College Basketball Nation: 2012 Columbus Region

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before he wiped the floor -- he actually grabbed the sweeper from a ball boy in the final minutes of Michigan State’s 65-61 victory over Saint Louis on Sunday at Nationwide Arena to erase a wet spot -- Draymond Green cleaned up the locker room.

Since the Spartans reached Nationwide Arena last week, they’d hinted at past distress. They were even instructed not to discuss the 2010-11 season. Senior guard Austin Thornton admitted, however, that “guys had minds elsewhere,” during one news conference.

The cause behind that fall from back-to-back Final Fours to a one-and-done program in the 2011 NCAA tournament wasn’t as simple as injuries and a bad night. The Spartans had issues.

But Green’s leadership eliminated yesteryear’s drama and fueled the team’s run to the Sweet 16.

In one crucial play against the Billikens, this squad illustrated its renewed bond and his role in it.

With three minutes to go, Tom Izzo gave Green the ball. He’d struggled to get comfortable in the paint in the second half -- proof that Rick Majerus still has it -- so Izzo told his 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward (everything?) to run point.

“I did go up to him and I said, 'Look, I’m going to put the ball in your hands the last three minutes because we can’t get it to you down low, but you’ve got to make good decisions,'" Izzo said.

Green scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and recorded 2 steals.

But his greatest moment came after Izzo turned him into a point guard. The Billikens had cut Michigan State’s 11-point lead midway through the second half to two with 3:18 to go on Kwamain Mitchell’s layup.

Green nailed a 15-footer. Then, he blocked Cory Remekun’s shot on the other end. And on his team’s next possession, he channeled Magic Johnson.

[+] EnlargeDraymond Green
Greg Bartram/US PresswireDraymond Green's move to the point down the stretch helped Michigan State hold off Saint Louis.
He drove toward the rim in traffic. And as a national-player-of-the-year candidate and the best player on the floor, he had every right to take that shot.

But Green is a star who doesn’t care about that status. He had a greater goal in mind.

Instead, he moved toward the bucket, drew Billikens and found Keith Appling wide open in the corner.

Appling connected on the 3-pointer and put the Spartans ahead 58-51 with 1:37 remaining on the game clock, one of his six assists on Sunday.

Prior to that play, Green had encouraged Appling to get loose.

“We got in the huddle in one of our timeouts, Draymond instilled some confidence in me, told me I was a 41 percent 3-point shooter last year, so shoot the ball,” Appling said.

Green was actually the first option on that critical sequence, but deferred to his teammate.

“All night, I was begging him to shoot, too,” he said.

Late free throws sealed Michigan State’s trip to the Sweet 16, where it will face Louisville in Phoenix. But Green’s continued emphasis on unity ensured that this program would not unravel in the clutch moments it navigated against Saint Louis.

On Twitter, some commented that Green’s decision to wipe up the floor late in the game was an example of the senior “trying too hard” to show off his leadership and selflessness.

An entire locker room of young men who call him a brother would disagree.

Travis Trice said he admires Green because he invites the team’s freshmen over to his house in East Lansing, Mich. It’s not a random occurrence but a consistent effort by Green to include everyone in the program.

One staffer said Green just “gets it.” He shows up early for meetings. He treats the trainers -- not just his teammates and coaches -- with respect.

Derrick Nix said Green's dish to Appling showcased that humility. His teammate makes those plays often, Nix said, because he’s interested in the success of the entire program, not his own numbers.

“Draymond’s one of those pass-first guys. Little do a lot of people know, he’s going to pass it before he takes a shot because he’s so unselfish when he should be selfish at times,” Nix said.

The same man who’s helped the Spartans connect on and off the floor with his personality is the same person who will jump on a player if he’s out of order.

“Barking,” players called it during the NCAA tournament.

At halftime Sunday, players argued over the effort level in the first half. Green was vocal during the exchange.

“He is our head on this team, him and Keith," Nix said. "If it’s something going on, they’re going to know about it and address it."

Players accept Green’s praise and criticism because they respect him.

It’s easy to see why.

As much as he oozes confidence, Green admitted that he’s prone to mistakes. He’s not the perfect player/kid/friend/son/teammate he appears to be.

He said the pressures of garnishing attention for earning Big Ten player-of-the-year honors and being mentioned as a candidate for national honors were tough to handle.

“I still have times where I struggle and I go in to Coach behind closed doors and talk to him," Green said. "Nobody may know about it. My teammates may not know about it."

It’s that genuine persona and vulnerability that have anchored Michigan State’s undeniable chemistry.

Yes, Green is one of the best players in America. But according to those around him, his leadership is equally significant for the program and its potential to reach New Orleans.

“If he wanted to he could go off and say, 'Screw you guys, I’m going to get my numbers. I’m going to do what I can to get my numbers,'” Thornton said. “He sacrifices to make the team better.”

Video: Breaking down Michigan State's win

March, 18, 2012

Dan Dakich on Draymond Green's performance in Michigan State's 65-61 win over Saint Louis.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis of Michigan State's 65-61 win over Saint Louis.

Overview: This matchup featured two of the top coaches in the game.

Rick Majerus and Tom Izzo were at their best Sunday, when the Spartans earned a victory over the Billikens at Nationwide Arena.

In the first half, the Spartans capitalized off their size advantage and earned a 12-4 edge in the paint. They shot 48 percent from the field before halftime. Saint Louis struggled (23.8 percent from the field in the first half, 2-for-11 from beyond the arc).

But the Spartans squandered possessions with nine first-half turnovers. They had a 26-21 lead at halftime.

Then they started rolling in the second half.

A Keith Appling layup gave the Spartans a 45-34 lead with 11:42 to play.

Game over, right? Wrong.

Majerus’ squad never quit.

A 12-4 run closed the gap. Jordair Jett hit a pair of free throws with 5:34 to go cut Michigan State’s lead to three points (49-46). Suddenly, the atmosphere at Nationwide Arena changed dramatically as Billikens fans started believing again.

A Kwamain Mitchell layup with 3:18 to play resulted in a 53-51 deficit for Saint Louis.

But the Spartans never lost their composure.

Draymond Green hit a jump shot and then blocked Cory Remekun’s layup on the other end. Appling drained a 3-pointer off a Green assist. Austin Thornton hit a pair of free throws and just like that, the Spartans had a seven-point advantage with 1:15 to play.

Saint Louis never stopped fighting. A 3-pointer with 8 seconds to go left the Billkens with a 64-61 deficit to overcome. But Thornton hit 1 of 2 free throws and Mitchell missed a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds to go.

Turning point: That 12-4 run in the second half changed the game. Saint Louis had a legitimate chance to pull off the upset, but the Billikens shouldn’t be disappointed. They lost to a team that’s looked as good as every team in the field thus far, other than Kentucky.

Key player: Take a guess. Starts with Draymond. Rhymes with “mean.” Yes, Green did it again. The All-America forward had 16 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Appling scored a game-high 19 points.

Key stat: Saint Louis shot 35.3 percent from the field. The Spartans committed two turnovers after halftime.

Miscellaneous: In the second half, Green played point guard in stretches. He even wiped up a wet spot on the floor. Why can’t he play in the NBA? … Majerus did some amazing things with this Saint Louis team this year. One of the best in the business.

What’s next: Michigan State will face Louisville, a 4-seed, in the Sweet 16 in Phoenix.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As two of the heroes from NC State’s 66-63 victory over Georgetown on Sunday walked through a hallway toward the postgame news conference, C.J. Leslie remained in the locker room.

He sat on a blue folding chair with a towel draped over his knees as reporters scurried over a pile of warm-ups, jerseys and shoes in the middle of the sardine can that doubled as a temporary Q&A hub at Nationwide Arena.

Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown, the two young men who made clutch plays throughout the third-round NCAA tournament win, deserved the opportunity to represent the program in the postgame presser.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina State Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie
Greg Bartram/US PresswireNC State Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie energized his team in its NCAA tournament third-round victory.
Wood scored 14 points and sank four of his five 3-point attempts.

Brown earned Mr. Clutch honors with a variety of plays in the final minutes of a win that sent the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.

Brown’s jump shot with 2:15 to play gave the Wolfpack a seven-point edge. He hit 5 of 7 free throws in the last 71 seconds of the game. His last free throw gave the Wolfpack a three-point cushion, so even if Jason Clark’s 3-pointer at the buzzer had found the rim -- it was an air ball -- the game would have gone into overtime.

But players and head coach Mark Gottfried agreed that Leslie, a player whose desire has been criticized throughout his career, salvaged the victory.

He started and finished a 15-2 run that turned a 25-15 deficit with 5 minutes and 17 seconds to play in the first half into a 30-27 halftime lead.

“There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to take this game,” said Leslie, who scored 14 points and also added eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals. “I brought the energy. Scott Wood brought the 3s. And [Brown] brought the taking them off the dribble and whatever else he did.”

The game-saving run commenced when Leslie hit a jump shot with 5:03 remaining in the first. It ended when Leslie ripped the ball from Otto Porter’s arms, raced up the floor and dunked on the other end.

Leslie played tough for 40 minutes.

It took the Wolfpack some time to compete with the energy that’s expected in the NCAA tournament. But Leslie’s effort on defense and offense was consistent.

His steal late in the first half of Sunday’s game set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, according to Leslie’s teammates.

“The one thing I want to credit to C.J. is the last play of the [first half]. He got that steal. That kind of uplifted us a little bit,” said C.J. Williams, who scored 14 points. “It was a nip-and-tuck kind of game. That gave us a three-point lead. Even though it may seem minuscule to a lot of people, it’s a very big confidence-booster for us to go into half with a steal, the momentum and everything.”

Multiple NBA draft analysts, including, have questioned the talented forward’s motor since he joined the program last season. “If he's going to be successful at the next level, he'd be well served to show a more consistent motor running the floor,” notes.

Even Gottfried said he’d heard a multitude of negative remarks about Leslie when he took the job last year.

“It feels great. People are going to talk. I can’t worry about that. I just gotta play my game and do what the coach says and try to go as far as I can go,” Leslie said.

Those previous knocks seemed obsolete during NC State’s win over Georgetown. Leslie flew up and down the floor. He got flagged for goaltending after racing to contest one of Clark’s layups.

Leslie was completely dialed into everything that was happening around him. And he was passionate.

“When you’re such a good player, they’re always going to find some way to criticize him, no matter what. I’ve never questioned C.J. Leslie’s motor,” said Richard Howell, who recorded nine points and 10 rebounds. “I feel he’s one of the few players when [stuff] gets rough, he’s going to go in, he’s going to battle with you.”

Gottfried’s arrival has reinvigorated Wolfpack basketball, which will play in the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years. Now, it’s impossible to ignore NC State locally and nationally.

Gottfried led the Wolfpack to the tournament even after they lost four in a row in February. Hard to find many similarities to that squad and the one that’s playing with a definite swagger right now.

Gottfried has helped Leslie and his teammates develop.

Both entered the season amid doubts.

Gottfried hadn’t coached since his departure from Alabama in 2009. Few knew what to expect from him.

Leslie entered the year facing the same questions about his drive and off-court behavior. He started the season by serving a brief suspension for receiving improper benefits.

Gottfried told reporters Saturday that he refuses to call Leslie “C.J.” because of the criticism he heard about the 6-foot-8 forward after he seized control of the program. He calls him by his first name, Calvin.

“When I took this job, every time I turned around somebody was making a negative comment about C.J. Leslie: Doesn’t play hard. He’s disinterested. You’re not going to be able to reach him,” Gottfried said prior to his team’s win over Georgetown. “So my thing was it’s time for a change. It’s time for you to have a fresh start. So for me we’ll change your name.”

Leslie said Gottfried focused on the strengths of every player on the roster and implemented them within his system. That approach helped players cling to Gottfried.

“He did a good job of just knowing everybody [personally]. That’s the start of it. Just getting to know everybody and what they can do best,” Leslie said during Saturday’s media session.

In the final minute of Sunday’s game this rebirth could have come to an end. Georgetown fought back and Clark had a chance to tie at the buzzer.

“It was a good look,” Leslie said.

Nope. Not yet.

Clark missed and the Wolfpack moved forward behind a coach and star player who continue to prove their doubters wrong.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis of NC State's 66-63 win over Georgetown.

Overview: NC State started cold. In the first 10 minutes, 9 seconds of its third-round matchup against Georgetown at Nationwide Arena on Sunday, it recorded just two field goals. But Georgetown hit an offensive roadblock, too.

The Hoyas surged ahead to a 25-15 margin with 5:08 remaining in the first half, but Henry Sims’ early foul trouble limited the 6-foot-10 center to just six minutes of action before halftime.

They missed his defensive presence during the Wolfpack’s 15-2 run that resulted in a 30-27 halftime lead for NC State. The Wolfpack kicked off the second half with a 13-5 run (28-7 overall) that put them ahead by 11.

Four NC State players recorded double figures in the game. Hollis Thompson (23 points) was on fire for the Hoyas, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Wolfpack.

But Georgetown did make it interesting in the final minute.

Georgetown closed the gap, and after Lorenzo Brown missed the second of two free throws, the Hoyas had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. But Jason Clark air-balled a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Brown’s two clutch free throws with 10 seconds to play gave the Wolfpack a four-point lead. His teammates carried him off the floor after the win.

Turning point: When Georgetown took that 10-point lead in the first half during NC State’s drought, the Hoyas looked like they were ready to go for the kill. But they didn’t. They relaxed and the Wolfpack returned fire in the form of a 28-7 run that started in the first half and ended in the second.

Key player: C.J. Leslie scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and recorded two steals. Both Scott Wood and C.J. Williams scored 14 points, too. Richard Howell had nine points and 10 rebounds.

Key stat: The Hoyas committed nine turnovers in the first half. NC State's first-half rally was anchored by a 14-6 scoring advantage in the paint. … The Wolfpack went 7-for-15 from beyond the arc.

Miscellaneous: This was Georgetown’s third consecutive loss to a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.

What’s next: NC State will face the winner of Kansas-Purdue in its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Taking a look at Sunday's games in Columbus.

No. 11 NC State (23-12) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (24-8), 12:15 p.m. ET

NC State is an 11-seed and Georgetown is a 3-seed. But Sunday’s matchup at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, doesn’t feel like a 3/11 game.

The Wolfpack have the length and athleticism to challenge a Georgetown team that enjoys the same tools and uses them to its advantage, too.

C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell just attacked and attacked against undersized San Diego State as NC State scored the “upset” against the Aztecs on Friday. Lorenzo Brown shot well from outside with SDSU’s bigs trying to close up the lane.

The Wolfpack were dominant. But they also had a clear size advantage in that matchup.

That won’t be the case against Georgetown, a team that utilizes 6-foot-10 Henry Sims and 6-8 Otto Porter in the frontcourt. The Hoyas have the top 3-point defense in America. Jason Clark is a versatile guard who carved up Belmont.

Georgetown showcased its versatility in its win over Belmont. The Hoyas went to a zone that frustrated one of the top 3-point shooting teams in America.

They can throw multiple defensive looks at the Wolfpack. They can go man-to-man because they have the size, or they can revert to that tough zone.

Georgetown beat NC State 82-67 last season, when the Hoyas separated from a young Wolfpack team with a 15-0 run in the second half. The Wolfpack made just 23.5 percent of their 3-point attempts in that game.

This season, the Wolfpack are ranked 82nd in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings. Georgetown is 299th. NC State’s players said Georgetown’s ability to control the speed of the game affected the outcome last year.

“I know the one thing I can remember, it was very frustrating playing them, because they’re the type of team who doesn’t want to score 80 or 90 points,” Howell said. “They don’t want to get up and down the floor. They just want to play a very slow, a very slow-paced game. That’s something we don’t want to do. We want to get up and down.”

The Hoyas resent the notion that they can’t run, but they also recognize the role that tempo could play in Sunday’s game.

“They have pretty much the same players on the team. They’re a very athletic team,” Clark said. “They like to get out and score in transition. They’re a very good team.”

No. 9 Saint Louis (26-7) vs. No. 1 Michigan State (28-7), 30 minutes after Game 1

You don’t need the actual scouting reports to know Saint Louis’ game plan against Michigan State. The Billikens, ranked 304th in Pomeroy’s tempo ratings, want to make the Spartans play slower than their norm.

But it’s more complicated than that, which is why the matchup between the two guys on the sidelines takes precedence.

This is Saint Louis vs. Michigan State, but it’s also Rick Majerus vs. Tom Izzo.

Majerus has amassed a 517-215 record and made 12 NCAA tourney appearances. He led Utah to the NCAA title game in 1998, the highlight of a head-coaching career that started at Marquette during the 1983-84 season.

Izzo was a longtime assistant under Jud Heathcote before taking over the program during the 1995-96 campaign. He has a 384-161 record. He won the national title in 2000 and he’s reached the Final Four six times.

This is a matchup of two of the top coaches in the game. Both Izzo and Majerus showcased their acumen during round of 64 victories in Columbus.

The Spartans didn’t impose their will in the first half against LIU-Brooklyn the way they could have and led by just five points at the break.

Izzo said he was disappointed the Spartans didn’t take great shots early in that game. He scolded his squad for not sticking to the game plan and attacking inside. The Spartans responded with an impressive effort after halftime.

Izzo has molded this program into one of the most focused and connected teams in the country, one that’s capable of reaching New Orleans.

But Majerus is a master game-planner, too.

By Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his team’s win over Memphis in the second round, Majerus seemed capable of writing a thesis about Green and his teammates.

“I can beat Rick. I can get him up and down the court for sure,” Izzo joked. “The job he does with his team, his teams are always tough, well-disciplined. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They don’t beat themselves. They’re very solid and fundamental. And the post players are as fundamental as anybody in the country.”

Memphis, the Billikens' first-round opponent on Friday, was supposed to have the same advantages in size and athleticism that Michigan State appears to have entering Sunday’s game. That didn’t matter when Saint Louis and Memphis took the floor, though. Saint Louis slowed the game down and didn’t panic when the Tigers took an eight-point lead midway through the second half.

Kwamain Mitchell hit big shots. Brian Conklin proved that a 6-6, 235-pound forward can hold his own in the paint against a more athletic, longer opponent.

But Michigan State has beef in the post that Memphis lacked. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne have stepped up in the postseason.

Majerus, however, faced similar circumstances Friday and came out on top.

The former Utah coach’s experience will play a role in Sunday’s matchup. He’s one of the best in the business at breaking down opponents and finding their weaknesses.

He’ll try to do it again against a coach that he respects.

“I respect Izzo because he’s a self-made coach. He was with Heathcote all those years. He’s demanding. He’s fair,” Majerus said. “His players really like him. And he loves the game. He’s a guy that you could get together with and talk ball.”

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis from Michigan State's 89-67 win over LIU-Brooklyn.

Overview: No upset in this one.

But the Spartans, a No. 1 seed, weren’t dominant early. LIU Brooklyn, a 16-seed, shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and entered the break with a five-point deficit.

The Spartans, however, stopped messing around in the second half and advanced to the next round by outscoring the Blackbirds 47-30 after halftime.

Four Spartans recorded double figures. Derrick Nix gave Michigan State 18 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Michigan State shot 58.8 percent from the field and had a 42-19 rebounding margin.

Turning point: It was a close game at halftime (42-37), but Tom Izzo really pushed this team to elevate its game. Not sure what he told the Spartans at halftime, but they definitely picked up the pace. Eight minutes into the second half, the Spartans had a 13-point lead.

Key player: Draymond Green recorded a triple-double. He scored a game-high 24 points, recorded 12 rebounds and dished 10 assists.

Key stat: In the first half, Michigan State recorded a 34-14 scoring advantage in the post.

Miscellaneous: Adreian Payne is such a specimen. Tall and athletic. He had three or four ridiculous dunks that showcased his athleticism. But again, the question remains: Why don’t we see more of that from him? … The Blackbirds weren’t bad. They were down by only five at halftime. Jamal Olasewere (17 points) and Julian Boyd (15 points) can really play and they’re both juniors. Watch out for this mid-major next season.

What’s next: Michigan State will play Saint Louis on Sunday in the third round of the tournament with a shot at the Sweet 16 on the line.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- All Kwamain Mitchell could do last season was call and console his ailing teammates while he served a suspension for violating his school’s code of conduct. But on Friday, Mitchell gave his team a necessary boost in Saint Louis' 61-54 win against Memphis -- the Billikens' first NCAA tournament win since 1998.

“That suspension gave me time to think about mistakes in life, and the opportunity here, I’m here to take it,” said Mitchell, who scored a game-high 22 points over the Tigers in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Entering the game, some were already looking ahead to a Michigan State-Memphis matchup Sunday at Nationwide Arena.

But the Billikens canceled those plans by forcing a rugged pace, and by successfully stopping an athletic Memphis team from running up and down the floor.

The game was tied at 23 at halftime, but the Billikens stuck with their strategy of controlling the tempo. By the end of the night, the Billikens had outscored Memphis on fast-break points (11-6) and recorded an 11-for-20 clip in the second half. They’d held the Tigers -- who scored 60 points or fewer for only the third time this season -- to a 2-for-15 mark from the 3-point line (38.9 percent from the field overall) and nearly matched them inside (30-28 in the paint).

Brian Conklin added 16 points. Will Barton (16 points) was the only Memphis player who reached double figures.

[+] EnlargeMitchell
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesKwamain Mitchell finished with a game-high 22 points in Saint Louis' win over Memphis.
But Saint Louis encountered trouble midway through the second half as the Tigers-Spartans matchup that naysayers anticipated moved toward reality. Joe Jackson hit a jump shot with 11:51 to play to complete a 13-2 run (from a 27-24 deficit to a 37-29 lead).

Saint Louis had stayed close to the Tigers with strong defense. But as the Tigers pulled away, the Billikens needed Mitchell to don his cape, even though he’d been nursing an ankle injury.

“I was telling everybody to calm down, keep your composure and get this win,” Mitchell said.

The Milwaukee native scored 10 of his 22 points during a 23-7 run. He energized the sparse Saint Louis crowd that had traveled to Columbus -- clearly outnumbered by the boisterous Memphis fans -- with deep 3-pointers.

He yelled. He shouted. He balled.

He did not have the same chance to enjoy a hero’s spoils during the 2010-11 season.

Last season, Mitchell and Willie Reed, the team’s top scorers, were suspended by the university in October 2010 following sexual assault allegations. The school reinstated Mitchell midway through the season, but the dynamic guard decided to redshirt.

It was a difficult period for Mitchell and a Billikens team that missed the NCAA tournament with a 12-19 record (6-10 Atlantic 10).

“It was very difficult. I was calling the guys, telling them to keep their composure,” Mitchell said. “Back home, you know ... it was tough, it was tough.”

Coach Rick Majerus and Mitchell’s teammates said his return this season has changed the program. He’s averaging 12.1 points and 3.8 assists per game.

“With [Mitchell] coming back, he’s such a leader on the court,” Cody Ellis said. “He tells us what to do, and everyone respects his game, everyone respects him as a person.”

As Mitchell led the Billikens back against the Tigers, his teammates weren’t surprised. He’d averaged 15.9 points per game and shot 36 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore.

Conklin said Mitchell’s toughness in the team’s win over Memphis stems from the obstacles he’s had to overcome away from the floor.

“That’s the Kwamain we missed, being able to get those clutch buckets when we need them the most,” Conklin said. “I couldn’t be more happy for him, proud of him, everything he’s gone through. He’s got a rough ankle. It’s just great to see him come out and play a great game.”

Memphis had superior length and athleticism. The Tigers had NBA prospects. But they didn’t have Majerus’ defense. And they didn’t have the 5-foot-10 Mitchell.

Mitchell, who said last season taught him to value every game, said his performance against Memphis was fueled by his desire to stay on the road. He didn’t want his comeback story to end too soon.

“You can’t take this for granted,” Mitchell said. “I came in this game knowing we had something to fight for. If you lose, you go home. So throughout the whole game, I was thinking, like, we’re not losing this.”

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis from St. Louis' 61-54 win over Memphis.

Overview: St. Louis dictated the pace of the game early, something the Billikens said they had to do prior to Friday’s game. Memphis loves to run. The Tigers are one of the best transition teams in the nation. And the Billikens were clear that they had to force the Tigers to play half-court basketball.

At halftime, St. Louis and Memphis were tied, 23-23. By then, the tempo favored the Billikens in their matchup against a Tigers team that had scored only 60 points or fewer two times this season.

But the Tigers, who shot 1-for-8 from the 3-point line in the first half, launched an 11-2 run that put them ahead 37-29 with 11:54 to play. The Billikens’ offense had stalled and then, Kwamain Mitchell arrived. The junior scored 22 points and led St. Louis to a win in its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2000.

Turning point: The Billikens were down by eight points midway through the second half. But St. Louis responded to Memphis’ run with a 16-5 rally of its own that turned the game.

Key player: Mitchell was hot, especially in the second half. He scored 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. He was 6-for-9 after halftime. Brian Conklin added 16 points.

Key stat: Memphis went 2-for-15 from beyond the arc.

Miscellaneous: Memphis initially adjusted well to the slower tempo. But a late eight-minute stretch in which the Tigers recorded two field goals turned the game and showcased St. Louis’ defensive pressure. … Will Barton was the only Memphis player who recorded double figures. He scored 16 points.

What’s next: St. Louis will face top seed Michigan State on Sunday.

Georgetown ready to move forward

March, 16, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With Georgetown enjoying a comfortable lead late against Belmont, one Bruins fan still believed the Hoyas would stumble the way they had the last two years against lower seeds.

“You got a lot of choke in you, Georgetown,” he screamed toward the end of Georgetown’s 74-59 victory over Belmont in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Nationwide Arena.

In 2010 and 2011, the fan would have been right. But he was wrong Friday.

The Hoyas avoided a third consecutive postseason loss to a lower seed with an easy win over the Bruins.

The 3-14 matchup quickly became a trendy upset pick on Selection Sunday based on Belmont’s 3-point shooting (8.8 per game, 10th in the nation entering Friday’s game) and Georgetown’s premature dismissals the previous two seasons.

In the 2010, the Hoyas fell against Ohio. In 2011, they lost to VCU in the second round.

They were determined, however, to avoid another one in Columbus. And their fast start proved it. With 8:55 to play in the first half, they had an 11-point lead.

“I think it was definitely a sense of urgency, not just for me, but for the whole team,” said guard Jason Clark, who scored 10 of his team’s first 14 points. “We’ve known what we’ve done in the past. So it was a big thing for us to get this win today.”

That boisterous Belmont fan summed up the perception that made the Bruins a popular upset pick in office pools around the country.

[+] EnlargeJason Clark
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJason Clark translated his "sense of urgency" into a game-high 21 points against Belmont.
Center Henry Sims said he couldn’t escape the “Belmont over Georgetown” chatter entering the matchup.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I looked on Twitter and saw ‘I’m calling this upset, this 3-14 upset.’ I just wanted to prove people wrong,” he said.

Now, the Hoyas can look forward to a Sunday matchup against NC State, which beat San Diego State in the first game of the afternoon. The Wolfpack possess athleticism and length that Belmont clearly lacked.

The Bruins were down 36-27 at halftime after shooting 6-for-15 from the 3-point-line. The Hoyas, the best 3-point defenders in the nation, made every shot a tough shot for the Bruins.

And on offense, they just pounded the ball inside and exploited Belmont’s limited size.

Sims scored 15 points. Otto Porter finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. The Hoyas had a 44-20 scoring advantage in the paint by the end of the game.

And the Atlantic Sun champs didn’t have a defender that could stick with Clark, who recorded a game-high 21 points (9-for-12 from the field). Georgetown shot 61.2 percent overall.

After the Hoyas led 40-27 early in the second half, Belmont used a 9-2 run to cut Georgetown’s lead to six with 14:52 to play. But a Belmont goaltending call and turnover on its next possession helped the Hoyas regain a double-digit lead.

The 3-ball that had been so crucial throughout the season for Belmont was not as effective against the lengthy Hoyas. The Bruins were 4-for-12 from beyond the arc in the second half. Georgetown’s zone was effective throughout the matchup.

“It’s hard to shoot a 3 when it’s contested,” Sims said.

And now, the Hoyas feel like they can finally move forward.

“There’s no doubt, and I will be misleading if I were to say it was not a relief,” said coach John Thompson III.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Instant analysis from Georgetown's 74-59 win over Belmont.

Overview: Georgetown, a 3-seed, avoided a third consecutive opening-round loss to a lower seed with a win over Belmont, a 14-seed. How did the Hoyas do it?

They used their length to stifle a Belmont team that loves 3-pointers and they parlayed that size advantage into easy buckets on the other end of the floor.

By the end of the first half, Georgetown had a 36-27 lead. They’d outscored the Bruins 16-6 in the paint. Belmont still managed a 6-for-15 (40 percent) clip from the 3-point line, but every shot was a difficult one. Many were off-balance. The Hoyas just didn’t let the Bruins, a team that’s in the top 10 in 3-pointers made per game, get comfortable.

They were even tougher in the second half. Belmont missed five of its first six 3-pointers after the break. Behind a 61 percent shooting clip, the Hoyas led 40-27, 48-36 and 55-40 at different times in the second half.

Turning point: It was a six-point game after a 9-2 Belmont rally that concluded with a Blake Jenkins tip-in with 14:46 to play. Uh oh, right? Wrong. Georgetown opened the game back up via a Belmont goaltending call, a Bruins turnover on their next possession, a Henry Sims turnaround hook and a Greg Whittington dunk. And just like that the Hoyas had a double-digit lead again.

Key player: Jason Clark could not be stopped. He scored 21 points and went 9-for-12 from the field.

Key stat: Belmont, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country this season, recorded a 4-for-12 mark from the 3-point line in the second half.

Miscellaneous: Belmont had the right idea. The Bruins mixed things up in the first half and tried to find their shooters. But Georgetown was simply too long and athletic. … Was that really a goaltending call in the second half? From here, it looked questionable. … This was a trendy upset pick not because of the matchup but because of Georgetown’s early exits in recent years. On paper, however, it was a horrible matchup. Belmont needs 3s. Georgetown uses its length to protect the arc better than any team in America. Game. Set. Match.

What’s next: Now, it’s Georgetown versus North Carolina State on Sunday. The Wolfpack have a 4-2 record overall against the Hoyas.

Video: Breaking down NC State's win

March, 16, 2012

The College GameDay crew recaps NC State's 79-65 victory over San Diego State.

Columbus, Ohio -- Instant analysis from N.C. State-San Diego State.

Overview: The first-half scoreboard was deceptive in this game. North Carolina State, an 11-seed competing in its first NCAA tournament since 2006, led San Diego State, a 6-seed making its third consecutive appearance, by four points (33-29).

But the Wolfpack had dominated San Diego State inside by that point. North Carolina State had a 16-8 advantage in the paint at the break. And its size advantage continued to play a factor for the remainder of the game.

San Diego State, a team that starts four guards, was forced to go big early and put 6-8 DeShawn Stephens and 6-11 Garrett Green on the floor for lengthy periods together.

But the Aztecs didn’t have an answer for 6-8, 250-pound forward Richard Howell who had his way inside and scored 22 points. C.J. Leslie attacked the lane, too, and added 15 points that included multiple dunks. With SDSU searching for a way to limit the Wolfpack inside, Lorenzo Brown scored 17 points.

N.C. State continued to bully the Aztecs inside and separated in the second half. The Wolfpack led by 10 with 5:33 to play.

Turning point: A quick 8-2 run put N.C. State up 43-36. Didn’t seem like much but with the way the Wolfpack dominated inside, they held onto it. A late 9-4 run put the Wolfpack ahead by 10.

Key player: Howell was a beast from tipoff. He scored 22 on 10-of-12 shooting from the field.

Key stat: Four N.C. State players recorded double figures. N.C. State shot 57 percent from the field.

Miscellaneous: N.C. State is such a talented team. It’s surprising that they didn’t make more of a push in the ACC. … Leslie had about four monstrous dunks in the game. But he also had moments where he failed to use his athletic advantage and took a bad shot. .. .Jamaal Franklin gave it everything he had in this one. He scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

What’s next: N.C. State will play the winner of the Georgetown-Belmont game.

Previewing Columbus: Evening games

March, 16, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The fun continues at Nationwide Arena on Friday night with an appearance by a 1-seed and an 8-9 matchup featuring two squads that play opposing styles. Memphis is fast. St. Louis is slow. Which style will dictate the tempo? Michigan State is relying on its new chemistry as it enters a game against Long Island.

No. 9 Saint Louis (25-7) vs. No. 8 Memphis (26-8), 6:50 p.m. ET

If Rick Majerus’ demeanor was any reflection of his team’s mood entering its Friday matchup against Memphis, the Billikens will be in good shape. He drew laughs for the bulk of his news conference and appeared to be quite relaxed.

Majerus cracked jokes about Twitter: “I can’t see this Twitter thing … you know, 'Just went to the beach, the water was wet.' You know, I mean, it’s like what is that?”

Majerus also talked about a recent health situation in which he mixed up his medication and missed a game as a result: “And so I’m sitting there, and of course they want you to go to the hospital. And they’re saying, ‘Well, what pills did you mix up?’ I said I wasn’t trying to, you know ... the team hadn’t been playing that bad that I wanted to go south, you know.”

His players seemed just as serene as they talked about their tough matchup against the Tigers, a team that’s ranked 19th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings and 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

They’re one of the fastest teams in the country and can run with anyone.

And that’s what the Billikens want to stop. St. Louis is one of slowest teams in the country (No. 303 in adjusted tempo). It hopes to use its rugged style to its advantage when it faces Memphis.

“It’s definitely going to be getting more guys back and getting kind of packed in the lane and then building out from there,” said St. Louis standout Brian Conklin (13.9 points per game). “So definitely going to stop their early transition and make sure they use all 35 seconds of the shot clock, and we have to box out.”

The Billikens have one of the top defenses in the country (No. 10 in Pomeroy’s ratings). Their slow tempo didn’t stop them from finishing second in the Atlantic 10.

But the Tigers are a special group with elite athleticism. They have weapons in every spot. Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black anchor a team that’s shooting 49.4 percent from the field, fifth in the nation.

And now they’ve reached a point where players have accepted their roles, which has led a new level of chemistry for this talented group that says it’s ready for the Billikens.

“They’re a solid team. They play as one. They’re not a team that’s going to shoot themselves in the foot. They don’t turn the ball over much,” Black said. “They have good players.”

No. 1 Michigan State (27-7) v. No. 16 LIU Brooklyn (25-8), 9:20 p.m. ET

They all laughed at the question.

During their press conference Thursday, Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Austin Thornton and Keith Appling snickered when asked about the changes from last year’s team.

“Well, it was funny. We did all kind of laugh because we were instructed not to talk about last year,” Thornton admitted.

Last year was an abrupt change from the program’s two previous seasons.

The 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons ended with Final Four appearances. Last year’s campaign ended with a second-round loss to UCLA.

The summer before the 2010-11 season saw various team members undergo six major surgeries. But Thornton suggested that the problems extended beyond injuries.

“So a lot of things in the last couple years, especially even last year, just guys had minds elsewhere. It wasn’t entirely focused on the success of this program, and that’s what is different and what’s special about this year’s team,” he said. “Everyone bought in and understands what’s best for them is what’s best for this program and is what’s led to the success we had this year.”

The Spartans will need that bond to help them get through a region that features a variety of athletic teams. Missouri, Florida, Memphis, Marquette and Murray State make the West region one of the most competitive in the field.

“I think the advantage is everything’s almost similar," said All-America candidate Green. "So where some nights in the NCAA tournament you may go from playing against somebody who just may run a Princeton-style offense and then the next night to maybe playing someone who hardly runs any offense or just run all motion or they really run and gun for the most part.”

First, however, the Spartans have to take care of LIU Brooklyn, a team that won the Northeast Conference tournament.

The Blackbirds have some skill inside with Julian Boyd (a 6-foot-7 forward averaging 17.4 points, 9.5 rebounds) and Jamal Olasewere (a 6-7 forward averaging 16.8 points, 7.5 rebounds).

That duo has to avoid foul trouble for the Blackbirds to have a chance at the upset.

“I feel like every game this year, if me and Julian [are] on the bench, it will hurt this team,” Olasewere said. “So going into this one, with I guess, the style of play … physical, we have to just play with our hands straight up and try hard not to foul.”

The Spartans are one of the most physical teams in the country. They average 38 rebounds per game. Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix will defend the glass and attack in the post.

But they also have talented perimeter players such as Appling and Brandon Wood.

In the tournament, however, anything is possible.

On Thursday, UNC Asheville came close to becoming the first-ever 16-seed to beat a 1-seed when it pushed Syracuse for 40 minutes. But Blackbirds coach Jim Ferry doesn’t think UNC Asheville’s effort did his team any favors.

“That’s not very good for the Blackbirds, because if Michigan State was looking away a little bit that might have woken them up a little bit,” he said.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The afternoon slate of NCAA tournament games at Nationwide Arena on Friday will feature a pair of intriguing matchups. San Diego State will try to stop NC State from running away with the upset -- literally. And Belmont versus Georgetown pits one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams against the squad that’s most equipped to defend it.

No. 11 NC State (22-12) vs. No. 6 San Diego State (26-7), 12:40 p.m. ET

Last year, San Diego State charmed the country with its surge to the Sweet 16 as former Aztecs star Kawhi Leonard led the way. But Steve Fisher lost four starters from that team. Preseason projections suggested that the Aztecs would not come close to duplicating last season’s achievements.

But this program has proved its doubters wrong this year.

The Aztecs shared the Mountain West crown with New Mexico during the regular season. They’re undersized and they’re not very deep, but they’ve held their opponents to a 40 percent shooting clip, second in the conference.

Jamaal Franklin (17.2 points per game) and Chase Tapley (15.7 ppg) are a potent duo for a program that’s overcome adversity in close games. They’re 4-0 in overtime this season.

“It helped a lot. The NCAA tournament, you get those kind of games like every night, close barn-burning games, and those games at the beginning of the year, early in the year, like UC Santa Barbara, the Creighton game, games like that really prepared us for this moment we have right now,” Tapley said.

The Aztecs have been here before. The bright lights of March are not new for the program.

When Mark Gottfried took the Wolfpack job last summer, however, he understood that he’d have to rebuild a winning tradition at NC State.

Leading the Wolfpack to its first NCAA tournament bid since 2006 is a start.

“Our banners, national championship banners are hanging in our gym,” he said. “Our guys see them every day. And they understand the tradition and the history of NC State. Been in three Final Fours, won two national championships. So our players are very well aware of that.”

There were a multitude of reasons to doubt both teams’ chances of reaching March Madness.

To stay here, however, San Diego State will have to overcome its size disadvantage and try to control the tempo against a NC State team that likes to run. The Wolfpack will have to take advantage of their athleticism and transition offense to beat the Aztecs.

NC State’s scoring offense (73.6 ppg and 81st in Ken Pomeroy’s tempo ratings) was third behind North Carolina’s and Duke’s in the ACC. C.J. Leslie (14.6 ppg) leads five Wolfpack players in double figures.

San Diego State hopes to limit NC State’s ability to fully utilize its talent by slowing the game down in a matchup against a squad that’s shooting 46.3 percent from the field.

But the Aztecs said they feel comfortable picking up the pace, too.

“[We’re] not going to get in a transition game, really pick our spots here and there and run,” SDSU’s Xavier Thames said. “And whatever they want to play, we can play. We could play a slow-down game, we could play a transition game.”

NC State has to worry about matching up with an Aztecs team that employs a four-guard set.

“I feel that we have four guys on the perimeter, including C.J. Leslie, that can guard any position, 1 through 4,” C.J. Williams said.

No. 14 Belmont (27-7) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (23-8), 3:10 p.m. ET

It seems simple.

Belmont loves the 3-ball (8.8 per game, 10th in the nation). Georgetown plays the best perimeter defense in America (27 percent 3-point field goal percentage allowed).

Something has to give when the Bruins face the Hoyas in this second-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, right?

“We gotta penetrate when we can and be strong when we penetrate and find shooters on the perimeter and hopefully get inside the defense,” Belmont’s Kerron Johnson said.

Jason Clark said Georgetown’s preparations have focused on neutralizing Belmont’s 3-point barrages.

“That’s one thing Coach [John Thompson III] has been stressing all this week at practice is defending the 3-point line, not letting them get 3-point shots,” he said.

Thompson, however, says it’s not that simple.

The Bruins like to run (13th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and they’re a great passing team (17.4 assists per game, fifth in the nation). Belmont’s 81.5 ppg makes the Bruins the fourth best scoring offense in America.

All-Atlantic Sun guards Ian Clark, the conference’s defensive player of the year, Drew Hanlen and Johnson anchor Belmont. But Mick Hedgepeth (double-double in conference tourney title game) and Scott Saunders (10.2 ppg, 5.0 rebounds per game) can hurt opponents inside.

“Obviously, they have a terrific shooting team, but at the same time, if you get spaced out, if you start just chasing those shooters, their post players are very good and they’re … a very good passing team," Thompson said. "… Protecting the 3-point line and stopping shooters is important, but they’re much more complex than that.”

But Belmont will need one of its best efforts of the year to upset the Hoyas. The Bruins lost to Duke by a point in their season opener. So they won’t be intimidated.

The Hoyas have shot 46.3 percent from the field, the No. 2 mark in the Big East. Otto Porter and Henry Sims could bully the Bruins inside. Hollis Thompson is dangerous from outside (44.4 percent from beyond the arc) and Jason Clark (13.9 ppg) is a gamer.

This has been a trendy upset pick since the matchup was announced on Selection Sunday. But Georgetown is a team that’s built to control the Bruins.

But the two teams expect a battle.

Both know March Madness heartbreak.

Wisconsin sent Belmont -- a team looking for its first NCAA tournament victory in its fifth appearance -- home early last year.

Georgetown has lost back-to-back opening-round games to lower seeds. The early losses damaged the Hoyas’ postseason reputation and fueled some of this season’s upset predictions.

Sims, however, said the only way to change that is to advance.

“It’s hard for people to forget what happened until you make something different happen,” he said.