College Basketball Nation: 2012 Nashville Region

Dion DixonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDion Dixon had 15 points and three steals in the Bearcats' win over No. 3 seed Florida State.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin wasn’t biting late Sunday night.

His Bearcats had just bulldozed No. 3 seed Florida State 62-56 in the third round of the East Regional at Bridgestone Arena to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2001.

Up next just happens to be Ohio State, which is about a two-hour drive from Cincinnati’s campus, but might as well be 2,000 miles away when it comes to the schools establishing any semblance of a hoops rivalry.

They’ve played only once since Cincinnati beat Ohio State in the 1962 national championship game, and that was at the Wooden Tradition tournament in Indianapolis in 2006.

[+] EnlargeJaquon Parker
AP Photo/Donn JonesJaquon Parker had a game-high 11 rebounds as Cincy advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time in more than 10 years.
Cronin has made it known in the past that he’d love to play Ohio State on a regular basis and that there’s no reason the schools shouldn’t play. The only problem is that Ohio State hasn’t wanted to play, which probably explains Cronin’s answer Sunday when asked about the irony of facing the Buckeyes on such a national stage Thursday in Boston.

“I have great respect for their program,” Cronin said. “Other than that, they’re the next team we play. You know, these guys have a goal. We have a goal, and we got into the tournament to win it. I want my guys thinking that way because I believe in them. It’s important that they know that I believe we’re capable of winning the whole tournament.

“We’re capable of winning any game we play.”

And that includes the No. 2-seed Buckeyes, one of four schools from the state of Ohio to make the Sweet 16.

The Bearcats (26-10) got there with toughness, defense -- and as Cronin reminded everybody Sunday -- a healthy dose of talent, too.

Whether it was Sean Kilpatrick going 4-of-6 from 3-point range, Jaquon Parker yanking down 11 rebounds, or Dion Dixon stealing Luke Loucks' pass out of three-quarter court pressure and sailing in for a tomahawk dunk, Cincinnati made every play it needed to in knocking off the Seminoles. A Florida State team that won the ACC tournament championship this season and beat both Duke and North Carolina twice.

“I think we get a lot of credit for playing hard,” Cronin said. “I think, hopefully, tonight people saw our talent level, to be able to do things some teams in the ACC couldn’t do last week on a neutral court. … I think our talent level is a lot higher than people give us credit for.”

It was the Bearcats’ eighth win this season over a nationally-ranked opponent, and they had that unmistakable look about them when it came time to win or lose the game on Sunday.

Not only did they hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes, but they made key stops on the defensive end and chased down all the 50-50 balls.

Dixon’s steal and soaring dunk with 1:30 to play swung a back-and-forth game in Cincinnati’s favor for good.

“That kind of sparked us a little bit,” said Dixon, who had 15 points and three steals.

Like their coach, the Cincinnati players also downplayed the fact that it was Ohio State standing in their way next week in Boston.

What they didn’t downplay was where they expect to be when this tournament is over.

“Going to the Sweet 16 is all cool,” Parker said. “But we’re thinking way better than that. We’re trying to get past the Sweet 16 and do bigger and better things.”

The deeper the Bearcats advance, the more people will forget about their ugly brawl with Xavier in December that resulted in multiple suspensions of players.

Cronin said it’s been a fight every step of the way to get out from under that stigma, but he’s proud of the way his players have responded.

“We’ve been on a mission to define what Cincinnati basketball is all about, what our university and city is all about, and the kids have banded together to do that,” Cronin said. “It hasn’t been easy. These guys’ backs have been against the wall since that day, not because of the issue, because we were 5-3 and our RPI was sky-rocketing.

“We were so far away from the NCAA tournament we couldn’t see it with binoculars.”

They can see it now. Matter of fact, they have a front-row seat.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A quick look at No. 6 seed Cincinnati’s 62-56 victory over No. 3 seed Florida State in the third round of the NCAA tournament’s East Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: It was a physical contest from the outset with both teams looking like two big bulls slamming into each other. Florida State led by one at halftime, and it stayed close throughout the second half.

The two teams traded leads, and neither shot particularly well (38 percent from the field for both teams). What killed the Seminoles were costly turnovers, and the Bearcats capitalized. They outscored the Seminoles 19-6 off turnovers and also had a 13-5 advantage on fast-break points.

And even though Cincinnati was just 5-of-15 from 3-point range, guard Sean Kilpatrick hit back-to-back shots from long distance just inside 4 minutes, and then the Bearcats only missed once from the free-throw line in the final two minutes of the game.

Turning point: The game was tied at 50-50, and Florida State had the ball. But a lazy pass by FSU’s Luke Loucks against Cincinnati's pressure defense was stolen by Dion Dixon, who flew in for a dunk to give the Bearcats a 2-point lead with 1:30 to play. A couple of possessions later, Loucks committed another turnover when he was called for traveling. The Seminoles never got any closer than four points the rest of the way.

Key player: Kilpatrick led the Bearcats with 18 points and was 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point arc. He also had 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 37 minutes.

Key stat: The Bearcats were 9-of-10 from the free-throw line in last two minutes of the game. They only shot 63.7 percent from the line during the season.

Miscellaneous: Even though Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright shot just 2-of-10 from the field, he dished out 6 assists, collected 5 steals and turned the ball over only twice in 33 minutes. … The Bearcats wore the black version of their new Adidas uniforms on Sunday. Their jerseys were black with fluorescent orange/pink numbers and trim. … Florida State’s leading scorer, Michael Snaer, had another off shooting night. He was 0-of-7 from the floor in the second-round victory over St. Bonaventure and was just 4-of-11 Sunday against Cincinnati.

What’s next: Cincinnati (26-10) will advance to the Sweet 16 to face second-seeded Ohio State on Thursday night in Boston. It's one of those matchups that you wouldn't see during the regular season. Ohio State hasn't been willing to play Cincinnati on a regular basis and has typically wanted to play only if the game were in Columbus.

Ohio marches on, gets UNC next

March, 19, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A year ago, it was VCU.

Maybe it’s Ohio University that will captivate the college basketball world in this year’s NCAA tournament.

The No. 13 seed Bobcats are off to a rousing start and insist there’s a lot more left after spurting past South Florida 62-56 on Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena to reach their first Sweet 16 in modern tournament history.

In 1964, Ohio played in the Mideast Regional final, but that was when there were just 25 teams in the field.

The Bobcats entered this tournament as an afterthought for many. But after taking down a Big Ten team (Michigan) and a Big East team (USF) this weekend in Nashville, they head to St. Louis on Friday to face No. 1-seed North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesD.J. Cooper's clutch play helped seal Ohio's win over South Florida.
Nobody in green’s blinking, either. “This is where we expected to be, and nobody on this team is satisfied. I can promise you that,” said Ohio junior guard Walter Offutt, who led the Bobcats with 21 points and was 4-of-4 from 3-point range.

“I know a lot of people look at the seeds and see the bigger conference teams, and when somebody like us knocks one of those teams off, they look at it as an upset. We’re where we thought we’d be.”

The matchup with the Tar Heels just got a lot more compelling, too, with the news that North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall fractured his right wrist Sunday against Creighton. Marshall’s status for the rest of the tournament is unknown.

Ohio junior point guard D.J. Cooper has had his way with the first two point guards he’s faced in the NCAA tournament, and the Tar Heels don’t have an abundance of depth in the backcourt.

“My mentality is going to be the same regardless of who it is or who we’re playing against,” said Cooper, who had 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds against USF after pumping in 21 points two nights earlier in the win over Michigan. “I’m sorry to hear that [about] a good player getting hurt, but we’re going to come compete regardless of who it is.”

The Bobcats (29-7) have relied on their defense all season. They were forcing nearly 18 turnovers per game coming into the tournament.

And when they couldn’t buy a basket in the first half Sunday, it was their defense that kept them in the game.

Coach John Groce said his team displayed an “extraordinary toughness” in being able to outlast the bigger, bulkier Bulls, who don’t give up anything easy.

But the Bobcats hung around and then got hot from 3-point range. They were 9-of-18 in the game, and Nick Kellogg joined Offutt in hitting some huge 3-pointers down the stretch. And even though Ivo Baltic only made one field goal the entire game, it was clutch.

His jumper, with his foot on the 3-point line, went down with two seconds left on the shot clock and gave Ohio an eight-point lead with 2:35 to play.

Cooper’s floater to beat the shot-clock buzzer after spinning around USF’s Ron Anderson Jr. came about a minute later and was the dagger for the Bulls, who were playing their third game in five days.

“We’ve seen D.J. do that all season long,” Offutt said. “He loves being in that situation, but the good thing about this team is that we have a lot of those guys.”

Offutt, who transferred to Ohio from Ohio State, has been as valuable as anybody for the Bobcats.

In fact, Groce called Offutt a “culture-changer” in terms of what he’s brought to the Ohio program.

“He’s as good as it gets with all the intangibles, and he’s a productive player as well,” Groce said. “He’s an unbelievable ambassador for our university and how he conducts himself, and he’s really affected our program at a high level and injected it with a lot of toughness.

“It’s impossible for me to thank him enough for what he brings to our program. I’ll never be able to repay him.”

Maybe they’ll be able to thank each other with a win over the Tar Heels.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A quick look at No. 13 seed Ohio’s 62-56 victory over No. 12 South Florida on Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: It looked like South Florida’s size, length and suffocating defense might be too much for Ohio early on. The Bobcats went nearly nine minutes without a basket in the first half and ended the half by missing 14 of their last 15 shots. But they hung in there with some gritty defense of their own.

Once in the second half, the Bobcats found their stride offensively with different players stepping up and making big shots. They scored 41 points against USF in the second half, and the Bulls were a team that set a Big East Conference record this season by holding teams to an average of 56.7 points for an entire game.

Junior guard D.J. Cooper had his second straight big game and had 19 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. His floater in the final minutes just as the shot clock sounded put the Bobcats up by seven, and they were able to hit enough free throws in the final minutes to ensure their first trip to the Sweet 16 since the NCAA tournament began seeding. The Bobcats made it to the regional final in 1964.

Turning point: USF’s Jawanza Poland threw down an alley-oop dunk with 9:23 to play, giving the Bulls a 42-37 lead. But he was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim. Ohio's Nick Kellogg hit both free throws and then followed with a 3-pointer -- constituting a five-point possession -- to tie the game.

Key player: Cooper was outstanding again for the Bobcats, but they couldn’t have won without junior guard Walter Offutt's 21 points and four steals. Offutt was also 4-of-4 from 3-point range. His 3-pointer with 7:12 to play gave Ohio the lead for good.

Key stat: South Florida finished 2-of-15 from 3-point range, while Ohio was 9-of-18 from behind the arc.

Miscellaneous: South Florida missed some costly free throws in the final minutes. They missed four straight after falling behind 47-46, including two straight front ends of one-and-one opportunities. … Prior to that drought, the Bulls had made 11-of-12 from the free throw line. … South Florida dominated inside and outscored Ohio 32-12 on points in the paint.

What’s next: Ohio will now move on to the Sweet 16 to face No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday in St. Louis.

Previewing Nashville: Sunday's games

March, 18, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Taking a look at the NCAA tournament third-round games on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena:

No. 12 seed South Florida (22-13) vs. No. 13 seed Ohio University (28-7), 7:10 p.m. ET

The long shots are always the best stories this time of year, the tiny universities that come out of nowhere to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

South Florida’s hardly a tiny university. But when you start thinking hoops and USF in the same breath, and then throw the Big East into the mix, it’s hard to find anybody who really thought the Bulls would be here.

Well, they’re here, and they face Ohio University on Sunday night for a chance to make it to their first Sweet 16.

Not bad for a team that was squarely on the bubble when the NCAA pairings came out and a team that lost to Penn State and Auburn earlier this season.

For that matter, it was hard to see any of this coming before the season. The Bulls finished 10-23 a year ago under Stan Heath, his third losing season at USF, and there were a lot of people wondering if this might be his last season.

The Big East coaches picked USF to finish 14th out of 16 teams in the preseason.

Heath, who was fired at Arkansas after five seasons, had other ideas, and so did his team.

The Bulls scrapped their way to a 12-6 record in the Big East, their first winning conference record since joining the league in 2005. They squeezed into the NCAA tournament as one of the final teams in, and as a No. 12 seed, had to play in the first round in Dayton, Ohio.

They beat California late Wednesday night, traveled to Nashville on Thursday and then polished off Temple a day later, giving them their first two NCAA tournament wins in the program's history.

Even when their seed came out, the Bulls’ players were oblivious.

The only thing that mattered to them was that they were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage -- and they’re still playing.

“We’re just happy to be here, and we’re going to go out and play basketball, and regardless of what team we have in front of us, whatever the seed may be, that’s just a number,” USF senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. said. “At the end of the day, it’s just five guys going against five guys.”

Heath is no stranger to deep runs in the NCAA tournament. He worked under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and made three Final Four trips with the Spartans. Then as head coach at Kent State, Heath took the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight in 2002.

That magical run got him the job at Arkansas, but he was ousted after five seasons.

He’s proving now in his fifth season at USF -- with the Bulls’ black-and-blue brand of defense and their unselfishness on offense -- that he hasn’t forgotten how to navigate his way through March.

“The kids are so excited to be here,” Heath said. “They’re so excited to be a part of the NCAA tournament, and now we’re in the third round. I just don’t see them not seizing this moment. I just don’t see it.”

Who to watch: Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper. You might want to loosen up the old neck muscles, because Cooper is an absolute blur on the basketball court. He’s a 5-11, 165-pound left-hander who can shoot it from deep and beat pretty much anybody he wants off the dribble. When his outside shot is going, he’s almost impossible to defend. He doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the field (35 percent), but he's fearless when it comes to taking the ball to the basket and also knows how to get his teammates involved. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Cooper play much this season, do yourself a favor and keep your eye on No. 5. He’s a treat to watch play.

What to watch: The scoreboard. With the way these two teams play defense, it’s not a stretch to think that the first team to 55 may win. South Florida is big and physical, and the Bulls swarm opponents any time they get close to the paint. They held California to 13 points in the first half of their opening-round game and then suffocated Temple 58-44 on Friday. Ohio doesn’t have South Florida’s size or length, but the Bobcats are one of the best teams in the country at turning teams over. They forced an average of 17.7 turnovers per game during the season and held Michigan to 40.7 percent shooting on Friday in their 65-60 win over the Wolverines.

No. 3 seed Florida State (25-9) vs. No. 6 seed Cincinnati (25-10), 9:40 p.m. ET

One team came within a game of winning its conference tournament.

The other team did win its conference tournament.

Both teams will tell you that they play in the toughest hoops conference in the land.

It’s the ACC versus the Big East on Sunday night in the third round of the East Regional, and while their styles may not be exactly the same, Cincinnati and Florida State have the identical mentality when it comes to living to see another day in the NCAA tournament.

“You’ve got to train your guys to play with tremendous toughness,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “If you let some of these teams run their offense, they’re so good. The coaching is so good. The skill level is so sky-high. You’re going to give up baskets.

“You’ve got to be able to take people out of what they’re doing to try and create some easy baskets for your team, because it’s so hard to score on the other end.”

It’s a way of life in the Big East, according to the Cincinnati players.

“Every game, it’s like you’re playing for your life,” Cincinnati senior guard Dion Dixon said. “That’s why you see so many games come down to the end, and it’s not always pretty.

“But what it does is prepare you for this. One bad game, and you’re gone. Your back’s to the wall as soon as you step onto the court. That’s OK with us because we feel like we’re at our best when our backs are to the wall.”

The Bearcats’ only two losses since the middle of February were to a pair of teams still playing. They lost in the Big East tournament championship game to Louisville (50-44) and at South Florida (46-45) back on Feb. 26.

“You’ve got to be able to grind, and when you get good looks, you’ve got to be able to make clutch shots, especially in the second half,” Dixon said. “We’ve been able to do that.”

As equipped as the Bearcats think they are to advance to the second week of the tournament, the Seminoles are equally nasty on defense and took down both Duke and North Carolina en route to winning the ACC tournament championship.

And consider this: They won their second-round NCAA tournament game on Friday over St. Bonaventure despite their leading scorer, junior guard Michael Snaer, going scoreless for the first time in his career.

“We lean on each other and don’t have to depend on just one player or one aspect of our team,” Florida State senior forward Bernard James said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized, being able to win games in a lot of different ways. But the constant with us is always going to be our defense.”

Who to watch: Michael Snaer. He was 0-for-7 against St. Bonaventure and didn’t score a point. Snaer averaged 14.5 points during the season and shot 42.1 percent from the 3-point line. The chances of him going scoreless again are about as good as Steve Spurrier showing up behind the Florida State bench with his face painted up in Seminoles colors. Snaer’s too good of a player not to bounce back, but the Bearcats will work hard to keep him from getting into any kind of groove early.

What to watch: The zone. Cincinnati has been able to change up its defenses and again had some success with the 2-3 zone on Friday. Cronin was pleased with the way the Bearcats rebounded out of the zone in their second-round win over Texas. He also thinks the zone helps get senior forward Yancy Gatessome rest. The 6-foot-10 James is Florida State’s main threat inside, but the Seminoles also start 6-11 center Xavier Gibson.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Breaking down No. 12 seed South Florida’s 58-44 victory over No. 5 seed Temple on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Nobody uglies up a game better than South Florida, and the Bulls did it again Friday after smothering California on Wednesday night in their first-round game. South Florida set a Big East record this season by allowing just 56.8 points per game. Temple was fortunate to get to 40 after being beaten, battered and bruised by a South Florida defense that is relentless. There's no such thing as a good look against the Bulls, especially anywhere near the goal.

Amazingly, the Bulls were able to win despite making just three of 27 shots from the field (11.1 percent) in the first half. Of course, the Owls got off only 13 shots in the first half and couldn't take advantage of South Florida's cold shooting.

South Florida, which trailed 19-15 at the half, opened the second half with an 11-2 run. A 3-point spree fueled by back-to-back treys from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick gave the Bulls a 14-point lead, and they’re simply too good defensively to lose that kind of lead.

Turning point: It looked like Temple might be on the verge of a comeback after trailing by as many as 14 points with 10:34 to play. The Owls pulled within 41-38 on Ramone Moore’s 3-pointer, and the momentum was shifting in their direction. On the next possession, South Florida’s Victor Rudd Jr. found himself out top with the shot clock winding down and fired up a 3-pointer that banked in off the glass with 5:11 remaining.

Key player: Rudd scored 17 points and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He had 13 of his points in the second half and made all three of his treys after the break.

Key stat: With both Ohio and South Florida winning Friday, that means either a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed will advance to the Sweet 16 from the Midwest Regional.

Miscellaneous: South Florida now has evened its all-time NCAA tournament record at 2-2 after coming into this one 0-2. ... The Bulls were 6-of-8 from 3-point land in the second half. ... In their two tournament games this year, the Bulls have allowed a total of 98 points. They held Cal to 54 on Wednesday in Dayton. ... The Owls (24-8) now have lost in their opening game of the NCAA tournament in four of their past five appearances.

What’s next: South Florida (22-13) advances to the third round of the NCAA tournament and will take on No. 13 seed Ohio on Sunday. The Bobcats defeated Michigan in the earlier game Friday night.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ivo Baltic proudly stretched out the front of his Ohio University jersey and slowly walked along press row displaying it.

D.J. Cooper gave a quick salute to the adoring Ohio fans, who were proudly chanting, “We are Ohio.”

Otherwise, there weren’t a lot of showy celebrations from the No. 13-seeded Bobcats, who acted very much like they’d been there and done that Friday night in sending No. 4-seeded Michigan packing 65-60 in the second round of the Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena.

“We want to set a higher standard for this program,” Cooper said. “You can’t set the kind of standard we want to set in one game.”

On a day that saw its share of upheaval in the NCAA tournament, the Bobcats served notice that this wasn’t their first time at the Dance.

And Cooper, in particular, reminded everyone that he can dance with the best of them.

The Wolverines had no answers for him. He got into the lane area when he wanted to and also hit three of his six 3-point attempts. He finished with a game-high 21 points and handed out 5 assists in 37 minutes.

[+] EnlargeMichigan dejection
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz, right, combined for 29 of Michigan's 60 points.
It was reminiscent of what Cooper did to Georgetown two years ago as a freshman when he scored 23 points in the 97-83 upset of the Hoyas.

Now a junior, Cooper is even better, and he’s the kind of explosive guard who makes everybody else look like they’re running in quicksand.

“He’s a terrific talent,” Ohio coach John Groce said. “They saw him two years ago and they saw him tonight. He’s spectacular. He’s our quarterback. We go as he goes, especially on offense.”

It’s no coincidence that the Bobcats are unbeaten this season when Cooper shoots at least 50 percent from the field.

He got great looks on Friday and was patient, something his coach preaches religiously. Cooper was shooting just 34.8 percent from the field coming into the NCAA tournament.

“Coach gets onto me about settling [for jump shots], and I do settle sometimes,” Cooper conceded. “When your coach has that kind of confidence in you, you feel like nobody can stop you.”

The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Cooper wasn’t a blue-chip recruit coming out of Chicago. He picked Ohio over Kent State and Loyola (Ill.). Baylor also offered late, but Cooper said it was only after the Bears struck out on John Wall.

He hit it off with Groce instantly and wanted to be part of something that was building.

“We had different kids step up,” Groce said. “Obviously, D.J. is a special talent and just has a great knack for making guys better and has learned to play the position better over the years. We’re just grateful that he’s wearing the green and white.”

Michigan coach John Beilein sees a lot of premier guards in the Big Ten. He’s not sure he’s seen a better one this season than Cooper.

“He’s as good a guard as we played against this year,” Beilein said. “He’s tremendous. So he puts pressure on others to get help, and then, or not give help and play one-on-one in the post. [They’ve] got a really good team.”

Rapid Reaction: Ohio 65, Michigan 60

March, 16, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Breaking down No. 13 seed Ohio University’s 65-60 victory over No. 4 seed Michigan in the second round of the Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Other than the early minutes of the game, Ohio led the whole way in pulling off its second upset of a top-4 seed in the past three NCAA tournaments. The Bobcats knocked off No. 3 Georgetown in 2010.

There wasn’t a lot of mystery to this one. Ohio shot 51.2 percent from the field and held Michigan scoreless in the game’s final four minutes. The Bobcats were able to get good looks at the basket most of the game, and Michigan didn’t have anybody who could stay in front of Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper.

Ohio led by nine points with eight minutes to play, but Michigan made a run and cut the deficit to 63-60 with a little more than four minutes to play on Trey Burke’s 3-pointer. The Wolverines had several chances to tie the game, but couldn’t make shots down the stretch.

Turning point: After Michigan had pulled within 63-60 on Burke’s 3-pointer, Cooper missed from 3-point range on the other end. But Ohio’s Reggie Keely chased down the long rebound. It was that kind of game. Ohio made the plays when it counted, and Michigan didn’t.

Key player: Cooper was unstoppable for the Bobcats. The Wolverines tried several different defenders on him and did their best to shadow him with two players at times. But when Cooper wanted to penetrate, he usually did. He was also 3-of-6 from 3-point land and finished with a game-high 21 points and five assists.

Key stat: Cooper was 7-of-11 from the field. The Bobcats improved to 7-0 when he shoots at least 50 percent from the field.

Miscellaneous: It was the second consecutive shaky outing for Michigan point guard Burke, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. He was 5-of-15 from the field and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. In the Wolverines’ Big Ten tournament loss to Ohio State, he was 1-of-11 from the field and 0-of-7 from behind the arc. … Evan Smotrycz came off the bench to score 15 points for Michigan. It was only his fourth double-digit outing since Jan. 1. … Smotrycz’s turnover when he lost the ball off the dribble with 6.8 seconds left was the final blow for the Wolverines (24-10). ... Michigan's two senior guards, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, were a combined 1-of-7 from the field.

What’s next: Ohio (28-7) will move into the third round on Sunday and face the winner of the Temple-South Florida game. Those two teams play the late game Friday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Now that’s more like it.

This city is known for its music, specifically the country variety.

But it was compelling basketball that had Bridgestone Arena rocking in the two afternoon games Friday, and after a pretty flat day Thursday in the NCAA tournament, we needed a little drama.

The start to the Cincinnati-Texas game didn’t look like much. The Longhorns had more air balls than points midway through the first half.

But after managing just four field goals in the first half, Texas dug itself out of a 19-point hole early in the second half and actually had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final minutes before falling 65-59 to Cincinnati.

“You know nothing’s going to be just handed to you in this tournament,” Cincinnati senior guard Dion Dixon said. “We’ve got a veteran team. We’ve been here before. We know that it takes 40 minutes.”

Friday's second game in Nashville was the essence of what makes this tournament the spectacle it is.

St. Bonaventure, a small Franciscan Catholic school located about an hour from Buffalo, N.Y., took No. 3 seed Florida State to the wire before losing 66-63.

The Bonnies led the whole way, and their passionate fans were as much the story as the team itself. The school has only about 2,400 students, and it sounded like just about all of them were in the arena for most of the game.

“A week ago, we were planning on playing in the CBI [College Basketball Invitational], and here we are in the Big Dance with a chance to tie the game up,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “You couldn’t ask for more.”

Even after Florida State showed tremendous resolve and finally took its first lead with about five minutes to play, the Bonnies had their chances to pull off the shocker.

[+] EnlargeSaint Bonaventure_Florida State
AP Photo/Mark HumphreySt. Bonaventure's Jordan Gathers heads for the bench late as FSU players celebrate behind him.
“That’s the ACC [tournament] champs. We’re the little Bonnies, and we’re going toe to toe with them,” Schmidt said. “That’s a credit to my guys.”

But therein lies the beauty of this tournament, and why people skip work and skip school every year for what’s now the second round of this hoops extravaganza.

“That’s why they call it March Madness,” Schmidt said. “Can the underdog compete with the big dog and have enough to knock them off?”

In this case, the Bonnies didn’t have enough, but that had more to do with Florida State than it did with anything St. Bonaventure didn’t do.

More precisely, it had everything to do with the Seminoles’ 27-year-old senior forward, Bernard James, whose story already has been an inspiration to hoops fans and non-hoops fans all over the country. James served six years in the Air Force, with three deployments to the Middle East.

On Friday, he was an inspiration to his teammates, and at times, put them on his back and carried them.

“The finality of it all hits you," James said. "Nobody wants to go home.”

There were stretches in the game during which James was screaming at his teammates and telling them to simply get him the ball. He finished 8-of-11 from the field with 19 points and nine rebounds.

“As a point guard, when a 6-foot-10 Army veteran, or an Air Force veteran, is screaming at you, you listen,” Florida State guard Luke Loucks said. “So, you know, a few plays we weren’t even running any plays. I was kind of waiting people out, giving him the ball, and obviously you look at the stat sheet and he was producing all night long.”

It also says something about Florida State's resolve that the Seminoles could win with their leading scorer, guard Michael Snaer, going 0-for-7 and failing to score a point.

"We've been kind of a resilient team all year," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We've been in a lot of these close games, and this was another typical ACC blowout by three points."

Video: Breaking down FSU's win

March, 16, 2012

The College GameDay crew talks about how big man Bernard James helped Florida State get past St. Bonaventure on Friday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Breaking down No. 3 seed Florida State’s 66-63 win over No. 14 seed St. Bonaventure in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Florida State, after trailing the entire game, took its first lead at 55-52 with 5:19 remaining on Ian Miller's 3-pointer. The Seminoles never trailed again, but had to fight off a St. Bonaventure team that looked and played a lot better than your typical No. 14 seed.

The Bonnies led by as many as 10 points in the first half and were seemingly in command the whole way. But the Seminoles made clutch 3-pointers down the stretch and were able to slow down the Bonnies’ star player, Andrew Nicholson, for much of the second half. Nicholson finished with 20 points, but went nearly 16 minutes without a basket in the second half.

Turning point: St. Bonaventure was leading by four points with a little more than eight minutes to play when sophomore guard Charlon Kloof drove the baseline and missed a dunk. It could have put the Bonnies up by six and taken an already pro-St. Bonaventure crowd to another decibel level. Instead, the Seminoles came back and scored, making it a two-point game.

Key player: Florida State senior forward Bernard James was 8-of-11 from the field with 19 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. His dunk after the Seminoles missed a layup in transition tied the game at 52-52.

Key stat: Nicholson made all five of his shots in the first half for the Bonnies, but picked up his third foul with 16:34 left in the game. His 3-pointer pulled St. Bonaventure within three points with just under two minutes to play. It was his first basket since the 17:23 mark, as he made just 3-of-12 shots in the second half.

Miscellaneous: The Seminoles got key contributions off the bench from Okaro White and Miller. White drained a 3-pointer with a second left on the shot clock with a minute to play. But his biggest play was a tap-out after a missed free throw by Deividas Dulkys with 25.2 seconds remaining and the Seminoles clinging to a 65-63 lead. Miller also made two of his four 3-point attempts. … Florida State’s bench outscored St. Bonaventure 22-11. … The Seminoles have now won six in a row.

What’s next: Florida State (25-9) advances to the third round to face Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bearcats won earlier Friday over Texas in the second round.

Video: Breaking down Cincinnati's win

March, 16, 2012

The College GameDay crew analyzes the dominant play of the Bearcats' Yancy Gates against Texas.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Its 19-point lead had been chipped away to nothing, and Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates looked around at his teammates' eyes and liked what he saw.

There wasn’t any panic, only opportunity.

“That’s the way it’s got to be, and that’s the way it’s been all season for us,” Gates said. “We knew they were going to make a run, but we knew we’d be there with an answer. We're used to being in these situations. It's like that every night in the Big East."

Gates did a lot of the answering himself, as No. 6 seed Cincinnati held on to beat 11-seed Texas 65-59 in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s East Regional at Bridgestone Arena.

It was a strange game from the outset, mostly because the basket might as well have been a pin hole for the Longhorns, who were just 4-of-25 from the field in the first half.

“We were up in them pretty good, trying to make everything tough,” said Cincinnati senior guard Dion Dixon, who helped hold Texas’ leading scorer, J'Covan Brown, to 6-of-15 shooting and five turnovers.

“There were some shots that they just missed, but our defense was pretty good. It wasn’t as good as it needed to be when they made their comeback, and that’s something you can’t have. The important thing is getting stops when you’ve got to have them.”

Gates, who led the Bearcats with 15 points and 10 rebounds, made perhaps the biggest shot of the game when he absorbed contact then buried his leaning hook in the lane to put Cincinnati back on top 54-52 with just under three minutes to play.

His basket came after Texas had come all the way back from 19 points down early in the second half. The Longhorns actually had a chance to take the lead, but Brown lost the ball out front.

Gates knew the Bearcats couldn’t give the Longhorns any more openings.

“We got those stops, and we knew we had to turn those stops into some points,” Gates said.

The 6-foot-9 senior added a jumper from just inside the 3-point line to put the Longhorns away once and for all with 1:14 to play. It was almost as if Texas senior center Clint Chapman dared him to take it, and Gates didn’t hesitate.

“It was just confidence, even from teammates telling me to shoot it earlier in the game, where early in the season, I wouldn’t have shot that,” Gates said.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said Gates is a different player from the one who was suspended for six games after throwing punches in the Xavier brawl back in December. It's a big reason the Bearcats (25-10) have won eight of their last 10 games and are pointing toward a deep March run.

“You know, he’s come a long ways. ... He’s matured so much as a player,” Cronin said. “I’ve just got to make sure I get him rest. That’s the biggest issue at times. In the second half, I should have gotten him out earlier, and I didn’t get him early rest.”

Even with its rotten start, Texas (20-14) managed to claw its way back into the game.

But when the Longhorns had chances at the end, they couldn’t capitalize.

"Defensively, I thought we played hard throughout, but we tied the game and actually had two chances to take the lead, and sort of where our season has been, [we] turned it over and [didn’t get] a very good shot," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "But I’m really proud of the fact that these guys fought.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Breaking down No. 6 seed Cincinnati’s 65-59 victory over No. 11 seed Texas at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Maybe it was Cincinnati’s new fluorescent uniforms. Then again, the Bearcats’ defense probably had a lot to do with it. Whatever it was, Texas got off to an awful start shooting the basketball. The Longhorns missed 21 of their 25 field goal attempts in the first half and trailed by as many as 19 points early in the second half.

The reality is that Cincinnati should have been up by more than just 14 points at the half with how poorly Texas shot. With just under 10 minutes to play in the first half, the Longhorns had more air balls (three) than points (two).

Still, Texas made a charge in the second half and got hot from 3-point range. The Longhorns tied the game at 52-52 with 3:44 to play on Jonathan Holmes’ rebound bucket. But in those final minutes, Cincinnati made the plays and Texas didn’t.

Turning point: Texas had clawed all the way back from a 19-point deficit and tied the game at 52-52. The Longhorns had a chance to take the lead, too, but junior guard J’Covan Brown lost the ball with just under three minutes to play. Yancy Gates answered for Cincinnati with a tough basket in the lane, and Cashmere Wright drove the middle a minute later after a Sheldon McClellan missed 3-pointer to give the Bearcats a four-point lead and some breathing room.

Key player: Gates was clutch for the Bearcats. He finished with a team-high 15 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds. His shot in the lane broke a 52-52 tie with just under three minutes to play, and he came back and swished a jumper to seal the deal with 1:10 remaining.

Key stat: Texas shot just 16 percent from the field in the first half (4-of-25) and missed 13 straight shots at one point. The Longhorns started the game by missing 14 of their first 15 shots.

Miscellaneous: The Bearcats were wearing new adidas uniforms that had a number of people breaking out the shades in Bridgestone Arena. The trim was a cross between highlighter pink and neon orange, and the players also wore the same color socks. Those players with black sneakers even donned the same blinding shade of shoestrings. … The teams combined to make just 10-of-36 shots from 3-point range. … Cincinnati outscored Texas 40-20 on points in the paint.

What’s next: Cincinnati (25-10) will face the winner of the Florida State-St. Bonaventure game on Sunday in the third round.

Previewing Nashville: Evening games

March, 16, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Now we turn our attention to Friday's evening session in Music City:

No. 4 Michigan (24-9) vs. No. 13 Ohio (27-7), 7:20 p.m. ET

What to watch: Anybody who’s watched John Beilein’s teams play offense at Michigan, and West Virginia before that, knows how frustrating it can be defending his system in the half-court. The Wolverines are going to shoot 3-pointers and layups and not a lot else. They’re also relentless with their high picks and backdoor cuts to the basket and don’t turn it over much -- only 10.9 turnovers per game. But in Ohio University, Michigan gets a team that doesn’t mind grinding it out on defense. The Bobcats like to trap and really challenge teams with their on-the-ball pressure. They’re forcing 17.7 turnovers per game and defend the 3-point shot as well as anybody in the country. Opponents are shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range against the Bobcats, who are 60-19 under John Groce when they hold opponents under 70 points.

Who to watch: Michigan point guard Trey Burke was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media. He leads the Wolverines in scoring (14.8 points) and assists (4.6). He broke Michigan’s 27-year-old freshman record for assists in a season and has 151 entering the Ohio game; Gary Grant had the old record, dishing out 140 assists during the 1984-85 season. Burke had been pretty good at taking care of the ball until the 77-55 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, when he turned it over eight times. He also shot just 1-of-11 from the field in that game, so you know he’s been bouncing off the walls to get back onto the court.

Why to watch: Losing to Ohio State in anything is a nightmare for Michigan. So it goes without saying that the 22-point loss to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament still stings. The only thing that could make it worse would be losing to Ohio University in the NCAA tournament. The good news for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines are 8-0 in games following losses this season. But Ohio comes into this game having won eight of its past nine games. “We’re playing with confidence right now. We’re playing together as a team," Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper said. "We’re playing pretty good defense. That’s what we’ve been relying on all year. We’re going to stick together and stay together through the tournament."

What they’re saying: “This is Ohio versus Michigan, and it’s about two teams competing and that want the same thing, and that’s to survive and advance. Every guy on our team needs to be focused on their role to help Ohio do well.” --Ohio University coach John Groce

“I think everybody is in that same boat. All 68 teams are trying to get to that point where it just becomes magical for them, and it’s so much fun if they’re successful in that dream.” --Michigan coach John Beilein

Around the rim: Michigan is 11-0 this season when sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots 50 percent from the field or better. ... Ohio junior guard Cooper is one of two Division I players over the past 12 years to have averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals over an entire season. ... Cooper, who’s left-handed, recorded the first triple-double in Ohio history earlier this season in a victory at Portland when he scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists. ... Cooper isn’t a great shooter. In fact, he’s shooting just 34.8 percent from the field this season. ... The Wolverines are 18-0 this season when leading at the half.

No. 5 Temple (24-7) vs. No. 12 South Florida (21-13), 9:50 p.m. ET

What to watch: Temple has won 13 of its past 15 games and sports a spiffy 24-7 record. The Owls are no stranger to the NCAA tournament, either: This is their fifth consecutive appearance. What they’d like to change is how long they hang around in the postseason. They haven’t won more than one game in the NCAA tournament since 2001, when they advanced to the Elite Eight under then-coach John Chaney. It’s Fran Dunphy’s show now, and the Owls have a veteran team built to make a deep run. They boast one of the more potent backcourts in college basketball and start three seniors and two juniors. All five starters average at least 9.1 points per game.

Who to watch: Temple senior guard Ramone Moore ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 17.7 points per game. He’s one of three players on Temple’s team to have made 50 or more 3-pointers this season. Not only that, but Khalif Wyatt, Juan Fernandez and Moore shoot better than 38 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-4 Moore has scored in double figures in all but two games this season.

Why to watch: Forget jet lag. South Florida’s players insist they were ready to play after knocking off California in the first round late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The Bulls caught an early flight to Nashville on Thursday and said the short turnaround won’t be a problem. It was only a year ago that VCU came out of the first round and made it all the way to the Final Four. Plus, South Florida coach Stan Heath said, it’s not all bad to have already played a game. “We got our feet wet a little bit and got out there and maybe worked out the kinks and the nervousness and all those different things," Heath said. "The other team is a little more well-rested, may have a little more energy, but may not have the same rhythm that we may have from the previous game.”

What they’re saying: “We have to come out aggressive. They do a great job defensively. I mean, they held California to 13 points yesterday in the first half, which is great. But we’ve got to come out and play our basketball, got to make the extra pass, hit the open shots … and they don’t let you speed them up. They do a great job of getting their shots and slowing the game down.” --Temple guard Ramone Moore

“I said in Dayton that playing defense has kind of been our foundation. It really becomes a problem for a lot of teams. A lot of teams pride themselves on scoring 80 points or in the 70s, and they feel like if they can get to 80 points or in the 70s that they have a good chance of winning. For us, we feel like if we can keep them below the 60s that we have a good chance of winning.” --South Florida forward Ron Anderson Jr.

Around the rim: South Florida set the Big East Conference scoring defense record this season by allowing just 56.8 points per game. The Bulls have held 31 of their 34 opponents under 70 points. ... Anderson transferred to South Florida from Kansas State following the 2009 season. His other finalist when trying to decide where to continue his college basketball career was Temple. ... Heath said his players were wired following the 65-54 victory over Cal on Wednesday night. “I know the guys didn’t sleep much last night. They were watching 'SportsCenter' at 2 o’clock in the morning. They were watching each other’s dunks and getting excited. I was trying to put them to bed,” Heath joked. ... Dunphy said he heard someone say that going against South Florida’s defense was “like going to get a root canal.” ... Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who faced South Florida in Big East play, said what makes the Bulls so good defensively is how well they rotate, and when they do, the guy rotating over is anywhere from 6-7 to 6-11. ... Temple will be joining the Big East in football next season and then in all sports in 2013-14.