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April 5, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Saturday, April 5th, 2003

by Phil Kasiecki

The weekend we have all been waiting for since practice began in mid-October has arrived. It’s time for the action to commence in the Final Four, and on Saturday evening, it will happen. Here is a brief look at the two games and the teams involved.

Few expected Marquette to get this far, especially considering that the Golden Eagles had to go through Pittsburgh and Kentucky last weekend in Minneapolis. Kentucky was most people’s favorite entering the tournament, and many felt Pittsburgh was snubbed in getting a No. 2 seed in the Midwest. But the Golden Eagles had their way against two of the best defensive teams in college basketball and have shot 52.3% from the floor in their four NCAA Tournament games thus far.

This is the second straight Final Four appearance for Kansas, but they had a tough road as well in the powerful West region. Last weekend, they pulled out great wins against Duke and Arizona behind the great play of seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, while others like Keith Langford and Jeff Graves made key contributions as well. Hinrich was the West region’s Most Outstanding Player. The Jayhawks are the third-highest scoring team in the nation and shoot over 49% from the floor.

This game has the makings of a shootout since both teams score a lot of points and shoot well, but both teams also defend well, so something has to give. In the event that the defenses take over, Kansas has better rebounding numbers, but Marquette has a big size advantage and especially with Kansas having a thin front line. The Jayhawks are a quicker team and might be better in transition, so if they get chances to run, it will be to their advantage. Kansas is 18-0 when they shoot 50% or better from the field and 20-0 when they score 80 or more points.

Syracuse rode the 2-3 zone, a starting lineup that includes two freshmen and two sophomores, and a favorable NCAA Tournament draw to the Final Four. At times, the Orangemen didn’t play very well in the first and second rounds, and had their moments against Auburn in the regional semifinals, but they brought their best effort Sunday against Oklahoma in the regional final. They stymied the Sooners’ offense, taking away passes that Auburn made regularly, and shut down the high-scoring Sooner backcourt.

Texas, meanwhile, had the easiest path to the Final Four of any team. The highest-seeded team they defeated along the way was Connecticut, the No. 5 seed in the South region, though the Huskies gave them a run for their money just like Michigan State did in the regional final. It came after a season where they played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, and played very well.

This game has the makings of a physical, low-scoring game. Syracuse can stifle offenses with its active 2-3 zone, and Texas has good perimeter defenders and a good rebounding frontcourt led by Thomas. Each team has also had players in foul trouble at times during the NCAA Tournament, hinting that free throw shooting could be a key in this game as well. If that becomes the case, Texas has the advantage: they shoot better from the foul line and get there more often than Syracuse, with more attempts in one less game. The Longhorns also go 10 deep, while the less-experienced Orangemen play eight.

We should have two terrific games on Saturday night, and none of the possible matchups for Monday night would be a surprise.

Side Dishes

Possible Rules Violation: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that Missouri apparently violated NCAA rules while recruiting former Virginia Military Institute star Jason Conley. Citing phone records obtained through public records laws, it reported that members of Missouri’s coaching staff contacted Conley’s mother six times prior to Conley being released by VMI. If the NCAA or Missouri officials confirm this, it will be a violation of NCAA rules against tampering with other schools’ players.

Conley was the NCAA’s leading scorer last season, and will not be eligible to play until December next season.

In another story, the Post-Dispatch reported that this might not be the first time this has happened with the program. The newspaper obtained records showing that Missouri filed a report to the NCAA on February 6 that stated Lane Odom had violated the rule five times in the recruitment of Ricky Clemons last year.

New in Coach’s Corner: Aside from more speculation, the only big coaching news on Friday was that Wright State filled its head coaching vacancy, hiring Ohio State associate head basketball coach Paul Biancardi on Friday. Biancardi will receive a five-year contract and replaces Ed Schilling, who was fired recently after posting a 75-93 record over six seasons.

Top Scorer Says No: Ruben Douglas, the NCAA’s scoring leader this past season, declined an invitation to next week’s NBA pre-draft camp in Portsmouth, Virginia. Douglas, who averaged just under 28 points per game this season, went through a shooting slump late in the year, which is a primary reason why NBA scouting director Marty Blake feels he is making a mistake in passing this up.

Tonight’s Menu:

• In the first semifinal game, Marquette takes on Kansas just after 6 PM EST.

• The second semifinal game will tip off at approximately 8:37 PM, matching up Syracuse and Texas.

• Saturday is also the next-to-last day of the Playaz Spring Fling, one of the first spring AAU tournaments. Hoopville will have coverage of this after the NCAA Tournament.

That’s it for now. Enjoy your Saturday of Final Four action, and don’t forget to “Spring Ahead” later tonight!

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