Sunday, March 18, 2012
Previewing Omaha: Sunday's games
By Jason King
OMAHA, Neb. -- Previewing the round of 32 games in Omaha on Sunday:
No. 15 Norfolk State (26-9) vs. No. 7 Florida (24-10), 6:10 p.m. ET
For the Norfolk State Spartans, one of the most memorable moments of their first NCAA tournament experience occurred not on the playing court -- but on the team bus.
Head coach Anthony Evans said his players will never forget the police escort that guided the Spartans’ charter through the crowded streets of Omaha and into the CenturyLink Center on Friday.
Flashing lights, sirens, the works.
“They were in the back of the bus going crazy,” Evans said. “I was even in awe. The police were cutting everyone off and letting us go first. Everyone kept saying it felt like we were the president.”
And that was before No. 15 seed Norfolk State shocked second-seeded Missouri.
One day after the biggest NCAA tournament upset in recent memory, the Spartans feel like even bigger celebrities heading into Sunday's round of 32 game against Florida.
Before he could even sit down for dinner after Friday’s win, forward Kyle O'Quinn had picked up 2,100 new Twitter followers. On Saturday, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound senior did a live, nationally televised interview with CBS while players, coaches and administrators answered questions from reporters all over the country about their school and their team.
“It’s something none of us have ever experienced before,” O’Quinn said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
But when will it end?
Norfolk State became the fifth No. 15 seed in history to knock off a No. 2 seed. The other four teams to accomplish the feat all lost in the next round. To avoid a similar fate, the Spartans know they must refocus and channel their attention toward the Gators.
“I’ve never been around anything like this,” Evans said. “It’s great for the program and great for the kids, but we talked about preparing for the [Florida] game as if it’s ‘businesslike.’ That’s the attitude we’ve had all year and it’s helped us be successful.”
Norfolk State is confident in its chances against Florida -- mainly because the Gators employ the same four-guard offense as Missouri. Billy Donovan’s team finished in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC. But the Gators aren’t nearly as good as the Missouri squad that Norfolk State defeated Friday.
Just like Missouri had in Ricardo Ratliffe, Florida features a high-level center in Patric Young. The sophomore knows he’s in for a tough task guarding O’Quinn.
“[O’Quinn] is so skilled and talented, and he’s a good defender, really physical,” Young said. “He overpowers the guys he goes up against. Hopefully I can do my thing and hold him to less than 24 and 12.”
Donovan said Norfolk State’s victory over Missouri definitely caught his team’s attention.
“From a national perspective, people may say this is an interesting Cinderella story,” he said. “But really ... the best team won. How people will remember them, I don’t know. But clearly I think they had a high level of confidence, a belief in themselves and their system, and it showed [Friday]."
No. 10 Purdue (22-12) vs. No. 2 Kansas (28-6), 8:40 ET
Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor knows what everyone is thinking about the Jayhawks' game against Purdue on Sunday.
“On paper,” Taylor said, “it looks like a mismatch.”
Kansas players, however, are smart enough to not believe it. Purdue, the 10th seed in the Midwest Region, may not be as good as it's been in years past. But the Boilermakers are exactly the kind of team that gives the Jayhawks trouble.
In some ways they’re like Missouri, but with less talent.
“In the past,” guard Conner Teahan said, “we’ve had problems playing smaller teams because it takes Jeff [Withey, KU’s center] out of the game. Hopefully we can have them match up with us as much as we match up with them.”
One of the biggest challenges for Kansas will be guarding 6-foot-8 Purdue forward Robbie Hummel, who is averaging 16.1 points. Hummel is an excellent ball handler who scores a large number of his points from the perimeter, which makes him a tough matchup for Kansas’ post players.
Taylor said Hummel was a “Kim English type of player” who can stretch the floor at the 4 position.
“It’s tough to match up with guys like that who are so versatile and who do so many different things," Taylor said.
Kansas coach Bill Self agreed.
“You’re pulling natural ‘bigs’ away from the basket to defend the 3-point line,” Self said. “Not all teams are experienced with that or have had an opportunity to do that.”
As he did against Missouri, don’t be surprised if Self goes with a smaller lineup to try to slow down a Purdue squad that averages 72.2 points per game. That would mean less minutes for the 7-footer Withey and more minutes off the bench for Teahan, a shooting guard.
“They’re quick and they get into the paint very well,” Teahan said. “We’re going to definitely need to D up on them. Perimeter-wise, I feel good with our strength and quickness. We need to stop them, but we’ve faced people like that before.”