UConn makes quick turnaround
Notes: Former players now set to coach against alma maters
Kemba Walker and his Connecticut teammates won't get much time to catch their breath before traveling to Washington, D.C., for their first NCAA tournament game against Bucknell.
The Huskies (26-9), a No. 3 seed, will play the Patriot League champion Bison (24-8) on Thursday in the West Regional. Both of UConn's national championship teams and all three of its Final Four squads were placed in the West.
UConn enters the NCAAs fresh off one of the most incredible and grueling runs through a tournament in college basketball history.
The Huskies won their seventh Big East title Saturday night by winning five games in five days, four against ranked opponents - No. 22 Georgetown, No. 3 Pittsburgh, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 14 Louisville.
But coach Jim Calhoun said he doesn't think fatigue will be a factor going into the NCAA tournament. After a good night of rest Sunday, the Huskies should be ready to go, he said.
"They're kids," he said. "We're not going to shorten practice. We're going to go like we always would, preparing for an NCAA tournament."
The Huskies, who won the Maui Invitational at the beginning of their season and the Big East tournament to finish it, had a lot of ups and downs in between.
They had a six-game winning streak in January that included victories over Texas, Villanova and Tennessee.
They also lost four of their last five regular-season games, and were projected as a midlevel seed before the Big East tournament.
"We were a good team in the league," Calhoun said. "But to be a No. 3 seed, obviously our work this past week really paid off."
Calhoun cautioned his players about being overconfident against Bucknell, a team he acknowledged he knew little about. Walker said the Connecticut freshmen will need to play well again if the Huskies hope to advance to the regional in Anaheim, Calif., and beyond.
But sophomore center Alex Oriakhi said he believes the key will again be Walker, who averaged 26 points and more than six rebounds, four assists and three steals during the Big East tournament.
"Kemba is UConn basketball," Oriakhi said. "He's put this team on his back throughout the whole year, and we're just trying to help him out."
Tongue tied: Chris Mack didn't even wait for the end of the NCAA tournament selection show to try - again - to fix a long-standing misconception.
The coach tweeted broadcaster Kenny Smith: "Hey ... Xavier is pronounced like you say the word Xylophone."
The Musketeers (24-7) got the seed they expected - a No. 6 - along with an opening game against Marquette on Friday in Cleveland. They also got a reminder that not everyone pays much attention to them.
During the selection show on Sunday evening, Smith not only mispronounced the school's name but called leading scorer Tu Holloway "Tu Holliday," a slip that made the point guard laugh.
"It doesn't make a difference," he said. "As long as they get 'Tu' right. As long as they're not saying 'Three Holliday' or something like that, I'm all right."
Xavier will have plenty of chances in March to set it straight.
The five-time Atlantic 10 regular-season champions reached the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in the last 11 years. Xavier and Michigan State are the only schools to reach the round of 16 in each of the last three tournaments, something that might be expected to help with the name recognition.
"As long as they're still staying our name, they can say it how they want to. But c'mon, Kenny the Jet," Mack said, using Smith's nickname. "That's like me saying he played at South Carolina. If I said that, he'd be upset. We've got (Roy) Halladay on our roster, a pitcher from the Phillies. What's going on here?"
Don't I know you?: Josh Pastner's first game as a head coach in the NCAA tournament will be against his alma mater, Arizona.
Memphis (25-9), seeded 12th in the West Regional, will face the fifth-seeded Wildcats (27-7) on Friday in Tulsa, Okla. Pastner didn't get much time on the court during his playing days at Arizona from 1996 to 2000 but earned his scholarship as more of a coaching apprentice.
Pastner worked on Lute Olson's staff from the time he gradated until 2008, when he left to become an assistant at Memphis.
Freshman Will Barton, the leading scorer for the Conference USA-champion Tigers, called it crazy.
"I told Coach on the way into the house, 'You know, I think we're going to get matched up against Arizona the first game.' We kind of laughed it off. But as soon as I saw Arizona pop up as a 5 seed, I said, 'They're calling Memphis (next),' and that's what happened," Barton said.
Pastner isn't the only coach who could be feeling nostalgic soon. UNLV's Lon Kruger will face his former team, Illinois, in the second round. Steve Fisher and San Diego State could end up playing Michigan in the West Regional final.
Pastner averaged 0.9 points as an Arizona player. He laughingly boasts that the Wildcats were 42-0 in games in which he played because he only got in when they were way ahead.
"I think that's cool. That's neat," Pastner said of the matchup. "Arizona, obviously, is my alma mater, but I bleed blue and gray. It all worked out. I wore No. 12 when I was a player at Arizona, and we are the 12th seed going against Arizona."
First dance: During its Selection Sunday party, Northern Colorado's president set the tone for the school's first NCAA tournament appearance.
"It's been a great run for us," Kay Norton said minutes before the Bears' first-round opponent had been announced. "But it isn't over."
Northern Colorado received a No. 15 seed and will play Mountain West tournament champion and No. 2 seed San Diego State in the West Regional on Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.
Some 500 alumni, boosters and residents were on hand to watch players pound their chests and raise their fists into the air at Butler Hancock Pavilion for the festive, small-town gathering. The group cheered as loudly for the announcement as when the team's four seniors raised the Big Sky championship banner.
"We aren't just glad to be here," said Northern Colorado guard Devon Beitzel, the Big Sky tournament and regular-season MVP. "We don't want this to stop. We've reached some of our goals this year, and we just want to keep it going."
The Bears won their first regular-season championship, then followed it up by beating Montana 65-60 for their first Big Sky tournament title.
"Now we want to be the first team at Northern Colorado to get an NCAA tournament win," Beitzel said.
And first-year coach B.J. Hill thinks his team has a few positives to draw on.
"This is a veteran group with a lot of experience in big-time venues," Hill said. "There is no pressure on us. There have been only four teams that have done it as No. 15 seeds, and we just want to go and play."
This from a program that played at the Division I level for the first time in 2006-07 and was first eligible for tournament play in 2007-08. And a team that went just 4-24 in 2006-07.
Northern Colorado has only four postseason victories since 1994, one of which came when it was a member of the Division II Northern Central Conference.
"We've had some rough years," said Mike Deutcher, who played on the 1966-67 Northern Colorado team that lost to Phil Jackson and North Dakota in the Division II regional finals. "It's unbelievable that this is finally happening to us."
State pride: Boston University doesn't have varsity football, and its hockey team has spent most of the season looking up in the standings at archrival Boston College.
But BU can claim the city's bragging rights in basketball, of all things, after the America East champions were the only Massachusetts team picked for the NCAA tournament. While BC and Harvard were left out, BU (21-13) will play three-time champion Kansas (32-2) in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday.
"It's a moment I've dreamed of my entire life, ever since I was a little kid playing basketball," BU guard Matt Griffin said. "March Madness is an incredible time, and I'm just so grateful to be here. It's just awesome."
The Terriers watched the selection show on TV at a Commonwealth Avenue bar on Sunday night, breaking into cheers when their school came up as a No. 16 seed against the No. 1-seeded Big 12 champions. Coach Patrick Chambers, whose daughter, Grace, was sleeping on his shoulder, pumped his right fist in the air.
"Just leading up to the moment, you're just so nervous," Griffin said. "The anticipation, being here with your teammates and family and friends, it's unbelievable. And finally your name is called, it's an incredible emotion that we felt together as a team. We worked so hard to get here, just to see our name being called is just incredible."