Michigan State will play Sunday to go to the Final Four, but one Big Ten team is already there. In the hoopla of the NCAAs, it's been lost that Penn State completed a run to the NIT semis in Madison Square Garden this past week.
After beating George Mason in overtime in the opener, the Lions hosted Rhode Island in the second round. Playing without an injured Jamelle Cornley, PSU beat the Rams with its backcourt. Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle combined for 35 points, and up front Andrew Jones III took up the slack with a 14-point/10-rebound double-double. Penn State won decisively on the glass (35-25) and had a huge edge on the line (27-10).
Ed DeChellis then took his team to Florida, the game where it was generally expected that the season would end. But Cornley returned to the floor with a vengenane. He rang up 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, in a dominating effort right in the backyard of the program that won it all in 2006-07.
Penn State is now set to play Notre Dame on Tuesday night in New York City, the second straight game they'll play against an opponent their fans would no doubt love to play in football. The other semi-final will be San Diego State-Baylor and the championship game is next Thursday. Congratulations to DeChellis. As much as missing the NCAA Tournament hurt, getting to MSG is a major achievment for a program that languishes in the shadows of the football team.
The Road To Detroit reaches its conclusions these next two days, as the four regional finals get underway. Purdue's season ended on Thursday night against UConn. Robbie Hummell had 17 points and the Boilers kept Jeff Adrien quiet. But the Huskies owned the boards and the free throw line. Hasheem Thabeet and Stanely Robinson were each in double-digits in rebounds, and UConn eventually pulled away in the second half to a 74-62 win.
The loss was still a noble ending to a good season for Purdue. It started off a little shaky in December and the early part of conference play, and it looked like the Boilermakers wouldn't live up to high preseason expectations. But they turned it around and got back into the race for the conference title. A bump on the road at the end of the regular season finished those hopes, but they quickly righted the ship in Indianapolis and won the conference tournament. Last year, Matt Painter brought in a heralded freshman class, had a big year and won the first game of the NCAA Tournament. This year, Painter brought them back, completed the underrated task of navigating them through their first real disappointments early on, won a tournament banner and took his team one round further in March. That's a perfect portrait in progress and the future is bright in West Lafayette.
We're going to look at the regionals more fully once they're done, which is why Michigan State is saved until the end here. But the Spartans eliminated the defending champs in a clutch win over Kansas. They didn't have their usual advantage on the glass until the very end of the game, when they turned a 60-55 deficit into a 67-62 win. But they forced 19 turnovers and now get a crack at #1-ranked Louisville.
Here is the schedule for this weekend, all games on CBS:
West (Phoenix): UConn-Missouri, 4:40 EST
East (Boston): Villanova-Pitt, 7:05 EST
Midwest (Indianapolis): Louisville-Michigan State, 2:20 EST
South (Memphis): North Carolina-Oklahoma, 5:05 EST