HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Butler Bulldogs to win the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament by a score of 53-41 at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2011 NCAA Tournament: UConn Wins National Championship

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NCAA Championship Game 2011: UCONN Buries Butler Thanks To Historically Poor Shooting Performance By Bulldogs

Thanks to a historically poor shooting night by the Butler Bulldogs, the Connecticut Huskies are your 2011 NCAA Champions in men’s basketball. UConn defeated Butler 53-41 at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Monday in a game that was not at all befitting of how great this year’s March Madness has been.

Both teams struggled mightily on offense. At halftime, Butler held a one-point lead, 19-18, thanks to a long-range bomb from Shelvin Mack at the buzzer. During the halftime show, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony all expressed disbelief at how poorly both teams were shooting the ball. Both with still 20 minutes left to play, all were willing to chalk the poor first half up to solid defense and a bit of nerves.

Surely both teams would get it together in half number two, right? Well, not really. Especially not Butler.

At the 8:30 mark of the second half, UConn had jumped out to a 39-28 lead thanks to Butler’s 2-of-21 shooting in the second half. Remarkably, Butler hit the first field goal attempt of the second half, meaning they misfired on 19 of their next 20 attempts over the course of a ten-plus minute span. At that point, the Huskies had more blocked shots (9) than the Bulldogs did field goals (8). Yet, Butler still was in striking distance, down just 11.

Butler could never string together a run, though, something they’ve done all tournament. Brad Stevens’ bunch finished an atrocious 18 percent from the floor (12-of-64), setting a new mark for futility in the title game. Washington State had previously held the dubious distinction for the past 59 years after shooting 21.5 percent back in 1941. Butler isn’t going to beat a team like UConn with their front line, but they mustered nothing in the paint. In fact, the Bulldogs didn’t score their first points in the paint until just over 6 minutes remaining in the game. Also worth noting is that nine of their 12 field goals came from downtown.

Give credit to UConn though for the outstanding job they did defensively against Butler, and for turning in a solid second half performance. The Huskies have clearly been the best team in basketball this past month. Their remarkable run, which began during the Big East Tournament, saw them rattle off eleven straight wins en route to the Big East Conference Tournament title and ultimately the National Championship.

With the win, Jim Calhoun cuts down the nets for the third time as the head coach at UConn. His first championship came in 1999, the second in 2004, and with tonight’s win, he becomes the only coach to have won three national titles since ’99. Very impressive.


2011 NCAA Championship Game Predictions: Rick Pitino Picks Butler Over UConn

Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose team played both Butler and Connecticut this season, is picking Butler to win the NCAA Championship Game today. The reason? The Huskies, Pitino says, are tired.

"My observation is that Connecticut's a tired team right now," he said. "I think Kemba [Walker] is worn out. I think Butler is the winner because of it."

Connecticut had an exhausting run through the Big East Tournament - which the Huskies won - before heading to March Madness, and Walker and Jeremy Lamb played almost the entire game against Kentucky. By contrast, Butler rested stars Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard for relatively large portions of the Bulldogs' last game against VCU.

Another factor that gives Butler an edge, according to Pitino, is three-point shooting:

"I thought Kentucky had wide-open shots in the first half and didn't make any," Pitino said. "You've got to stop the 3-point line against Butler to win the game. Butler has a distinct edge at the 3-point line. One team is a very good 3-point shooting team and one is not."

UConn will need to watch out for Mack, Howard and Shawn Vanzant from behind the three-point line.


2011 NCAA Championship Game Time: Connecticut Downs Kentucky, Will Face Butler

Connecticut narrowly beat Kentucky 56-55 in the Final Four Saturday night, and the Huskies will advance to face Butler in the NCAA Championship Game.

Kemba Walker, as he usually does, led the Huskies with 18 points, while Jeremy Lamb had 12 points and nine rebounds. Brandon Knight had 17 points for the Wildcats.

UConn got on a roll about halfway through the first half and went to the locker room with a ten-point lead. Kentucky came storming back early in the second half, however, with a barrage of three-pointers, including two by Deron Lamb. But UConn managed to hold small leads throughout much of the second half, and Shabazz Napier made two foul shots with one second to go to seal the game.

The NCAA Championship Game will be played on Monday at 9:23 PM Eastern on CBS. Connecticut, which played a much tougher schedule than Butler and has a higher seed, will be the favorite.


VCU Vs. Butler: Bulldogs Best Rams 70-62, Advance To Championship Game For Second Straight Year

The Butler Bulldogs have put together two of the most impressive NCAA tournament runs in back to back seasons.  The Bulldogs sent the VCU Rams back to Richmond to the tune of a 70-62 victory.  VCU forward Jamie Skeen led all scorers with 27 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome a consistent Butler attack that relied on a combination of rebounding and outside shooting.  The Bulldogs were led by their tandem of stars, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard.  Mack hit clutch shots in the second half and always kept the Rams at bay, finishing with 24 points.  Howard was a force inside grabbing 8 rebounds and adding 17 points of his own.

The first half was a tightly contested affair that saw the Bulldogs take a six point, 34-28 lead into the locker room. That was nothing to VCU who scored the first seven points of the second half to take a one point lead. The first ten minutes of second half play continued in similar fashion, with each team trading baskets and the lead.  At that point, it seemed obvious that this was to be a tightly contested affair the rest of the way.

At the second half's midway point Butler opened up a seven point lead, putting the Rams in a position they hadn't been familiar with: trailing by seven.  Shelvin Mack was crucial to the Bulldog's taking control of the action scoring ten straight points. The Bulldogs had an opportunity to put the game away, but a clutch three by Rams star Jamie Skeen cut the Butler lead to 4.  It was the closest the Rams would ever get., as ill-advised shots and turnovers kept the momentum on the side of Butler, who appeared better suited to a one-possesion, grind 'em out basketball game.

The Bulldogs advance to their second straight National Championship Game, which is an incredible feat considering we're talking about a team from the Horizon League.  I get the feeling that this year may have a different outcome for Brad Stevens, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and company.


Butler Vs. VCU Score: Butler Leads At Half, 34-28

Butler dominated the end of the first half and will now take a 34-28 lead into halftime, as both Butler and VCU vie to become the Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament’s national championship game.

VCU’s three-point shooting went cold after the first few minutes of the first half, and the Rams began to rely on the three less and less. Instead, they played a somewhat slower game, and that’s not good for them, because they’re over-matched by Butler when both teams play a set offense.

Shelvin Mack leads Butler with 13 points, followed by Matt Howard with nine. Jamie Skeen has 12 points for VCU, while Bradford Burgess has nine. Butler continues to win the rebounding battle, with 18 boards compared to VCU’s 11. Khyle Marshall leads Butler with five rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

VCU is still very much in the game, and we’ll see how the second half plays out here in a few minutes.


VCU Vs. Butler Score: Butler Comes Back, Trails By Two

Butler clawed its way back into the game and now trail VCU just 22-20 after VCU jumped out to a 15-7 lead. Butler made most of its progress while its two top scorers, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, were on the bench. VCU’s three-point touch has gone cold and its pace has slowed a bit, and Butler’s 2-to-1 edge in rebounds (15 to 7) has helped a great deal.

Nearly all of VCU’s scoring has been done by Jamie Skeen (10 points) and Bradford Burgess (nine points). Meanwhile, Mack leads Butler with eight points. VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez has struggled with Mack so far, and has been a nonentity on offense – in fact, he was just the victim of an absolutely brutal Butler block, and his attempts to penetrate into the paint have gone nowhere so far. There are a few minutes left before halftime, and it looks like this should be a close one.


VCU Vs. Butler Score, NCAA Final Four: VCU Jumps Out To Early Lead

The VCU Rams have jumped out to a 15-7 lead early in the first half of their Final Four matchup against Butler.

VCU’s basic game plan has been to play very aggressively on defense, forcing Butler to take awkward shots. Then, VCU gets the ball and runs down the court as quickly as possible and find the first open three-pointer it can. So far, they’ve found plenty of good three-point opportunities, and that led to 11 unanswered points until a couple of baskets by Butler.

VCU has also done a nice job stopping Butler from setting their offense, and Butler has at times seemed to willing to play the game on VCU's terms – Butler might do well to look for opportunities to slow things down. If not, this will be a very fast-paced game. That’s a game VCU can win, especially if the Rams feel they can rely on their bench.


2011 NCAA Tournament: VCU Vs. Butler Predictions

Tonight, at 6:06 PM in Houston Texas, the ball is thrown up to start this season's Final Four.  The evening's first game couldn't feature a more unlikely pair: the Butler Bulldogs and the Virginia Commonwealth Rams.  While the Cinderella slipper fits comfortably on both teams, their paths to this point couldn't be more different.

Butler was last season's Cinderella story, coming within a half-court heave of the National Championship.  Despite losing Gordon Hayward to the NBA, the Bulldogs return key contributors from last year's team.  The tandem of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard have led the Bulldogs on a run through the tournament which has featured gutsy last second victories in each round.  The Bulldogs opened the tournament by dispatching Old Dominion 60-58 on a last second Matt Howard tip.  In the second round, Butler sent top seed Pittsburgh packing in one of the tournament's woolliest endings, beating the Panthers 71-70 in a game decided by last second fouls. The Bulldogs came out firing against the Wisconion Badgers, but weathered a second half comeback to hold on for a 61-54 victory.  Then, in the Elite Eight, Butler also endured another nailbiter, needing overtime to beat the Florida Gators 74-71.

While Butler has all the trappings of being the underdog.... they're not.  That title belongs to the Virginia Commonwealth Rams.  The Rams inclusion amongst the field of 68 had pundits howling, but it's hard to argue that any team in the tournament has done better work than VCU.  The first team in history to play in the First Four and advance to the Final Four, the Rams have done so in dominating fashion.  They waltzed through their first three games whipping USC, Georgetown, and Purdue by 13, 18, and 18, respectively.  In the Sweet Sixteen, the Rams faced their toughest test, and needed overtime to overcome the Florida State Seminoles.  Then, in the Elite Eight, they faced the Kansas Jayhawks, a team many thought was the best in the country.... and just embarrassed them. The Rams jumped out to huge lead early and Bill Self's squad could never overcome it.  In the 2011 NCAA tournament, Cinderella just straight up whips people.

So as these two unlikely opponents square off of college basketball's biggest stage, who will come out on top.  The Rams, led by Jamie Skeen and Joey Rodriguez, and coached by the young and energetic Shaka Smart have been utterly white hot and have cruised up until this point.  Their opponent, the Mack and Howard-led Bulldogs (with their own energetic and youthful coach, Brad Steven) have had to play close, gritty games.  I think that experience benefits the Bulldogs, and they will return to their second National Title Game in two years.  Butler: 80, VCU: 75


Final Four Schedule: Game Times For VCU Vs. Butler, Kentucky Vs. UConn

Here's the schedule of NCAA Tournament games for Saturday, as we enter the Final Four.

At 6:09 PM Eastern, No. 8 Butler takes on No. 11 VCU on CBS. Butler aims to get to its second straight national championship game, and has had an amazing run through the tournament so far, knocking off Old Dominion, Pitt, Wisconsin and Florida to get this far. Butler is an odd Final Four entrant despite its strong performance last year, but VCU is even odder. But the Rams' tournament run so far includes decisive victories - no, blowouts - over Georgetown and Purdue, along with a 10-point win over top seed Kansas.

At 8:49 PM Eastern, No. 4 Kentucky plays No. 3 Connecticut, also on CBS. Anson Whaley here at SB Nation Pittsburgh predicts a close win by UConn, and after the heroics of Kemba Walker throughout not only the NCAA Tournament but also the Big East Conference Tournament as well, I can't say I blame him - I don't want to pick against Walker.


CBI Results: Oregon Defeats Creighton, Wins Championship

The Oregon Ducks defeated Creighton in a best-of-three series to win the College Basketball Invitational tournament.

E.J. Singler's shot with two seconds remaining proved to be the difference in Oregon's 71-69 victory. Joevan Catron scored 29 points for the Ducks and was named the MVP of the tournament, while Singler had 15. Antoine Young scored 21 for Creighton.

Oregon lost the first of the three-game series on March 28, but came storming back with victories on Wednesday and Friday. You may recall that the Ducks eliminated Duquesne from the CBI in the second round. They also beat Weber State and Boise State. Oregon finishes its season at 21-18; that doesn't sound especially impressive, but the Ducks played in the tough Pac-10, which also featured Washington, Arizona and UCLA.

Creighton beat San Jose State, Davidson and UCF on its way to the CBI championship. The Bluejays finish with a 23-16 record overall.


NCAA Final Four: Kentucky Vs. UConn Predictions

Big East team UConn will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four this weekend and the winner will be the heavy favorite to win the NCAA championship. Both teams were relatively high seeds, but neither was expected by most to come out of their region to reach the Final Four.

Kentucky fought its way through perhaps the toughest region, taking out No. 1 overall seed Ohio State and No. 2 seed North Carolina. Even more impressively, they’ve done it on the back of a freshman in Brandon Knight. Kentucky fans may feel a little nervous pinning their hopes to a first-year player, but the fact is that the Wildcats have already defeated two very good teams and are plenty capable of winning their final two games.

But to do that, they’ll need to start by going through the Connecticut Huskies. UConn wasn’t expected to do much this season, picked by coaches in the preseason to finish in the middle of the pack of the Big East conference. Then a funny thing happened – Kemba Walker turned into one of the nation’s best players, UConn went on to win five Big East tournament games in five days, and Jim Calhoun now has the Huskies on the brink of a third national championship.

But even though each team is incredibly close to a title, they should be wary of Virginia Commonwealth and particularly, Butler, on the other side of the bracket. Between them, those teams have beaten No. 1 seeds Pitt and Kansas – so they’re clearly able to knock off Kentucky or UConn in a one-game scenario.

So what can we expect in this game? Well, with each round, more pressure builds up and that kind of burden can wear on freshmen. But while the Huskies have the best player in this game in Walker, they’ve had a significantly easier path in this game than Kentucky. Still, these two teams already faced off earlier in the season and UConn laid a 17-point beatdown on the Wildcats then. I expect a close UConn win this time around.


NIT Results: Wichita State Wins Championship

The Wichita State Shockers won the NIT Tournament Thursday night after defeating Alabama, 66-57. J.T. Durley and Graham Hatch scored 12 points apiece for a Wichita State team that had six players score at least six points. (Hatch made all four shots he took, all of them from behind the three-point line, and two of his threes came in quick succession late in the second half to help seal the game for Wichita State.) Tony Mitchell scored 13 points and had 12 rebounds for Alabama.

Wichita State had been a No. 4 seed in the tournament, and hadn't been a serious contender for a spot in the NCAA Tournament after losing in the Missouri Valley Conference tourney against Indiana State (which promptly lost to Syracuse in the first round of March Madness). But the Shockers destroyed Nebraska in the first round of the NIT, then knocked off Virginia Tech, the College of Charleston, and Washington State before beating Alabama. They finish their season at 29-8 overall.


Barack Obama's NCAA Tournament Bracket Comes Up Empty In Final Four

President Barack Obama’s NCAA March Madness bracket is officially kaput, as he missed all the teams in the Final Four. Picking all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four in a year full of upsets will do that. Kansas was the last remaining team in Obama’s bracket still alive, but the Jayhawks dropped out of the tournament when they lost to VCU.

Obama picked all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four in Houston, but Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Duke and Kansas have all been eliminated during a wild NCAA tournament filled with upsets …

Obama filled out a bracket for ESPN for the third straight year. He is in the 94th percentile out of 5.9 million brackets submitted on ESPN.com.

Obama’s hardly alone in missing the boat on the Final Four, of course. There might be some folks who picked UConn and Kentucky to make it, but predicting Butler to make yet another run to the Final Four would have been just too weird, and nobody picked VCU except maybe a few crazy alums still reliving their college days while living in the Fan in Richmond. All things considered, Obama didn’t do too badly. He correctly picked Marquette, Richmond, Gonzaga and Florida State as lower-seeded teams to win in the first round, and nailed 28 of 32 first-round games overall. It was only in the second round that things started to go haywire for him – and probably everyone else, too.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Butler Vs. VCU Pits Unlikely Teams

That VCU and Butler would be matching up against one another in the Final Four would have seemed almost inconceivable even a week ago, but, well, here we are. A few weeks ago, Virginia Commonwealth was a borderline tournament pick that had losses against teams like Drexel, Northeastern, James Madison and Georgia State to answer for. Now it's flown through the tournament with wins over Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. Butler, meanwhile, lost to Youngstown State and Evansville.

ESPN has a good video on what to expect from the VCU-Butler game. One matchup to watch for is at point guard, where VCU's Joey Rodriguez will take on Butler's Shelvin Mack. Rodriguez hasn't put up big points totals, but he's been a dynamic presence in VCU's offense, piling up assists against Florida State and Purdue. Mack was Butler's second-leading scorer and came up huge against Florida in the Elite Eight round.

Another key matchup is between Butler's Matt Howard and VCU's Jamie Skeen. Both are big forwards who are capable of scoring from the outside, and both have had big tournaments so far - Howard has scored in double digits in every game, including 20 points and 12 boards against Wisconsin and dramatic clutch performances against Old Dominion and Pitt. Skeen, meanwhile, posted a double-double and sank four threes against Kansas.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Kentucky Downs North Carolina, Advance To First Final Four In 13 Seasons

John Calipari has this year's installment of the Wildcats where he couldn't get last year's: in the Final Four.  After losing to West Virginia in last season's Elite Eight, Calipari's team lost six players to the NBA.  It seemed unlikely that they would make it as far as last year's star studded squad, but by besting North Carolina 76-69 the 'Cats have made that a reality.

Kentucky controlled the entire basketball game and were led by freshman phenom point guard Brandon Knight who finished with a game high 22 points.  Knight had North Carolina on their heels all afternoon, pushing the temp and taking advantage of 13 Tar Heel turnovers.  Knight's opposite, Carolina freshman star Harrison Barnes, also had a great game, scoring 18 points, many when his team needed them the most.  Barnes rattled off six straight points late in the second half to tie the game, but the Tar Heels couldn't ever get over the hump.

Kentucky's 76-69 victory wins them a date next Saturday night in Houston with the Connecticut Huskies from the Big East conference.


2011 NCAA Tournament: VCU Continues Improbable Advance To Final Four, Beats Kansas 71-61

The VCU Rams, a team the "experts" howled about when they were awarded a trip to the tournament have done the unthinkable: they've advanced to the Final Four.  In handing the Kansas Jayhawks only their third loss of the season, VCU put the finishing touches on one of the most improbable runs in NCAA tournament history. Today's 71-61 Rams victory was just the kind of game that makes the NCAA tournament so special.

VCU largely won the game in the first half, burying three after three and extending the lead to nearly twenty points.  The Morris twins looked tight and played uncertainly early, missing a litany of the free throws and let the Rams control the tempo.  The Morrises finished a combined 13 for 30 from the field.  Their frustration extended to the rest of their Jayhawk squad.

The Rams were spearheaded by the efforts of Jamie Skeen, a forward who transferred to VCU from from Wake Forest.  Skeen hit shots when they were needed most, especially in the second half when Kansas closed the margin, but never took the lead.  It was also a star making turn for point guard Joey Rodriguez who kept the VCU offense humming all afternoon.  Also, reserve guard Brandon Rozzell contributed four big three pointers that kept the Jayhawks at bay.  It was a team effort for coach Shaka Smart's squad who may just steal some of the Butler Bulldog's spotlight in Houston at the Final Four next weekend.

VCU will now face Butler for a chance to advance to the National Championship game.  You can't tell me that you predicted that two weeks ago.


2011 NCAA Tournament Schedule: Kansas Vs. VCU, North Carolina Vs. Kentucky

Here's your schedule of Sunday's NCAA Tournament games, in which we'll see which teams from the East and Southwest regions will join Butler and Connecticut in the Final Four. All times are Eastern.

At 2:20 PM on CBS, No. 1 Kansas will face No. 11 VCU. It's been a relatively easy run so far for Kansas, which has victories so far over a No. 16 seed (Boston University), a No. 9 seed (Illinois), and a No. 12 seed (Richmond). Now they're facing off against yet another low seed. As fun as VCU's run through March Madness has been, this might be where the train stops - arguably the best team remaining might be too much for the Rams to handle.

At 5:05 PM on CBS, No. 2 North Carolina will play No. 4 Kentucky, in a matchup of two of college basketball's most storied programs. These are both relatively high-scoring teams, and North Carolina has already allowed 80-plus points against Long Island and Washington so far in the tournament, so expect an up-tempo game.

Here are some resources for Sunday's games:

Rock Chalk Talk for Kansas.

Carolina March for UNC.

A Sea Of Blue for Kentucky.

SB Nation's printable bracket.

SBNation.com's tournament headquarters.

Here at SB Nation Pittsburgh, Aaron Hawley, after going 1-for-2 in yesterday's games, predicts a Kansas blowout and a high-scoring UNC victory.


2011 NCAA Tournament Results: UConn Joins Butler In Final Four

The Big East took a lot of flack for its subpar performance in the NCAA Tournament, but the UConn Huskies are making good as the conference’s lone remaining representative, advancing to the Final Four today by beating the Arizona Wildcats, 65-63.

The game featured the matchup of two top players in Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Arizona’s Derrick Williams, and each scored 20 points. UConn’s second-leading scorer, Jeremy Lamb, scored 19.

The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-1 lead early on, but the Huskies crawled back into the game, taking their first lead with about eight minutes to go in the first half when Shabazz Napier put in a layup. Walker hit a three-pointer shortly before the end of the half to send UConn to the locker room with a 32-25 lead.

Arizona came back to tie the game a few minutes into the second half and had a three-point lead with six-and-a-half minutes left to play. From there, UConn scored 10 unanswered points (six of them by Lamb), giving the Huskies the cushion they needed to withstand a late Arizona rally. Williams and Jamelle Horne each missed three-pointers in the final seconds, either of which would have given the Wildcats a one-point lead.

Connecticut’s next opponent will be the winner of the matchup between North Carolina and Kentucky, to be played tomorrow at 4:55.


March Madness Results: Butler Beats Florida, Advances To Final Four

In the first of today’s Elite Eight games in the NCAA Tournament, the Butler Bulldogs continued a second consecutive improbable Final Four run by knocking off the Florida Gators in overtime by a score of 74-71.

Shelvin Mack danced his way through the Gators’ defense en route to 27 points, while Matt Howard had 14 points and five rebounds. Vernon Macklin had 25 points for Florida.

Butler was down nine points with seven minutes remaining in regulation, but a layup by Howard and three-pointers by Chrishawn Hopkins and Shawn Vanzant helped reduce the lead to three. Two straight buckets by Mack with about three minutes left tied the score. Howard had a chance to put the Bulldogs ahead with two free throws with 31 seconds remaining, but he made only one, and Erving Walker missed a three-point attempt as the clock expired with the score tied at 60.

Butler led through much of the overtime period. Walker hit a three with 1:42 remaining to give Florida a 70-69 lead, but Mack quickly answered with a three of his own. He added two more foul shots to seal the game for Butler.

Butler will face the winner of tomorrow’s contest between Kansas and VCU to determine its Final Four opponent.

Butler’s March Madness run last year went all the way to the national championship game, where it finally lost to Duke. Despite being a No. 8 seed this year and losing five games in the lowly Horizon Conference, they’re at it again.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Elite Eight Predicitions

It's time to suss out the Final Four, and we here at SBNation Pittsburgh are willing to take a stab at it.  I wouldn't take this as the gospel since it is written by a guy who went 2-6 in the Sweet Sixteen.  Oh well, it's fun for me, and if it's fun for you, read on.

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 8 Butler, March 26 at 4:30 PM - The weekend's opening game pits the two hottest teams in the tournament.  It's hard to go against the Bulldogs though.  No team has been better winning games in the tournament in the last couple seasons and I think Matt Howard's presence on the boards will be the deciding factor.  Butler: 73, Florida: 68

No. 3 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Arizona, March 26 at 7:30 PM - Kemba Walker may be the most exciting player left in the tournament, but Derrick Williams has been the most impressive.  The Huskies lack a dominant inside presence, and I expect Williams to do some serious work.  Sean Miller will have the Wildcats in the final four in only his second season.  Arizona: 68, Connecticut: 56

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 11 VCU, March 27 at 2:20 PM - The Jayhawks are the team to beat, and the National Title is theirs to lose.  VCU has had a memorably epic season, but they'll find out what Richmond found out Friday: The Morris twins are hard to contend with.  Kansas: 85 , VCU: 60

No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Kentucky, March 27 at 5:05 PM - The Tar Heels were left for dead in mid-December, but Roy Williams has done a masterful job riding out a rocky winter for a springtime rebirth.  The relentless defensive pressure and up and down transition game will be no match for the Wildcats' freshman stars.  Their turnovers will turn this one into a track meet.  The Tar Heels will cross the finish line and advance to yet another Final Four.  North Carolina: 90, Kentucky: 79


March Madness Bracket Update: After Last-Second Victory Vs. Florida State, VCU Fills Out Elite Eight Field

Here’s an updated look at the NCAA Tournament bracket, reflecting tonight’s Sweet 16 action.

The tournament is now down to the Elite Eight. In the Southeast Region, No. 2 Florida will face No. 8 Butler on Saturday at 4:30. In the West, No. 3 UConn will play No. 5 Arizona at 7:05 Saturday.

In the East region, North Carolina and Kentucky will face one another after those schools’ defeats of Marquette and Ohio State, respectively.

VCU will face Kansas after the Rams pulled off a one-point victory over Florida State after a ragged, mistake-filled overtime period in which both teams were clearly gassed. VCU scored the go-ahead basket with only a few seconds remaining. Bradford Burgess finished with 26 points for VCU, while point guard Joey Rodriguez had 10 assists. The Rams’ unlikely run continues – this is a team that had to play a first-round game, for goodness sakes – but they’ll face a very tough opponent this weekend in the Jayhawks.


March Madness Scores: Kentucky Vs. Ohio State Ends In Upset

The field is set for the Elite Eight, as tonight’s NCAA Tournament action whittled eight teams down to the four who will join Connecticut, Florida, Arizona and Butler as the next round of play continues this weekend.

First, No. 2 North Carolina blew out No. 11 Marquette, 81-63, with Tyler Zeller collecting 27 points and 12 rebounds, Harrison Barnes scoring 20 points, and John Henson recording 14 points and 12 boards for the Tar Heels.

No. 1 Kansas unsurprisingly defeated No. 12 Richmond, 77-57, with Brady Morningstar scoring 18 points for the Jayhawks. Kansas jumped out to a 31-9 lead in the first half and never looked back.

No. 4 Kentucky pulled off an upset of No. 1 Ohio State, 62-60, as Brandon Knight hit a jumper with two points remaining to seal the deal for the Wildcats. Josh Harrellson led Kentucky with 17 points. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the year, so their departure leaves a void, and Kansas is the only No. 1 seed remaining after the exits of Pitt, Duke and now OSU.

No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 VCU are still in progress and are headed to overtime, 65-65. Derwin Kitchen has 21 points for the Seminoles, and Bradford Burgess has 21 for the Rams.


College Basketball NCAA Tournament Schedule For Friday

Here’s the schedule of NCAA Tournament games for tonight. Four of the games in the Sweet 16 round were played last night, and four more will be played tonight, setting the field for the Elite Eight.

First, No. 2 North Carolina will take on No. 11 Marquette at 7:15 PM on CBS. Marquette has already pulled off two upsets so far by beating Xavier and Syracuse, but will have its hands full as it goes for another.

At 7:27 on TBS, No. 1 Kansas will play No. 12 Richmond. This marks the first game in what could be a relatively easy weekend for Kansas, because if the Jayhawks win, they’ll go on to face the winner of No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (9:57 on TBS). They could therefore advance to the Final Four without having had to play any team higher than a No. 9 seed.

At 9:45 tonight, No. 1 Ohio State takes on No. 4 Kentucky on CBS.

Here’s where you can find SB Nation’s updated bracket.


NCAA Tournament Results: Florida, Butler, Arizona Advance

In addition to UConn's win over San Diego State, here are your March Madness results for Thursday, along with a quick look at the updated NCAA tournament bracket.

No. 2 Florida did end up beating No. 3 BYU in overtime, 83-74, despite 32 points from Jimmer Fredette. The Gators will advance to face No. 8 Butler in the Elite Eight round, as Butler continued a second consecutive improbable deep March Madness run by beating No. 4 Wisconsin, 61-54. Matt Howard had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Jordan Taylor put up 22 points for the Badgers, who cut a 20-point lead down to just a couple of baskets before eventually coming up short.

Finally, Derrick Williams poured in 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as No. 5 Arizona upset No. 1 Duke, 93-77. Kyrie Irving scored 28 for the Blue Devils. Arizona will advance to face Connecticut on Saturday.

Here's an updated bracket reflecting last night's games (PDF).


NCAA March Madness Bracket Update: UConn Advances To Elite Eight

The Connecticut Huskies advanced to the Elite Eight in the March Madness bracket Thursday night by defeating No. 2 San Diego State by a score of 74-67. UConn will keep the Big East’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive, as the Huskies and the Marquette Golden Eagles are the conference’s only teams left after beginning the tournament with 11.

UConn took a 36-27 lead into halftime, but the Aztecs chipped away at it throughout the beginning of the second half, at times looking much more alert and motivated than the Huskies. But UConn, as it so often does, turned to Kemba Walker, who stepped up in a big way in the second half. In fact, of the 38 points the Huskies scored in the second half, Walker and Jeremy Lamb scored all but two. Walker scored 36 points overall for UConn, while Lamb had 24 on 9-for-11 shooting.

The Aztecs came screaming back with about four minutes left to play, thanks in part to two big three-pointers by D.J. Gay. But with a minute and a half to go, Alex Oriakhi grabbed a big offensive rebound and popped the ball out to Lamb, who hit a three that gave the Huskies a four-point lead that San Diego State wasn’t able to overcome, much to the delay of the very pro-SDSU crowd in Anaheim.

The Huskies will go on to face the winner of tonight’s contest between Duke and Arizona.

In the other early game, No. 2 Florida is pulling away from No. 3 BYU in overtime. The winner of that game will go on to face the winner of tonight’s contest between No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 8 Butler.


Sweet 16 Bracket: Odds, Predictions, And Printable Bracket For March Madness

Here are a couple of resources as you prepare for the Sweet 16 round, which begins tonight. First, SBNation.com has a printable bracket that’s updated in case your bracket for your office pool is all scrawled over because you weren’t smart enough to predict that VCU and Richmond would advance this far, let alone frigging Butler, which is … well, whatever.

Second, Aaron Hawley’s list of predictions for the game for SB Nation Pittsburgh is here. He’s got one nifty upset planned, with Marquette heading to the Elite Eight ahead of North Carolina. That would be excellent for the Big East fans among us, as it would tone down the chorus regarding the idea that the conference is overrated.

Also, at SBNation.com, there’s a list of odds and predictions. The Big Ten apparently has a 3:2 shot at winning the tourney (thanks to Ohio State), while the Big East is at 10:1, so let’s go Huskies, and let’s go Golden Eagles.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Predictions

The second weekend of the Big Dance is almost underway, and we here at SBNation Pittsburgh are looking in our crystal ball to see how the round of sixteen will pan out:

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, March 25 at 9:45 PM -
Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes will roll past a Wildcat team that worked way too hard to beat Princeton and West Virginia.  Ohio State is simply too good to get beaten by a team not playing at their absolute best.  Ohio State: 77, Kentucky: 65

No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette, March 25 at 7:15 PM -
The Golden Eagles are the Big East's breakout team in the tournment, playing their best basketball down the stretch.  The Tar Heel fast break will drive the tempo, but the Golden Eagles have athletes too.  If Darius Johnson Odom gets hot, and I think he will, it would spell trouble for the Tar Heels.  Marquette: 84, North Carolina: 81

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona, March 24 at 9:45 PM -
The Blue Devils are rolling, with Kyrie Irving back in the fold, and Nolan Smith making a strong play for the Naismith Awards.  I'd love to see the Dukies go down... but it's not happening anytime soon. Duke: 76, Arizona: 60

No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 UConn, March 24 at 7:15 PM - Kemba Walker has been one of the most talked about players in the country all season long, and the Huskies have won seven a row, and they won't be stop now.  A rematch of the 1999 Title Game awaits them in the Elite Eight.  UConn: 69, SD State: 60

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond, March 25 at 7:27 PM -
Richmond, the city with two teams in the Sweet Sixteen has been a nice story.  Nice story and all, but no match for the Morris twins.  Kansas: 85, Richmond: 60

No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 VCU, March 25 at 9:57 PM - A balanced attack led the Seminoles past Notre Dame in the tournament's second round.  They shouldn't need nearly that effort to best the Rams, who have to be happy just to be there.  FSU: 80, VCU: 71

No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, March 24 at 9:57 PM -
Butler has been the nation's Cinderella team for over a year.  The Bulldogs won two games that went down to the wire in the opening round, and Wisconsin doesn't score enough to keep teams from hanging around.  The Badgers suffocating defense should keep this one low scoring, and should put Wisconsin into the Elite Eight.  Wisconsin: 58, Butler: 50

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU, March 24 at 7:27 PM - Jimmer Fredette has the Cougars growling despite the loss of leading rebounder Brandon Davies.  Jimmer's crew was supposed to fold the moment they lost Davies.  Instead, they look better than ever.  Jimme shoots 'em into the Elite Eight.  BYU: 71, Florida: 68


NIT Bracket Results: Alabama, Colorado, Washington State, Wichita State Advance To Semifinals

Here are the results from NIT competition Wednesday night.

No. 1 Alabama defeated No. 2 Miami (Florida), 79-64, with Trevor Releford scoring 22 points for the Crimson Tide. Tony Mitchell picked up 16 points and nine rebounds, and Senario Hillman had 17 points and five boards off the bench. Durand Scott had 19 points for the Hurricanes.

No. 4 Wichita State beat No. 6 Charleston, 82-75, despite Andrew Goudelock's 31 points for the Cougars. Gabe Blair had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Shockers.

Finally, No. 2 Washington State beat No. 4 Northwestern, 69-66 in overtime. Klay Thompson had 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for Washington State. Michael Thompson scored 18 points for Northwestern.

In the NIT semifinals, Washington State will face Wichita State on March 29 at 7:00 PM, while Alabama will face Colorado (which already beat Cal to advance this far) on March 29 at 9:00 PM.


NIT And CBI Schedule For Wednesday

All the local teams have been eliminated from their respective tournaments (Pitt, West Virginia and Penn State are all out of March Madness, while Duquesne is out of the CBI), but if you’re still ready for more college basketball tournament action, here’s what’s on tap tonight in the NIT and the College Basketball Invitiational.

All of tonight’s NIT games are on ESPN2, as six teams will play to claim one of three spots remaining in the semifinals. No. 4 WIchita State takes on No. 6 Charleston at 7:00. No. 1 Alabama plays No. 2 Miami (Florida) at 9:00. And No. 2 Washington State plays No. 4 Northwestern at 11:00. Here’s what the NIT bracket will look like after tonight: No. 1 Colorado has already advanced to the semifinals, and will face the Alabama/Miami winner, while the winners of the other two games will face each other.

The CBI plays its semifinal games tonight, with UCF taking on Creighton at 8:05 and Boise State playing Oregon at 10:00.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Big East Basketball A Loser

ESPN.com has a good list of March Madness winners and losers. The winners, naturally, include Kansas (which finds itself in a bracket with only the 10, 11, and 12 seeds also still alive), the city of Richmond (which produced two of those low-seeded survivors, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth), and Butler.

Losers include "Basketball IQ" (and given the number of gaffes the NCAA Tournament has seen, that's hard to argue with), Bruce Pearl ... and ... wait for it ... the Big East.

A record 11 teams entered the field of 68. Just two remain. It must be mentioned that two of the nine that have been dismissed were beaten by fellow Big East members, but the performance has still been well below expectations. The big culprits: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville, all of which were granted top-four seeds but lost to teams seeded eighth or lower. If Connecticut or Marquette make the Final Four, that will enhance the Big East's body of work for this tourney, but right now that body resembles Terrence Cody's while running the 40 with his shirt off.

Unfortunately, ESPN isn't wrong - the tournament has been a huge downer for the Big East. Now Pitt and West Virginia fans are in the rather weird position of having to root for Connecticut and Marquette to salvage the conference's national reputation.


NCAA Tournament: Complex Explanation For Big East's Struggles

After the SB Nation editorial I wrote about yesterday, here’s an antidote: in the New York Times, Nate Silver has a lengthy, even-handed treatment of the Big East’s disappointing March Madness performance:

So far in the tournament, the Big East has played a total of 14 games against teams from outside its conference. (This excludes two cases where two Big East teams played each other.) According to the projections that we issued before each game, the Big East should have compiled either 9 or 10 wins in these games. Instead, it won 7. That isn’t great, but it’s roughly equivalent to a 100-win baseball team going 7-7 over a two-week stretch, which would be unremarkable.

The gist is that the Big East might have been somewhat overrated, but probably not by a whole lot, and that bad luck played some role in the conference’s tournament struggles. Also, the conference has a ton of depth but not much in the way of “elite teams.”


NCAA Tournament Bracket Update: What Happened To The Big East?

SB Nation has a gloating editorial about the Big East’s disappointing performance in the NCAA Tournament, in which there are only two Big East March Madness teams left in the Sweet 16 bracket. If you’re a fan of a Big East team, this whole article is probably going to get your blood boiling, but here’s just a bit of it:

The Big East deserves it. It’d be one thing if everyone came out and admitted that yeah, it was probably a little ridiculous for the Big East to be getting 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Or if everyone conceded that for all the hype surrounding the league’s top seeds (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, UConn) we really hadn’t seen them beat anyone but each other. But even now, people still think this is just some fluke.

The author himself admits to putting Louisville in his Final Four, so it’s hard to know how seriously to take all this. But it’s worth remembering a few things here.

-P- There were 11 Big East teams, and those teams have gone 9-9 so far in the tournament. They should have done better, given that teams like Pitt and Notre Dame had easy games against automatic bids in the first round, but they still did win half their games. It’s hard to really argue that the Big East didn’t deserve to have so many teams in the tournament if, after a performance that is widely perceived as an epic fail, the conference still won half its games.

-P- Nine losses, including a couple in which Big East teams eliminated each other, is a really small sample. In the eyes of the public, it will certainly outweigh the perceptions of coaches and pollsters who consistently ranked Big East teams among the best in the country throughout the season, but it probably shouldn’t.

-P- If Big East 11 teams didn’t deserve to make it, who should have stayed home? Villanova, probably, and that might be fair, given the Wildcats’ late-season collapse. What about Marquette? The Golden Eagles are still in the tournament, and they didn’t really have a loss to a bad team all season, except maybe Seton Hall. That’s it. The other nine teams simply weren’t bubble teams, and it’s a huge stretch to think any of them should have been.

The author notes that the conference’s top teams “hadn’t really” beaten anyone except one another. This could be said, though, of most top teams. The conference season is long, and it’s common practice for top teams to fill much of their non-conference schedules with cupcake games.

Kansas, for example, played Arizona, Memphis, and UCLA in its non-conference schedule, and needed overtime to beat Michigan, and that was about it for the Jayhawks’ non-conference games against really good teams. Duke played Marquette, Kansas State, Michigan State and Butler, but otherwise filled its non-conference schedule with snoozers against teams like Bradley, Saint Louis and Colgate. If Pitt’s or Notre Dame’s non-conference schedules were easier than the norm for top teams, it wasn’t by much at all.

SB Nation makes a provocative argument, and it’s one that will probably have resonance for most of the country, but I think it’s at least as likely that the Big East just had a somewhat unfortunate string of games at the wrong time. I know, I know – sports fans call that “choking.” But I prefer to think of it as variance.


March Madness Sweet 16 Printable Bracket

SBNation.com has its NCAA Tournament Printable Bracket updated for the Sweet 16. With four teams seeded No. 10 or lower (Marquette, Florida State, Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth) still alive, along with No. 8 seed Butler, it’s probably time to tear up that tattered bracket you’ve been carrying around since the field was announced last week.

If you picked all the No. 1 seeds to make it to the Final Four – well, Pitt’s not looking so good, but otherwise, you’re set. No. 1 Kansas is in a bracket with Richmond, VCU and Florida State, and has a relatively clear path to the Final Four. No. 1 Duke is still alive and will face off against Arizona in the next round. If the Blue Devils can win and advance to the Elite Eight, they’ll face either San Diego State or a hot UConn team. No. 1 Ohio State faces Kentucky, and then potentially the North Carolina-Marquette winner.


NCAA Tournament 2011 Bracket Update: Sweet 16 Set

The field for the Sweet 16 is now set, so here’s your March Madness bracket update following Sunday’s late games.

Arizona narrowly defeated Texas, 70-69. Two No. 11 seeds, VCU and Marquette, knocked off two No. 3 seeds in Purdue and Syracuse, respectively, and No. 10 Florida State shocked No. 2 Notre Dame. (This tournament hasn’t been especially kind to top Big East seeds so far, with Pitt, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville all dropping out early.) No. 1 Kansas advanced against No. 9 Illinois.

Here, then, are the Sweet 16:

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Kentucky, March 25 at 9:45 PM
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Marquette, March 25 at 7:15 PM

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona, March 24 at 9:45 PM
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 UConn, March 24 at 7:15 PM

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond, March 25 at 7:27 PM
No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 VCU, March 25 at 9:57 PM

No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, March 24 at 9:57 PM
No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU, March 24 at 7:27 PM


March Madness Bracket Update 2011: Duke, North Carolina Advance

North Carolina and Duke advanced in today’s early NCAA Tournament games. Also, No. 1 Ohio State currently holds a huge lead on No. 8 George Mason, so it seems pretty safe to assume the Buckeyes will advance.

UNC’s game against Washington and Duke’s matchup against Michigan were both close ones. I was watching the North Carolina game, and it was an extremely fast-paced matchup between two athletic, offense-oriented teams. Ultimately, the Tarheels came out on top, 86-83, and they’ll advance to the Sweet Sixteen despite allowing 170 points total in their two March Madness games so far.

The Buckeyes currently hold a 24-point lead on GMU early in the second half. Let’s assume they’ll advance. Here’s what the bracket looks like:

The Southeast bracket was set yesterday. No. 8 Butler will face No. 4 Wisconsin in the next round, with No. 3 BYU facing No. 2 Florida.

In the East, it appears that No. 1 Ohio State will face No. 4 Kentucky. Meanwhile, No. 2 UNC awaits the winner of tonight’s game between Marquette and Syracuse.

In the West, Duke will play the winner of the ongoing game between No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Arizona. Meanwhile, No. 2 San Diego State will face No. 3 UConn.

Only the Southwest bracket remains largely unsettled, with only No. 12 Richmond the only team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen so far.


2011 NCAA Tournament Update: Results From Saturday's Games

Other than Butler’s upset of Pitt and Kentucky’s defeat of West Virginia, here are the results of today’s NCAA Tournament games:

No. 2 Florida defeated No. 7 UCLA 73-65, making the Gators the highest remaining seed in Pitt’s Southeast bracket. From the same bracket, No. 3 BYU blew out No. 11 Gonzaga, and No. 4 Wisconsin beat No. 5 Kansas State. So all of the top four Southeast seeds advanced – except Pitt.

Elsewhere, No. 12 Richmond easily defeated No. 13 Morehead State, 65-48. No. 2 San Diego State beat No. 2 Temple in double-overtime. And No. 3 UConn knocked off No. 6 Cincinnati, 69-58.

The rest of the Sweet Sixteen field will be determined in Sunday’s games. The Southeast bracket field is set for the next round, with No. 8 Butler taking on No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 3 BYU playing No. 2 Florida, but much about the other three brackets is yet to be determined.


NCAA Tournament 2011: Pitt Upset By Butler, Sent Home Early

And just like that, Pitt’s season is O-V-E-R.

I could go into the details about how this game was lost. The late turnover. The three-pointers by Butler. The missed free throw by Gil. The foul by Nasir Robinson.

But some losses are just too painful to dissect, so I’m not going to try to do that here.

College basketball is a different animal because you’ve got kids playing instead of adults. I’ve written this before, but these are kids. Being 18 may qualify you as an adult in most aspects, but these are kids that are going to be prone to mistakes – especially in pressure situations. Just as Nasir made a mistake in fouling Matt Howard, Butler made a mistake in fouling Gilbert Brown near midcourt just before that.

The last thing Pitt fans should be doing is complaining how they were hosed out of a Sweet 16. The loss was tough – too tough. But the fact is had they simply backed off after Brown’s miss, they’d have had a chance at OT.

Robinson, while making a bad decision, also shouldn’t obviously take the blame. Butler was red hot from three-point range in the first half and there’s not much you can do about that.

This one is going to sting beyond belief for a while. But, well, it is what it is.


2011 NCAA Tournament: Pitt Vs. Butler - Panthers On Cusp of Sweet 16

Pitt is one game from reaching the Sweet 16, but that's far from the goal for the team obviously. Anything less than at least a Final Four berth would be a disappointment.

The Panthers have had their opening game tune-up and will now see some stiff challenges along the way starting with a Butler team that went to the NCAA championship game last year. The only difference is, well, this isn't exactly the same team as star player Gordon Hayward is now in the NBA.

Butler has already gotten some experience facing good rebounding teams taking on Old Dominion in their opening game. They handled them extremely well to say the least, keeping them more than ten boards below their season average. Pitt needs to make sure it doesn't allow that to happen in their game tonight and the best way to do that is to come out aggressive and hungry, beating Butler to every loose ball and boxing sticking to the fundamentals such as boxing out.

Butler definitely isn't sneaking up on Pitt, so there's no reason to even think about overlooking the Bulldogs. They have the Panthers' full attention:

"When you look at Butler, you definitely have to respect them a little bit more," Pittsburgh forward Gilbert Brown said Friday.

The big, bad Panthers know who the nation will be rooting for when the teams meet Saturday night.

"Knowing the history of their school, they're basically America's team now," Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said.

The Panthers figure almost everyone will be pulling for the Bulldogs, except perhaps for those fans who have Pittsburgh advancing to the Final Four in their bracket.

"I think everyone wants to the see the upset," Panthers center Gary McGhee said. "We just want to come out there and play our game. We know what we have to do."

Defense is Pitt's other key. The Panthers were aggressive against UNC-Asheville in Thursday's game and really forced them into tough shots, holding them to under 31% from the field. Nasir Robinson is going to be a key guarding Butler forward Matt Howard, the team's leading scorer. At 6'8, Matt Howard plays both inside and outside and is a load for any defender.

Still, Pitt is clearly the better team and Butler failed in earlier attempts this year to beat some pretty good teams such as Duke, Louisville, and Xavier.

Pitt is, of course, capable of losing this game. But if they play their game, the team should be moving on to next weekend.

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