In-flux Temple secondary readies for Rees, Irish

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In-flux Temple secondary readies for Rees, Irish

The ballad of Tommy Rees has taken more twists and turns than Chubby Checker in a blender.

In 2010, he appeared in nine games, started four, won each of those starts, and became the first freshman in Notre Dame history to lead the program to a bowl victory.

In 2011, he took over for Dayne Crist -- remember him? -- at halftime of Week 1 and started every game thereafter.

In 2012, following an eventful summer, he lost his starting gig to the talented Everett Golson, but had to bail out the true freshman on numerous occasions to keep Notre Dame's perfect season and national title chances alive.

Through it all, Rees has emerged as Notre Dame's all-time leader in completion percentage (63.8). So why does it feel like he isn't supposed to be in this position heading into the start of his senior season?

Rees reclaimed his role as the starter this past offseason when Golson was suspended for the Fall 2013 semester. Golson referred to his offense as an exercise in "poor academic judgment."

That leaves Rees -- odd as it almost seems, since head coach Brian Kelly had basically moved away from him -- back under center in his final season in South Bend.

It also makes him the first challenge for a Temple team that opens the season at No. 14 Notre Dame this Saturday.

"They've had an outstanding offense anywhere Coach Kelly's ever been," Temple coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday. "Tommy Rees has 18 career starts. I know he came in last year, he won their Next Man in Award, he saved some games for them. He's going to do an outstanding job as a senior.

"They have a great stable of running backs.

"Chris Watt is as good a guard there is, so they'll protect and get the ball down the field. [Senior wide receiver] T.J. Jones, No. 7, we're going to have to find a way to handle him, because he's both a vertical threat and you can just throw the ball up and he'll go make a play on the ball. Even when he's covered, he's not covered."

None of this sounds great for a Temple defense that ceded 31.2 points and 437.1 yards per game and ranked dead last in the Big East in nearly every defensive category last year. Of particular concern was a secondary that came away with just four interceptions, the fourth-lowest total in the FBS.

One year later, sophomore corner Tavon Young, who came away with two of Temple's four picks in 2012, appears to have overtaken nicked up senior Zamel Johnson on the right side. Junior Anthony Robey, who broke up a team-high six passes, remains on the left.

"We've been banged up a little bit," Rhule said. "I'm really pleased with Anthony Robey. I think he's matured. I think he's developed himself into a starting corner. Tavon Young and Zamel have been battling it out. I think as of right now, Tavon probably starts the game."

And at safety?

"At safety," Rhule replied, laughing a bit, "it's kind of been a rotating thing there."

Temple's depth chart currently lists senior Abdul Smith and redshirt freshman Stephaun Marshall at the free and strong safety positions. Smith, a transfer from Rutgers, didn't get consistent time with the Scarlet Knights nor under former head coach Steve Addazio -- despite what obviously wasn't working in coverage. As for Marshall, he's yet to see college action.

Behind those two are sophomore Will Hayes (didn't play in a game last year), redshirt freshman Nate L. Smith (didn't play in a game last year) and true freshman Jihaad Pretlow (didn't play in a game last year).

If you're keeping score, four of the five guys just listed did not play in a game last year.

Nonetheless, Rhule has maintained throughout camp that he's been encouraged by the competition, not discouraged as if he doesn't have anyone he can play.

"I'm not sure who will start," he said. "I've said a couple times, we're not real big at safety, so we'll probably have to rotate guys so they last throughout the year. Whether it's Abdul or Pretlow or Will Hayes, Nate L. Smith's starting to come on a little bit. Those guys will probably rotate in."

Whoever it is will have their work cut out against Brian Kelly's offense.

"They'll run the ball, run the ball, run the ball and then take a shot in play-action," Rhule said.

"And then there are certainly some things in their empty-passing game that present problems, because Rees is so smart. He doesn't take sacks. He doesn't get sacked."

True, but he does turn the ball over. Temple may have only come away with four interceptions last year, but Rees' touchdown-to-interception ratio is major part of what's held him back. In three seasons, he's thrown 34 touchdowns against 24 interceptions.

Factor that into his completion percentage and somebody's catching just about everything he throws -- it just depends which team. It's been enough of an issue that defensive coordinators have found success on passing down rushing three and dropping eight into coverage against the immobile Rees.

Forcing Rees into some poor decisions, or just allowing him to make them, might be Temple's best strategy, especially with an inexperienced and interchangeable group of safeties. But that means the Owls' linebackers and defensive tackles will have to do their part on first and second down against the run. If Temple can't bottle the run, it'll fall victim to what Rees does best in play-action.

"We're going to have to find a way to take some of the pressure off ours corners and safeties," Rhule said. "Otherwise, they're going to be holding up [one-on-one in pass coverage] for a long time, which is difficult to do against this group."

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Sindarius Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and seventh-seeded South Carolina stunned No. 2 seed Duke 88-81 on Sunday night to advance to its first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament's expanded bracket.

The Gamecocks (24-10) trailed by 10 points early in the second half after one of its coldest shooting stretches of the season to start. But behind Thornwell's outside shooting and Silva's dominance underneath, South Carolina rallied to win two NCAA games for the first time in 44 years.

The Gamecocks rushed to their fans when things were over, celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.

Next up is the East Regional at Madison Square Garden where the Gamecocks will face third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.

Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina's stifling defense. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out (see full recap).

Wagner's big game sends Michigan past Louisville in NCAAs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight -- six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Missouri, their first since 2014.

Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.

But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.

Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner's 3-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way (see full recap).

Ball helps UCLA past Cincinnati to earn Sweet 16 trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Lonzo Ball scored 19 points and ignited UCLA's rally from a poor start with nine assists, lifting the third-seeded Bruins to a 79-67 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday in the South Regional.

UCLA (31-4) had a hard time solving sixth-seeded Cincinnati's active defense in the first half, unable to get shots to drop or get out in transition. The Bruins found a new gear in the second half, breaking out for dunks and dropping in strings of 3-pointers to quickly push the lead to double digits.

Now UCLA is headed to its third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons under coach Steve Alford, erasing -- at least in part -- the 15-17 letdown of a year ago.

The Bruins will face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Memphis.

Cincinnati (30-6) had no real answer when the Bruins got rolling falling short of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012 (see full recap).

UNC survives close scare from Arkansas
After blowing a 17-point lead, No. 1 seed North Carolina came from behind in the second half to beat Arkansas 72-65 and advance to the NCAA South Region semifinals. North Carolina next faces Butler.

The ACC had nine teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, but seven of them already have lost. The ACC still could get a second team into the Sweet 16, as Duke faces South Carolina later tonight.

North Carolina also avoided becoming the second No. 1 seed to exit this tournament. Defending national champion Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, lost to Wisconsin on Saturday (see full recap).

Josh Jackson heats up in second half to lift Kansas over Michigan State
TULSA, Okla. -- Josh Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half to help Kansas pull away late and reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday.

Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (30-4), who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine of coach Bill Self's 14 seasons.

Devonte' Graham added 18 points and Landen Lucas had 10 for the Jayhawks, who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.

Miles Bridges scored 22 points to lead Michigan State (20-15) despite leaving briefly in the first half with an injury. Nick Ward also finished in double figures with 13 points and Joshua Langford had 10 for the Spartans (see full recap).

Kentucky edges out Wichita State with block at the buzzer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bam Adebayo had a double-double and swatted away the final shot on Sunday as Kentucky sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in the South region.

The youngest team in the NCAA Tournament grew up in the closing minutes.

Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made a pair of free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo clinched it by blocking Landry Shamet's 3-pointer shot at the buzzer.

Yes, Kentucky's freshman trio did it all.

Wham, Bam, move on `Cats (31-5), right into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years (see full recap).

NCAA Tournament Wrap: West Virginia, Gonzaga advance to Sweet 16

NCAA Tournament Wrap: West Virginia, Gonzaga advance to Sweet 16

SALT LAKE CITY -- Top-seeded Gonzaga fought off a wild Northwestern comeback for a 79-73 victory Saturday night with help from an untimely technical foul on Wildcats coach Chris Collins.

Northwestern trimmed a 22-point deficit to five and had the ball when Gonzaga's Zach Collins reached up through the basket to reject Dererk Pardon's shot with 4:54 left.

There was no call, and Collins, jawing with the officials all day, ran onto the court and was slapped with a technical foul.

Nigel Williams-Goss made both free throws, and eighth-seeded Northwestern (24-12) -- in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history -- never got closer.

Williams-Goss led the Zags (34-1) with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Collins and Jordan Mathews had 14 points each.

Bryant McIntosh, who hit the go-ahead free throws in Northwestern's opening-round win, had 20 for the Wildcats and Vic Law had 18 (see full recap).

West Virginia beats Notre Dame to advance to Sweet 16
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jevon Carter scored 24 points, and West Virginia is headed to the Sweet 16 for the third time since 2010 following a 83-71 win over Notre Dame.

Tarik Phillip added 12 points and Esa Ahmad had nine rebounds for the Mountaineers (28-8), the West region's fourth-seeded team.

Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson hit 10 of 15 shots, scored 27 points and had eight rebounds. The fifth-seeded Fighting Irish (26-10) were stopped from making their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance after entering the tournament as the only school to reach each of the past two Elite Eight rounds.

Carter ended the game by bouncing the ball untouched atop the Fighting Irish key and then slamming it emphatically to the court as the final buzzer sounded, ending a matchup of former Big East rivals.

After trailing 68-58 with just under 5 minutes left, the Fighting Irish made one last run, cutting the lead to 72-66 on Matt Ryan's 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:06 remaining.

Carter then countered on West Virginia's next possession by hitting a fall-away 3-pointer from the left wing (see full recap).

No. 11 Xavier upsets No. 3 FSU, 91-66, in second round
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Trevon Bluiett scored 29 points and Kaiser Gates came off the bench to contribute 14 as the 11 seed Xavier pulled off its second upset of the NCAA Tournament with a 91-66 victory over third-seeded Florida State during Saturday's second round.

The Musketeers (23-13) advance to the West Region semifinal marking the second time in two years and the eighth time in program history they have made it to the Sweet 16. The Seminoles, the ACC runners-up, end their season at 26-9.

Florida State was the bigger program from a power conference, but Xavier came in as a tournament tested team and it showed. The Musketeers dominated the bigger and more athletic Seminoles inside and then put the game out of reach with their superior 3-point shooting.

Xavier shot nearly 65 percent from 3-point range, converting 11 of 17 from long range, while the Seminoles made just four of 21 3-point attempts for the game. The Seminoles, who figured to have the size advantage inside with 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje protecting the rim, were outscored in the paint 36-26.

Xavier, which defeated No. 6 Maryland in the first round, shot 55.6 from the field for the game and led by as many as 25 points late in the second half.

Dwayne Bacon led the Seminoles with 20 points (see full recap).

Markkanen, Trier lead Arizona to 69-60 win over Saint Mary's
Salt Lake City -- Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier combined for 30 points and No. 2-seeded Arizona rallied to defeat No. 7 Saint Mary's 69-60 and advance to the West Regional's Sweet Sixteen on Saturday night.

The Wildcats were on the ropes in the first half, but found life in the second half to pull away for the win.

The teams went back and forth in the second 20 minutes until Arizona went on an 11-2 run sparked by Trier, who took over the second half. He scored nine of those 11 points during the stretch with a dribble-drive layup, midrange jumpers and a 3-pointer. The run gave the Wildcats a 55-48 lead and Saint Mary's never led again.

Arizona shot 59.1 percent from the field in the second half.

Markkanen finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Trier scored 14.

Jock Landale battled with Markkanen throughout and had his 17th double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels. Teammate Calvin Hermanson added 14 points (see full recap).

Swanigan powers Purdue past Iowa State
MILWAUKEE -- Caleb Swanigan had 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and Purdue reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years with a wild 80-76 victory over Iowa State on Saturday night.

The Cyclones erased a 19-point deficit in the second half, taking their first lead of the game on Deonte Burton's two free throws with 3:11 left. But P.J. Thompson responded with a critical 3-pointer for the Boilermakers, and Swanigan made several huge plays in the final minutes.

After Dakota Mathias missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11 seconds left and Purdue clinging to a 78-76 lead, Swanigan tracked down the rebound to set up Thompson's free throws with 7 seconds remaining. Monte Morris missed a 3 on the other end, and time ran out for Iowa State.

Vince Edwards had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Purdue (27-7), and Isaac Haas finished with 14 points (see full recap).

Florida routs Virginia to move on to Sweet 16
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Devin Robinson had 14 points and 11 rebounds, the fifth double-double of his career, and No. 4 seed Florida handled fifth-seeded Virginia 65-39 on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Justin Leon added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Gators (26-8), who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the 11th time in school history and fifth in the last seven years. They will play No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the East Regional in New York City on Friday.

They can thank stingy defense and a ridiculous run spanning halftime for this trip to Madison Square Garden.

Florida held Virginia (23-11) to a season-low 17 points in the first half and 30.2 percent shooting on the night. The turning point came late in the first half, when the Gators started a 21-0 run that was their most lopsided of the season (see full recap).

Sweet again: Butler beats MTSU, gets back to NCAA regionals
MILWAUKEE -- Kelan Martin scored 19 points, and Butler limited Middle Tennessee's athletic scorers with smothering defense in a 74-65 victory Saturday night to advance to the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.

The Bulldogs (25-8) are going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011, when they wrapped up back-to-back appearances in the national title game.

Andrew Chrabascz added 15 points for fourth-seeded Butler, including a 3 with 3:25 left that snapped a 7-0 run for Middle Tennessee to get the lead back to 62-56.

The senior forward played an even more important role in leading a sterling defensive effort for the Bulldogs.

Conference USA player of the year JaCorey Williams finished with 20 points, but had to work hard for nearly every bucket for No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee (31-5).

Giddy Potts, who averaged nearly 16 points a game this year, was held scoreless, going 0 of 8 from the field (see full recap).