College Basketball Nation: Mickey McConnell

Saint Mary's makes a statement against UNI

November, 15, 2011

MORAGA, Calif. -- Tradition has it that Saint Mary’s sweats it out on Selection Sunday. Two seasons ago, it took the drama out of it by winning the West Coast Conference tournament, and the Gaels made it all the way to the Sweet 16. Last season, despite racking up 25 wins and a share of the WCC regular-season title with Gonzaga, the Gaels got snubbed.

So before Saint Mary’s faced its first difficult test of the season, against Northern Iowa, and came through with a convincing 57-41 win at McKeon Pavilion, Gaels coach Randy Bennett reminded his squad that games in early November can have significant meaning.

“It’s one of those résumé-building wins come March,” Saint Mary’s guard Stephen Holt said, noting that the sting from being bypassed remains on the Gaels’ minds. “Coach hit on it in the locker room. It’s important to use that as motivation.”

Saint Mary’s responded by holding Northern Iowa to 13 first-half points and a 27 percent field goal percentage for the game. Top Panthers scorer Anthony James was limited to two points on 1-for-15 shooting.

The offensive woes Northern Iowa faced stunned a team that was coming off a 17-point road win against Old Dominion but didn’t necessarily surprise coach Ben Jacobson, given the quality of opponent the Panthers were facing.

“Saint Mary’s is very good defensively,” Jacobson said. “They’re physical and had a good plan. They made things harder for us.”

At one point, the Gaels led by 28 points after hitting five 3-pointers during a game-deciding 17-2 run in the second half. Matthew Dellavedova, who has taken over ball-handling duties after the team lost WCC player of the year Mickey McConnell, appeared very comfortable while scoring 11 points and dishing out seven assists. Holt, a sophomore who joins Dellavedova in the backcourt, came away with 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Forward Rob Jones added 10 points and 10 rebounds while providing a strong defensive presence.

“We were ready because we knew this was a good team -- one of the best mid-major programs in the country,” Bennett said. “You need to get these. We only get so many cracks at teams like that.”

Saint Mary’s has a possible home game against Big Sky preseason favorite Weber State, a trip to Las Vegas to take on Baylor and Missouri State, and a BracketBusters game in February as its opportunities to state its case for an at-large bid come March.

So while the limited offensive production might have put television viewers to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, Bennett could only smile at the sight of the scoreboard at halftime and go to bed satisfied that the Gaels managed to take down a team expected to contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title.

Even at this stage of the season, they weren’t shy about recognizing the win’s importance.

“It’s pretty big,” Holt said.

Saint Mary's has high expectations

July, 29, 2011
Saint Mary's faltered down the stretch last season, and for that was snubbed by the selection committee despite capturing 25 wins and a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season title.

This coming season, the Gaels won't have WCC player of the year Mickey McConnell to lead the way.

But forward Rob Jones, Saint Mary's leading returning scorer, believes that the team will make it back to the NCAA tournament.

"We have high expectations," Jones told the team's website. "We know what we could have accomplished last year, but we kind of underachieved a little bit I think. But I think this coming year ... definitely tournament-bound, hopefully win a couple of games. I can't give you too many details because I don't want to act like I'm talking mess, but we have high expectations for the postseason."

Jones has emerged as more of a scorer since transferring from San Diego to Saint Mary's, and he'll have plenty of experience around him in the frontcourt.

But what do the Gaels do without McConnell, who helped carry them two years ago to the Sweet 16 and served as their unquestioned leader since then? While Saint Mary's can expect a big year from Matthew Dellavedova, coach Randy Bennett will have to sort out the point guard position between Stephen Holt and SMU transfer Paul McCoy.

"Every year I feel like Saint Mary's, they lose this great player, and they think that we're not going to be as good a team, but we always seem to rise to the occasion," Jones said. "After the Sweet 16 they lost Omar [Samhan], and we had Mickey step up. So this year is just an another opportunity for another player to step up."
Some guys have all the talent. It's just not fair.

Latest example: Mickey McConnell. McConnell played hoops at Saint Mary's for four years. One of the best shooters in the country in his final two seasons, McConnell was key factor in the Gaels's 2010 Sweet Sixteen run as a junior and the WCC Player of the Year and All-American honorable mention as a senior. This makes him one of, say, the best 400 or 500 basketball players in all of America? Factor in the NBA, carry the one. That's a guesstimation, but it's not far off.

So, naturally, after excelling at basketball for four years, McConnell was drafted to play ... professional baseball. Of course he was.

Yes, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted McConnell in the 31st round of the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft, a news release from the school informed us Wednesday. McConnell was surprised by the development, and he should be: The last time he played organized baseball was in his final game as a senior in high school, where he was a standout shortstop for Dobson High in Mesa, Ariz.
"It's exciting, I'm totally surprised, this was a little bit unexpected," said McConnell. "The last time I played was four years ago in high school. In the summers I would hit a little bit and do minor baseball stuff with my brother but nothing serious or organized."

According to the release, McConnell has no plans to switch careers quite yet. He isn't a lock to be taken in the NBA draft this summer, but he still has workouts with a variety of teams, including the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Plus, being picked in the 31st round far from guarantees you a shot at the majors.

Still, it's remarkable: McConnell is apparently so good at sports that he can play collegiately in one and entirely ignore the other ... and still get professional looks from both. Tip your caps, friends. That's just impressive. And, for the millions of us who gave up on our professional sports dreams somewhere around sixth grade, yeah it's a little unfair, too.

Randy Bennett not liking Selection Sundays

March, 14, 2011
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett went into the weekend cautiously optimistic that the Gaels were headed back to the NCAA tournament.

"I feel good," Bennett said Friday, knocking on the wood of his desk for good measure. "You never know what can happen. I'm just hoping Joe Lunardi's money.

"I feel good about where we sit, our résumé, and what all the prognosticators are saying."

Unfortunately for Gaels, the experts weren't on the actual selection committee and late-season losses to San Diego, Utah State and Gonzaga twice ended up costing them an at-large bid. They opened up McKeon Pavilion for a watch party with their fans and ended up just staring in disbelief.

How perplexed was Bennett? He mentioned the BCS should be brought to college basketball so that mid-major teams wouldn't have to go through such torture, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
After his second case of Rejection Sunday in three years, St. Mary's head coach Randy Bennett was so miffed he invoked college football's oft-ridiculed Bowl Championship Series standings as a way to improve the selection process for the NCAA Tournament.

"Go to BCS. Go to something where there's a standardized number how you figure out who's in, who's not," Bennett said about 10 minutes after learning his Gaels (25-8) were not one of the 37 teams to receive an at-large bid.

"Because I know the way we're doing it now is, some teams can get a 65, 69 RPI and they're from a big conference, the (selection committee) will find a way to make an excuse to get them in.

"Whereas from our conference, they're not going to flip-flop that. We're not going to get the same deal. To me, that's not right."

Forgive Bennett if he's just a little more than frustrated. The Gaels were snubbed in 2009 as well and have basically learned that every little thing counts, even constantly paying attention to where they stood in the RPI.

Sunday was a painful reminder of what can happen to mid-major teams that have the occasional slip-up -- even if the Gaels were the co-WCC champs and last season's Sweet 16 darlings. Senior Mickey McConnell, the WCC's player of the year, won't get one more chance to dance.

So Bennett spoke up about it and talked openly about how it could all be changed. The BCS in basketball? Sure, if it would mean he wouldn't have to sit through another one of these horror shows.

Zags win an OT classic, now tied atop WCC

February, 25, 2011

MORAGA, Calif. -- It was a close call, but Gonzaga’s streak lives to see another day.

The Zags prevented Saint Mary’s from stopping their dynastic stretch of 10 straight WCC regular-season titles, and in the process, they prevented their rival from capturing its first in 22 years after an 89-85 overtime win at McKeon Pavilion on Thursday night.

They survived two potential go-ahead shot attempts by Saint Mary’s guard Mickey McConnell as well as an off night from their leading scorer Steven Gray.

Gonzaga pulled itself into a first-place tie in the league with one game left and then talked about how meaningful it was to win this one.

“We pride ourselves on winning league championships,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s our motivation. We win league championships and go to the NCAA tournament.”

Gonzaga freshman Sam Dower scored 21 points off the bench, including four clutch free throws in overtime to seal the win, and Elias Harris added 18 points and six rebounds. The Zags blew a 10-point second-half lead, but said they prevailed because of their defense.

[+] EnlargeGonzaga's Elias Harris
Phil Carter/US PresswireElias Harris and Gonzaga kept St. Mary's from clinching the outright WCC title on its home floor.
McConnell, who had burned the Zags with the game-winning leaner in Spokane on Jan. 27, saw a 3-pointer at the buzzer of regulation rim out and then the potential go-ahead layup draw back iron with 11.9 seconds left.

“Nine times out of 10, you’re probably going to make it,” McConnell said of his driving attempt.

Afterward, the Zags had no problem talking about how they had circled this date on the calendar following the home loss to the Gaels, which left them three games behind Saint Mary's -- a deficit that is no more.

“We’re going to beat ‘em down there,” Sacre said of the team‘s thinking. “We wanted to redeem ourselves."

Just how close was the game on Thursday? The two teams were tied at halftime, after the end of regulation, and went back and forth into the final minute of overtime.

A foul called on McConnell going for the strip, and Dower’s resulting two free throws with 19.9 seconds left, gave Gonzaga the lead. After McConnell missed at the other end, Sacre came through with two free throws of his own.

The Zags fouled Stephen Holt to prevent the Gaels from attempting a potential game-tying 3-pointer since they shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc for the game. Holt made one of two, and Dower was able to close it out by sinking two more.

Not only did Saint Mary’s not get to celebrate a league title at home, but now the Gaels are in serious jeopardy of not making the NCAA tournament if they don’t win the WCC tournament. McConnell said the team would take on that mindset, and it’s not just because Saint Mary’s traditionally takes that approach as a mid-major.

“Losing three in a row doesn’t help at this point in the season,” said McConnell, who finished with 15 points and nine assists.

The Gaels were set to clinch at least a share of the title at San Diego on Feb. 16, but that bad loss has snowballed into three losses in the past nine days, wrecking what had been a fine résumé for the NCAA selection committee to review.

Still, each team will receive byes into the WCC semifinals and will need to win just once to meet for the rubber match in Las Vegas on March 7. No one who witnessed this classic on Thursday would wish for anything else.

“We might see them in the tournament,” Sacre said.

But after the Gonzaga win, it’s the Zags’ own NCAA tourney credentials that got a major boost, and they’re very much alive for at-large consideration after winning seven of their past eight games.

The Zags are 20-9 after playing a difficult nonconference schedule, and a win against Saint Mary’s will be looked upon favorably.

"We just persevered," Sacre said. "It was just a dogfight."

Scrappy Utah State gets its signature win

February, 20, 2011

MORAGA, Calif. -- Utah State forward Tai Wesley heard the boos that rained down on him at McKeon Pavilion and loved every second of it.

The senior dominated the second half of a BracketBusters game at Saint Mary’s on Saturday night, scoring 17 of his 22 points after halftime and finishing with 11 rebounds to lead the Aggies to a 75-65 win -- a desperately needed victory to silence critics who claimed they hadn’t beaten a proven opponent.

After Utah State (25-3) stopped Saint Mary‘s 19-game home winning streak, Wesley indicated he thought beating the Gaels would lock up an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament should one be needed.

“Hope so,” Wesley said. “You’d think so, but we don’t need to get caught up in that.”

The Aggies trailed by as many as 12 points and were down by nine at halftime, but during the break, coach Stew Morrill told the team it would be feeling great by the final buzzer after they had won. He reminded Wesley that Saint Mary’s wasn’t doubling him in the post and that the preseason WAC player of the year had been waiting his entire career for a night like this one.

Despite making only one field goal in the first half and playing with a broken nose he broke a few weeks ago, Wesley ignored the previous 20 minutes and went to work. He saw his shots start falling, helped three Saint Mary’s post players foul out, and relished the bad guy role in a hostile environment.

On one play, he set a vicious screen that sent Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova sprawling to the floor, and the two exchanged some words after a break in the action.

“He literally said he wanted to kick my a--,” Wesley said. “I said, ‘Let’s go.’”

Dellavedova, who continued his struggles and went 3-for-10 from the field, said he didn’t remember what was said. The two were quickly separated, but the Saint Mary’s crowd jeered Wesley for the rest of the game. It only stopped when he’d silence the fans with buckets.

“Love it,” Wesley said. “If you’re getting booed, you’re doing something right. You’re getting under their skin. You’re making them hate you.”

Saint Mary’s, which needed the win just as much coming off an RPI-killing loss to San Diego on Wednesday, saw Mickey McConnell get hot in the first half and finish with 16 points, but was limited to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half.

When Clint Steindl drained back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to six, the Aggies responded with Brady Jardine's back-breaking contested dunk for a 3-point play with 2:26 left.

“We don’t care that we showed the nation we can beat people,” Jardine said. “But for our team to know we can beat a top-25 team on the road, that’s something we’ll remember.”

The Gaels might have to win the West Coast conference tournament to get off the bubble and to guarantee a spot in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, the Aggies have brushed off their critics who say they haven't beaten a notable opponent.

“Weak schedule, strength of schedule, we hear that every year,” Wesley said. “Honestly, we don’t care.”

Morrill went on to list the reasons why this was the signature win the Aggies needed: the Gaels are leading the WCC, had been unbeaten this season at home, and the event is called BracketBusters.

“It must mean something,” Morrill said.

The numbers you need to know

February, 17, 2011
An inside look at the numbers behind Wednesday's top performances:

1. Kemba Walker broke out of a prolonged shooting slump, scoring 31 to lead Connecticut to a 78-70 win over Georgetown. He took the game over in the second half with 21 points, more than he’s been averaging in his previous eight games (17.3 ppg). Walker also added 10 assists and seven rebounds. He’s just the third player this season to post a 30-point, 10-assist game (Myron Strong, D.J. Cooper). The last time a power-conference player did it was March 12, 2009. That’s the date of the epic six-overtime Connecticut-Syracuse marathon where both Jonny Flynn and A.J. Price went for at least 30 and 10.

2. At halftime against Georgia, Vanderbilt was a mess. It had shot just 21.6 percent, and the top two scorers had done nothing. Just one game removed from his career-high, John Jenkins was scoreless. Jeffery Taylor was 0-for-10. But in the second half, Jenkins came alive with 21 points, including five 3s. Georgia scored only three points in the final 9:46 as Vanderbilt came from behind to win 64-56. The win is particularly impressive when you look at Taylor’s shooting performance. He went 2-for-18 from the field, and is just 3-for-25 over the last 2 games. It’s the worst shooting performance (min. 15 attempts) by an SEC player since Florida’s Matt Walsh went 1-for-15 against Alabama in 2004.

3. The most shocking result of the night was in San Diego, where the 5-21 Toreros knocked off No. 23 Saint Mary’s 74-66. Consider that two of San Diego’s wins had come against non-D-I schools and it’s even more improbable. But a team with only one player averaging over 10 ppg had four starters in double figures. This one was all about the second half. Trailing by eight going at halftime, San Diego shot 66.7 percent in the second half and hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range. For Saint Mary’s, Mickey McConnell and Mitchell Young combined for 45 points on 20-for-30 shooting, but the rest of the team shot just 26.7 percent. The Toreros now have more wins over the RPI top 50 than teams like UAB, Utah State and Cleveland State.

4. Speaking of Cleveland State, Norris Cole hit the court for the first time since his 41-point, 20-rebounds effort on Saturday. He didn’t quite have a repeat performance against Wright State, but the Vikings still came out on top 74-72. Cole finished with 16 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He’s averaging 20.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 5.6 apg on the season. Since 2000, only three players have averaged 20-5-5 over a full season: Evan Turner, Ricky Minard and Speedy Claxton. Cleveland State got all 74 of its points from the starting lineup, and has now gone three consecutive games without a point off the bench.

5. Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum is listed at just 6-3 and 185 lbs, but plays like a much bigger man. On the season, he’s averaging 22.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg, which puts him in the top 10 in the nation among guards in both categories. On Wednesday, he did his best Norris Cole impersonation. McCollum posted 31 points, 15 rebounds, five steals and two blocks, but the Mountain Hawks fell short in overtime to Colgate. As impressive as McCollum was, this game actually belonged to Colgate’s Mike Venezia. He scored 11 of his career-high 27 points in overtime, and connected on 5-for-8 from 3.
You tell me: Is this the profile of an at-large NCAA tournament team?

I'm not asking sarcastically. I promise I'm not trying to be rude. I'm genuinely curious: If you had to seed the field today, would St. Mary's be in your bracket?

The answer may vary, but the answer really isn't the point. The point is that we even have to ask the question.

[+] EnlargeSt. Mary's Gaels
AP Photo/Denis PoroySt. Mary's players look on from the bench during a 74-66 loss at sub-300 RPI San Diego on Wednesday.
Unfortunately for the Gaels, though, that's what happens when you lose to San Diego. Yes, for those of you that went to bed early Wednesday night, St. Mary's did indeed lose at San Diego, 74-66. San Diego, for those wondering, entered Wednesday night's game with five wins and 21 losses and a 1-10 mark in the WCC. As of Wednesday night, their RPI was -- try not to cough up your morning coffee here -- No. 315. According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency stats, the mighty Toreros are one of the 50-or-so worst teams in the nation. At the risk of piling on, St. Mary's just lost to a very, very bad team.

How does such a thing happen? It's not a mystery: St. Mary's, one of the nation's hottest 3-point shooting teams, went ice cold from beyond the arc. The Gaels were 2-of-15 from 3 Wednesday night, good for 13.3 percent. When your attack is predicated on the shooting efficiency of guards like Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell, and Rob Jones, and those players go 1-of-13 from 3 -- and your team gets to the charity stripe a mere 12 times in a 63-possession game, and your defense isn't all that stout to begin with -- you're probably not going to win too many conference road games no matter what conference you play in. Heck, you're not going to win many games, period.

It wasn't all bad performance-wise: McConnell actually did have a good game, scoring 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting. And without reserve forward Mitchell Young's efficient performance -- 24 points, nine rebounds, 10-of-14 from the field -- this final score could have been much worse.

But there are no bright spots here, no palatable factoids to mask the taste of this loss. The fact is, St. Mary's -- a tenuous No. 8 seed in Joe Lunardi's most Monday Bracketology -- just lost to a team with a sub-300 RPI. It's the sort of loss can completely change a team's tournament outlook, especially when that team is on the bubble in the first place. St. Mary's may still get an at-large bid. This bubble is awfully soft. But to do so, the Gaels can't afford another low-RPI slip-up -- whether to Portland on Feb. 26 or in the early rounds of the WCC tournament -- and they probably have to beat Utah State and Gonzaga in their next two games, too. Would that be enough?

Maybe, maybe not. Your results may vary. But it's fair to ask the question. Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: The Gaels' tiny margin for error just vanished.

Saint Mary's stays focused on big picture

February, 13, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- It’s supposed to be smooth sailing all the way to the West Coast Conference title for Saint Mary’s, right?

After easily beating second-place San Francisco 86-68 on Saturday, the Gaels are now only one win away from capturing at least a share of the title. To cut down the nets and grab the championship outright would be a first for Saint Mary's since it won the league back in 1989. And with a 2 ˝ game lead, the Gaels don’t even have to beat Gonzaga for a second time this season to do it.

Yet, despite last year's Sweet 16 trip, this is a program that knows an at-large bid is no absolute certainty. So SMC simply looks to the next game.

“We know nothing’s guaranteed,” Saint Mary’s point guard Mickey McConnell said. “In our position, we can’t take anything for granted.”

The 22-4 Gaels learned that lesson two weeks ago when two days after McConnell hit the game-winning leaner to beat Gonzaga on the road, they suffered a buzzkill, 15-point loss at Portland.

Saint Mary’s has won four in a row since then, but was reminded of how fragile its season could be.

“You have to keep improving in February, and I feel in the past week and a half we did that,” coach Randy Bennett said.

Against San Francisco, the Gaels came out in the second half and didn't mess around. After leading by two points at halftime, defensive adjustments led to a 14-2 run to start the second half. McConnell finished with 19 points and eight assists, Matthew Dellavedova had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Rob Jones added 18 points. They shot 54.9 percent from the field and stifled the Dons' attack.

Rex Walters, who has led a resurgence in San Francisco during his third season as coach, knew full well what handing the Gaels a loss would do. The Dons might have been second in the conference having beaten Gonzaga at home, but they’re now only 13-12 overall.

“If we win this game, we can hurt our league,” Walters said. “There are no guarantees for a mid-major. If someone gets them, they’ll be right back on the bubble.”

So forgive the Gaels if after game-sealing dunks from Jones and Stephen Holt, they weren’t quite ready to declare themselves the champs.

There’s a BracketBusters game against Utah State next Saturday that could earn Saint Mary’s another win on its tournament résumé. And after that comes opportunities to take the title at home against a revenge-minded Gonzaga team and a rematch with Portland.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Bennett said. “They’re all hard to get.”

Walters gave much of the credit to McConnell, who he called “an absolute coach on the floor.” But off of it, the senior wouldn’t stray from the team’s talking point.

“We try not to think about it,” McConnell said of the WCC title. “If we do it, we do it.”

The Gaels would rather focus their energies on the bigger picture and peaking for the NCAA tournament. That requires taking care of business with the rest of their conference games.

But a title along the way would be nice, too.

Saint Mary's gets ranking, theme song

January, 17, 2011
Saint Mary's, the Sweet 16 darling from a year ago, is back and receiving national attention, entering both polls earlier today having cruised into first place in the WCC.

The Gaels are 16-2, having only lost to top-10 teams San Diego State and BYU. In conference play, they've beaten opponents by an average of 24 points. Two games with Gonzaga remain, but Saint Mary's has thus far impressed with its usual backcourt play as well as an improved Mitchell Young and productive newcomer Rob Jones.

"Saint Mary's is the best team in our league right now," Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said after Saturday's 84-59 loss in Moraga.

Also getting the community excited is this music video that's playfully titled "Gaels Gone Wild." Filmed and performed by students and recent graduates with scenes from campus and outside the basketball offices of McKeon Pavilion, there are references to Mickey McConnell, Matthew Dellavedova, ESPN's Stephen Bardo and beating Gonzaga.

It's a catchy anthem that the Gaels might be dancing to throughout March.

Saint Mary's sticks with team concept

September, 15, 2010
Coming off a banner year in which Saint Mary's advanced to the Sweet 16, the Gaels will apparently attempt to recreate their success by sticking with what works.

After all, the Gaels dusted off the T-shirts they wore during the NCAA tournament and posed in them in this advertisement for a fundraiser event in late October that will celebrate the start of the season.

The Boston Globe took notice of those shirts during the tournament.
When the Gaels arrived in Providence for their first practice and news conference, they wore red T-shirts with slogans that seemed to define their roles. For 6-11 shooting forward Ben Allen, his shirt read: "iShoot.’" [Omar] Samhan's read: "iBeast," and [Mickey] McConnell’s said: "iCreate."

With the inside-outside presence of departed seniors Samhan and Allen no longer available, it will undoubtedly be the job of the senior point guard McConnell to create and rely on some others to take on larger roles.

Jorden Page, for example, is one of four Australians on the roster and wears the shirt that reads "iBounce." As a freshman, it was his athletic 3-point play in the WCC tournament title game that put some distance between Saint Mary's and Gonzaga and also gave a look into the bright future of the program.

And if the Gaels do indeed come together once again and sustain their success using the team concept, don't be surprised if it ends up being the shirts off their backs that their fans will want.

Bad luck for Lavin

April, 26, 2010
New St. John's coach Steve Lavin was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Mets tonight, but the baseball gods had other ideas, and the game has been rained out.

That didn't prevent Lavin from donning a No. 1 Mets jersey and soaking up a day with the New York media, of course.

Others from the college basketball world have gotten to take the major league mound this offseason, including Saint Mary's guard Mickey McConnell (A's) and Kansas center Cole Aldrich (Royals), who felt the need to practice for the big day.

Butler coach Brad Stevens will have his day at Wrigley Field next month, and New Mexico coach Steve Alford got to pitch for the minor league Albuquerque Isotopes after the sprinklers came on to send his team scattering.

But due to wetness, Lavin didn't even get to throw at Citi Field at a time when he'll need events like these to help announce his arrival to the scene in New York.

Publicity, after all, will only help him make pitches to recruits, who late in the game are now suddenly considering St. John's.

Saint Mary's 'One Shining Moment'

March, 27, 2010
Step aside, Gordon Hayward for a moment, and let a pro take the microphone and do the rapping for the so-called mid-majors.

Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. is a big basketball fan has been trading tweets in recent days with Saint Mary's star Omar Samhan about putting together a theme song for the Gaels, and hours before they got blown out, he released "The G."

The track is along the same lines as Uncle Luke's "The U," an ode to the University of Miami football program.

Only that Samhan, Mickey McConnell, Clint Steindl and Ben Allen get shoutouts at the end.

And why not? Rooting for the Golden State Warriors gets tiring.
HOUSTON -- Here’s a quick look ahead at the Sweet 16 matchups in tonight’s South Region:

Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s

Key to the game: Overlooked in the Omar Samhan frenzy is the fact that the Gaels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. They set a school record with 270 3-pointers this season and connected on 41 percent from beyond the arc. Saint Mary’s will need all of that and more against a Baylor zone that, with Ekpe Udoh in the middle, is both long and active.

“Our defense changes as far as our zone," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ll always tweak it and adjust it to the team we’re playing and what they like to do. I know with Saint Mary’s, they have an inside and outside attack. We’ll have to make sure that we keep them on their toes and try to keep them guessing and not let them get in a rhythm.’’

Player to watch: LaceDarius Dunn. The most highly recruited player to choose Baylor when he signed three years ago, Dunn has more than lived up to the billing. A gifted athlete who can shoot 3s, beat you off the bounce and is one of the best finishers in the game, Dunn is averaging 19.4 points per game. Only five teams have been able to hold him under double digits in scoring all year and frankly, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have anyone in the backcourt to keep up with him.

“Dunn is one of those guys you might do a great job on defending him and he still might score," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve watched enough film on him. We know he’s a tough match-up for anybody."

Who has the edge: Considering how well the Gaels did against Villanova it’s hard to say they’ll have a tough time because of the backcourt of Baylor. But here’s the twist: The Bears have a much better frontcourt than the Wildcats. Ekpe Udoh, the Michigan transfer, and Quincy Acy add length to that zone but also offer inside/low post scoring.

Mix in what will essentially be a homecourt for Baylor -- Waco is just a three-hour drive and many alums call the Houston area home -- and the Saint Mary’s magic runs out.

Duke vs. Purdue

Key to the game: Purdue has had trouble scoring since Robbie Hummel went down with his knee injury, but the real problem in this game for the Boilermakers is going to be rebounding. If Purdue can hold its own on the boards, the Boilers’ improbable run can continue. If they can’t, it could be like last year all over again when the Blue Devils crushed Purdue on the boards, 44-26, in a 16-point rout in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“At times with this team, when we’ve won against teams that are bigger than us, it doesn’t come down to always about with that size,’’ Matt Painter said. “It comes down to chasing down rebounds and being quicker to the basketball. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful against them.’’

Player to watch: Jon Scheyer. The guard is coming off a horrible shooting night against Cal, 1-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-8 from the arc. Mike Krzyzewski talked to him after the game, reminding Scheyer to relax and just play his game. If he starts shooting it well early, Purdue could be in trouble quickly.

“He doesn’t shoot the same shot all the time and that means you’re thinking about different things,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Jon wants it so badly. I came in here and heard his answer, ‘I knew we were playing great defense and if I hit that shot, we could break it open.’ So that’s not the reason you take that shot. You should take your shot because it’s open and you shoot it. So he’s putting more on it.’’

Who has the edge: Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, not much of a drought for most programs in this country but Duke isn’t most programs. The Blue Devils are well aware of the drought and the doubting Thomases flocking around their program. But it’s not just the desire to prove people wrong that gives Duke the edge. The Blue Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding teams to just 48.5 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. For a team like Purdue that has been struggling to score since losing Robbie Hummel, that’s not good news.

A dozen things I'll remember

March, 22, 2010
Before we get really caught up in the next round -- and here's a Sweet 16 primer that will help you do just that -- let's at least digest what we witnessed those first four days. It was a memorable start to the tournament and here are just a dozen things (in no particular order) that will stick in my memory:

[+] EnlargeAli Farokhmanesh
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAli Farokhmanesh's 3-pointer sent Northern Iowa to the Sweet 16.
1. Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh making the wide-open dagger of a 3-pointer to ice top-ranked Kansas.

2. The expression on the faces of the KU players after the stunning defeat at the hands of UNI.

3. Michigan State's Korie Lucious burying a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Maryland in the second round.

4. Ohio, the ninth seed in the MAC tournament, hammering Georgetown by 14 in the tourney's first 3-14 upset in four years.

5. Murray State's Danero Thomas making the buzzer beater to beat fourth-seeded Vanderbilt.

6. BYU's Jimmer Fredette scoring 37 in a double-overtime win over Florida in the first round.

7. Wake Forest's Ish Smith burying a buzzer-beater to finally put Texas out of its misery.

8. Purdue's Chris Kramer converting a layup to knock out Texas A&M in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16.

9. Mickey McConnell of Saint Mary's burying a 3-pointer off glass to ice the win over Villanova in the second round.

10. The post moves, the presence, the chatter that Saint Mary's Omar Samhan provided everyone in Providence.

11. Robert Morris nearly beating Villanova and the uproar over the end-of-game officiating as Nova won the game in overtime.

12. Farokhmanesh burying a shot to beat UNLV in the first round. How he outdid that one two days later was even more impressive.