Washington’s first five may or may not include Aziz N’Diaye Friday, but he’s used to that. Also, Hampton looks for inspiration, Tennessee’s Pearl not shining, and the North Carolina schools say geography matters little.
CHARLOTTE — Lorenzo Romar finished the past two seasons lamenting the size of other teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Washingtons coach was sent home last year by a West Virginia team filled with skyscrapers. So, as usual, he chased sized in the off-season. That pursuit led to seven-foot Aziz NDiaye. Even last spring, when first discussing NDiayes signing, Romar referenced the necessity of size in the NCAA Tournament.
When Washington tips Friday at 6:45 p.m. against 10th-seeded Georgia, the Bulldogs will present two potent post players in 6-foot-10 Trey Thompkins and 6-8, 270-pound weakside warrior Jeremy Price. Though mum on his starting lineup during Thursdays time with the media, NDiaye seems a likely candidate to re-enter the starting lineup.
NDiaye has been in and out of the lineup. His influence on the floor has fluctuated, as well. The junior college transfer is not irritated with the waffling, however.
We have our game plan and coach talked to me about it, NDiaye said. Sometimes we go small, sometimes we go big, it doesnt affect me at all.
At the Maui Invitational, NDiaye played in his first pressure situation at Washington. The island was filled with Kentucky supporters, as was the miniature gym. The games were on national television.
NDiaye was ferocious. He didnt back down, something that Romar later said did not surprise him. Friday, he starts another new experience with Washington. Whether he comes off the bench or battles for the tip, he says he understands the changes.
The coaching staff, I respect them and know theyre are going to make the right decision, NDiaye said. Theyre going to make the right decision and I have nothing to say about it.
Whoever starts, they will be loose. The Washington players goofed around in the locker room prior to a “practice” couch potatoes could have completed. No team runs a full, legit practice in the arena the day before. They’re open to the public, after all. All teams will practice off site.
Washington spent part of the time shooting buzzer-beaters from halfcourt. Scott Suggs was the first to knock one down. Desmond Simmons was the only other Husky to hit before the horn. Judges also gave the impromptu dunk contest to Terrence Ross. On-lookers who were seeing Washington for the first time were also stunned to watch Isaiah Thomas crank down windmill dunks.
Hampton loads slingshot
If there was a pregame star in Charlotte, it was Hampton coach Ed Joyner Jr.
The head man for the 16th-seeded Pirates took the press conference stage with enough energy to beat No. 1 seed and the Pirates’ opponent, Duke. Unfortunately for Hampton, Joyner wont be playing Friday.
But he has a reference for inspiration. Hampton was a 15 seed back in 2001 and upset second-seeded Iowa State 58-57. Joyner, who said he thinks everything is timing, was yet to show his batch of Hampton hopefuls the tape. They will see it, however.
Trust me, theyre going to see it (Thursday night), Joyner said. Along with Miracle, Rudy anything else you can find. If yall got any suggestions You can give it to me.
Joyner went to high school and college (Johnson C. Smith University) in Charlotte. He coached Dukes Seth Curry at local camps. He even could have helped the NCAA Selection Committee two weeks before the seeds came out.
Me and my wife were sitting in the car talking, Joyner said. I told her, you know what would be a great story, because she knew growing up I was a huge Duke fan, huge, and I said well win the (MEAC) tournament in Winston (-Salem). Then well get the pick, go to Charlotte and well play Duke.
Joyner, beaming throughout, is now dealing with that scenario following the Pirates MEAC tournament win which provided an automatic spot. His reward is yet another powerful Duke team that happens to be the defending NCAA champions. As a result, Joyner set to game-planning. Then stopped.
When we first found out who we were playing, I did the normal thing that I think everybody does, Joyner said. Were going out there and press them and get the ball out of Nolan Smiths hands.
Then I watch tape and say, Nobody in the country did that. I doubt if Im going to be able to. Might as well just let our kids do what theyve done all year and see if that works for us.
Things are rocky for Tennessee
Ninth-seeded Tennessee comes into the tournament with coach Bruce Pearl fending off questions about his future.
Earlier in the week Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said the jury is out about Pearls continued employment by the school.
That led to the the first two questions for Pearl Thursday being about his job status. Then the majority of the questions that followed? About his job status. Pearl even made his opening statement about his job status.
If theres been some change in the status, that thats going to be — its going to be dealt with, Pearl said.
In September, Pearl admitted misleading the NCAA during a 17-month long investigation into the Volunteers program. Shortly after, another violation by Pearl surfaced. Hamilton at one point sent Pearl a termination letter that became public.
Pearl deflected blame for all others and claimed it for himself.
I was the one that broke these rules, Pearl said. Not Mike Hamilton, not our chancellor, not these student athletes.
So I put myself in this position.
A little more than 24 hours after making those statements, Pearl will have to coach Tennessee against Michigan. Not the way you draw it up.
Carolina in their mind
Duke and North Carolina playing in Charlotte. Funny how that works.
Both sides claimed any geographical advantage was overrated. Each also said the others presence had no influence on what it will do.
We wont win or lose by who is in the stands, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. The fact that theyre here, we dont play them, so it has no basis on anything were doing.
Ive never been beaten by a crowd or building, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. Ive been beaten by good players.
Duke will be getting one of those back on the court. Freshman Kyrie Irving will return for the Blue Devils. Duke lost its second-leading scorer to a toe injury Dec. 8. Krzyzewski said he never expected Irving to return this season. The point guard will receive limited minutes off the bench Friday against Hampton.