One of this year’s breakout stars of the NCAA Tournament has been Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, who led the Shockers past No. 1 Gonzaga.
LOS ANGELES — Believe it or not, either Wichita State or La Salle will be playing today for a spot in the Elite 8.
The ninth-seeded Shockers and 13th-seeded Explorers are unlikely opponents in today’s Sweet 16 contest in Los Angeles and the winner advances to Saturday’s West Regional final. Wichita State shocked top-seeded Gonzaga in the Round of 32, while La Salle won three days in five games and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 76-74 victory against Mississippi.
Explorers coach John Giannini refuses to buy into the notion that the Explorers are a “Cinderella” after their unlikely string of victories that began with wins against Boise State and Kansas State.
“What people label us, we really try not to acknowledge it,” Giannini said.
Wichita State routed Pittsburgh before posting the 76-70 victory against the Bulldogs, and the Shockers are very much aware that few people expected them to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
“You hear stuff and people come up to you saying, ‘What do you think about 70 percent of America has you losing the first game?’ ” junior forward Cleanthony Early said. “You have to avoid everyone’s opinion and go out there and play hard.”
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (28-8): Freshman guard Ron Baker joined Early in having a big game in the slaying of Gonzaga. Both players scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers but Baker’s effort stood out for two reasons — it fell two points shy of his career-best output and it was only his fifth game since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for 21 games. Early averages a team-best 13.9 points, senior forward Carl Hall averages 12.6 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds and senior guard Malcolm Armstead contributes 10.6 points and a team-best four assists.
ABOUT LA SALLE (24-9): Fatigue hasn’t yet been an issue for the Explorers despite the fact the team had to travel to Kansas City after winning their first outing in Dayton, Ohio. “At this point, you’re too young to be getting tired,” junior guard Tyreek Duren said. “You don’t really have time to get tired at this point. You wake up and win games.” Duren had 19 points against Ole Miss and ranks second on the squad in scoring at 14.5 points. Senior guard Ramon Galloway scored 24 points against the Rebels and averages a team-best 17.4 points. Junior guard Tyrone Garland averages 12.8 points and scored 17 against Ole Miss, including the game-winning basket on a driving shot with two seconds left.
TIP-INS: Wichita State last advanced to a regional final in 1981. La Salle played in back-to-back title games in 1954-55 and won the 1954 championship game ... Five Explorers have 30 or more steals, led by Galloway (63) and Duren (56) ... The Shockers made 14 3-pointers in the upset of Gonzaga, tying for second-most in school history.
Marquette vs. Miami
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After both survived scares last weekend, the road will end for either third-seeded Marquette or second-seeded Miami when they clash today in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes continued their charmed season by holding off Illinois 63-59 on Sunday, reaching the Sweet 16 for only the second time. They have never advanced to the Elite Eight.
The Golden Eagles are in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, but they haven’t advanced past this point since a Final Four run in 2003. Marquette was fortunate to get out of the Round of 64, needing a late rally to fend off upset-minded Davidson. 59-58, and the Golden Eagles denied another challenge in a 74-72 win against Butler on Saturday. The teams have split four all-time meetings and are squaring off for the first time since 1989.
ABOUT MARQUETTE (25-8): The Golden Eagles have been forced to rally in the second half of their first two games in the tournament, and junior guard Vander Blue has been the hero in both. Blue made the winning basket in the final seconds against Davidson and poured in 29 points against Butler.
“We had two close games — we had a lot of those this year,” Blue said. “What we went through earlier this year prepared us.”
They ought to expect another tight contest in a matchup of defensive-minded teams. Blue and junior forward Jamil Wilson are the only Marquette players averaging double-digit scoring in the tournament.
ABOUT MIAMI (29-6): The Hurricanes already have enjoyed what could be described as the best season in school history, winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and they’re not ready to send off six seniors yet.
“Words can’t describe it,” forward Julian Gamble said “It is the first time (in the Sweet 16) for our school since the year 2000. To be going with this group of guys and continue with this dream season of sorts is really hard to put into words right now. We are really excited about the opportunity.”
Junior Rion Brown helped keep the season going with 21 points against Illinois as the Hurricanes overcame a tough offensive night from senior Durand Scott.
TIP-INS: In five postseason games, Miami’s Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney Jones, Scott and Brown all are averaging more than nine points, have hit 10 or more 3-pointers and are shooting better than 80 percent from the foul line .... Marquette is 4-6 this season when trailing at halftime, including two wins in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles are 20-1 when leading at half and 1-1 when tied at the break .... The Verizon Center is the same site where Miami coach Jim Larranaga led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. The Patriots beat Wichita State in the regional semifinals and Connecticut in the regional final in Washington, D.C.
Arizona vs. Ohio State
LOS ANGELES — The longstanding friendship between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Ohio State coach Thad Matta will be set aside tonight when the sixth-seeded Wildcats and No. 2 Buckeyes collide in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Miller and Matta became friends while serving on the Miami (Ohio) staff of Herb Sendek, currently the head coach at Arizona State. Their 12th-seeded RedHawks upset fifth-seeded Arizona in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
Matta later hired Miller as his assistant at Xavier, where Miller took over after Matta left for Ohio State in 2004. They met on opposite ends of the floor once before, in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with the top-seeded Buckeyes prevailing in overtime against No. 9 Xavier. This matchup looks to be similarly close as Ohio State enters on a 10-game winning streak but could be vulnerable against Arizona’s size. Amir Williams, a 6-11 sophomore center, is the only player taller than 6-8 for the Buckeyes, but he’s been limited to 16.5 minutes. The Wildcats, meanwhile, feature 7-foot freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski in the starting lineup with freshmen forwards Grant Jerrett (6-10) and Brandon Ashley (6-8) off the bench.
ABOUT ARIZONA (27-7): Mark Lyons has already accomplished something no other player in NCAA history done, advancing to two straight Sweet 16s with different teams. Lyons, a 6-1 senior point guard, led Xavier to the quarterfinals last season before moving to Arizona in the offseason as a graduate transfer. He also helped the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 as a freshman before they lost in double overtime to Kansas State. Lyons has been playing his best basketball of the season lately. He’s averaging 25 points through the first two tournament games and has turned the ball over twice in each of the last four games.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (28-7): Aaron Craft missed three free throws in the final 4:40 of Sunday’s game against 10th-seeded Iowa State but saved the Buckeyes by drawing a controversial charge with 1:41 remaining and then sinking a 3-pointer with one second left in the 78-75 victory. His defense on Lyons will be key in the West Regional semifinal.
TIP-INS: Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas is averaging 23 points through the first two tournament games after leading all players in scoring at last season’s NCAA Tournament (19.2) ... Ohio State and Arizona have met once previously, a 90-47 victory by the Buckeyes during the 1972-73 season.
Syracuse vs. Indiana
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been more than a quarter-century since Indiana and Syracuse created one of the most memorable finishes in national championship history. The two basketball powers will meet again in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since — this time in the East Regional semifinals — today. In 1987, the Hoosiers’ Keith Smart drained a 16-foot jumper from the left baseline in the final seconds against the Orange, giving Indiana its last NCAA title. The Hoosiers reached their second consecutive Sweet 16 for the first time in school history Sunday after rallying in the final minutes to defeat Temple 58-52.
Like Indiana, the Orange survived their own third-round scare, pulling out a 66-60 victory over California despite 15 missed free throws and a second-half field-goal drought that lasted 12:09. “It was not pretty. Honestly, I don’t think I can describe it. It was about as ugly as I think it can get,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said following the game. The winner will face either Miami (Fla.) or Marquette in the Elite Eight on Saturday.
ABOUT SYRACUSE (28-9): Although he did not find out about it until after the game, Michael Carter-Williams’ home in Massachusetts was destroyed by fire Saturday, approximately at the same time the Orange were on the court with the Golden Bears in San Jose, Calif. Syracuse held Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe to eight points and nine field-goal attempts — each mark two shy of his season low. The Bears also shot 4-for-21 beyond the arc. Defending the 3-point shot will be pivotal against the Hoosiers, who rank third in the country beyond the arc (40.8 percent) and feature three starters who knock down at least 43 percent of their 3-point attempts.
ABOUT INDIANA (29-6): Victor Oladipo was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Award on Sunday and promptly closed out the Hoosiers’ victory over Temple by converting the tiebreaking free throw and a critical insurance 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will enjoy a homecoming of sorts this week in the nation’s capital, which is a short drive from Oladipo’s hometown of Upper Marlboro, Md. The 58 points against the Owls matched the Hoosiers’ second-lowest output of the season and marked the first time the third-highest scoring team in the country won a game in which they scored fewer than 66 points.
TIP-INS: Indiana is 11-1 all-time as a No. 1 seed, with the resulting .916 winning percentage the best such mark for a top seed in NCAA Tournament history ... Boeheim’s 50 NCAA Tournament victories rank fourth all-time ... 3. The Hoosiers are the sixth-best shooting team in the country (48.6 percent) while the Orange own the third-best field-goal defense (37.3).