NCAA Tournament: March Madness Visits Pittsburgh Again


Mar 18, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright speaks to the media before practice for the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness has consumed the Consol Energy Center for the second time as the second round of the NCAA Tournament kicks off Thursday.

Three years after what was considered a successful first stint as tournament hosts, Villanova, Notre Dame, Butler, NC State, LSU, Texas, Northeastern and Lafayette play second round games.

Here is a breakdown of each game:

3 Notre Dame [29-5] vs 14 Northeastern [23-11] Thursday 12:15 CBS

It has been 24 long years, however Northeastern is back in the NCAA Tournament by winning the CAA conference.

Now the texts for ticket requests have become overwhelming. It’s part of the territory of making history for your program.

“Yesterday, I got a lot of high fives going to class,” guard/forward Quincy Ford said. “Everyone’s real excited, there’s truly a lot of support behind us. Our whole school is behind us and it’s just a great feeling.”

While the tournament reunion is nice, the task ahead is a difficult one as the Huskies drew ACC Champion Notre Dame.

“You have to have a really good game plan,” coach Bill Coen said. “You have to execute that game plan and you have to catch a break. You got to get a little bit lucky. You got to get a bounce. Something during the game has got to go your way to shift the momentum, and then you have to have the confidence and the courage to seize the moment, and that’s the beauty of March, watching that play out over and over again, seeing kids step up and really seize the moment. I think those have been the success stories.”

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  • Notre Dame has had a success story itself after guards Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton returned. Grant had an academic suspension and was readmitted to the school, while Connaughton is a two-sport athlete that was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

    “We both had different reasons for coming back, but at the same time, we had similar ones as well,” said Connaughton. “To get to this point, to put ourselves in this position and to finish off our college basketball careers at least the right way is something that we wanted to do. We wanted to bring it to this university. We wanted to bring it to each other and we wanted to bring it to the coaching staff and the 13 guys in the locker room.”

    The Fighting Irish defeated Miami, Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament.

    “The reason why I think we played so well in the ACC tournament is because we did focus on our opponent and really take our scouting report really seriously,” Grant said. “Obviously, we want to play our game at the end of the day, play a good defense and outlet and run, but we definitely need to know the tendencies of the opponent we’re playing against.”

    Grant averages a team leading 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. Forward Scott Eatherton holds top honors for Northeastern with 14.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

    6 Butler [22-10] vs 11 Texas [20-13] Thursday 2:45 PM CBS

    President Barack Obama noticed that Vegas gave Texas an edge over the lower seeded Butler and decided to go with experience choosing the Longhorns.

    “That’s going to be the last time I vote for him,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said.

    Holtmann is right, Obama is not eligible to run for president after his current term ends.

    Still Holtmann is aware that despite his Bulldogs being the better seed, that the Longhorns have been the popular selection.

    “We try not to get caught up in that, who’s favored, who’s not,” senior guard Alex Barlow said. “If you’re in the NCAA tournament, you’re a good team regardless of your seeding, regardless of your record. As you’ve seen every year, higher seeds lose to lower seeds. We’re not really worried about that. We’re just focused on playing against them. We could be favored, they could be favored. It honestly doesn’t really matter to us at all.”

    The first thing fans noticed when attending open practice Wednesday was how tall Texas is as a team. With that in mind, it makes sense that it leads the nation in blocks per game at 7.9.

    The Longhorns had to overcome an injury to Isaiah Taylor. Taylor had scored in double figures in all three of the team’s games before his injury and missed over a month of game action.

    “The regular season didn’t go the way we would have liked it to go, but with that said, I really appreciate and admire our players for the way they’ve stayed with it because, as you know, when things aren’t going well, so many people have opinions about what’s happening,” coach Rick Barnes said. “From the inside, we know where we are. The ultimate goal is to be in this tournament. We’re here and I just hope that we can play our best basketball this time of year. We’ve got a special group of guys that have really stuck together, and that pleases me a lot.”

    Kellen Dunham leads the Bulldogs with 16.7 points per game and Taylor holds the same honor for the Longhorns with 13 points per game.

    1 Villanova [32-2] vs 16 Lafayette [20-12] Thursday 6:50 PM TBS

    This game will serve as a battle for Eastern Pennsylvania. Villanova already has set a program record for wins but Wildcats coach Jay Wright is facing a friend in Fran O’Hanlon who also was inducted into the Villanova Hall of Fame in 1992.

    Is this possibly the first time a 16-seed beats a number one? Considering the closeness and Villanova’s past struggles in Pittsburgh, Wright knows not to take anything for granted.

    “One of the things that we’ve all learned through the years of this tournament, anything can happen,” Wright said. “I just think we’re the kind of team that we really, honestly, we can beat anybody. We really could, but we’re not super talented that we couldn’t lose tomorrow, you know. It’s just, you know, our closest game of the year this year was against Bucknell at home. They’re a similar team to Lafayette. They won their league. We’ve got to take that one game at a time.”

    Someone who is not betting against the Wildcats is President Barack Obama who has them advancing to the tournament finals.

    “It’s an honor for the President to think so highly of us, but we just know how hard it is to get to that position and to get to that level of play,” guard Darrun Hilliard said. “In order to do that, we have to stay as humble as possible and just continue to do what we’ve been doing throughout the season.

    Villanova is led by guard Ryan Arcidiacono who was selected as the co-Big East Player of the Year.

    Lafayette got in the hard way finishing 9-9 in Patriot League conference play but winning the tournament as a four seed. It knows the task ahead is a tough one.

    “I watched them, I followed them very closely, having been a Villanova guy,” said O’Hanlon. “Their statistics are unreal. They share the basketball. I think they have 150 more assists than they do turnovers, which is an incredible amount, the +/- there.

    Forward Dan Trist has a team-leading 17.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game.

    8 NC State [20-13] vs 9 LSU [22-10] Thursday 9:20 PM TBS

    For the second time in this Pittsburgh set of games, a battle will ensue on the court between two coaches in NC State’s Mark Gottfried and LSU’s Johnny Jones, that consider each other friends.

    Gottfried was a head coach in Alabama and Jones served as an assistant during the 2000-01 season.

    “We’re playing a very talented team, very good team,” Gottfried said. “Obviously, I know Johnny well, having worked together at Alabama for a year. Great respect for them. Cheer for them and pull for the LSU Tigers all year until now. But we’re excited to be here and hopefully we have played some of our best basketball here down the stretch, and I think that’s important as we go into the tournament and how we feel about ourselves and how we’ve played.”

    Pitt Panthers fans know NC State well losing two games including its ACC Tournament swan song game. In that game “Cat” Barber set a career high in points and dominated the pace of play.

    “When he’s playing that way, it makes everybody’s job easier,” Wolfpack guard Trevor Lacey said. “When he’s attacking and making shots, teams have to guard him. Early in the year, teams was forcing to make jump shots and he sometimes dribbled himself into trouble, his speed. Now that he’s learned when to take advantage of his speed and get others involved and, I mean, his defense has always been there. When he sets the tone for us defensively, it takes us to another level.”

    LSU meanwhile is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

    “It’s always been a dream of mine, growing up watching the NCAA tournament, just praying and hoping I would be able to get on that stage some day,” sophomore forward Jordan Mickey said. “When we saw our name come across the board, that was a dream come true. A lot of teams had to end their season on Sunday. We were one of the few teams that got to continue to play.

    The Tigers had an eight game winning streak early in the season which included a victory at then 16th ranked West Virginia 74-73. The Tigers also played undefeated Kentucky tough losing 71-69. LSU also has an additional top-25 win on its resume beating then 18th ranked Arkansas 81-78.

    “Our team started the season off this year with the goal in mind, hopefully, to be playing in this special field of 68, March Madness,” said Jones. “I think our guys have done a tremendous job along the way on this journey and especially with the youthfulness our basketball team and the unknown that we had out there. The new players that we brought in to our team, we’ve done a great job in terms of bonding, gelling.

    “We understand that there are a lot of challenges out here in this tournament for us to be part of it for an extended amount of time. We understand the challenges in terms of surviving and advancing and we certainly look forward to that against a tough team tomorrow against North Carolina State.

    LSU forward Jarell Morgan leads the team with 16.9 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game. Lacey leads the Wolfpack with 15.5 points per game.

    Mar 18, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Jerian Grant (22) and Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey (R) look on during practice before the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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