winner of the Iowa-Purdue game March 11.

— After rolling to a 90-64 win over Penn State in theBig Ten finale on March 5, the Spartans are 22-3 all-time in gamesagainst the Nittany Lions.

— Michigan State is shooting 49.9 percent from the field— a figure than ranks second in the Big Ten.

— The Spartans are allowing 63.0 ppg — ranking fourthin the Big Ten.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Drew Neitzel, guard Maurice Ager,center Paul Davis, guard Shannon Brown, forward Alan Anderson.

QUOTE TO NOTE: Come (today), we have to start focusing on whatit is we have to get better, and build on some of the things wedid (against Penn State).” — Guard Chris Hill on theincrease in intensity the Spartans need for a memorable postseason.

UPCOMING GAMES: Big Ten tournament; vs. winner of Iowa-Purduegame, March 11

KEYS: The Spartans finished second to Illinois in the regularseason and are clearly better than every team but the Illini.But if the Spartans meet the Illini in the Big Ten final, theynow know Illinois is vulnerable. Ohio State showed that a solidfrontcourt game can cause problems for Bruce Weber’s team, solook for Paul Davis and Alan Anderson to play a big role if thetwo teams play this week.

ROSTER REPORT: Forward Alan Anderson connected on 9-of-14 for22 points in the March 5 win over Penn State. Anderson is averaging13.4 ppg and shooting 55.9 percent from the field.

— Center Paul Davis is fourth in the Big Ten with an averageof 7.4 rebounds per game.

— Guard Maurice Ager leads the Spartans in scoring withan average of 13.6 ppg. He is shooting 50 percent from the field.

OKLAHOMA STATE:

The Cowboys could have laid out a perfect schedule for the tournamentbut their problems under the glass are becoming an issue. Theyhave speed and if they can get out and run, their athletic talentis dangerous!

For weeks, perhaps even months, Oklahoma State was countingon opening the NCAA Tournament in nearby Oklahoma City.

But with Oklahoma’s surge to a first-place tie with Kansas forthe Big 12 crown, as well as three losses in four games for theCowboys to end conference play, Oklahoma State’s destination issuddenly fuzzy.

Oklahoma and Kansas are now lined up as the teams most likelyto play first- and second-round games in Oklahoma City.

That’s an unexpected blow for the Cowboys, an experienced teamexpected to make a repeat run at the Final Four.

The prospect still exists, but Oklahoma State needs to use theBig 12 Tournament as a stepping stone and regroup as the thirdseed. Everyone must step up, but the key figure could easily beF Joey Graham, a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

With his reach and quick first step, Graham poses matchup problemsfor almost any team, but his physical characteristics can’t createthe difficulty on their own. Graham must assert himself and avoidfoul trouble, which has caused him fits since G JamesOn Currywas inserted in the lineup and Graham moved inside.

The Cowboys’ troubles underneath could cost them if they don’tstart pounding the glass. After outrebounding opponents in 22consecutive games, they lost that edge in each of their last threeconference games.

“We are undersized,” Graham conceded. “We dogive up a lot of height and weight. It’s something this team hasto improve on. … We’re sticking with what works. Last year wewent with a small lineup and we did pretty well. Coach stickswith what works.”

If that’s true, the Cowboys may be making some changes soon.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is recognized as one of the toughest arenasin the country, and that certainly was a factor in Oklahoma Staterolling to 29 straight home wins before its March 5 loss to Texas.

Nonetheless, the public address announcer had to rile up thelethargic crowd during a timeout with 11:50 remaining in the Texasgame. While his prodding did some good and helped trigger a mini-spurtby the Cowboys, the noise level throughout was surprisingly substandard. —After leading the nation in 3-point shooting enteringthe final week of conference play, Oklahoma State went just 7of 24 behind the arc in its loss to Texas, which employed a 2-3zone. Oklahoma State shot 43.3 percent against Texas after shootingjust 42.9 percent in a 69-63 squeaker over Texas A&M on March2.
—Plans for the Oklahoma State seniors to grab microphonesand briefly salute fans after the Texas game were scrapped whenthe Cowboys lost.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Joey Graham, forward Ivan McFarlin, guardJamesOn Curry, guard Daniel Bobik, guard John Lucas.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We’re not out. We’re still confident. We’vejust got to come out and play and don’t worry about nothing else.We just need to leave everything on the court. We’re disappointedright now, but we absolutely have a chance to get back to theFinal Four.” — Oklahoma State G John Lucas.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Texas-Colorado winner, Big12 Tournament, March 11:
KEYS: While talk all season has centered on Oklahoma State’s chancesof returning to the Final Four, the path it must take in the Big12 Tournament will be similar to a tough NCAA draw. If the oddsplay out, Oklahoma State will have to go through Texas, Kansasand Oklahoma to capture the Big 12 Tournament. That won’t be easyconsidering Oklahoma State was 2-3 against those clubs duringconference play.
ROSTER REPORT: F Joey Graham led Oklahoma State with 17 pointsin its 74-73 loss to Texas on March 5, but hit just 5 of 12 shotsfrom the field. Over the last five games, Graham is shooting 41.7percent.
—F Terrance Crawford had a chance to win the game againstTexas after getting fouled in backcourt attempting a desperationshot. The foul gave Crawford three chances from the line, buthe missed the second attempt, preventing OSU from even forcingan overtime.

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