Jeff Eisenberg

  • Wisconsin stars strike back at those who doubted the Big Ten

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 hrs ago

    Even though Michigan State pushed Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten title game two weeks ago, the Badgers were excited the Spartans will be joining them in the Final Four.

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    They believe the presence of two Big Ten teams in Indianapolis only bolsters the reputation of a conference many have said wasn't as strong as usual this year.

    The Big Ten had a down year right?

    Remember when everyone said the Big Ten wasn't that good this year? Yea, me too.

    #BigTenRepresent

    Credit Wisconsin for its season-long brilliance and Michigan State for peaking in March, but the idea that the NCAA tournament proves the Big Ten was underrated doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

    What having two Final Four teams does do for the Big Ten is give it better odds of ending its national title drought. The Big Ten has been one of the nation's strongest leagues more often than not over the past 15 years, but the last Big Ten team to win a championship was Michigan State in 2000.

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  • Kentucky will be tested by heavyweight Final Four field

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 hrs ago

    If Kentucky is going to become college basketball's first unbeaten national champion in nearly four decades, the Wildcats will have to emerge from a heavyweight Final Four field.

    They'll be joined in Indianapolis by fellow No. 1 seeds Wisconsin and Duke and an underdog Michigan State team that has a few too many Final Four appearances in recent years to be labeled a Cinderella. 

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    Duke's victory over Gonzaga ensured that the Final Four will have three No. 1 seeds for only the second time this century and the fifth time since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1986. The 2008 Final Four remains the only one that featured all four No. 1 seeds.

    The winner of the Kentucky-Wisconsin game will face either Duke or Michigan State, two programs that have combined for 12 Final Four appearances since 1999. The Blue Devils defeated the Spartans 81-71 in Indianapolis back in November behind 19 points from Quinn Cook and 17 from Jahlil Okafor, but Michigan State is a stronger team today than it was then.

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  • Michigan State clinches Tom Izzo's most unlikely Final Four appearance

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 6 hrs ago

    The battle between two of March's most successful coaches was in the hands of one of the most unlikely players on the floor.

    Fouled on a put-back attempt by Michigan State's Marvin Clark with 4.9 seconds remaining and his team trailing by one, Louisville center Mangok Mathiang had the chance to send the Cardinals to the Final Four by making two free throws.

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    The 48 percent foul shooter's first attempt bounced off the back rim and fell through, drawing a wince from Michigan State alum Magic Johnson. The second bounced hard off the back rim and caromed out, giving the Spartans new life.

    That Michigan State is going back to the Final Four is surprising given the talent it lost last spring and the recruits it has recently swung and missed on.

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  • DePaul tries to recapture past success by bringing back Dave Leitao

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 7 hrs ago

    When Dave Leitao left DePaul for Virginia in April 2005, he tried to soften the blow by insisting "DePaul will always have a special place in my heart."

    Apparently the feeling was mutual.

    DePaul announced Sunday it has hired Leitao to fill the vacancy created when the school parted ways with Oliver Purnell earlier this month. It's a surprising choice considering the Blue Demons reportedly had been targeting promising up-and-comers like Bryce Drew of Valparaiso and Bobby Hurley of Buffalo. 

    The appeal of Leitao is that he's the last coach to enjoy any semblance of success with the Blue Demons.

    In three seasons at DePaul from 2002 to 2005, Leitao went 58-34, won a Conference USA title and took the Blue Demons to two NITs and an NCAA tournament. Leitao enjoyed some success on the recruiting trail too, plucking Delonte Holland from the junior college ranks and winning a recruiting battle with Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State to land future pro Wilson Chandler.

    The challenge Leitao faces at DePaul now is also considerably tougher than it was during his first stint a decade ago. 

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  • Three keys to the Elite Eight clash between Gonzaga and Duke

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 10 hrs ago

    In 1999, guards Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm led 10th-seeded Gonzaga on a stunning Elite Eight run, starting the process of transforming a little-known small-conference program into one of college basketball's most prominent brands.

    Sixteen years later, the Zags are finally back in the Elite Eight and again one win away from the program's first Final Four.

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    Another No. 1 seed stands in Gonzaga's path, though the Zags aren't the plucky little underdogs they were in 1999 entering a 67-62 loss to eventual national champion UConn. Gonzaga has been a season-long fixture in the AP top 10 and is just a 2.5-point underdog against a top-seeded Duke team with a rotation of eight former McDonald's All-Americans.

    The matchup between Gonzaga and Duke will determine which team wins the South Region and joins No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin and either Michigan State or Louisville at the Final Four in Indianapolis next weekend. A look at three keys to the matchup between the Blue Devils and Zags:

    1. Can Gonzaga defend Justise Winslow?

  • Wisconsin's lethal offense makes it the biggest threat to Kentucky

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 23 hrs ago

    LOS ANGELES — When Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky embraced at mid-court after clinching Wisconsin's second straight trip to the Final Four, the two close friends only had time to exchange a few words.

    The ones they chose were simple but telling.

    "I told him, 'Let's go get a title," Dekker said.

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    That's an attainable goal for the Badgers despite the undefeated Big Blue juggernaut in its path. They have enough shooters to spread the floor against Kentucky the way Notre Dame did, the size to defend and rebound against the Wildcats the way the Irish couldn't and two human mismatches in Dekker and Kaminsky who fuel the nation's most unstoppable offense.

    Three different Arizona defenders took turns trying to defend Kaminsky, yet he still scored a game-high 29 points.

    All the different looks Arizona tried to throw at Kaminsky created mismatches for fellow frontcourt standouts Dekker and Nigel Hayes.

    Both Kentucky and Wisconsin are better teams than they were a year ago.

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  • This is the rare Elite Eight that truly lives up to its name

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    The silver lining to the NCAA tournament playing out largely as expected so far is that this weekend's Elite Eight actually lives up to its name.

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    Six of the top eight teams in the final AP Top 25 are still alive and the remaining two teams are name-brand programs that have been to the Elite Eight a combined 14 times this century.

    A showdown in the West Regional between top-seeded Wisconsin and second-seeded Arizona is one of the most hotly anticipated games of the tournament pitting two teams that met with a Final Four berth on the line a year ago. The Badgers rode Frank Kaminsky's 28-point performance to a one-point overtime victory last March, dooming Sean Miller to his third Elite Eight defeat in three tries and sending Bo Ryan to his first Final Four.

    Any game involving unbeaten Kentucky could be one-sided considering the dominance that the top-seeded Wildcats have exhibited, but at least they drew the most dangerous possible Elite Eight matchup out of any team in the South Regional.

    This year is different. This eight truly feels elite.

  • Unusual last-second foul call wreaks havoc on Duke-Utah betting action

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    When referees ruled Brandon Taylor had committed a last-second foul before the end of Friday's Utah-Duke game, their decision to put seven-tenths of a second back on the clock and send Quinn Cook to the foul line wasn't as meaningless as it may have seemed.

    A lot of money changed hands because Cook sank one of two free throws to increase the Blue Devils' final margin of victory to 63-57.

    Most sports books listed top-seeded Duke as either a five-point favorite or a 5.5-point favorite entering its Sweet 16 matchup with fifth-seeded Utah. A bet on the Utes to cover would have either won or pushed based on those lines until Cook's otherwise innocuous free throw changed that. 

    Reaction from gamblers was immediate and wide-ranging on social media simply because of the unusual circumstances in the game's final seconds. Both teams were so sure the game was over that Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Utah's Larry Krystkowiak had already shaken hands and the players were already going through the handshake line as well before referees sent them back onto the floor.

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  • Career-best night from Justise Winslow sends Duke to the Elite Eight

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    Justise Winslow had just sunk his second-straight 3-pointer, so as is custom these days, of course he had to celebrate it.

    He preened to the crowd and turned his back on his man, enabling Utah's Brekkott Chapman to sprint right by him, catch a great feed from Delon Wright and score an uncontested layup in transition.

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    Irate as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was after that second-half basket, he'll probably forgive Winslow for his blunder. The freshman wing delivered a career-best performance in his hometown of Houston, helping top-seeded Duke advance to the Elite Eight with a hard-fought 63-57 victory over fifth-seeded Utah.

    Winslow scored a career-high 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting, hurting the Utes in transition just like he did San Diego State five days earlier but also punishing Utah for playing him to drive by knocking down a trio of big threes. As if that weren't enough, Winslow also grabbed 10 rebounds, made a pair of memorable blocks and played a key role in limiting Utah's typically efficient offense to just 35 percent shooting.

  • Gonzaga rides its frontcourt to first Elite Eight under Mark Few

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    In Mark Few's 16 seasons as head coach at Gonzaga, the Zags have won more than 400 games, captured 14 league championships and advanced to the NCAA tournament every year.

    The one thing Few had not done is taken a team past the Sweet 16.

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    Gonzaga checked that milestone off Few's list Friday night, riding a dominant performance by its frontcourt to a 74-62 victory over 11th-seeded UCLA. The second-seeded Zags will meet either Duke or Utah on Sunday in their first Elite Eight game since 1999 when Dan Monson was still their coach.  

    The resounding victory over the Bruins surely was cathartic for longtime Gonzaga fans still scarred by the memory of their 2006 Sweet 16 collapse. A formidable Zags team led by national player of the year Adam Morrison led UCLA by 17 in the first half and by nine with three-plus minutes to go, but Gonzaga yielded the final 11 points of the game to fall in heartbreaking fashion.