March 18, 2007

Chicago: A deep dish of fun in Chicago

It was an interesting few days in the Windy City. We had one dominant team and one big upset winner leave here and move on to the next round. The time has come to give this event some closure...

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Chicago: Show me the way to San Jose

Well, not me personally. I'm going to St. Louis, but Kansas needs to bust out the maps because they are on their way after destroying Kentucky 88-76.

Kansas may have been the least of the #1 seeds, but the Jayhawks are the only one that didn't get a scare in round two of this tournament. They will advance to face Southern Illinois in the sweet 16 and of all the teams in this field, they are the one that is really on a roll.

I'll be back with a wrap in a bit.

Chicago: Rock Chalk Jayhawk

For the first time today, we're hearing the Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant. I have no idea what that means, but that's what they do.

The Kentucky fans have headed for the hills already, no doubt getting their poison pens ready to vilify Tubby one more time.

Mario Chalmers is at the line for KU with a gazillion point lead and 1:50 left and Focus Guy is still concerned about Chalmers focus.

Chicago: Even the scoreboard operator gets confused

After a bucket by Kansas, the scoreboard operator gave the points to Kentucky. All those UKs, KUs are easy to confuse.

Rush just hit ANOTHER three. Kansas now by 17. If the scoreboard is right.

Chicago: Kansas cruising

Kentucky is trying to press its way back into the game, but the Wildcats aren't having much luck. The Jayhawks just too quick. Kansas leads by 13 with 7:38 to go.

Some little kid has started copying Focus guy, so now when Kansas goes to the line, we get "Focus!" in two different octaves. Pretty soon, we'll have a barbershop quartet ("Focus! Focus! Focus! FOCUSSSS!").

One more note on the Kansas dance team. They have interesting uniforms. They look a lot like the ones worn by other dance teams, in that they don't cover a whole lot, but they look like they're made of velvet. Discretion dictates that I not go up and ask to feel the fabric to be certain, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Maybe the Hoops Odyssey guys can investigate.

Kansas grad and Bulls G Kirk Heinrich is also in the house. So far, he's gone relatively unnoticed.

Chicago: Kansas pulling away

Brandon Rush has three three pointers in this half and five for the game as the Jayhawks have pulled away to a 54-42 lead with 14:11 to go.

Michael Jordan is in the house. He just got a standing O during the timeout.

Chicago: Kansas up at the half

Mario Chalmers hit a free throw ("C'mon Mario! Focus!") in the last minute to give him a team- high nine for the half as Kansas leads Kentucky 36-30.

We still have Baby Jay today. No word on the whereabouts of Big J.

The Rock Chalk Dancers, the Kansas dance team, doesn't seem to dance much. They come out during the timeouts and mostly jump, but there isn't anything I would call "dancing" going on. Not that I know much about dancing. I'm a middle aged, rhythm deficient, Midwesterner.

You know how the cheerleaders will sometimes lead the team onto the floor carrying flags? The flag the Kansas cheerleaders carry is the biggest I've ever seen. It's not so much a flag as a tarp on a stick.

Chicago: Getting it in both ears

I also have one loud Kentucky fan behind me. He also says the same thing over and over, "Pass the ball! Pass the stinking ball!"

I thought I heard the "Airball!" chant during the timeout, but it was the UNLV fans chanting "Rebels!" again. The Rebs have just emerged from the locker room and have meandered into the stands where their fans are. Lots of pats on the back for Lon Kruger and his son Kevin.

Chicago: Focus!

I have one pretty vocal Kansas fan behind me ("C'mon Hawks!" He says that a lot). When Sasha Kaun was shooting free throws, he yelled "Focus, Sasha!" I wonder how he knew that was a problem for him. He may have been right, because he missed.

Chicago: Check your scholarship papers, son

We're tied up again at 14. Randolph Morris and Bobby Perry are doing all the damage for Kentucky so far. Brandon Rush has two threes for Kansas.

Kentucky has put 7'1" Lukasz Obrzut in the game, and I'm not writing about him just because I like typing Lukasz Obrzut. I don't remember him at all from the last game, but he was giving Morris a rest. Under no circumstance should his hands ever touch the ball. He might want to go back and check his scholarship papers and see if ballhandling is allowed. He touched it once, fumbled it and got it slapped back into his face in a feeble attempt to get rid of it. He eventually did, but having him handle the ball is not a chance worth taking.

Kentucky's cheerleaders are teaching us how to spell CATS, but with a twist I haven't seen in a while. The guys are spelling out the letters by laying on the floor.

Chicago: 3 for 2

In the opening minutes, Kansas was trading three pointers for Kentucky's twos and the Jayhawks lead 11-7. Mario Chalmers hit threes on the first two possessions for Kansas, while Morris was bulling inside for Kentucky.

The game got off to a bit of a strange start. No, the lineups were fine today, but the tip was batted around a bit and went out of bounds. The ref who made the call didn't point which direction we were going. He just yelled, "Blue ball! Blue ball! Blue ball!" He must have forgotten which way the teams were going.

He also got the call wrong. It should have been Kansas ball.

Chicago: Rockefellers vs Gettys

Two of the big time, blue bloods of college basketball, Kansas and Kentucky, get it on in the nightcap.

Kansas has 36 tournament appearances, 12 Final Fours and 2 titles. Kentucky has been in the field a record 49 times and has been in 13 Final Fours and won seven titles, second only to UCLA.

Ironically, these teams have only faced each other once in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky beat Kansas in a second round game in 1999. Can history repeat itself today?

If so, it'll take a big game from Randolph Morris of Kentucky. He's the one guy that will be difficult for Kansas to defend. The Wildcats will also have to do a good job taking care of the ball and getting back on defense to neutralize the Jayhawks speed.

The other three top seeds all got a scare before advancing in the second round. Let's see how much fear Kentucky can cause.

The arena is plenty full now, although the Badger fans are probably out hunting down a six-pack of forgetfulness. Tip is moments away.

Chicago: The biggest upset so far

UNLV has finished off the biggest upset of the tournament so far by knocking off Wisconsin 74-68.

They didn't do it with smarts. The Rebs took a lot of bad shots and committed some dumb fouls down the stretch in an effort to keep the Badgers in it. Wisconsin just couldn't shoot straight today, so they couldn't take advantage.

The unofficial stats have UW at 41% from the floor, with Tucker finishing his career 4-11 and Taylor hitting 6-16.

Kevin Kruger was a complete no-show for the first 35 minutes of this tournament, but hit a few big shots in the last few and finished with 16. Wendell White showed no ill effects from the rib problem and scored 22.

Kansas and Kentucky are already on the floor. They're next.

Chicago: Looking for some Buckeye magic

Wisconsin has ridden Kammron Taylor's 8 points in the last two minutes to get back within 3 with 39.2 ticks left. The Badgers are looking to channel a little Buckeye magic from yesterday and see if they can't at least force OT.

UNLV ball. Stay tuned.

Chicago: UNLV deja vu

This is just like the UNLV game the other day. The Rebs led most of the way against GT, then coughed it up momentarily before taking over again.

That's what's happening here. Kevin Kruger has hit two threes and three free throws after being fouled on a third and UNLV is back up 8 with 2:56 to go.

Alando Tucker has gone stone cold from the line. He was 7-8 in the first half, but is only 1-5 in the second, including a miss on a one-and-one seconds ago.

Chicago: Lon finally gets a TO

It took Lon Kruger long enough to get around to calling a timeout. His team has been taking bad shot after bad shot and Wisconsin has finally moved ahead by 5. This is the first timeout he's called in this run by the Badgers.

The UNLV fans behind me have been riding the refs all game long. Not one possession has passed with out the guys behind me getting on them about something.

Greg Stiemsma has taken over the last minute or so. He has five points on two layups and a free throw and altered a shot at the other end in between. Once again, UW using its size to its advantage.

Chicago: UW within range

The same guys who rallied Wisconsin yesterday are at it again today. Taylor has four and Tucker has a three pointer in a 7-0 UW run that has the Badgers within two.

Wink Adams was pretty slow getting up after flying in for a layup attempt and smacking into Greg Stiemsma and hitting the ground hard. If he comes to, he's got two FTs after the timeout.

Chicago: Back and forth to start half

Wisconsin came out fast and had the lead down to 6 for a moment, but UNLV responded and after some back and forth, the Rebs lead by 7 at the first timeout.

UNLV has missed some easy shots and Wisconsin finally discovered the post. Even though the Badgers are bigger, they haven't even really tried to post up much, but a couple of possessions ago, they finally found Jason Chappell inside for two.

Chicago: Rebs up at half

There were two no-calls on charges on the UW defensive end that only added to Ryan's anger. His team trails at the half 39-27. Wisconsin is only shooting 37% and 2-9 from long range. UNLV is up to 47% and is 6-13 on threes. The Badgers did get to shoot a lot of free throws (11-12), but nobody for UNLV is in any foul trouble.

Wendell White leads UNLV with 10 and Wink Adams has 9. Kevin Kruger not only finally hit a three pointer, but got fouled on the play to make it four. He's now 1-13 on threes over two games.

Alando Tucker has 11 for Wisconsin.

--

At yesterday's press conference, reporters asked the other players about how Kevin and Lon Kruger are similar. Michael Umeh said, "It's been fun to watch. Sometimes, they're standing next to each other making the same face. Everyone responds to the chemistry they have."

Alando Tucker on coach Bo Ryan, "He is very intense. Off the court, he is fun-filled and always full of jokes, but on the court, in the locker room and just with the team, he is very intense and very competitive."

I bet they're getting a face-full of that intensity right now.

Chicago: Rebels running out again

An 8-0 run right after the last timeout has sparked the Rebels to an 11 point lead with 3:40 to go in the half. Unlike yesterday, when Wisconsin was playing enough D to stay in it until the offense got going, that's not working either. What has to be especially disturbing to Bo Ryan is that his team is getting outrebounded 16-10 and does not have a single offensive board. Vegas is just outhustling the Badgers right now. I imagine we'll hear Ryan's halftime talk out here on the floor.

Chicago: Tucker at the line

Alando Tucker is making a living at the line for Wisconsin. It's the only part of the offense that's working for the Badgers. He's 7-8 and the Badgers have pulled within 5 at 21-16 with 7:42 to go.

Chicago: Wink hot, Kevin, UW not

Wink Adams has hit another three, but Kevin Kruger is 0-3 from long range today. He's no 0-11 at the UC on threes, but Vegas still leads 16-8. Wisconsin has had four different guys try three pointers, and they've all missed.

Chicago: Rebels hot from long range

At the first media timeout, it's 11-4 UNLV thanks to three three pointers. They have also frustrated Wisconsin on the offensive end. The Rebs have done a good job denying the ball to Alando Tucker. That's a good thing, because he scored easily the one time he did get it.

Both Flowers and Taylor were out of the game briefly for UW. That can't be a good long-term plan.

Chicago: Woooo!

Wink Adams has hit two threes in a row to give the Rebels an early 6-2 lead. On the last one, he dribbed up the court, stopped short of the defender and fired. After he hit it, he looked up into the crowd of Rebel fans behind me and yelled "Woooo!" and flashed a big smile.

All the monitors on press row are on the closer finish in Columbus between Tennessee and Virginia, but I'm watching the Purdue-Florida score (Boilers up 16-13, Teague and Landry aren't on the board yet?)

Chicago: Landrys divided

Marcus Landry has just been introduced to the crowd in the Wisconsin starting lineup. This is one of those tough days for the parents. Big Brother Carl is playing against Florida at the same time. I hope mom and dad have one of those unlimited minutes plans.

Chicago: Hey, Chris Rock!

The UNLV fans behind me are yelling out to Kammron Taylor, "Hey! Chris Rock! Chris Rock!" Then, to each other, "He looks just like him."

"Hey! Chris Rock!"

Taylor, if he hears them, he's ignoring them. You think he's ever heard that before?

Chicago: Wisconsin-UNLV preview

Wisconsin is lucky they didn't play someone better than Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in round one because they didn't answer the bell at all. That said, there is no way they play that bad again today. Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor finally got hot in the second half and carried the Badgers to victory. One overlooked factor in that game was that PG Michael Flowers picked up two quick fouls and hardly played because of foul problems. He doesn't score a lot, but his presence on both ends is important to UW, especially today on the defensive end against UNLV.

Wisconsin should also be able to take advantage of its size inside against the smaller Rebels. Jason Chappell (6'10") and Greg Stiemsma (6'11") should have their way in the post. We're still not expecting to see Brian Butch.

That doesn't mean they'll win, because UNLV is a pretty solid team. Wendell White, who injured his rib at the end of the Georgia Tech game, is in the starting lineup tonight. For Vegas to win, they'll need him. They'll also need Kevin Kruger to show up. He was 0-8 from the floor in the win over the Yellow Jackets. The other Rebels star is Michael Umeh, and he had a big day on Friday. Wisconsin can easily defend one guy, or even two, but if all three are hot, it could be a long day for the Badgers.

--
There was a much bigger crowd milling around outside the arena when I arrived today than there was on Friday. I think the attitude is, "the first round is over with, now the real action begins."

The Hoops Odyssey guys are here today. I had to give them a lesson in Purdue basketball after they referred to the Boilers as a football school playing basketball in this tournament. Hopefully, they look like a basketball school today when they play Florida.

I have the UNLV bench in front of me today and the band to my right, which is belting out "Viva, Las Vegas!"

It's half an hour to tip.

March 17, 2007

Chicago: Better late than never

I thought I had written and posted the daily wrap (and a note with the final from UK-Nova), but I see that 13 hours of bad food and basketball numbed my mind to the point that I must have messed up posting it. So, take two...

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March 16, 2007

Chicago: Fans heading for the exits

The fans are starting to head for the exits as Kentucky leads by 8 with 51 seconds to go. Mike Nardi two good looks at threes in the last minutes or so, but they were off.

Nova hasn't quit, but time is not on their side.

Chicago: Last call for Villanova

We're at the last timeout and Joe Crawford has helped extend the Kentucky lead back to nine at 59-50.

The teams have been trading some hard fouls, lately, but nothing more than that yet.

Villanova's band wears T-Shirts with numbers and nicknames on the back. The director goes by "Legally Blonde". I'll take her word for that. It doesn't look too blond from here.

Chicago: Lead down to four

Nova has made a little run, keyed by a Mike Nardi three pointer as the shot clock expired and the lead is now 4 with 4:25 to go.

Chicago: SIU on delay

A few folks around here are trying to keep track of Southern Illinois, so a couple of the monitors have it on, but one is on about a 5-second delay from the other, which is a bit confusing.

7:33 to go here and Kentucky still leads by 7. It had been as high as ten, but Curtis Sumpter hit a three (Bang!) to get it back to seven.

Chicago: Bang or boing - you make the call

One Villanova fan behind me yells "Bang!" every time a Nova player jumps to shoot. Tonight, more often than not, the shot is going boing off the iron. You can't blame a guy for hoping though.

Chicago: Like a dog's nose

Villanova has gotten like a dog's nose, cold and sloppy. Kentucky has extended the lead to seven behind five points from Joe Crawford.

Nova is only 3-11 this half and has turned it over twice.

With 11:14 to go, it's 44-37 UK. Proposal guy doesn't care.

Chicago: Strange start explained

The beginning of the game was kind of strange. Right after the jump ball, Kentucky committed a foul. Then they made a substitution.

That has now been explained. The person who gave Kentucky's starting lineup to the official scorer listed Dwight Perry as the starter instead of Bobby Perry. So, instead of taking a technical foul and starting Bobby, Kentucky had Dwight start and foul immediately so he could be subbed out.

The person in charge of reporting the starting lineup has been sacked.

Chicago: Kentucky owns the glass

Looking at the halftime stats, I see that Kentucky has outrebounded Villanova 22-11. Morris has five and Sheray Thomas off the bench has 4.

Kentucky also outshot Villanova 44.4% to 37%.

Chicago: Would he have done it if UK was losing?

A Kentucky fan just came down by press row and got down on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend. Or perhaps some woman at random - I have no way of knowing for sure. Either way, he's stuck with her now, because she said yes.

I wonder if he would have done it if Villanova led by 2.

Chicago: Kentucky up at the half

Randolph Morris has ten first half points to lead Kentucky to a 30-28 lead at the break. Scottie Reynolds is putting on a show for Villanova with 14 points on a variety of moves.

They introduced the D3 national champion women's soccer team at halftime. They are from nearby Wheaton College.

Chicago: Makeup!

Most of the (female) cheerleaders and dancers were a heavy coat of makeup so it can been seen from a distance in an arena, but the makeup on the Kentucky cheerleaders is pretty thick.

(How thick is it?!)

It's so thick, they have to stand a foot further back from the court so they don't interfere with play.

Chicago: Bradley's run

Ramel Bradley, after taking an ill-advised shot from about a mile away a minute or so ago, has scored five straight points to tie the game.

Randolph Morris has one of those "sleepy" faces. He just looks tired. He doesn't play tired - he's playing hard - it's just the look on his face. Former Cubs reliever Lee Smith had the same thing. He always looked like he was going take a nap on the mound, then he would bring the 98 mph heat.

Chicago: Welcome back, Mike

Nardi hit is first shot, a three, and extended Villanova's lead to five.

Nova fans noticed that the shot clock got to 24 before the ball got across the halfcourt line on the last possession, but there was no ten second call. Refs count that by hand, and we were always taught as refs that if you give a team 11 seconds, you are a lot more likely to be forgiven than if you give them 9, so don't count too fast.

With 11:58 to go in the half, Nova is up 3.

Chicago: Fast start again

Both teams and their stars are off to fast starts. Scottie Reynolds has two three pointers (and a charge) and Sumpter has also hit from long range for Nova. Kentucky has four points from Randolph Morris.

Nardi didn't start for Nova, but we do expect to see him.

Kentucky's cheerleaders just helped us all spell Wildcats. I'm guessing this crowd already had a pretty good handle on that.

Chicago: This has got to be better

This is my first look at Kentucky this year, but I've seen Villanova a few times. At their worst, Nova is a two man team with G Scottie Reynolds and F Curtis Sumpter doing all the work. If they get help from Mike Nardi, who is back from an injury, or Dante Cunningham or Will Sheridan inside, they're pretty good.

Kentucky finished the year poorly, but as always played a tough schedule. Randolph Morris should have a field day because Nova has no one who can check him.

This will be plenty confusing because both teams are Wildcats. The mascots even dress the same (A Wildcat with the #1 on his back).

The stands are full and we're a few minutes from the tip. This one has to be better than the last one.

Chicago: Ain't over yet!!!!

What the very bad word is CBS doing?? With 30 seconds left, they flashed the N.O. bracket with Purdue advanced already. They lead by 8. That's plenty of time to lose.

Or am I just panicking unnecessarily.

Chicago: Finally final

Kansas wins 107-67 and will face the winner of Kentucky-Villanova. I'm sure Bill Self's first words at the press conference will be "was that enough of a first round win for you?"

Back for the nightcap in a bit, but gotta watch my Boilers.

Chicago: Thank God for monitors

Those of here on press row without a specific responsibility to one of these teams have stopped watching and are craning to catch the end of the Illinois and Purdue games on the monitors on our tables. You can guess what has distracted me.

Chicago: Kansas empties the bench

Kansas has brought in a bunch of guys that have us checking the roster. Our crack research staff is trying to track down names, but I can confirm that 10, 11, 12 and 54 have made an appearance. Their unis look like they've never even been washed.

Chicago: Call off the dogs, Bill

Kansas has almost doubled Niagara's score (75-38) and Kansas still has three starters in the game. Maybe when we get to the next TV timeout, he'll empty the bench, but that time has come.

Chicago: Niagara's fallen and it can't get up

Kansas is in cruise control with a 27 point lead with 14:42 to go. Pretty soon, we'll see everybody wearing a uniform for the Jayhawks. We haven't heard from the Kentucky or Villanova fans yet, but it's also a matter of time.

Packer and Nantz are still talking like they're on the air, so they must be somewhere. I have to believe CBS has switched away from this one where ever it could.

Chicago: Value the rock

The stat that jumps off of the halftime sheet is turnovers. Niagara 12, Kansas 4. The only chance Niagara had to stay in this game was to value the rock, and they were a little too sloppy at times. Sometimes, it was Kansas simply taking it away, but they shot themselves in the foot too.

Second half about to begin. Hopefully the refs are swallowing their whistles. Well, not literally.

Chicago: Rout is on

Niagara is gritty and tough, but they just can't keep up with the blazing speed of the Jayhawks. Kansas is beating them down the floor at will and has run out to a 52-27 halftime lead.

The Jayhawks are smothering the Purple Eagles offense, and yet, Niagara is shooting a respectable 32%. You think 32% isn't respectable? Try shooting everything with a hand in your face. That's what it has been like for Niagara.

Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson lead a balanced Kansas attack with 11 each. Cliff Brown scored eight of the Purple Eagles first 10 points, and that still leads the team at the half.

Time to check out Purdue.

Chicago: Baby J

Kansas has a mascot called Baby Jay, which is the Jayhawk, only smaller. He wears number 1/2. I'm not familiar enough with Kansas to know if there is a Mother Jay and if we'll see it this weekend or not. Maybe the regular size Jay doesn't fit in the overhead bin of an airplane, so it can't make the trip. I don't know. I'll have to find a Kansas person to ask.

How're my Boilers doing, Eric?

Chicago: Kansas starting to pull away

With 7:52 to go, Kansas is starting to pull away a little and leads by 8. They are using their superior athleticism to overplay passing lanes and cause some turnovers. They can do that because they can recover if Niagara tries to cut to the hole.

Niagara's Stanley Hodge was sent off the floor apparently because of a problem with the string on his shorts.

One of the refs, when he's not running from one end of the floor to the other, puts his entire whistle in his mouth. I hope someone knows the Heimlich maneuver. We may need it.

Chicago: Leaving it all on the floor

Both teams are really playing hard at the start of this game, which Kansas leads 18-14. Niagara coach Joe Mihalich told us yesterday that the thing he notices about Kansas is that they really "guard you hard." So far, the Jayhawks have proven him right. Even though the Purple Eagles are in this game, they are having a much harder time getting a good look at the basket than Kansas is.

The crowd is a little down from the afternoon session. The place is about 75% full. Of course, Kentucky plays later, so we'll see it fill up soon.

We had one shot clock adventure already. Julian Wright of Kansas had rebounded an airball and was halfway down the floor to a dunk when the shot clock from the previous possession went off. Fortunately, the ref did not stop play. That was a rare moment of good officiating today.

Chicago: Action fast to start

Both teams are going hard out of the gate. Kansas leads 10-7. Russell Robinson has five for Kansas, which Cliff Brown of Niagara has matched. Brown is really fired up, giving us a big yell after both of his hoops.

Chicago: Kansas-Niagara pregame

The Niagara cheering section is here early, soaking up the atmosphere (which at the UC, ain't much, but when you're a little guy in the tournament, you don't care), taking pictures, etc.

We're about 25 minutes to tip. Kansas is on the floor warming up. They have a couple of female managers (you don't see that much) and one of them is out on the floor in 4" heels. That can't be comfortable.

The Kansas band and cheerleaders are already working hard. Niagara's cheerleaders are here, although the Eagle almost got lost. The girl who wears the Eagle costume was wandering around the bowels of the arena looking for the right place to be. The Niagara band had just arrived.

The Kansas band is playing "Carry on Wayward Son" by, of course, Kansas. I'm expecting "The Long Run" from the Niagara band soon.

Chicago: No matter who you are, losing hurts

I peeked in on the Texas A&M-CC news conference and that was one dejected group. I wrote in my notes that it doesn't matter whether or not you are supposed to win, losing hurts all the same. Then someone asked the players if it hurt more to lose when they seemed so close to winning. Josh Ervin said, "We came here to win, so yes, losing hurts."

They were also grateful of the fans of the other schools who not only supported them in the arena, but who talked to them in their hotel and wherever they came across them.

Now, if only Niagara can do the same tonight, we'll be in for a good show.

Chicago: Wisconsin survives

Wisconsin survived a pretty good scare from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 76-63. Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker had huge second halves. Taylor was 7-9 from the floor after the break and Tucker scored 14 of his points in the second half as well. After a 19 point first half, the Badgers put up 57 in the second.

Before I forget, there is one piece of almost news from the last game. Wendell White of UNLV suffered a rib injury late in the game against Georgia Tech. The extent of the injury and his availability against Wisconsin on Sunday isn't known yet.

The fans are being asked to clear the arena, and I'm clearing out as well for a while.

Chicago: Fantasy ends for Islanders

The Badgers are salting this one away at the line and it looks like the fantasy has come to an end for the Islanders. They certainly can be proud of their effort, but the Badgers just wore them down in the end. I'll post a final when it happens after a few more hours of free throws, but with 1:22 to go, UW leads 74-60.

Chicago: Whistle while you work

While Wisconsin has been pulling away from TAMU-CC a little bit, the refs are the ones who have taken over the game. We've had seven fouls called since the last timeout, which has dragged this game to a stop. Taylor continues to be on fire and the Badgers are now up 5 with 3:42 to go.

Chicago: Badgers finally lead

Kammron Taylor hit another three to give Wisconsin its first lead of the day. Since then, there's been about 62 fouls called on Wisconsin, which has turned the mood of the otherwise genial folks behind me. I'm starting to learn the full extent of their vocabulary.

We now interrupt this note for the Budweiser song.

If A&M-CC were hitting its free throws, they'd still lead. The Islanders haven't had a lot of chances, but they also aren't taking advantage.

Badgers up 52-50 with 7:46 to go.

Chicago: A whole new ballgame

A three pointer by Tucker and two by Chris Rock have tied the game in Chicago with 10:15 to go. This is a crucial time for the Islanders if their upset dreams and second round wishes are going to come true.

Chicago: The Badgers have arrived

You know that shot TV uses of the team getting off the bus when they arrive at the arena? They need to show that now. The Badgers have arrived. Jason Bohannon has a couple of threes and Tucker finally hit his first one as well and the Islander lead is down to four with 12:51 to go.

Wisconsin is 7-11 shooting in this half. The Badger fans behind me are excited.

Oh, I have to say that it's been almost nothing but positive encouragement from the group behind. Not nearly the yelling at the refs or the frustration there was from the fans behind me in the first game.

Chicago: Getting technical

Greg Stiemsma got a personal foul for pushing off and a technical foul for mouthing off right after Jason Bohannon gave the Badgers some momentum by hitting Wisconsin's first three of the game. TAMU-CC turned that incident into four points and they now have an 11-point lead with 15:44 to go.

Chicago: Tucker getting aggressive

Big Ten player of the year Alando Tucker apparently had enough. He put the team on his back for the final four minutes and brought the Badgers back with 8. The half ended with a steal by Kammron Taylor, who threw a perfect pass down court to Tucker, who caught it over his shoulder and went in for the dunk. TAMU-CC leads 27-19 at the half

Wisconsin's problem hasn't been defense. A 27 point half isn't bad. It's been poor ball handling, passing, shot selection and actual shooting. They are 6-29 from the floor (21%), including 0-8 from three point range.

That dunk by Tucker may be the boost the Badgers need to get it going, just like Washington St did yesterday against Oral Roberts. He has 9 points. No other Badger has more than two.

The Islanders are led by Chris Daniels' 8 and Taurean Mitchell's 6.

Chicago: Badgers on a run!

Wisconsin is on its first run of the game. It's only a 4-0 run, but you gotta take it where you can. Alando Tucker just drove and dug is shoulder into the back of teammate Marcus Landry and hit a jumper for his first bucket of the game. With 3:10 to go, it's 25-13 TAMU-CC.

Chicago: Switzerland siding with TAMU-CC

As is often the case in games like this, the neutral fans start to side with the underdog, and we just heard that for the first time today after a near steal by the Islanders. Their fans rose to cheer the effort were quickly joined by the rest of the non-Badger crowd.

Last timeout, it's 25-9 TAMU-CC

The TAMU-CC crowd has a chant "A&M! CC!"

Chicago: Rough game for Menifee

The Islanders' Kevin Menifee is having a rough game. In the early going, he had to come out when he got landed on. He came back in, but just before the timeout, ran blindly into 6-11, 260lb Greg Stiemsma's head and came out worse for it.

Chicago: Do not adjust your monitor

This is getting pretty ugly. Marcus Landry hit a shot, breaking a 0-9 slump by the Badgers, but the Islanders came right back down and found their big man Chris Daniels for a dunk. That was all Bo Ryan could stand. He called a timeout, only his second so far.

The lead is now 23-7. Do not adjust your monitor. Those numbers are correct.

Chicago: Badgers not cured yet

At the second timeout, it's 17-4 TAMU-CC. Greg Stiemsma scored for UW, but the team is only 2-12 shooting. The Islanders are 6-10. That gap has to close eventually. Right now, the way Wisconsin is paying, they might as well suit up the trombone section and put them in. They couldn't do any worse.

Chicago: Badgers on the board

Michael Flowers put the Badgers on the board with a hoop and harm (missed the FT though), which drew a Bronx cheer from the houseful of UW supporters.

The next loud cheer came from the UINLV faithful when their team emerged from the locker room to watch this one.

It's 15-2 TAMU-CC at the 13:30 mark.

Chicago: Apparently, the disease affected the entire state

Wisconsin is suffering from the same disease that claimed Marquette yesterday, an acute case of offensus crappus. The Badgers are already 0-6 from the floor and - by my count - have three turnovers and trail 10-0 at the first timeout.

Chicago: Corso would have stopped the game

TAMU-CC scored first and I'm reminded of the time when Indiana played at Ohio St in football when Lee Corso was coaching the Hoosiers. IU scored first, and Corso called timeout to take a picture of the scoreboard. After the game, he said it would probably be the only time the lead and he wanted to remember it.

The Islanders aren't here to take pictures though. They're here to win. They have the first ten points of the game and four blocked shots already.

Chicago: A new greeting

The latest fad in players greeting each other is the flying chest bump, but when Michael Flowers was introduced for Wisconsin, I saw something new. One of his teammates pretended to frisk him.

I could be wrong, but I don't think that one will catch on.

Chicago: Worst looking mascot ever

That may be a bit harsh, but maybe not. The Islanders' mascot is a thing that appears to have grass for hair, one of those Tiki masks on and a hula skirt. It also looked kind of bulked up, so I can't tell if it's supposed to be male or female (I'll just call it "Pat"). The costume appears to have all the construction quality you would expect from a third-grade art class.

The TAMU-CC band is wearing nice looking Hawaiian shirts at least they look good.

The teams have just come back out for warmups (at the correct basket this time). Brian Butch is dressed for Wisconsin, but we'll have to see if he plays.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who is a pretty short guy, is actually taller than TAMU-CC coach Ronnie Arrow. I bet both tower over Missouri St coach Barry Hinson.

We're moments from the tip of game 2. It probably won't be as exciting as the first one.

Chicago: UNLV advances

UNLV hit most of its free throws down the stretch and forced a couple of turnovers to finish off a 67-63 win.

A few notes:
Kevin Kruger never did hit a three, finishing 0-8. Also, he only hit 5-7 FTs, even though he's an 84% shooter.

One of the refs in this game would blow his whistle to ball for the ball after one of the others called a foul. I haven't seen that before.

You would think Vegas could draw a straight, but I guess the house doesn't win in hoops either. The uniform numbers of the starters for UNLV: 1, 2, 3, 5 and 52.

Lon Kruger is a happy guy talking to Billy Packer. The radio guys got Wink Adams.

A reporter I know just walked by and said "that game reinforces my belief that there are not 96 officials qualified to ref a NCAA tournament game." I can't say I disagree. The refs had a rough game. Tech fans would probably say they favored Vegas (no probably about it - I heard it all game), but really, it went both ways.

Wendell White, who made a key layup late on an inbounds pass, appeared to leave the game with an injury. I'll try to find out more.

Wisconsin and TAMU-CC are on the floor, although they originally starting warming up at the wrong baskets and had to switch sides.

Now that Tech is gone, I can have my ribs back. They guy next to me was from the Atlanta paper and liked to spread those elbows out in our tight space. Of course, with my computer, I'm taking up a lot of space too, so I probably shouldn't complain too much.

Back with game two soon.

Chicago: Another four shot possession

There have been several possessions in this game where one team or the other got four or five shots at the hole before finally giving it up, one way or another. UNLV just took the lead on its fourth shot of the possession, which came on an inbounds pass to White, who layed it in and was fouled.

He missed the FT, but Tech turned it over on a 5 sec call, so Vegas leads under a minute to go and has the ball.

Chicago: Tight again down to the wire

Tech has gone on another run, which was finished off (for now) by a dunk by Alade Aminu and the Jackets are within one at the last media timeout. After the break, Tech goes to the line looking for its first lead of the day. The line has not been kind to the Yellow Jackets so far. They are still 7-13 from the stripe. These will be their first freebies of the half.

Kruger just missed another three and is now 0-8.

Chicago: Tech band stealing Wisconsin's song

The Tech band is playing the Budweiser theme during the timeout. That may not be a good idea with the Badgers in the house. That's their song. During the part of the song that goes "when you say Budweiser, you've said it all" Wisconsin fans yell Wisconsin in place of Budweiser. This is such a big thing for them that the band at football games is not allowed to play the song until 15 minutes after the game because the stands shake when the crowd stomps up and down during it.

Tech fans apparently yell something in place of Budweiser too, but I'm sitting right in front of their fans and I have no idea what they say because the Wisconsin fans drowned them out.

I don't think we'll hear that song again. At least not until the next game.

Oh! Jeremis Smith slams home a miss with authority and Tech is back within 3.

Chicago: Shoot 'til you get hot, then keep shooting

That's what Kevin Kruger is trying to do. He keeps getting good looks from beyond the arc, but can't buy one. He just missed his fourth try in the last two minutes and is now 0-6 from deep in the game.

Still, thanks to some penetration and a run out, UNLV is on a 6-0 run and leads by 6 with 7:59 to go.

Chicago: Getting a little feisty

Javaris Crittendon and Wink Adams went hard after a loose ball, which was called a jump, and Adams half threw an elbow letting go of the ball after the whistle, but no contact, so nothing was called.

Wendell White has hit a couple of jumpers just inside the three point line, while Tech continues to get to the rim with relative ease.

We're still tied at 46 at the second media timeout.

Chicago: But he was open, Dad!

Kevin Kruger just fired a pass right to Jim Nantz (who was looking down and almost got hit) while trying to break the press. It hit the table and scattered some of their papers, to the amusement of the ref.

Chicago: Tech comes out firing

It's a brand new ballgame at the UC. Tech has hit five straight shots and outscored UNLV 14-7 to start the half to tie the game at 40.

Tech has been getting its shots both inside and outside, while UNLV is still trying to get by with just threes.

Chicago: From the Dept. of Not Enough Information

Apparently, sitting in the second row of press means that you don't get the halftime stats until the second half is almost underway.

Quickly, Tech ended up out-shooting UNLV 32.1% to 30.8%, but the Rebels hit six three pointers to the Yellow Jackets 1. Also, UNLV was 11-13 at the line, while Tech was only 7-13. UNLV is relying way too much on the three, and if they lose, I'll bet right now that will be the reason why.

Chicago: From the Dept. of Too Much Information

This just in...

As I reported yesterday, there is but one bathroom for the roughly 7,415 (give or take) media members to use, and since we can't get up and leave during the game, the line at halftime is around the bowl of the arena.

So, I made my way upstairs to use the one in the concourse, which also had a lengthy line, but at least it moved. It moved in a hurry when one of the urinals exploded after the auto-flush got stuck on.

We also discovered that the suites must not have adequate bathroom facilities, because down there with us, um, peons was none other that Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.

Chicago: Tech asserts itself before half

Georgia Tech asserted itself on the glass right before the half and went on a 7-0 run to help close the deficit to seven at the break.

On one sequence, Tech got four shots inside before finally hitting one and getting fouled. The free throw was missed, but the Jackets put back the rebound and got fouled again. That ended up being a five point play.

Chicago: Can I see your union card please?

The defense in the first half of this game has been pretty tough. Both teams press full court and extend pressure in the half court, which has both teams laying a lot of bricks. They could be in trouble pretty soon because this is a strong union town and they don't let just anyone lay bricks around here.

At the last media timeout, Tech is shooting 5-19 for 26%. Vegas isn't much better at 7-20 for 35%, but the Rebels are 6-16 from beyond the arc. That's right, they've only attempted four shots inside the paint. They made the first one from about 10 feet, which was their first shot of the game. Two others have been rejected and the third was an airball.

UNLV still leads by 11.

Chicago: The platinum sombrero

In baseball, if you get the platinum sombrero means you struck out five times in the game. UNLV had a possession like that where the Rebs missed five three pointers before Tech was able to corral the rebound. Joe Darger missed three of them.

Tech can't hit from anywhere on any possession. The Jackets are only 4-14 from the floor and they are starting to get frustrated as they trail by 11. The fans are too. Some of the Southern Gentlemen behind me using some ungentlemanly language to express their frustration with the refs, the players, and the lack of a beer vendor. Especially after the play before the break, when Alade Aminu (another great name) was called for a foul on what looked from here like a pretty clean block.

Chicago: Tech stealing its way back in

A coupe of steals by Anthony Morrow and Mario West got Tech a couple of easy buckets and they are back to within 6 at the second timeout.

UNLV is starting to stand around a bit on offense and happily pass the ball around the perimeter until finally shooting a three. They'll eventually need to try harder to get the ball inside, either with better ball movement opening lanes or penetration.

Chicago: Umeh, Oprah, Umeh, Oprah

Oprah, other than being from Chicago, has nothing to do with this note, but Umeh is 3-3 from long range and has staked the Rebels out to an 11-3 lead at the first timeout.

Before the game, I thought the UNLV fans were practicing their "Airball" chant, but it turns out they were yelling Rebels. That will be confusing if Tech ever shoots an airball which, given how things are going, should be coming up shortly.

Chicago: Tech cold early

Georgia Tech may have a bit of the jitters early. They've been getting to the basket, but can't connect. The Jackets are 0-3 and just called a timeout because they couldn't break a double-team in the front court.

Vegas has a three pointer from Michael Umeh and leads 5-1.

The refs are being closely watched, as you might imagine. MVC supervisor Jim Bain and Big Ten supervisor Rich Falk are nearby on press row.

It's a tight squeeze here on press row. The chairs are all right next to each other, so you almost have to go over your chair to sit down instead of around it.

Chicago: Pregame ramblings

I took a walk around the concourses to see what the fans were up to. Obviously, I saw a lot of fans of the participating schools, but we have a bit of a melting pot here also. There were people sporting gear of Illinois, Illinois St, DePaul (local teams), Notre Dame, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan St, Missouri, Boston College, Georgetown, USC, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, TAMU and Texas Tech.

I found out that you can get a shoe shine at the UC. The shoe shine stand is manned, but nobody was taking advantage of that.

Kansas fans hoping to pick up a Bulls jersey of former Jayhawk star Kirk Heinrich will be disappointed because the Bulls fan shop isn't open.

They can get a picture taken with cutouts of the Bulls team, and lots of people were doing that.

You know, it just dawned on me that the Blackhawks play here too, but you wouldn't know it.

The bars are closed too, in accordance with NCAA scripture. That probably won't stop the Wisconsin fans.

I saw the UNLV band setting up and I wondered if they played lounge music. Do the dancers (if they have any) wear big, gaudy feather headdresses? The answer to both is, unfortunately, no. They are your standard college band and, like all other dance teams, their dancers wear tight stuff, if anything.

I'm sitting in front of the Georgia Tech fan section, and they're fired up.

The lineups are being introduced (my favorite name - UNLV guard Wink Adams) and we're ready to go.

Chicago: In the house

We're about 45 minutes from tipoff at the UC for the first game between Georgia Tech and UNLV. We already have more people here now than we had all day yesterday and both teams are on the floor warming up. UNLV is being watched by, among others, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

Getting to the UC means going to the media hotel and taking a shuttle ride to the arena. The UC is on the near West side, about five miles from downtown and is surrounded by some rough neighborhoods, although some gentrification is occurring. Still, when a reporter from out of town was asking about where to eat around here, I felt compelled to tell him to skip it and go back downtown. There are some places four or five blocks away, but I don't recommend the walk.

The shuttle buses for the media are actually trolleys, which is good and bad. The good thing is that they get around more easily than full size buses. The bad thing is that they have wooden benches and drivers who feel compelled to give you the spiel they give the tourists who normally ride these things.

Today's driver told us he did "sit down comedy" and then went on to prove why he'll never do stand up. After greeting us in a couple dozen languages, most of which I'm sure were made up, he proceeded to go on about how clean the city is (the city is clean). He told us that's it's not just the downtown, but "I could take you to the worst neighborhood in the city and you'd say 'This is one clean ghetto. Even the bodies are stacked up neatly.'"

Fortunately, he took a speedy route to the gym, so he had to cut his routine short.

Outside, the one thing that always draws a crowd, especially when we have a lot of visitors from out of town like this, is the statue of Michael Jordan flying through the air. People crowd around waiting to take a picture with His Airness. Or at least, His Likeness.

March 15, 2007

Chicago: Better than the games

It wasn't exactly riveting action, but the open practices are done. Even though all we saw today was a lot of shooting around, it was better than the actual tournament games going on today. I'll have to look up the last time two 11 seeds lost by a combined 53 points.

Maybe all the excitement is being saved for the Chicago regional tomorrow. We can only hope. Until then...

Chicago: Media prep

During each team's practice today, the SID for that school has spent time visiting with the TV crew of Nantz and Packer and with Larrivee and Farmer of the radio team helping them prepare for the broadcast. The SIDs give them info like injury updates, but also strengths and weaknesses of the various players.

Chicago: Nova drilling

Villanova is treating this like a regular practice. They even did stretching and calisthenics before getting going. Since then, it's been all drills.

Nike Nardi is out here practicing without the brace that was on his leg in the Big East tournament. He's moving well (or at least as well as he moves).

Chicago: More shooting

Niagara is now done and did nothing but shoot around. They didn't even run any drills. Maybe they're still tired. As they huddled up on the floor before they left, coach Joe Mihalich must have said something funny because they all laughed.

Villanova has the last chance to come give us something of a show.

Chicago: Cheerleader sighting

Niagara's cheerleaders are here to watch the team practice. They aren't out cheering or anything like that. They're just sitting in the stands in their warmups. The Eagle Mascot is here too, dressed in his costume, but he's just sitting in the stands too.

Wait - correct that - the Eagle has gotten up and is doing a TV interview. That must be compelling television, since like most mascots, he doesn't speak.

Chicago: Anyone seen my shirt?

Niagara's Stanley Hodge appears to have misplaced his practice jersey. He's out there shooting around in one that has his number (2) in white tape on the back.

JR Duffey is practicing in an official NCAA souvenir T-Shirt.

Chicago: Niagara star-gazing

Niagaras players have wandered out onto the floor waiting for their practice time to start, and a few came over to chat with Jim Nantz. They probably figure it's their last chance to do that.

When officially welcomed to the court (over the PA), there was some polite applause.

Chicago: Would a little entertainment kill anybody?

While nobody has matched Wisconsin for dull, none of these teams have made any effort to do something entertaining. At least Georgia Tech scrimmaged a little bit. Most of the teams haven't even taken their full allotment of time.

Maybe Niagara will be a little more playful. The Purple Eagles are up next.

In the bowels of the arena, there is a big bracket (about 6'x12') which is being updated rather quickly after each game. I wonder if there is one of those in the fan-accessible areas too?

Chicago: Niagara hoping to channel "Hoosiers"

Joe Mihalich, the coach of Niagara, told us that he showed the movie "Hoosiers" to the team on the bus ride up from Dayton. "I figured since we were going through Indiana to get here, that would be appropriate. Of course, our guys sleep on the bus anyway, so I don't know that it did any good. We were going to stop in Hickory and see if we could pick up Jimmy Chitwood, but we couldn't."

Chicago: Cross your legs

Of the arenas I've had a chance to visit this year, the UC is the nicest in terms of the space below and around the gym where the media works. They have nice wide aisles so we're not tripping all over each other. However, there's only one bathroom, which could make the breaks interesting tomorrow.

We have access to snacks like popcorn, potato chips and pretzels, and pop. We are not allowed to serve ourselves though. The NCAA wants to make sure we don't have any unauthorized advertising by sitting a Coke or Pepsi can on the table, so they pour it into official NCAA cups with the Dasani logo on it. I'm sure Dasani (whatever that is) paid a pretty penny for the privilege.

The Wildcats are going through some drills. I think I'll go see what the Niagara players have to say.

Chicago: Cameras gone, microscopes out

The cameras have been put away and the electron microscopes are out - Kentucky is in the house. The scrutiny Kansas gets is nothing compared to Kentucky.

I'm pleased to report that Tubby Smith is still with the team. He hasn't been fired or quite yet, although I'm sure he was asked about his job status several times today.

Kentucky and Kansas have drawn the biggest crowds of the day, which is to say that they have moved into the triple digits.

Chicago: There's no cheering in the press box, but can we boo?

Kansas is a little more than halfway through their practice and they're just running some drills.

Bill Self, like most of the other head coaches, came over and chatted with Nantz and Packer for a while. Unlike the other coaches who did so, he had half a dozen cameras in his face recording every move.

The other person on press row who is universally popular is Larry Farmer. Just about every coach, head or assistant, has come up to say hello to him today.

The best player in the Kansas program is assistant coach Danny Manning, who I am nearly certain can't suit up for the Jayhawks in this tournament. I wonder if he ever schools these guys in practice.

Kansas has a couple of local guys on the team. Freshman Sherron Collins from Crane HS in Chicago and Sophomore Julian Wright, from south suburban Homewood-Flossmoor HS. HF was the big rival to my high school back in those days, so if you hear of someone being thrown off of press row for booing, it was probably me.

Collins, who is 5-11, can dunk, which really excited the folks sitting behind me. I'm jealous. I'm 6-1 and I can barely touch the net, let alone the rim. That's why I was in the pep band.

Kansas decided 30 minutes of practice was enough and left ten minutes early.

Chicago: Watching their every move

Kansas was the first team today whose arrival onto the United Center floor was greeted with audible applause, but the big difference is the media horde following this team. TV camera operators were lined up shoulder to shoulder along the entire baseline on one side. Every TV station in Kansas must be here.

Chicago: From LONG range

Wisconsin ended a full 40 minutes of shooting with a half-court shooting drill. Practice ends when one goes in. Trevon Hughes banked one in, and now we get an hour and a half off before the evening session.

Chicago: They don't call it the Windy City for nothing.

UNLV's Wendell White talked about his arrival in Chicago.

"It was very cold and windy last night. I wasn't expecting anything like that. Coming from Las Vegas it was pretty warm. Stepping out of the plane, they told us to be careful because it's pretty wind and you might fall down. That was pretty incredible right there."

Chicago: Ice cold shooting

Wisconsin has spent their entire practice standing around shooting. We're 20 minutes in, and it's been the same thing the whole time - shoot, shoot, shoot.

It's absolutely freezing in the arena, perhaps because of the lack of people in here. The media work room is warm, but out here by the court, it's really cold.

Chicago: eLVis has left the building

Vegas is gone and now Wisconsin has taken the floor. Actually, they are mostly standing around waiting for their official time to start.

Meanwhile, I'm watching Oral Roberts lead Washington St on the monitor next to me. That goodness for those.

And there's the horn - time for UW to start.

Chicago: Commissioner Delany in the house

Among those hanging around watching the festivities is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. The league is the host for this sub-regional. I imagine he came out to see former Illinois coach Lon Kruger.

And as I'm writing that, Kruger went over to chat.

Chicago: Vegas practicing situations

UNLV has been running through some sets out of game situations. They practiced getting down the floor quickly after a made FT, breaking an imaginary press and a sidelines out of bounds play in the backcourt. The goal each time was quick shot in transition. Since there was no defense on the floor, it worked pretty well.

Chicago: Corpus Christi enjoying the experience

TAMU-CC left the floor and went straight into the stands to sign autographs, which was a big hit with the kids.

There are press conferences for each team before they take the court, and they give us the quote sheet. Typically, that's pretty dry stuff, but sometimes you get a nugget or two. For example, we just learned that the Islanders' big man Chris Daniels has the nickname "Big Greasy". He weighed 305 when he arrived at Corpus Christi, so they stuck him with that. He's down to 265 now.

The Runnin' Rebels have arrived on the court, but instead of runnin', they walked.

Chicago: Media getting desperate already

A big guy wearing a Wisconsin shirt has been here the whole time, and a Corpus Christi TV crew has found him. They're asking him pretty typical stuff (Have you ever heard of TAMUCC? What do you think of Wisconsin's chances? Are you expecting a big crowd?). It'll be riveting television, so make sure you catch the 10:00 news.

Chicago: Islanders hit the floor

Georgia Tech left to a raucous cheer from about 30 or so Tech fans who snuck in behind me while I was working on the preview.

Then, TAMU-CC took the floor to a rousing round of indifference and an audible "who?" Their practice unis are all black that with blue basketballs on the back and each players number on the ball. No school name, no nickname, just numbers.

While Paul Hewitt was really engaged with his group - even letting them have it once, TAMU-CC coach Ronnie Arrow is chatting up the media guys in the front row, including Jim Nantz and Billy Packer.

A couple of bus loads of kids have arrived, so already the crowd is bigger for the Islanders than it was for Tech.

Chicago: PREVIEW

This pod features West #1 seed Kansas and Midwest #2 seed Wisconsin.

The first game here features Mountain West champion and Midwest 7-seed UNLV against 10-seed Georgia Tech. Tech has some young guns, led by freshmen Javaris Crittendon and Thaddeus Young. The Jackets like to get up and down the floor, scoring 79 points per game, but can be sloppy with the ball.

That could be a problem against the Rebels, who force almost 15.5 turnovers a game. Coach Lon Kruger's son Kevin, Wink Adams and Wendell White all average over 13.5 ppg.

Game two has the Badgers facing Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University at Corpus Christi, which at 56 letters is probably the longest school name in Division I. Needless to say, they abbreviate that on the unis. The Islanders did not have a basketball prorgram until the 1999-2000 season, but they started in D-I. This is their first year in the Southland conference after playing as an Independent before. They are lead by 7-0 C Chris Daniels and his 15.2 ppg.

TAMU-CC is also the only team here that has a postseason media guide that is thicker than its regular season one.

The Badgers will be playing in front of a friendly crowd since we're only about 90 miles from Madtown. Alando Tucker is their star. He was the Big Ten player of the year, averaging almost 20 points per game. Kammron Taylor, who is a dead ringer for comedian Chris Rock, pitches in 12.6.

Wisconsin is expected to be without C Brian Butch, who injured his elbow a few weeks ago. That won't hurt them against TAMU-CC.

The evening session starts with #1 seed Kansas and PIG winner Niagara. While I would never be so bold as to predict a 16 over 1 upset, This is probably a closer matchup than your typical 1-16. Kansas had a case to be a 2-seed, while the Purple Eagles probably should have been a 15.

KU has talent all over the floor, but hasn't really been tested much of the latter part of the season. They have two top 50 RPI wins since before Christmas, and both of those are Texas, which came over the last week or so. The Jayhawks have already lost to a team like Niagara when Oral Roberts beat them at the Phog.

Niagara is led by 6-3, 230 lb Charron Fisher, who averages 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He had 32 and 7 against Florida A&M in the PIG in Dayton.

The nightcap has the battle of the Wildcats - Kentucky and Villanova. If it's March, then you know that Tubby Smith is feeling the heat from Kentucky fans because once again, it looks like they won't win the title. In fact, they haven't even made the Final Four since 1998. Their postseason media guide is a good 3/4 of an inch thick, so you know the postseason means something to them.

Villanova finally has a mostly healthy Curtis Sumpter and it shows. He's putting up 17.3 points per game, but more importantly, moving pretty well. PG Scottie Reynolds was the Big East freshman of the year, and he'll have to play under control for Nova to have a chance. Also, they will need a healthy Mike Nardi, who barely played in the Big East tournament with a leg injury.

Chicago: Open practice underway

I'm coming to you LIVE! from the United Center, where Georgia Tech has just taken the floor for open practice in front of an adoring crowd of - hold on - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Eight. Wait, that person is an usher. Seven.

I've been to Final Four open practices before, and obviously the crowds are bigger there.

At the Final Four, open practices are a combination of drills, a few basic sets and often, dunk contests. Tech is scrimmaging, and Paul Hewitt is one unhappy guy. He just huddled up his guys and had a quiet, four-letter word with them about their lack of focus.

Pod preview coming up next.

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