The NCAA tournament's regional semifinals are set after a thrilling and exhausting first two rounds, which filled wastepaper baskets with battered brackets and left coaches on their knees in agony and throwing their arms to the heavens in joy.
On Thursday in Salt Lake City, No. 1 seed Syracuse hopes to get Arinze Onuaku back against mid-major darling Butler, while sixth-seeded Xavier will take on Jacob Pullen and second-seeded Kansas State - a team making its first appearance in the round of 16 since 1988.
At the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, John Wall and Kentucky get Ivy League upstart Cornell, the No. 12 seed that blew out Wisconsin in one of Sunday's big shockers. The other game in the East Regional will feature 11th-seeded Washington, playing for Pac-10 pride, against second-seeded West Virginia and outstanding guard Da'Sean Butler.
On Friday in St. Louis, giant-killer Northern Iowa takes on Michigan State, which is likely to be without Kalin Lucas after the star guard hurt his left Achilles' tendon in a dramatic victory over Maryland. And sixth-seeded Tennessee will try to slow down Ohio State star Evan Turner.
In Houston, top-seeded Duke will get one of the feel-good stories of the tournament in Purdue, which has reached the round of 16 despite losing star guard Robbie Hummell. The other game there will have breakout star Omar Samhan and Saint Mary's, the tiny school from Moraga, Calif., against a Baylor team that is sure to have plenty of homestate fans on hand.
After the first four days of the NCAA tournament, when nearly every sure thing proved they were anything but, at least this can be considered gospel: Everyone can use a little break.
The Boilermakers have a message for President Barack Obama and everybody else: They're more than just one player.
Chris Kramer used a slick crossover move and drove with his left hand to the basket, scoring with 4.2 seconds left to give fourth-seeded Purdue a 63-61 overtime victory against fifth-seeded Texas A&M.
B.J. Holmes had a chance at the other end for Texas A&M, but his off-balance shot at the buzzer missed and the jubilant Boilermakers flooded the court. Even without star guard Robbie Hummel, they've earned a regional semifinal date with top-seeded Duke in Houston on Friday.
E'Twaun Moore hit a tying jumper for Purdue out of a timeout, as the gritty team that even President Barack Obama had no faith in showed once more that it has faith in itself.
A tie-up at the other end kept the ball in the hands of Texas A&M with about six seconds difference between the fresh shot clock and the game clock. Bryan Davis got the ball in the post and was quickly double-teamed, and his miss was rebounded by Purdue, which pushed it into the front court and called timeout to set up the final shot of overtime.
Chris Kramer made a pair of foul shots for Purdue, giving him 15 points for the game, and the Boilermakers played outstanding defense to force Donald Sloan into a deep 3-pointer that bricked off the front of the rim.
Kramer made a nifty spin move in the paint, at the other end, losing his shoe in the process, but the ball bounced everywhere but in. Texas A&M raced back and Loubeau used a little baby hook to give the Aggies a 61-59 lead with 1:18 left in overtime.
Two teams that play hard defense didn't score for the first 90 seconds of overtime before David Loubeau threw down a hammer dunk for Texas A&M. The Boilermakers' Chris Kramer answered at the other end, but Bryan Davis slammed down a nifty feed to push the Aggies back ahead.
Texas A&M only had time for a quick turn-and-shoot, and B.J. Holmes got the ball along the sideline and unfurled a rainbow 3-pointer at the buzzer that clanged high off the backboard and bounced harmlessly to the floor.
The Aggies and Boilermakers, two teams that are mirror images of each other, will need at least 5 more minutes to decide who gets to play top-seeded Duke in Houston.
The referees spent several minutes checking what time the ball bounced out of bounds between Texas A&M and Purdue, who were tied 55-all. The fifth-seeded Aggies had possession and the referees left the clock with 1.1 seconds on it.
Texas A&M lined up for an inbound play and Purdue coach Matt Painter burned his final timeout of regulation to set up his defense.
Nolan Smith finished with 20 points for Duke, which finished off eighth-seeded California 68-53 in a game that the Blue Devils never seemed like they were going to lose.
Now they're on to the regional semifinals against Texas A&M or Purdue, who are tied at 55 with about a second remaining in the final game of the opening weekend.
Jordan Crawford scored 27 points to lead sixth-seeded Xavier to a 71-68 victory over third-seeded Pittsburgh, sending the Musketeers to the round of 16 with a victory made all the sweeter after they lost to the same team in last year's NCAA tournament.
Crawford unloaded for 28 points in a first-round victory over Utah State, and his two free throws with 24.5 seconds left against the Panthers were critical to hanging on.
He's not known solely for that YouTube dunk on LeBron James anymore.
Gilbert Brown did his best to rally Pittsburgh back, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the closing seconds. After the second 3 made it 69-66 with 15.9 left, it looked like the Panthers might get the ball when Xavier's inbounds pass skittered out of bounds along the sideline, but the referees awarded the possession to the Musketeers.
Pitt coach Jaime Dixon was apoplectic on the sideline.
The Panthers had to keep fouling, and Terrell Holloway - an 85-percent free throw shooter - made two of them. After Pitt scored, Xavier's Dante Jackson - an 81-percent foul shooter - missed two to give Pitt its ninth life.
Ashton Gibbs missed a 3-pointer, though, and one last shot at the horn came up no good.
Everyone knew Jordan Crawford would get the ball for Xavier with about 90 seconds left and the lead 63-59, except Pittsburgh. The Panthers had to foul him on a drive to the basket and he promptly made both free throws to give him 25 points for the game.
Pittsburgh came back and gave the ball to its star, Ashton Gibbs, who also drew a foul and nearly made the slop shot. The 88-percent foul shooter missed one of two free throws, though, to leave Xavier ahead 65-60 with under a minute to go.
Who needs Robbie Hummel?
The Boilermakers, a trendy upset pick in the first round, have been showing the grittiness that had them ranked in the top 5 earlier this season. They went on a 17-2 run to take a 46-42 lead over Texas A&M, before the Aggies stormed back.
A&M got two straight easy baskets inside before Ray Turner scored to edge Mark Turgeon's boys back ahead, 48-46. A bad pass by E'Twaun Moore led to another bucket for the Aggies, and suddenly they were on an 8-0 run.
So, maybe Purdue could use that Hummel guy.
Nolan Smith is putting Duke on his shoulders, with 18 points and a sublime defensive performance against Cal's tough guards. Smith's layup gave the Blue Devils a 52-37 lead, and he drew a fourth foul on the Bears' Theo Robertson moments later.
Robertson is on the bench with 10 1/2 minutes left in the game.
Purdue has embarked on an 8-0 run that took just 1 minute, 40 seconds, and JaJuan Johnson's jumper with 14 minutes left had the Boilermakers within 40-37. Johnson and Chris Kramer have combined to score Purdue's last 10 points.
Look for Texas A&M to go small, trying to keep up with the guard-oriented Boilermakers and stem the momentum a little bit.
Pittsburgh is on a 12-0 run to cut Xavier's lead back to 50-49 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining. Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown had combined to score 13 of the Panthers' 15 points, before Travon Woodall finished a breakaway layup.
The Panthers haven't led since it was 18-17 with 7:58 left in the first half.
Duke was threatening to run Cal out of the gym with a 15-point lead, when the Bears responded with a little surge of their own. Jerome Randle and Theo Robertson have hit consecutive 3-pointers to trim the lead back to 44-35.
Nolan Smith has scored five of the Blue Devils' first seven in the second half as he continues to impress. Everybody else is struggling, though, with Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer missing outside shots moments apart.
Jordan Crawford hasn't had it easy the past few years, so it's hard not to cheer for the performance that he's put together during the NCAA tournament.
A leg injury forced Crawford to miss his senior year at Detroit's Communication and Media Arts High School, and he played 30 games as a freshman at Indiana before transferring to Xavier. He could only practice with the team while sitting out last season.
Crawford is making the most of his missed time, with 28 points in the first round against Minnesota and 18 points against Pittsburgh. The Musketeers lead 50-42 with about 12 minutes left in the game.
Ashton Gibbs was the only guy who didn't do anything for Pittsburgh in its first-round win over Oakland, and he's the only guy doing anything for the Panthers against Xavier.
Gibbs has four 3-pointers and a game-high 18 points.
He won't be able to do it alone, though, because the balance of Xavier is starting to pay off. Jordan Crawford is having a monster tournament and just knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 45-35 with 15 minutes left. Crawford has 16 for the game.
Dash Harris isn't a big-time shooter, and Purdue's Ryan Smith bailed him out by fouling the Texas A&M guard with ninth-tenths of a second left in the first half. Harris is a poor free-throw shooter, too, but still coaxed two of three through the hoop.
The miss was an airball.
The Aggies lead 32-25 at the break in a game that's about as pretty as Charles Barkley's golf swing, pre-Hank Haney. The two teams have combined to shoot 34 percent from the field and turn the ball over 14 times.
Duke has methodically built a 37-24 lead over Cal at halftime, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Doesn't everything the Blue Devils do look methodical?
Nolan Smith led the way with 11 first-half points, but everybody who has checked into the game has something in the scoring column.
Artis Gilmore was on hand to see Duke play California in Jacksonville, Fla. Gilmore led Jacksonville to the 1970 national title game, where the upstart Dolphins lost to John Wooden and UCLA, 80-69. Gilmore is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the ABA, then went on to play in six All-Star games in the NBA.
The 60-year-old took a position as a special assistant to the president of Jacksonville a couple of years ago, serving in various public relations roles and mentorship programs.
Two-time All-Big Ten player Kalin Lucas was in a walking boot after the Spartans' last-second victory over Maryland with what coach Tom Izzo said is likely a torn Achilles' tendon.
Michigan State plays Northern Iowa in the Midwest Regional semifinals this week. Lucas was injured late in the first half of the Spartans' 85-83 victory.
Besides losing one of their best players, the Spartans also are anxious to hear news about 3-point specialist Chris Allen, who did not start and played just 4 minutes against the Terps because of an injured arch in his right foot sustained in Friday's win.
Nolan Smith and Jerome Randle are playing a little game of one-on-one one-upmanship, and so far Smith has the Blue Devils in the lead early. He's not getting a whole lot of help in the backcourt from Jon Scheyer, who is struggling with his shot.
Smith is the guy who gets left out of the discussion when folks talk about Scheyer, the runner-up for ACC player of the year, Kyle Singler and big guy Brian Zoubek. Smith is one of the best around at getting to the rim, and has nine points as Duke leads 22-17.
Xavier is on a 13-0 run, taking advantage of six turnovers by Pittsburgh to take a 28-18 lead with about 5 minutes left in the first half.
The Panthers look like they're sleepwalking on both ends of the court, and coach Jamie Dixon is wondering what he can do to shake off the sandman. He called timeout after Dante Jackson hit a deep 3-pointer to push the lead to double figures.
The last three games from the opening weekend are all under way, and in a tournament full of upsets, they are six teams that were the better seed in their respective first-round game.
No. 3 Pittsburgh has an early lead over Xavier, with the winner getting a date with Kansas State in Salt Lake City. Fourth-seeded Purdue and fifth-seeded Texas A&M are back-and-forth, with the winner getting No. 1 seed Duke or eighth-seeded Cal, who just tipped off.
Khris Middleton has already hit a 3-pointer for Texas A&M, and on a team with guys like Donald Sloan, his ability to fire from long range could be the difference against Purdue. The Boilermakers are physical and the Aggies would like to spread them out as much as possible.
Middleton, a 6-7 freshman, was 5 of 6 from beyond the arc against Utah State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And over his last six games, he's 14 of 24 from 3 land.
Brad Wanamaker managed three 9s from the judges for that acrobatic dive.
The Pitt guard was on a breakaway when he got hacked across the arms, flying headfirst over the baseline under the basket. If he had only tucked his chin to his chest, he could have probably done about four somersaults.
Xavier and Pittsburgh have both struggled to find their stroke early in game that lacks definition, sort of like those TVs out there that have been streaming entirely too many NCAA tournament games the past few days and are close to being burned out.
For folks who are too consumed by the men's tournament to keep up with the women, there are a bunch of finals in first-round games. And if you blindly went with the favorites, the better seeds are 23-1. Tenth-seeded Vermont is the only winner, 64-55 over Wisconsin.
Talk about a rough day for the Badgers.
In other results Sunday, second-seeded Ohio State beat St. Francis, Pa., 93-59; sixth-seeded Vandy beat DePaul 83-76 in overtime; No. 8 seed Temple beat James Madison 65-53; third-seeded Xavier beat East Tennessee State 94-82; No. 2 seed Notre Dame beat Cleveland State 86-58; and seventh-seeded Mississippi State beat Middle Tennessee State 68-64.
Oh, yeah, Southern couldn't pull an upset either. The Jaguars lost to UConn 95-39.
When Texas A&M and Purdue tip off in the second round, the coaching staffs might be wise to pull out some helmets and shoulder pads. Both teams are physical.
Nobody is moreso than Purdue guard Chris Kramer, one of the best defenders in the Big Ten and a former high-school football player who was so good that former coach Joe Tiller used to tell him he could make millions in the NFL if he only switched sports.
Well, Kramer is playing on Sunday now.
Da'Sean Butler and West Virginia are back in the round of 16 for the second time in three years, advancing with a 68-59 victory over Missouri in the East Regional.
The Mountaineers got a scare late but held on from the foul line to set up a regional semifinal against 11th-seeded Washington, which upset No. 6 seed Marquette and third-seeded New Mexico in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
For as much trouble as the Big East has had this postseason, it went 4-0 in Buffalo with Syracuse and West Virginia moving on.
Cornell's charmed run continues with an 87-69 victory over Wisconsin, a win so dominant that most of the country didn't get to see the last 10 minutes of it. CBS shifted its focus to a couple of much closer games, between Michigan State and Maryland, then between West Virginia and Missouri.
To fill in some of the blanks, Ryan Wittman finished with 24 points for the Big Red, who will play top-seeded Kentucky in Syracuse on Thursday. Louis Dale had a game-high 26 points as Cornell put four players in double-figures scoring.
The Badgers got 23 points from Jon Leuer and 18 from Jason Bohannon, but star guard Trevon Hughes was just 3-of-8 shooting for 10 points.
Da'Sean Butler showed some veteran craftiness, getting loose for an offensive rebound after a missed foul shot by Cam Thoroughman. The putback gave West Virginia a 65-57 lead, and when Missouri couldn't score at the other end, the Mountaineers were headed back to the line.
The crowd is starting to celebrate a Mountaineers win already, with 45.5 seconds left on the block and Tigers 3-pointer threat Kim English fouled out.
Draymond Green hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give Michigan State an 82-81 lead, and the Terps came back at the other end to regain the lead, forced to run an offensive play because they didn't have a timeout and getting an inside basket from Greivis Vasquez.
The veteran Spartans came right back, though, with Korie Lucious giving a quick up-fake and letting fly a 3-pointer from the top of the key that left the tip of his fingers with about half a second left on the clock.
Vasquez played an inspired game but was left sitting on his rump, his head buried in his jersey as the Spartans celebrated. They're heading on to a regional semifinal against Northern Iowa following their 85-83 victory over Maryland.
Give it to Greivis!
The Spartans's third turnover in the final couple minutes has allowed Maryland to take its first lead since 7-6, with Vasquez scoring inside to make it 81-80 with under a minute to go.
The fiery guard has been the catalyst of the Terps' late charge, scoring eight of his 19 points.
Maryland forced back-to-back turnovers and has gone on a 10-0 run in a span of about 30 seconds to trim Michigan State's lead from 15 earlier in the game to 80-79 with 1:27 to go.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo called a timeout after Greivis Vasquez knocked down a 3-pointer in the corner to make it a one-point game.
How much do the Spartans miss Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen, both out with injuries, and their ballhandling and free-throw shooting ability?
Da'Sean Butler is 12 of 13 from the foul line for West Virginia, while Missouri is 10 of 18 as a team. That's a big reason that the Mountaineers are clinging to a 58-53 lead with under 4 1/2 minutes to go.
The Mountaineers are in the bonus, too, so they'll be parading to the foul line a lot in the closing minutes.
Evan Turner had 24 points to go with nine rebounds and eight assists, and Ohio State has moved into the regional semifinals with a 75-66 victory over Georgia Tech.
The second-seeded Buckeyes will play sixth-seeded Tennessee on Friday in a region that is suddenly wide open without the overall No. 1 seed Kansas.
The Yellow Jackets played in the national title game just six years ago, but coach Paul Hewitt might be on the hot seat despite reaching the second round of the tournament. He's got three former McDonald's All-Americans in a lineup that has chronically underachieved.
Georgia Tech has only one NCAA tournament win - against Oklahoma State on Friday - since 2005, and hasn't had a winning conference record in six years. The friction in Atlanta became apparent in February when Hewitt tweeted, "Are you a critic or a supporter of this team? ... Supporters will continue to watch this team fight."
They showed some fight against the Buckeyes before getting knocked out.
Kevin Jones is shining for West Virginia.
He's hit a baseline jumper, converted a layup off a pretty feed in the lane from Joe Mazzulla, and just drained a 3 from the left corner after pulling down an offensive rebound off a missed shot by Devin Ebanks.
Da'Sean Butler has just made three free throws after being fouled by Michael Dixon, putting the Mountaineers up 52-43 with just under 10 minutes left.
David Lighty went crashing to the floor after going up for a layup on a fastbreak with just over a minute left and getting hammered by three Georgia Tech players. The referee immediately called it an intentional foul, and Buckeyes coach Thad Matta walked out on the court to bark at anybody who would listen.
Lighty walked around for a moment before heading to the free throw line, where he all but sealed the Buckeyes' victory. Georgia Tech had gone on a nice run late to give itself a chance, but Evan Turner and the Buckeyes have been too much.
Georgia Tech is trying to make something happen, trailing Ohio State 65-55 with about 3 minutes left, by slapping on a full-court press. Ohio State has good foul shooters, so trying to get back into the game down the stretch will be quite the uphill battle.
Evan Turner has 20 points to go with seven rebounds and eight assists for the Buckeyes.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo will have a tough time getting junior guard Durrell Summers on the plane back to East Lansing. He's been simply outstanding in Spokane.
Summers averaged just over 10 points this season, but had 14 in an opening-round win over New Mexico State. He's single-handedly dominating Maryland, with a season-high 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting - including 6 of 8 from 3-point land.
Bo don't know what to do right now in Jacksonville.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was nailed with a technical foul as his Badgers continue to struggle against upstart Ivy League champ Cornell. That sent Ryan Wittman to the line, and he hit the second of two free throws to make it 62-46 with 13:35 remaining.
Jon Leuer has 20 points for the Badgers, but he's been the only guy scoring. Trevon Hughes has been limited to five.
Georgia Tech is 0 for 6 from beyond the arc in the second half against Ohio State, and Evan Turner and the Buckeyes are starting to pull away.
The Big Ten's best player is still causing nightmares for Paul Hewitt, now with 20 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists. Maybe that triple-double is still within reach? There's about 7 minutes remaining.
Who needs Kalin Lucas? The Spartans are 3 for 3 from beyond the arc in the second half with their injured star on the bench.
The Spartans are simply out-hustling Maryland, whether it's scrapping after loose balls on defense or running Princeton-esque backdoor cuts to the basket on offense. Michigan State leads 60-50 with 13:40 left in the game.
Da'Sean Butler had 19 points for West Virginia, which is a good thing considering how much everybody else is struggling. The rest of the team had scored just 13.
Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones came up big during the Mountaineers' run to the Big East tournament title, and they'll need to start scoring if they want to hang on against Mizzou.
For all those fans accustomed to seeing a bearded mountain man wearing the fur hat as the West Virginia mascot, seeing a woman toting that fake gun has to be a little strange.
Her name is Rebecca Durst, and she's the second female mascot at West Virginia.
A native of Point Pleasant, W.Va., Durst said she wanted to be the mascot since her sophomore year, when she went to a football game and saw how much energy the mascot created.
To be considered for the position, interested students fill out an application that includes five essay questions. They then participate in a half-hour interview with the Mountaineer Mascot Selection Committee, and four finalists compete in a cheer-off.
Durst is just finishing up her term as the mascot, and will give the job over to Brock Burwell. She's been a staple this year at football and basketball games, alumni events, parades and community service events.
That's the kind of stuff that only comes with college sports.
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