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The elephant in the room 03.25.09 at 3:12 pm ET
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The obvious storyline with the first game on Thursday night is the fact that Xavier coach Sean Miller went to Pittsburgh from 1987-1992. He played on the first Pitt teams to actually make a mark in the Big East. He played for coach Paul Evans and with Billy Martin and Jerome Lane.

But Miller’s players know this is about now, not 1987.

“It’s simple,” said Xavier guard B.J. Raymond. “It’s another game. We’re just going to focus on that. We’re just going to try and play our best. Coach, he did play there. Everybody knows that. It’s the elephant in the room. We’re just going to focus on playing at our highest level.”

And does Miller ever bring up the ‘good ole’ days’?

“In practice, sometimes when we don’t get the job done, he would say ‘When I used to play,’ or something funny like that,” Raymond said. “But for the most part, he’s pretty humble about his college experience.”

For previous entries from the NCAAs in Boston:

Xavier tough as Pitt

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Xavier tough as Pitt: That’s why we’re here 03.25.09 at 2:46 pm ET
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Sean Miller gave a smile on Wednesday afternoon when he called the Big East Conference the toughest league. It was smile of recognition with a hint of sarcasm.

Miller was asked how his team matched up against the ‘toughest of the tough’ in the Pittsburgh Panthers, the team his Musketeers will be facing on Thursday night.

“They’re the very best at playing that game,” Miller said. “Offensive rebounding numbers, they’re number one in the nation, when you consider what they do to their opponent, in the toughest league, so that speaks for itself.”

But Miller sees reason for hope. In 34 games, Xavier has been outrebounded just three times and none in the last 24.

“Ironically, it’s the very best thing we do,” he said. “It will be tested at high level. Our defensive rebounding, rebounding margin, our defense in general is what has allowed us to have 27 wins. It’s why we’re here and what we just did last weekend. Our greatest strength will be tested against the best at doing it. We’re going to have to play a great game and hold serve in those aereas to hae a chance to win.”

Miller has also heard enough of the questions over the last several seasons about his Xavier Musketeers being a mid-major team succeeding in the bright lights of the NCAA Sweet 16.

“I don’t hear any talk about Memphis being a mid-major,” Miller said.

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Trags Take… Nova and Duke 03.24.09 at 12:13 pm ET
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East Regional Semifinal-No.3 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke, approx. 9:57 p.m. Thursday, Ch. 4

Memo to Villanova coach Jay Wright: If you’re leading by two late on Thursday night with say, 18 seconds left, your players better know exactly where Duke’s Gerald Henderson is on the parquet floor. If you don’t, this can happen. Just ask Henderson’s dad.

Everyone in Boston remembers that moment in 1984 when the Celtics were trailing 113-111, and down 1-0 to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Celtics won the game in overtime and then won the title in seven.

As Harvey Araton of the New York Times points out, the ghost of the old man’s steal will be out in the building next to the parking lot where the old one used to stand, the old Boston Garden. James Worthy can’t help but think what would’ve been if his lazy pass didn’t find its way into Henderson’s hands that fateful night.

Jay Wright: Dressed for Success.

Jay Wright: Dressed for Success.

Fast forward an unbelievable 25 years to this weekend’s East Regionals in Boston. One team has three national championships and one of the most successful coaches in the history of college sports on the sidelines.

The other team has a long and rich basketball tradition, including a 1985 NCAA title, with the best dressed coach in the history of college sports on its sidelines.

And so you have Mike Krzyzewski’s No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils (30-6) against Jay Wright’s No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (28-7) going up against each other in the late, late nightcap on Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden. And for the record, Coach K is 833-273 all time and 760-214 in 29 seasons with the Blue Devils. Jay Wright is 176-89 at Villanova in eight seasons and has guided the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 in four of the past five seasons.

Villanova is trying to get back to the Elite 8 for the second time in four seasons and back to the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 1985.

Whenever one speaks of Duke and Regional Finals the discussion starts with the most dramatic shot ever made in Regional Finals history. The date was March 28, 1992 and the scene was Philadelphia’s Spectrum, which just hosted its final basketball game ever two weeks ago. Duke was trailing Kentucky in the East Regional Final, 103-102, with 2.1 seconds remaining.

I know, enough of the trips down memory lane.

The Road to Boston:

Villanova: Beat No. 14 American, 80-67. Beat No. 6 UCLA, 89-69.

Duke: Beat No. 15 Binghamton, 86-62. Beat No. 7 Texas, 74-69.

Players to watch:

Villanova: Dante Cunningham, Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds. At 6-8, 230 pounds, Cunningham has been the stabilizing force for the Wildcats down low. Averages 16.8 points a game. Undersized as a center, his athleticism works wonders. He has an underrated jump shot which makes him very dangerous. Swingman Corey Stokes averages just 9.7 points a game but delivers at 42.8 percent rate from three-point range. Corey Fisher has emerged as a court leader in this tournament, taking some big weight off the shoulders of Scottie Reynolds. Together, Fisher and Reynolds form one of the quickest and pressure-oriented backcourt tandems left in the tournament.

Duke: Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler. Henderson is the key to this young, some would say over-achieving bunch of Blue Devils. He quarterbacks the offense, scores at 16.8 points per game clip and obviously has the pedigree of a winner under pressure with his dad. He can rebound for a 6-4 guard, grabbing nearly five a game. Took over for Greg Paulus as starting point guard. Scheyer can shoot the three from the other side of midcourt. Exaggerating, but only a little. Singler, at 6-8, 235 pounds, draws the assignment of containing Cunningham. He leads the team in rebounding but that could be a challenge against this Villanova group.

Trags Final Take: Villanova learned a lesson against American in the first round. Don’t get into three-point shooting contests with teams that live on the perimeter. They were down 14 early in the second half before that hit home. Have a similiar lapse of memory here, and it’s nighty-nite. But Villanova knows that Cunningham is having a great tournament and spark plug Scottie Reynolds has yet to really get involved with his trademark dribble penetration. Gerald Henderson, Sr. got it done on the parquet in 1984 but Villanova and their three-guard set finds a way to contain his son.

Villanova 78, Duke 71

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Trags Take… X-Men and Panthers 03.24.09 at 9:37 am ET
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East Regional Semifinal- No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh, 7:27 p.m. Thursday, Ch. 4.

On Thursday night, the first of three East Regional games will be played at TD Banknorth Garden and the matchup between Xavier and Pittsburgh figures to be compelling on many different levels.

Here’s how.

The first game has the top seed Pittsburgh Panthers (30-4) taking on No. 4 Xavier (27-7). The Musketeers are coached by Sean Miller, the same Sean Miller who played for Pittsburgh in the mid-to-late 80s and fed Jerome “Send It In” Lane on the most devastating college dunk of all time.

Miller said on Monday that facing his old school isn’t a big deal.

“Pitt holds a special place for me just from the standpoint that I had a great experience there as a student-athlete. I was treated like you wanted to be treated,” Miller said. “The friendships that I have today with so many of close friends stem from my experiences there. And it really stops there as well.”

Naturally.

He is also the same Sean Miller who appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when he was five and showed off his dribbling skills before a nationwide audience.

Now Miller is all grown up and so are his Muskies. They were down seven and playing right into Wisconsin’s hands on Sunday when the team went on a 10-0 run and the Badgers were not heard from again. Xavier advanced with a 60-49 win in Boise.

As for Pittsburgh, they nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 before waking up against East Tennessee State. They were tied with Oklahoma State, 49-49, at halftime, before pulling away for the win in Dayton. An interesting note, Xavier A.D. Mike Bobinski didn’t travel with his team to the land of big potatoes. Instead he stayed behind in nearby Dayton to watch the Panthers and another No. 1 seed, the Louisville Cardinals.

The Road to Boston:

Xavier: Beat No. 13 Portland State, 77-59. Beat No. 12 Wisconsin, 60-49.

Pittsburgh: Beat No. 16 East Tennessee State, 72-67. Beat No. 8 Oklahoma State, 84-76.

Players to watch:

Xavier: B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. Raymond led all Muskies with 15 points on Sunday and is the stabilizing force in a backcourt that is vulnerable to pressure. Anderson is arguably Xavier’s most versatile player, at 6-6, 220 pounds, big enough to play in the front court but quick enough to handle the ball on the perimeter. If he’s shooting well, look out. He was scoreless in Xavier’s loss to Temple in the A-10 semifinals.

Pittsburgh: DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. Blair had 10 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday. He had 27 points and 16 rebounds against ETSU in the first round. He is 6-7 and listed at 245. He been playing even bigger. Young is a pure scorer and showed that with 32 against the Cowboys on Sunday. He leads the Panthers with 18.9 points per game. And Fields is the floor general, dishing out 7.6 assists a game while scoring at a 10.6 PPG clip.

Trags Take: Not going the Steelers Karma route here. Told you here at the beginning of the tournament that Xavier was one of the five teams I liked in this field. Not going to change now. Pittsburgh’s luck runs out against one of the most athletic and versatile teams remaining in the tournament. Xavier finds a way to defend Young and contain Fields.

Xavier 70, Pittsburgh 64

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Sounds of the game… Celtics 90, Clippers 77 03.23.09 at 11:29 pm ET
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It’s the most basic lesson Celtics head coach Doc Rivers preaches, with some serious nudging from assistant Tom Thibodeau.

Think defense first and everything else will follow.

Rivers didn’t think his team was in that mindset in the first half on Monday night against the lowly Clippers, especially when the Clip Joint went on a 19-5 run early in the second quarter to wipe out a 13-point lead and take a lead against the sluggish Celts.

“We didn’t get any stops and we didn’t score the basketball,” Eddie House said. “They went on a 19-5 run I think from the start of the 2nd to 4 minutes left so that’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t get stops and don’t score. Second half we concentrated on getting stops and our offense slowed up our defense.”

Thanks to Kevin Garnett, the Celtics picked up their defensive intensity. And as our colleague Paul Flannery writes, the offense did, indeed, follow.

But with Orlando lurking in the land of Magic on Wednesday and second-place in the East on the line, Rivers knows his team, especially the second unit, can’t afford to come into a game like they did Monday night.

“Honestly, I thought in the first half they came out thinking all about offense and it was a one pass, shot unit,” Rivers said. “In the second half they thought about defense and they got stops.  And then we moved the ball and got open shots.  And it’s amazing when you play the right way together how things work out.  And then when you have the right mindset when you walk on the floor.  Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… BC coach Al Skinner 03.20.09 at 11:34 pm ET
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Al Skinner said he was concerned early in the week that he didn’t know which BC team would be showing up on Friday night. He got his answer on the Metrodome floor and as it turned out, Skinner had reason to be worried. His team didn’t have enough answers in the second half for Taj Gibson and the Eagles went ice cold from the floor, scoring just 21 second half points while allowing 42.

A 34-30 halftime lead turned into a 72-55 loss and it will be USC advancing to play in the second round on Sunday in Minneapolis. Here’s how Skinner evaluated things afterward, beginning with an opening statement.

COACH SKINNER: Basically, obviously the game was decided in the second half, and we did not execute as well as we needed to. We were impatient at times and in comparison to the first half when we took our time, executed. I thought the second half we got a little anxious.
And because of that, didn’t get the shot selections or get ourselves into rebounding position to keep ourselves in the game. And basically that’s the difference in the second half.

And because we missed as many shots as we did, it allowed them to get into transition and score and obviously shoot a very high percentage.

Q. Coach, could you just talk about the guy, Taj Gibson. Kind of a beast.

COACH SKINNER:
Yeah, we didn’t do a particularly good job on him.
Not as well I was hoping we would do. I mean, he obviously had a tremendous night. We did not defend him as well as I thought we would have, so that was a little bit disappointing.

But obviously his quickness was a factor, and we just didn’t adjust to it well. Because he was pretty persistent. I thought as times we did a good job, but he just kept coming. And we did not work as hard as he did.

Q. How did you want to defend him coming in? Did you feel that the matchup was kind of not necessarily a mismatch, but did you feel it was a matchup that would be an x factor?

COACH SKINNER: No, I didn’t think that would be a difference in the ball game. As a matter of fact, even though I know he had a great line, that really was not the difference in the ball game.

To me, the difference was we allowed some other people to score. And I thought we could have done a better job with them.

We knew that this was going to be a tough matchup for us, even though, again, I expected to do a little bit better than what we did.

But I thought we could defend those other individuals a little bit better than we did and we did not. And to me that was the difference in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… Tyrese Rice and Joe Trapani 03.20.09 at 11:25 pm ET
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That was not the way Tyrese Rice wanted his career to end. The senior point guard and BC team leader made just four of his 11 shots on the night and finished with nine points as the Eagles fell to Southern California, 72-55, in a Midwest Regional first round game in Minneapolis.

Here is what Rice and teammate Joe Trapani had to say following a loss that finished their season at 22-12.

Q. Talk about the difference in philosophies. Tim Floyd was saying that he wanted to not necessarily focus on you, but focus on the parts around you. You know what I mean? How difficult did that make it for you?

TYRESE RICE:
I mean, I think that’s what most teams do on defense. I don’t think anybody just focuses in on me solely, but I just think that they just try to come up with some kind of scheme to stop everyone. I don’t think they just focused it on me.

Q. Tyrese, can you just talk about your last game now. This is you guys got back into the tournament, you did what you wanted to, you accomplished this part. How difficult is this right now?

TYRESE RICE: Of course I wanted to do more, but overall, I mean, pretty good year. I can’t really complain. Probably give or take winning a couple more games than we have, but overall I think it was a pretty good year.

I definitely wanted to make more of a run in the tournament, but, I mean, that’s how it is sometimes. That is how it was for us my sophomore year and my freshman year. We probably could have went farther in both of those years, too. So we can’t really harp on it, but just say it was great.

Q. Tyrese, it felt like in the first half you had your fingerprints more on you were very active scoring wise and the second half things fell off. Describe the differences and what happened.

TYRESE RICE: I just think we executed more in the first half, which opened more things up. We went through more of our offense in the first half and got to the second and third options. And then if something broke down, we then made something happen.

In the second half, when something broke down, we just automatically just thought like get a shot up instead of just keep going through the whole thing and then waiting for something to come about. But in the second half, I think they bunkered down a little bit tighter on defense and made things a little tough. Read the rest of this entry »

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