Marquette is a No. 2 seed again in March Madness, hopes to seize opportunity in South Region

Thu, Mar 21, 2024
NCAAB News (AP)

Marquette is a No. 2 seed again in March Madness, hopes to seize opportunity in South Region

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Marquette is determined to do more with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament than it did last year.

The Golden Eagles squandered their high seed a year ago, losing in the second round to 10th-seeded Michigan State.

Their first task: Play like a big favorite against No. 15 seed Western Kentucky in the first round of the South Region on Friday.

"I think we found that edge all season," senior forward Oso Ighodaro said Thursday. "When we're playing at our best, we have it and that's something that we've been really focusing on during this two-game tournament."

Being closer to full strength has Marquette (25-9) feeling confident.

Standout point guard Tyler Kolek is expected to return from a six-game absence because of an oblique strain. The nation's top playmaker (7.6 assists per game) has practiced this week and coach Shaka Smart indicated that he'll play, although Kolek acknowledged his recovery has had obstacles.

Teammate Kam Jones had to help him out of a chair after a class. Kolek also struggled to close a car door. Fortunately for Marquette, he looked pretty fluid shooting 3s during practice on Thursday.

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"It was a three-to-four-week injury, so we're still kind of on the front end of it a little bit," he said. "But I made great progress. The doctors really took care of me. I did everything that I could to get back."

The Golden Eagles went 3-3 without Kolek, including last week's 73-57 loss to defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed UConn in the Big East Tournament championship game. Smart, eyeing the big picture, held Kolek out as a precaution.

"He just wasn't quite ready in terms of going through all the things he needed to go through," Smart said. "I think the biggest challenge for him (Friday) is going to be the psychological part of coming back to playing after three weeks of not playing. He's a very, very thoughtful, intentional, serious person and player, and he wants to get everything right."

Western Kentucky (22-11) is making its first March Madness appearance since 2013 and seeking its first tournament win since 2012 in the First Four.

The Hilltoppers staged a remarkable turnaround after closing the regular season on a four-game slide. They regrouped to win the next three and claim their first Conference USA Tournament championship in coach Steve Lutz's first season.

"During the losing streak, sometimes teams went on runs and we kind of put our heads down," Western Kentucky junior guard Don McHenry said. "Whereas at the conference tournament, we just stayed through it together through everything, knowing if something goes wrong, we've got to bounce back from this. We can't lose. It was a bit more focused and there was a bit more fight to us."

DUKE LOSES FOSTER

Duke coach Jon Scheyer said a right ankle injury will keep freshman guard Caleb Foster out of the NCAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils open against 13th-seeded Vermont on Friday in New York at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.

Foster (7.7 points per game, 41% on 3-pointers) has missed the past five games but Duke had hoped he might return for the tournament. He had seen multiple doctors and even tried to practice this week, but Scheyer said Foster "wasn't able to be himself."

Vermont is making its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance and is 2-9 overall, including an upset of Syracuse as a 13 seed in 2005. The Catamounts feature eight new players, including four transfers. The transfers include leading scorer TJ Long, who rooted against Duke while growing up in the New York area.

FREE-FLOWING FLORIDA

Held to its second-lowest point total in an 86-67 loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, No. 7 seed Florida hopes to resume its high-scoring ways against 10th-seeded Colorado in New York.

The Gators credit their second-year coach, Todd Golden, for their success on offense.

"I think a lot of us have freedom, the freedom to do things that's tailored to our game," said guard Walter Clayton Jr., whose 17.1-point average leads four Gators in double figures.

"I think our offense has a lot of movement in it. We just get moving, get the bigs involved a lot, and just obviously I think (point guard Zyon Pullen) does a great job getting us shots, and that allows the whole team to just play free."

Florida is 4-3 this month with two 100-point efforts against Alabama alone. The Gators, who won national titles in 2006 and '07, are playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021.

UPSET ADVICE

James Madison coach Mark Byington watched Florida Atlantic make its surprising run to last year's Final Four and wondered what it would take for the Dukes to do something similar. So he called his friend, FAU coach Dusty May.

"I wanted to see what was the natural, or what was the magic," Byington said. "I have great respect for him as a coach and what he's done there, and it just so happened they are up in Brooklyn."

The 12th-seeded Dukes (31-3) are tied with No. 1 seed UConn for the most victories in the country and face fifth-seeded Wisconsin in Brooklyn. JMU is making its first March Madness appearance since 2013 and third since 1984.

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AP College Sports Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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