Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 5:01 p.m.
By David Kaplan
Now that we have reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament it is time to break down the matchups before play resumes on Thursday evening. Several teams that I fully expected to see still standing are gone including Pitt who lost to Butler in one of the wildest endings to a game that we will ever see.
So who advances to the Final Four in Houston? Here are my predictions on the eight games that will be played on Thursday and Friday:
Kentucky vs. Ohio State: OHIO STATE
Marquette vs. North Carolina: NORTH CAROLINA
Duke vs. Arizona: DUKE
Connecticut vs. San Diego State: SAN DIEGO STATE
Kansas vs. Richmond: KANSAS
VCU vs. Florida State: VCU
Butler vs. Wisconsin: WISCONSIN
BYU vs. Florida: BYU
Northern Illinois Closing in on Coach.Northern Illinois has narrowed their search for a new head basketball coach to four coaches with varying degrees of experience. Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, Wisconsin assistant Greg Gard, and South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy are all on the NIU short list to replace Ricardo Patton who was fired after four seasons on the job. Giacoletti has been an assistant coach at Gonzaga the past three seasons after head coaching stints at North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and Utah. He took the Utes to the Sweet Sixteen and was named National Coach of the Year in 2006.
He is considered one of the top assistants in the country and his hiring would be a huge coup for NIU athletic director Jeff Compher. Giacoletti is considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country and is expected to target the talent rich Chicago area as his primary recruiting base. He is a native of Peoria, IL and has extensive ties throughout Illinois high school basketball which should translate into a major talent upgrade for the Huskies who finished 7-22 this past season. Nagy has had an excellent run as the Jackrabbits head coach for the past fifteen seasons and has solid ties to the state of Illinois growing up in Champaign while his father Dick was the top assistant to Illini head coach Lou Henson. Both Gard and Lusk are considered to be among the best assistants in the country with solid records in recruiting and excellent knowledge of the game.
Loyola is also looking for a new head coach after saying goodbye to Jim Whitesell and their search has Indiana ties because the Ramblers new athletic director Grace Calhoun comes from Indiana University where she was the associate AD. Known to be on the Ramblers list of candidates are IU assistant coach Tim Buckley, IPFW head coach and former Hoosiers standout Dane Fife, and I am hearing from several sources that Hall of Famer and current Florida International coach Isiah Thomas is interested in returning to his hometown. However, sources also tell me that Loyola does not have serious interest in Thomas.
Finally, staying on coaching vacancies in the state of Illinois I did some homework on the Bradley job which opened a couple of weeks ago. Candidates on the Braves list include Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter who has emerged as the front runner for the vacancy. Several major boosters of the program are upset at the firing of Jim Les who had done a very solid job until an injury plagued season this year. In addition, Bradley's top returning player guard Sam Maniscalco who completed his degree requirements but has one year of eligibility remaining has decided to transfer to Illinois in the wake of Les' ouster. Bradley has also been in contact with IPFW coach Dane Fife and made a run at Long Beach State coach Dan Monson but he reportedly informed the school that he had no interest in the job. Other candidates for the job are Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard, Kansas assistant Barry Hinson, Michigan State assistant Mark Montgomery, and Purdue assistant Paul Lusk. One drawback to the job appears to be meddling from the upper administration which has given the job a negative perception in the coaching world.
David Kaplan is the host of Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet. Follow him on Twitter @thekapman.