Tennessee's Pearl faces role reversal

Yahoo! Sports Staff
Yahoo! Sports

DAYTON, Ohio – Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl will face Oklahoma State for the third time in his four-season tenure at Tennessee, but that doesn't make him familiar with the Cowboys.

Pearl and the Vols beat Eddie Sutton and the Cowboys in 2005 and Sean Sutton's OSU team in 2006. Pearl and his Vols get first-year coach Travis Ford and the Cowboys on Friday at the University of Dayton Arena.

Still, Pearl sees something familiar in his first-round opponent. In years past, Tennessee has been the fast-paced, undersized team. Now, the roles are reversed. The ninth-seeded Cowboys play a four-guard lineup and are sixth in the nation in scoring at 81.1 points per game. Eighth-seeded Tennessee's strength is in the frontcourt with Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism.

"He's got a style of play that I'd like to think is similar to ours," Pearl said of Ford. "It's up-tempo. His players play with great freedom, and yet they play with terrific purpose … [In the first two meetings,] we were the smaller, undersized team that spread you out and shot the 3-ball, and now we're bigger and a little bit more traditional." – David Fox

Big little man

DAYTON, Ohio – Another game, another size mismatch for Oklahoma State's Marshall Moses.

Listed at 6 feet 6, Moses is the Cowboys' only post presence in a four-guard starting lineup. He'll draw the assignment of matching up against the heart of Tennessee's team – forwards Tyler Smith (who is 6-7) and Wayne Chism (6-9). The only other big man who sees appreciable time for the Cowboys is 6-8 Anthony Brown.

Moses is used to his plight. He has gone up against Oklahoma's Blake Griffin (three times), Kansas' Cole Aldrich, Washington's Jon Brockman, Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt and Michigan State's frontcourt. It hasn't been easy for Moses, who has fouled out 11 times.

"I'm the 'big little man,' that's what they call me," Moses said. "Not much has changed. I still get to shoot the jumper. I still get to put the ball on the floor if I need to. I just don't need to. I can show my post game and be the big guy for this little team we have." – David Fox

Thomas leads Duke's rout of Binghamton

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Lance Thomas isn't the best-known player on Duke's roster, but the junior guard may have been the biggest factor in the Blue Devils' 86-62 first-round trouncing of Binghamton.

"The key guy for us was Lance," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I thought Lance played one of his best games, and in that stretch of four or five minutes [at the start of the second half], he made some really big energy plays."

Thomas scored 14 points – his highest total since Nov. 28 – and delivered two dunks to go along with a pair of offensive rebounds during a 17-2 run that opened the second half.

"I just played hard," Thomas said. "Whatever play was in front of me, I tried to make it. [I just] was not overthinking anything. I was going out and playing basketball. My teammates are confident in me. I wanted to be an animal on the boards and do everything I could to make sure my presence was felt on the court." – Steve Megargee

Foul trouble hampers Binghamton upset bid

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The aggressive style of play that got Binghamton to the NCAA tournament also helped lead it to an early exit.

By halftime, Binghamton forward Reggie Fuller already had three fouls and three of his teammates had picked up two fouls each. Duke ended up going 21-of-25 from the free-throw line, while Binghamton was 1-for-5.

Binghamton had entered the NCAA tournament averaging 23.4 free-throw attempts per game.

"That's the way we play," Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus said. "We're going to get fouls. We've had fouls like that all year, and we can't complain about that. We try to play aggressively defensively. … We've been used to it. We've just got to suck it up and just play hard and just play smarter." – Steve Megargee

Duke's Smith on the mend after concussion

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Duke guard Nolan Smith shot 4-for-6, scored 13 points and dished out three assists Thursday in his best performance since sustaining a mild concussion late in the regular season.

The concussion caused Smith to miss the Blue Devils' last three regular-season games. Smith returned for the ACC tournament, but he averaged just 6.3 points and shot a combined 2-of-7 in three tournament games.

"I'm 100 percent," Smith said. "I feel great right now." – Steve Megargee

Laid-back Abrams leads Longhorns

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Texas guard A.J. Abrams continues to feel immune to postseason pressure.

Abrams went 8-of-15 from 3-point range Thursday in a 76-62 victory over Minnesota. He sank four consecutive 3-pointers in a span of 2:11 to single-handedly give Texas a 12-0 run that virtually sealed the victory.

"I guess I'm just kind of a laid-back person," Abrams said as he explained his ability to maintain his poise in the postseason. "[I'm] just taking it one game at a time. I don't let the excitement just overwhelm me. I guess that's what it is. I know these games are high stakes."

The 5-foot-11 senior has gone 14-of-30 from 3-point range since the start of the Big 12 tournament. He went 19-of-38 from beyond the arc in four NCAA tournament games last season.

If Abrams has a huge second-round performance Saturday, he just might challenge former Florida guard Lee Humphrey's record of 47 career NCAA tournament 3-pointers. Abrams now has 39 career 3-pointers in March Madness, putting him in a fourth-place tie with former Duke star J.J. Redick. – Steve Megargee

Pittman's accomplishments no laughing matter

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Texas center Dexter Pittman couldn't stop giggling Thursday during the Longhorns' postgame news conference, but his late-season production has been no joke.

Pittman recorded 17 points and 11 rebounds against Minnesota. He now has three double-doubles in his last four games and is averaging 17.3 points and 11 rebounds during that stretch.

"I don't think anyone [we've faced] was as strong and as aggressive as Pittman," Minnesota forward Damian Johnson said. "He's a monster in the paint. He's real physical. Once he gets into the lane, he's trouble for anyone. The closest player [to him] that we've faced all year was [Samardo] Samuels from Louisville, and I don't think he's half as strong as Pittman."

Pittman's emergence has caused collateral damage for Texas opponents. Abrams said he has received more open looks lately because teams have to focus on stopping Pittman inside. – Steve Megargee

Texas freshman puts clamps on Westbrook

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Texas freshman guard Varez Ward headed into his NCAA tournament debut hoping he might play 17 minutes. He did a whole lot more than that.

Ward played 26 minutes – 11½ above his season average – and spent most of the second half running the offense and putting the clamps on Minnesota standout Lawrence Westbrook.

"I feel like a sophomore right now because I've seen pretty much every defense this year and I'm really comfortable with the ball now," Ward said.

Westbrook scored 15 points in the first half, but Ward held him to just four points the remainder of the game. Ward served as Texas' point guard for most of the second half in place of struggling starter Dogus Balbay.

"He's a tough, hard-nosed kid," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He really can defend. For the most part, he did a pretty good job handling the ball for us because Doge definitely struggled a little bit." – Steve Megargee

Johnson injures back, Saturday's status unknown

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Texas forward Gary Johnson didn't return to the game after injuring his back early in the second half.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore was unsure about whether he'd be healthy enough to play Saturday in the second round.

"[It's] a little spasm or something," Johnson said. "I don't know what it is, but I'll hopefully get the amount of treatment tomorrow and be ready for Saturday.''

Johnson entered the NCAA tournament averaging 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He went scoreless in just eight minutes of action Thursday. – Steve Megargee

Gophers downplay lack of experience as factor

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Texas was making its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance Thursday while Minnesota received its first taste of March Madness since 2005.

But the Gophers resisted the temptation to blame their loss to the Longhorns on the experience factor.

"I don't think it's an issue," Westbrook said. "We're all the same age. They're players like us. Yeah, they'd been here before, but that had nothing to do with winning the game.''

The Golden Gophers didn't show any signs of nerves while sprinting to a 13-3 lead, but Texas pulled away by outrebounding Minnesota 41-30 and shooting 11-of-20 from 3-point range. – Steve Megargee

Villanova rallies past American

PHILADELPHIA – Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson combined for 50 points and 15 rebounds, and Villanova overcame a 14-point second-half deficit and a healthy scare to beat American 80-67 and advance to the second round of the East Region.

Anderson, who entered Thursday averaging only 8.2 points a game for the third-seeded Wildcats, drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing with 5:47 left in regulation, breaking a 55-55 tie and giving Villanova a lead it never relinquished. He went 9-for-10 from the field, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers, for a career-high 25 points.

"It’s just mental toughness," Anderson said, when asked how the Wildcats (27-7) were able to rally after American took a 45-31 lead less than two minutes into the second half. "You never crack under pressure. That’s something that these guys do night after night. That’s something that takes us a long way."

Garrison Carr hit six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Eagles (24-8), who simply ran out of gas against the bigger, more athletic Wildcats.

"Villanova just wore us down," American coach Jeff Jones said. "I think it's as simple as that." – Mike Sielski

Xavier still wary of Portland State

BOISE, Idaho – The Xavier Musketeers aren't exactly trembling in their high tops at the prospect of facing Portland State. But fourth-seeded Xavier also knows the hazards of playing a team that employs the style of 13th-seeded Portland State, which spreads the floor and relies on outside shooting much the same way Butler and Duquesne did this season.

That would be the same Butler team that beat Xavier 74-65 and the same Duquesne team that beat Xavier 72-68.

"We took kind of a tongue-lashing after both of those games,'' said B.J. Raymond, Xavier's leading scorer.

Now they might take another one. Told that his players had cited the losses to Butler and Duquesne as reason for concern, Xavier coach Sean Miller said, "They weren't supposed to mention that.''

But then he broke into a grin. The real orders Miller has given his team are to play better perimeter defense and capitalize on its size, with Xavier's starting lineup including no player shorter than 6-foot-5. The biggest size mismatch is in the backcourt, where Xavier's 6-6 Raymond and 6-5 Dante Jackson will defend Portland State's 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez and 6-2 Andre Murray. – Josh Peter

Ryan keeps Wisconsin in check

BOISE, Idaho – Before it even steps on the court against Florida State, Wisconsin apparently has made history – albeit the sort one isn't certain to celebrate. The Badgers are the first team to lose six consecutive conference games and still earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The skid started Jan. 15 when Wisconsin lost to Purdue, followed by overtime defeats against Minnesota and Iowa and setbacks against Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern. So, how did Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan keep his team together before it reeled off five consecutive victories and secured a No. 12 seed and a matchup against Florida State?

"Some interesting things that I can't talk about,'' he said.

It sounds like opponents weren't the only ones beating up on the Badgers during their six-game slide. – Josh Peter