Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Marquette could be helped by absence of Miami big man

WASHINGTON — The inside Miami scouting report was just a phone call away for Marquette's Vander Blue.

Dialing up old friend D.J. Richardson of Illinois meant hearing from the last guard to face the Hurricanes. His Illini lost 63-59 on Sunday, but he came away with a better understanding of the ACC champions.

"Build a wall around" Shane Larkin was the first tip. Then get the second-seeded Hurricanes out in transition. That'll be the idea at 7:15 tonight in the Verizon Center when the two battle for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Blue, the Eagles' top scorer (14.8 ppg) and playmaker, has no lack of courage or confidence. His layup in the final second sent Marquette past Davidson in the Round of 64. Blue then went for 29 during the 74-72 win over Butler on Saturday. He gets into the lane and creates from there.

The absence of Reggie Johnson, Miami's 6-foot-10 backup center, will have a large impact on his strategy.

"Just having a presence like that down there really changes the way our team goes about attacking the rim," Blue said. "I hope the best for him. I hope he gets back as soon as possible, but at the same time, it's an advantage for us him being out. He's really a big key to their team."

So, without the biggest body on the roster, Miami will face a bulky Marquette team with the other three healthy players 6-10 or taller. Starting F Julian Gamble (6-10, 250 pounds) said he's coming off a "minor" ankle sprain from the Illinois game but will be 100 percent by tipoff.

"I don't take it as Reggie not being here as more of a burden on me because we've had success without him," Gamble said. "While we want him here and we love him and he's our brother, we have to find a way to get it done."

A BIG RETURN: La Salle was practicing on the Staples Center court in Los Angeles afternoon when coach John Giannini received some unexpected news.

C Steve Zack, out since March 2 with a severe left foot sprain, had been cleared to play.

"With about 20 minutes left in practice, our trainer said: 'Hey, the doctor cleared him,' " Giannini said. "I was surprised, to say the least. So he's able to play."

And there Zack was, not just practicing for about 10 minutes but dunking, and dunking again, the first two times he got the ball.

Was he trying to send a message to his coach?

"I think I was just excited," the 6-foot-11 center said back in the locker room, his left foot on ice.

FRENEMIES: Ever since Thad Matta and Sean Miller shared a tiny office at Miami of Ohio nearly two decades ago, the coaches' friendship has survived job changes, practical jokes and a few hundred bucks in unpaid lunch tabs.

They've worked together and recruited against each other. They've shared scouting tips and sought job advice. They even briefly lived under the same roof with their entire families.

"I wouldn't be here today without him," Miller said. "I learned a lot from him, enjoyed being around him when we worked together, and we remain very good friends."

They remained close after their teams faced off in a memorable Ohio State victory over Xavier in the NCAA Tournament six years ago, and they're still close heading into a meeting tonight at Staples Center, when the second-seeded Buckeyes face Miller's Arizona Wildcats in the West Region semifinals.

"I don't like the fact that we're playing, but I'm happy as can be for him," Matta said.

WHERE'S BEN?: If Kansas hopes to advance, Ben McLemore has to be more than a cheerleader.

The Jayhawks' leading scorer sat on the bench in the latter part of Sunday's 70-58 win over North Carolina after going 0-for-9 from the floor for two points. Over his past four games, the freshman is averaging seven points and has shot 8-of-26.

"He's gotta see the ball go in the hole," coach Bill Self said.

Kansas' offense has been a solid unit with the ability to play great some nights. But with two potential heavyweights looming, the Jayhawks will need their leading scorer at full capacity.

Sunday, McLemore said he still felt confident.

"Any shooter," McLemore said. "One shot, they get their mood going."

STEADY IMPROVEMENT: In three seasons, Oregon has progressed over the array of post-season tournaments, from the CBI, to the NIT and now the NCAA.

Dana Altman has guided the Ducks over those three seasons. On Friday, his 12th-seeded team will face top-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.

Altman couldn't be prouder.

"I'm excited but, man, it's just great to get to see those guys in the locker room all fired up," he said. "And for our fans that have waited for this. And for our state. It's good."

WRIGHT TIME: Villanova coach Jay Wright is becoming a regular on TV in March. For the third straight year, Wright will appear on CBS' and Turner's NCAA Tournament coverage. The networks said he'll appear in studio Thursday and Friday during the Sweet 16 games.

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