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Monday, March 14, 2011

seven teams with the best chance of cutting down the nets - Ohio St. Wins Big Ten Tournament Earns #1 Seed -

Ohio St. Wins Big Ten Tournament Earns #1 Seed
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Jared Sullinger's shot was off throughout the Big Ten tournament - and he still dominated.
The freshman forward had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 1 Ohio State defeated Penn State 71-60 in the Big Ten tournament final on Sunday.
Sullinger made just 12 of 36 field goals in the tournament, but he still was named most outstanding player. He averaged 16.3 points and 14 rebounds to help the top-seeded Buckeyes (32-2) repeat as champions.
Sullinger made up for his poor shooting by setting a tournament record with 38 free throw attempts in three games.
"It's just Jared," Ohio State guard David Lighty said. "He can affect the game without scoring. Especially shooting 15 free throws a game. He's knocking those down and getting every rebound that's around him. You really can't stop that."
Ohio State guard Jon Diebler said Sullinger's approach makes him special.
"He's just a great teammate to have, very unselfish. You know, I can honestly say we probably wouldn't be here without him and how he's performed this year," Diebler said.
William Buford scored 18 points and Diebler added 15 for the Buckeyes.
Shortly after the win, the Buckeyes learned they had received the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Ohio State will play either Texas-San Antonio or Alabama State in the second round Friday in Cleveland.
Ohio State headlines seven selections from the Big Ten. Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan were awarded at-large bids.
"There's a lot of great teams, a lot of great players in our conference," Diebler said. "It's just unbelievable the amount of talent here, and I think the Big Ten should have a good showing in the tournament."
The Nittany Lions hadn't reached the NCAA tournament since 2001.
Talor Battle scored 24 points and Jeff Brooks added 19 for Penn State (19-14), which reached the Big Ten final for the first time.
Penn State was trying to become the first team since Iowa in 2001 to win four consecutive games to claim the tournament title, but it ran out of energy.
"I was definitely tired," Battle said. "In the second half, I was wide open at the top of the key for a 3-pointer and I barely even hit the front rim. I hit that shot in my sleep. I just had no legs. I just left it flat. That's the first time I realized I was a bit winded."
Penn State's Tim Frazier, who scored 22 points in the semifinal win over Michigan State, didn't score against Ohio State until 6:50 remained and finished with five points.
The Nittany Lions had allowed 45.3 points per game in their three tournament wins, but Ohio State surpassed that total with 13 minutes remaining. The Buckeyes shot 64 percent from the field in the second half.
The Buckeyes won their seventh straight game and became the second team in conference history to play in the final for three straight years. They also became the first repeat tournament champion since Michigan State in 1999 and 2000, and both of those teams reached the Final Four.
Ohio State started slowly. Battle drained two early 3-pointers, but Ohio State still led 10-8 before going on a 6-0 run that caused Penn State to call a timeout.
Aaron Craft, who shared responsibility with Buford for guarding Battle, said it was a challenge.
"Talor's a great player," Craft said. "He does a great job of changing speeds, and you never know where he's going to go. Once I got into the game, I tried to do my best to keep him in front of me, and at times, he still goes by me."
It took more than 9 minutes for a Penn State player other than Battle to score, but once his teammates began producing, the gap closed. Two free throws by Jermaine Marshall cut Ohio State's lead to 22-21.
Ohio State closed the half strong, and Diebler's 3-pointer over Battle at the buzzer gave the Buckeyes a 29-23 lead.
"It was a huge momentum boost, especially because I thought we defended him pretty well," Battle said. "We were scrambling, I was right there in his face, and he just knocked it in. It took the lead from three to six and gave them a little momentum going into the half."
Ohio State continued its sharp shooting early in the second half. Consecutive 3-pointers by Buford and Craft gave the Buckeyes a 46-29 lead with 13 minutes to go.
Battle made another 3-pointer with 5 minutes remaining to cut Ohio State's lead to 57-47, but Sullinger responded with a three-point play that halted Penn State's rally.
"I'm proud of our kids," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We came in, we competed. We missed a lot of easy shots early. We weren't very crisp. And they're a very good team."

Big Dreams

The magnificent seven teams with the best chance of cutting down the nets April 4:
pat forde www.espn.com

Kansas (6). What's to like: Probably the deepest team in the country. Both losses came to good teams, with some mitigating factors. The Jayhawks shoot a phenomenal 51 percent from the field. Veterans up and down the roster. Coach Bill Self has one of those shiny rings that shows he can win the big one. What's to doubt: Self also has his fair share of early NCAA flameouts, including last year with the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. Guards are all good, but none are great; can any of them consistently create off the dribble?

Ohio State (7). What's to like: Best six-man rotation in college basketball. Outstanding offensive team that you must defend honestly, because it can hurt you from every position. Center Jared Sullinger is the best low-post player in the country. Coach Thad Matta has Final Four experience (2007), which history shows is a key title prerequisite. What's to doubt: An injury or foul trouble could unspring everything, given the lack of depth. A team relying on a freshman point guard and freshman center -- even a good freshman point guard and freshman center -- could wobble in the March crucible. This is a good defensive team but not a dominant defensive team.

Notre Dame (8). What's to like: One of the most experienced teams in the country with an all-senior starting lineup. Great shooters and good height. Some star power in Ben Hansbrough, who has stepped up his game remarkably this season. What's to doubt: Not the most athletic group, leaving it susceptible to a bad matchup. Not a lot of depth. There are a lot of skilled 6-foot-8 guys, but no 6-10 tower of power. Mike Brey has never been to a Final Four or even a regional final as head coach.

North Carolina (9). What's to like: The Tar Heels have come on like a freight train in the past six weeks, riding the exceptional play of freshmen forward Harrison Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall. This is a very good defensive team, which isn't always the case with recent Roy Williams teams. Ol' Roy knows the way to the Final Four, and knows how to win it. What's to doubt: Soft ACC may set them up; Heels have beaten just two RPI top 50 teams, Kentucky and Duke. Zero quality depth behind Marshall. Same freshman-based concerns at Carolina as at Ohio State. Can a young team really go from the NIT Final Four to the NCAA Final Four in 12 months?

Duke (10). What's to like: The Blue Devils have a roster full of players who know what it takes to win a national title, having done it last year. And the best coach in the business. In Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, they have two seniors who have seen it all and played at a very high level in previous NCAA tourneys. What's to doubt: Without injured point guard Kyrie Irving, this team falls short of special. Although Singler got some of his offensive game back at the ACC tournament, he still has struggled badly from 3-point range in recent weeks. Is there a third scorer in the house?

Kentucky (11). What's to like: Another fantastic six-man rotation that features at least two potential lottery picks in point guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones. Young Wildcats have made big strides late, winning close games and big games away from Rupp Arena. John Calipari has had some major NCAA tourney successes. What's to doubt: Lack of depth leaves the Wildcats susceptible to injury or foul concerns. Lack of experience from key players leaves them susceptible to execution concerns in the pressure of the tournament. Was the SEC sufficient seasoning to beat the best from other leagues?

San Diego State (12). What's to like: Only one team has been able to beat the Aztecs -- and that team (BYU) is now damaged goods after a key player suspension. SDSU is good offensively but very good defensively, and its athletic front line can hammer an opponent on the offensive glass. Coach Steve Fisher won it all once and has plenty of Final Four experience. What's to doubt: Can the Aztecs go from zero all-time NCAA tournament wins to six in a single swoop? Can they handle the pressure of being expected to make a big March run?

Big Threats
Six lower seeds that could make noise:

Butler (13). Why the Bulldogs are dangerous: They're nowhere near as good as last year's national runner-up squad, but seriously: Are you going to bet against their winning at least one game? In perilous bubble position, Butler showed its championship mettle by winning its last nine games. Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and the boys seem to thrive on March pressure.

George Mason (14). Why the Patriots are dangerous: Mason is no fluke, having won 16 straight games at one point and 26 overall. Coach Jim Larranaga authored one of the great NCAA runs ever, when the Patriots barged into the 2006 Final Four as a No. 11 seed. They take good shots and don't turn the ball over, which means they're unlikely to beat themselves.

Michigan State (15). Why the Spartans are dangerous: They're always dangerous this time of year, and they showed it in routing Purdue at the Big Ten tournament. This has been the most inconsistent, dysfunctional and puzzling Tom Izzo team in quite a while, but it's still a Tom Izzo team. Pick against them at your peril.

Oakland (16). Why the Grizzlies are dangerous: They have the kind of center you don't normally see in the Summit League in 6-foot-11 Keith Benson (18 points, 10 rebounds, 3.6 blocks per game). But that's not all. Point guard Reggie Hamilton has been a dynamic playmaker as well. And the team learned from the experience of going to the Big Dance last year.

Old Dominion (17). Why the Monarchs are dangerous: Like George Mason, they've been seasoned in a quality mid-major league. They're 13-1 in their past 14 games and have just one bad loss on the schedule, way back on Dec. 4. These guys also have tasted NCAA success, winning a game last year.

Big Pressure
Who needs to step up and be accounted for in this tournament?

Big East (18). If the league is going to gobble up 11 bids -- and it deserved them all, in The Minutes' judgment -- it had better win a lot of games. Last year, the Big East got eight teams in but largely underperformed, with Georgetown, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Notre Dame and Marquette all losing before their seeding dictated. If West Virginia hadn't upset Kentucky and made the Final Four, it would have been a total loss. With 11 teams in, expectations will be enormous. Specifically for a couple of teams …

Pittsburgh (19). The Panthers have been the most consistent success story in the Big East, and one of the most consistent in the nation, for many years. Yet they haven't been to a Final Four since World War II. Given Pitt's second No. 1 seed in the past three tourneys, the time is now for Jamie Dixon to break through and finally play on the season's last weekend.

Notre Dame. This is the best Fighting Irish team since the 1979 squad that was a No. 1 seed and lost in the regional final to Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Notre Dame hasn't been to a Final Four since the year before that. With all those seniors, Mike Brey may never have a better opportunity for something memorable than this year.

Wisconsin (20). The Badgers are the Pittsburgh of the Midwest: fantastically consistent and successful in the regular season but fatally flawed in the postseason. Bo Ryan needs to prove that his system can win the games that matter most -- and after watching Wisconsin score 33 points against Penn State in a certifiably repugnant Big Ten tourney game, The Minutes has its doubts.

San Diego State. The Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game in school history. But forget winning just one; they'll be expected to win more than that with a 32-2 team.

Texas (21). Rick Barnes has coached an awful lot of talent in Austin, but it's been eight years since his one and only Final Four. This team appeared to be a national title contender until some late lapses, then performed well in the Big 12 tourney. Barnes is 19-18 in his career in the NCAA tournament; this team has the capability to improve that uninspiring percentage.

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