Previewing Tampa: The early games

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
7:10
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though teams like Kentucky, Michigan State and UCLA are located on opposite sides of the bracket, the Tampa pod at the St. Pete Times Forum has a distinct blue-blooded flavor.

The Bruins have won 11 national championships and played in the Final Four 18 times, more than any other program. The Wildcats are playing in their 51st NCAA tournament -- an NCAA record -- and have reached the Final Four 13 times.

The Spartans and Gators have enjoyed more success recently, with the Spartans making six Final Four trips under coach Tom Izzo and the Gators winning back-to-back national championships under coach Billy Donovan in 2006 and ’07.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins guided the Mountaineers to the Final Four last season, after taking Cincinnati there in 1992.

“You know, these teams have great history, great historical programs,” UC Santa Barbara forward James Nunnally said. “But we’re all basketball, we’re all the same. We all lace up our shoes the same way. We all have to play. That’s how I feel about it.”

Here’s a closer look at early NCAA tournament action in Tampa:

No. 12 seed Clemson (22-11) vs. No. 5 seed West Virginia (20-11), 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

ABOUT THE TIGERS

Coach: Brad Brownell (189-96 in nine seasons, 22-11 in first season at Clemson)

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010

All-time NCAA record: 9-10 in 11 appearances

Player to watch: Clemson forward Jerai Grant has been one of the ACC’s most-improved players over the past couple of years. This season, he was named to the ACC’s all-defensive team and finished second on the team with 12.4 points and first with 6.7 rebounds. He also ranked among the country’s best shot blockers, averaging 2.4 blocks a game. In Clemson’s 70-52 victory over UAB in Tuesday’s NCAA first-round game, Grant scored a career-high 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting with seven rebounds.

ABOUT THE MOUNTAINEERS

Coach: Bob Huggins (690-252 in 29 seasons, 100-41 in four seasons at WVU)

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010

All-time NCAA record: 24-23 in 23 appearances

Player to watch: Guard Joe Mazzulla always seems to rise to the occasion in the NCAA tournament. As a sophomore, he nearly had a triple-double in a second-round upset of Duke in 2008, with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Last season, Mazzulla scored 17 points in a 73-66 upset of Kentucky in the East Regional finals. Mazzulla is averaging 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds this season.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Clemson’s legs: The Tigers didn’t arrive in Tampa until 4:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, after beating UAB in an NCAA first-round game in Dayton, Ohio. The Tigers didn’t make it to their hotel until around 5:30 a.m. and players were allowed to sleep until around noon. There was a shoot-around and news conferences later in the day.

“It was difficult, but you know, it’s the NCAA tournament,” Brownell said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, so I’m not talking about the negatives. “We’re going to be ready at 12:00 and we’re going to lace them up and be ready to go.”

2. Defense, defense, defense: It’s a matchup of two of the better defensive teams in the country. The Tigers rank No. 20 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 60.9 points per game. The Mountaineers allow only 64.1 points per game and have won 42 of their previous 46 games when yielding 69 points or fewer.

3. Casey at bat: West Virginia senior Casey Mitchell has been in and out of Huggins’ dog house this season, but still leads the team with 14.1 points per game. Mitchell was suspended from the team on Jan. 24 and didn’t play in the next three games. He returned on Feb. 5 and has been inconsistent ever since. He scored 23 points in a loss at Syracuse and 22 points in a loss at Pitt, but also was held to 10 points or fewer in six of 10 games since coming back. Huggins said Mitchell had some of his best practices of the season this week.

No. 13 seed Princeton (25-6) vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (25-8), 2:45 p.m. ET (CBS)

ABOUT THE TIGERS

Coach: Sydney Johnson (66-52 in four seasons)

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2004

All-time NCAA record: 13-27 in 23 appearances

Player to watch: Senior forward Kareem Maddox plays off the bench, but leads the Tigers in scoring (13.9 points), rebounds (7.1) and blocked shots (56) in 31 minutes per game. He was the Ivy League defensive player of the year and scored 30 points in an 86-77 victory over Siena and 31 in an 82-78 win at Tulsa.

ABOUT THE WILDCATS

Coach: John Calipari (505-151 in 19 seasons overall, 60-11 in two seasons at Kentucky)

Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2010

All-time NCAA record: 101-45 in 51 appearances

Player to watch: Point guard Brandon Knight was named All-SEC and freshman All-America after leading the Wildcats in scoring (17.5 points) and assists (4.2). He has scored in double figures in 28 consecutive games and had 12 20-point games -- the most by a UK freshman. Knight is shooting 78.9 percent on foul shots and 38.7 percent on 3-pointers.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Kentucky guard Doron Lamb's ankle: Lamb, a freshman from Queens, N.Y., injured his ankle in Kentucky’s 72-58 victory over Alabama in the SEC tournament semifinals on Saturday. Lamb was able to play 23 minutes off the bench in UK’s 70-54 rout of Florida in the championship game, but went 2-for-6 from the floor, including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.

“It hurt a little bit, but once the game started it was OK,” Lamb said Thursday. “After the game, it was killing me. But I got a lot of treatment and iced it, and I will be ready.”

2. Princeton’s offense: This isn’t your daddy’s Princeton offense. Once known for their methodical, half-court offense, which typically back-doored opponents to death, the Tigers are actually running up and down the floor. Johnson still employs elements of legendary coach Pete Carril’s offense, but these Tigers are averaging nearly 70 points per game.

“The players that we have, there’s a little bit more athleticism, they’re a bit more dynamic, and so we may not need three or four passes and a cut-through before they can get a shot,” Johnson said. “It might be as simple as a pick-and-roll. It might be a hard cut and just post-up at the basket and roll it into them.”

3. Kentucky’s freshmen: Knight and forward Terrence Jones, the SEC’s freshman of the year, are two of the country’s best rookies. But both freshmen looked a little overwhelmed playing in the first two games of the SEC tournament. Knight and Jones shot 30.4 percent, including 2-for-15 on 3-pointers, in victories over Ole Miss and Alabama in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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