Spike Albrecht and other fresh faces of the NCAA Tournament

The Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship, but you knew with Michigan making it to the final game we would have plenty to talk about regarding fresh faces of March Madness as Michigan was the youngest team in the tournament. But while much of the talk going into the tournament surrounded freshmen Glenn Robinson III and player of the year Trey Burke, a sophomore, it was freshman Mitch McGary who was the story of the tournament. But that was before tonight, when an unknown freshman took over the game in the first half. You had probably never heard of Spike Albrecht before tonight, but by halftime that’s all anyone was talking about.

Spike Albrecht averaged less than two points per game during the regular season, and he hadn’t done much in this tournament until he put on a shooting clinic in the first half. He hit four three-pointers and didn’t miss any. One was a complete bomb from way beyond the arc. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes as he single-handily led Michigan to a 12-point lead while Trey Burke was sitting on the bench with a couple of fouls. He was also driving to the rim with reckless abandon. The kid was on fire and so was Michigan, but it wouldn’t last. His first half will be remembered for a long time, but Louisville was able to close the gap with a run before the half, as Michigan coach John Beilein left Burke on the bench as he seemed mesmerized by Albrecht like everyone on Twitter. The kid ran out of steam in the second half, but we’ll always remember that amazing first half run.

Like I said above, going into this game Mitch McGary was the story of the tournament. The freshman big man was the key to Michigan’s win over Syracuse as his play in the middle helped to counter the tough 2-3 zone that everyone was talking about before the game. His shooting ability was exceeded by his passing ability, and he had to turn some heads in NBA scouting departments with his performances. He finished that game with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 critical assists. Against Kansas and their impressive front line, McGary finished with a whopping 25 points and 14 rebounds. Remember his name come draft day. But tonight wasn’t his night as he got into foul trouble and wasn’t as effective against Louisville’s tough front line.

Even with these two Michigan freshman steeling all the headlines, Glenn Robinson III also had an excellent tournament for the Wolverines. He basically did everything well, as he was able to score and rebound, but he also played excellent defense and had some big steals as well. He also sank some critical free throws against Syracuse when it seemed like nobody on Michigan could hit one down the stretch when it mattered. He definitely lived up to his talent and all the hype surrounding his name.

The champs were a more veteran team, and that might explain their ultimate success, but they had one freshman in forward Montrezl Harrell who found ways to contribute throughout the tournament. He had a monster dunk tonight on a fast break, and he had eight big points against Wichita State. He also had a combined 19 points in the first two games of the tournament. He was an important cog of a truly impressive championship team.

Finally, apart from Louisville and Michigan playing an incredible final game, this tournament will be remembered for the excellent run by Wichita State and the excellent coaching from Gregg Marshall who urged the Shockers to “play angry.” Freshman guard Fred VanVleet was a big part of this run, scoring 13 points in the huge upset over #1 seed Gonzaga and then 12 points against #2 seed Ohio State. Unfortunately for the aptly named Shockers they couldn’t get past Louisville and VanVleet only had three points in that game. Still, he played very well in his first NCAA tournament, just like the other guys listed above.

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SNL spoofs the Rutgers scandal

This is pretty funny.

Five March Madness Fresh Faces

March Madness is a great time of the year for die-hard sports fans and casual fans alike. The close games and the upsets provide plenty of drama on the court, and every year we have new heroes that come out of nowhere. It’s always amazing to see a young kid in his first NCAA tournament become a household name overnight with a stellar performance on the big stage.

After day one yesterday (I don’t count the Wednesday games), we already have some freshman making a splash, and we have others we can expect to hear from today as well.

Fourth-seeded Michigan streaked to a 71-56 win over 13th-seeded South Dakota State on Thursday night, and not surprisingly, freshman phenom Glenn Robinson III had plenty to do with the win. Robinson scored a team-high 21 points, chalking up a whopping 17 in the second half, and he also grabbed six rebounds. His three three-pointers in the second half really fueled Michigan. The Wolverines are very young, so Robinson and the other freshman will have to come up big for this team to go far in the tournament. They wilted in the Big Ten tournament, but maybe that adversity will get them ready to make a run now.

Freshman Gary Harris of Michigan State had a solid night as the third-seeded Spartans defeated 14th-seeded Valparaiso 65-54. Harris wasn’t the leading scorer, as Derrick Nix dominated while dropping 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, but Harris was making jumpers as he contributed 10 points to the winning effort. With the 6’ 9” and 270 pound Nix powering the offense from the inside, Harris and Keith Appling can stretch the defense by making outside shots. On a good team like Michigan State, a freshman like Harris doesn’t have to be the star. He just has to know his role and do his job.

Today will feature a number of talented freshman making their tournament debut, and Shabazz Muhammad will be getting a ton of attention as the sixth-seeded UCLA Bruins take on the eleventh-seeded Minnesota Gophers. Muhammad has versatility on offense as he averaged just under 18 points per game while averaging over 5 rebounds per game. He is very effective down low but he also shot 40 percent from the three-point line. With guard Jordan Adams suffering a broken foot, there will be plenty of pressure on the freshman to step up on the big stage. The Pac-12 is off to a great start in the tournament which has silenced some critics, but we’ll see if UCLA can get past a Big-10 team in the first game.

The Kansas Jayhawks are a number one seed so we can’t expect too much drama on Friday in their opening game, but it will be interesting to see how freshman Ben McClemore looks in his tournament debut. This guard averages 16.4 points per game. He’s deadly shooting from the outside, and we’ve seen in the past that hot shooting can propel a team to the Final Four. McClemore is shooting 44 percent from three-point land. This kid could be a top pick, if not the top pick, in the NBA draft so the pressure goes well beyond a potential Kansas run to the title. You never know just how good a player can be until he’s tested at crunch time, so it will be fun to see what this kid can do.

We all love to focus on points and stats when evaluating players, but of course the game of basketball can’t be simply defined by stats. Indiana has a real shot at a national title, and Yogi Ferrell is a big part of that success. The freshman point guard has solid stats with 7.8 points and 4.2 assists per game, but his leadership and solid ball-handling make life much easier for stars like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. There’s every reason to believe this kid will carry this composure into the tournament. James Madison shouldn’t pose much of a problem in the first game but then the real fun begins.

Enjoy the games and hopefully we’ll see some smiles on the faces of these young faces as they march through this incredible tournament.

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Michigan’s Family Ties

Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glen Robinson III will both have to play at a very high level in March in order for the Wolverines to live up to expectation.

Fortunately for them they are both very close to people who have experience playing at a high level. They are both sons of (and named after) former NBA All-Stars.

Tim Hardaway Sr. played college basketball at UTEP before coming to the NBA. Once he reached the professionals he made a name for himself as a scoring guard who could also initiate the offense. He played for a number of NBA teams, most notably the Miami Heat where he developed a strong on-court chemistry with Alonzo Mourning.

But of all the things that Tim Hardaway will be remembered for none will stand above his killer crossover dribble. Some say Hardaway not only had the best crossover in the NBA, but also revolutionized it in a way that made it a mainstream move for guards. Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Russell Westrbook; none of them could claim to have a better crossover than Hardaway.

While Hardaway Sr. needed to use the crossover to his advantage to compensate for a lack of height, his son surprisingly grew to be six inches taller than his famous father. Hardaway Jr. grew up playing one-on-one against his dad. His competitive spirit led him to eventually beat him when he was in ninth grade, a sign that he was destined to be one heck of a player.

Hardaway Jr. is averaging nearly 15 points and five rebounds on the season.

Glen Robinson went to Purdue University and eventually made a name for himself in the NBA as a tough-nosed scorer. He was a two-time All-Star and earned himself the nickname “Big Dog.”

His son irked many fans of Robinson’s alma mater, Purdue, by choosing to attend Big 10 rival Michigan. He reinforced those feelings by scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds when Michigan faced off against the Boilermakers.

Robinson III is about the same height as his dad, but some might argue he is an even better athlete. Only a freshman, Robinson has yet to announce whether he will be declaring for the NBA draft. If he chooses to jump ship he will have a chance at being a lottery pick as many scouts like his potential as a defender/rebounder/finisher. He may not generate the type of hype RGIII of the NFL did, but GRIII will be a name that we will likely hear for quite some time.

Both young men will get their chance at expanding on their fathers’ NBA legacy at some point, but right now they are both huge reasons why Michigan should be considered a favorite to win the NCAA Tournament.

Led by the two prodigies and Trey Burke, who ironically was hardly recruited by most Big 10 schools yet might be the team’s best player, the Wolverines will be a tough draw for anyone matched up with them.

This Year’s Final Four Will Be…

It’s always difficult to predict the four teams out of 68 capable of making it deep in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament we refer to as March Madness. There’s always a bracket busting team that takes out a top competitor or even a Cinderella story making it to the Sweet 16 or even further. However, this year may be a little different and actually attending the games might just provide serious excitement for any fan. Here’s how this non-expert believes it could play out.

Small Schools Getting In

Akron and Bucknell are the most dangerous smaller schools with the ability to make it into the tournament. The reason these two top the list is due to the size advantage they bring to the game. Akron features Zeke Marshall at seven feet tall and Bucknell brings Mike Muscala standing 6’11” tall. This will help even the playing field with any of the larger schools bringing a significant size advantage.

Other small schools with a great chance of making into the tournament include Middle Tennessee State, Belmont, Boise State, Davidson, Valparaiso, Weber State and Louisiana Tech. Although it is unlikely that all these schools will make the dance you always have to be aware of the ones that do sneak into the dance. A small school with momentum would be like the Kia Sorento winning the car March Madness Contest, unlikely but you never know! Make sure you pay attention to all the little guys before filling out your bracket.

Top Teams Most Likely for an Early Departure

1. Kansas

The Jayhawks might take a top seed in the tournament, but they’re not as good as their record shows. They lost to a team with an RPI of 229 and nearly lost to another team they should’ve beaten easily. If they draw a team they don’t match up well against, Kansas could make an early exit.

2. Ohio State

Not considered a top five team, but in the top 20, the Buckeyes struggled in February. If this was any indication about how good they really are, this is another team potentially leaving the tournament early.

3. Florida

Showing their struggles on the road makes it hard to believe the Gators can go anywhere in the tournament. They’re tough to beat at home, but they won’t get a single game on their home court during the tournament. Look for Florida to fall victim to an upset early.

Final Four Predicted

Looking at all the top teams, potential Cinderella stories and those middle seeds with the ability to go deep, picking the Final Four is still difficult. However, an easy pick for one of the final four spots is the Indiana Hoosiers. This team is tough and has been ranked at the top most of the year. Another pick for the Final Four is Michigan. They’re ready to make a run and it seems they’ve already cleared their system of some of the losses.

The other two spots in the Final Four are a bit more difficult to predict. There will certainly be a middle seed, maybe a #5 or #6 involved. The team basketball of Notre Dame could support a deep tournament run, but they won’t be there in the Final Four. However, another Big East team will be out of a two or three seed in Georgetown. That only leaves one spot left and it goes to Saint Louis University.

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