Thursday’s NCAA Tournament games of note
As I am sure you have heard/read by now, several reports stating Northwestern will interview Duke assistant Chris Collins next week. He is the only interview scheduled at the moment. Many national reporters even believe Collins will take the Northwestern job and that he would be a perfect fit in Evanston. Suffice it to say, adding an up and coming coach of Collins’ pedigree would be Northwestern’s dream.
LTP will have more on this development and we will continue to follow it — be sure to follow me (@RiseNU) and LTP (@LakeThePosts) on Twitter — also be sure to follow Rodger Sherman (@SippinonPurple) and Teddy Greenstein (@teddygreenstein). We will be keeping track of everything as we are all on the edge of our seat. You should be able to rest easy for the weekend. Collins is not going to be interviewing anywhere while Duke is playing this weekend.
And so this whole coaching search is taking place around the NCAA Tournament.
We are all watching it. We know you are. As of about midnight on Thursday, we have 118 entrants in the LTP Tourney Pool on ESPN.com. You have until 11 a.m. CT to enter, so get on it!
Even though Northwestern is not in the Tournament (again), we will be watching because that is what you do in March. Here are the games we will have a particular eye on if you want a primer on what to watch and when:
14 Valparaiso vs. 3 Michigan State — 11:15 a.m. CT/CBS, Auburn Hills, Mich.
If there is one thing you can always count on in March, it is Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans seem always to be Tournament gold and Izzo is the man pulling the strings. He always has his team prepared for the gauntlet that is the Tournament and no matter where his teams stand, he has them ready for the opening weekend at the very least. The home-court advantage certainly should help too.
However, Izzo rightly issued a warning to his team about Valparaiso. The school and program might be more famous for its coaches exploits while he was a player. This team though is still pretty solid. Senior forward Ryan Broekhoff is a capable scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game. And he is not afraid of a big moment, like his coach. Broekhoff hit the game-winner over UW-Green Bay in the Horizon League final. For Northwestern fans, there is still the long shot that Drew will want to step up and join the B1G. His name has been bandied about as a potential replacement for Bill Carmody, although it seems unlikely that Drew would leave his alma mater.
11 Bucknell vs. 6 Butler — 11:40 a.m. CT/truTV, Lexington, Ky.
Brad Stevens. He is the elephant in the room whenever a high profile job comes out. If anyone could make Northwestern successful, it is the man who led tiny Butler University to back-to-back Final Four appearances. Northwestern fans have dreamed of going after Stevens time and time again. It feels like a pipe dream and it probably is. Stevens has found a nice balance at Butler and has found ultimate success. It is unlikely he would want the move. But the Wildcats would sure love to tempt him to take a step up and see if he could replicate his success at a larger conference.
After Chris Collins though, Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen might be the biggest name attached to Northwestern’s head coaching job. Paulsen has done a marvelous job at Bucknell, leading them to a 28-5 record this year and an NCAA Tournament berth. He led Bucknell to the regular season Patriot League championship last year, but lost the automatic bid in the tournament. Paulsen’s track record looks similar to Bo Ryan’s. He went to back-to-back Division III championships at Williams Ephs in 2003 and 2004. The last four years at Bucknell his teams have finished no worse than second in the conference.
11 Saint Mary’s vs. 6 Memphis — 1:45 p.m. CT/CBS, Auburn Hills, Mich.
You may recognize a player for the Gaels. He may have shaved his head, but Kyle Rowley is still going strong! The former Northwestern center is in his senior year now and averaged 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in 5.8 minutes per game. Yes, Rowley has been to the NCAA Tournament while his former team has not. Still good to cheer for the guy. Hopefully he gets in.
The Wolverines were in line to win the Big Ten and a top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and then things sort of fell apart. Entering the Big Ten tournament, Michigan was on some shakier ground. The Wolverines had that stretch in early February where they lost three of four games, and, of course, they had that loss at Penn State. It is hard to figure where this Michigan team is heading into the Tournament.
Trey Burke is still a favorite for national player of the year and was certainly a finalist for Big Ten Player of the Year. He will have his game on full display. But the Jackrabbits could be a dangerous opponent. Nate Wolters is a strong point guard too, averaging 22.7 points per game and 5.8 assists per game. His matchup with Burke is going to be one of the more intriguing matchups on Thursday’s slate of games. Some have the Jackrabbits as a potential upset team in their game against might Michigan.
12 Akron vs. 5 VCU — 8:45 p.m. CT/CBS, Auburn Hills, Mich.
Another pipe dream as a head coach candidate is VCU’s Shaka Smart. We all know that he has ties to Evanston through his wife and we all remember his run to the Final Four a few years ago after his team played in the First Four. It was a stunning and memorable Tournament. Much like Stevens, Smart seems like a dream — although less of one than Stevens, perhaps. He really seems to have no reason to leave VCU.
If you want a dark horse name for coach, look to the other sideline. Akron’s Keith Dambrot said this Akron team is the best team he has ever coached . . . aside from the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s teams that had this guy named LeBron James on them. Dambrot is an Akron native, so do not look for him to make a move anywhere. But the work he has done in a few years at Akron has been pretty impressive. He could become a coach on the rise.
14 Harvard vs. 3 New Mexico — 8:50 p.m. CT/TNT, Salt Lake City, Utah
Both of the coaches in this game appear to be off the table. Tommy Amaker is reportedly not interested in the Northwestern job and former Indiana guard Steve Alford just signed a lengthy extension to stay in Albuquerque. Both would have been interesting thoughts for Northwestern’s vacant head coaching position. Cheer for Harvard if you want. At least they show you can be successful with academic standards.
Enjoy the games today. Feel free to use this as an open thread!