NCAA BK

Injured Abromaitis, Strickland watch teams play on

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)

Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis and North Carolina's Dexter Strickland watch games and wish they could help their teammates. Things will only get worse now that the Fighting Irish and Tar Heels are in the NCAA tournament.

Both players are recovering from torn knee ligaments that ended their seasons, leaving them as spectators for Thursday's practices at the Greensboro Coliseum.

''At this point, it's more the mental pain of not playing, I guess you could call it, and knowing the season is coming to an end,'' said Abromaitis, a fifth-year graduate student. ''At the same time, it's been fulfilling to be a part of this team and experience the success with them.''

Abromaitis was a preseason all-Big East pick who was hurt in a November practice. Strickland was a starting guard for UNC, the team's best perimeter defender and the backup point guard before he was hurt in a win at Virginia Tech in January. He's recovering from reconstructive surgery last month.

''I've felt like I could've helped my team out in so many different ways,'' Strickland said. ''But I think it's a good thing for me also, just sitting down and getting a better sense of what coach (Roy Williams) wants and actually see what he's talking about.''

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MENTOR'S APPROVAL: Murray State coach Steve Prohm's nervousness Thursday had nothing to do with his first NCAA tournament appearance.

Instead, his old boss and mentor, Billy Kennedy, was watching in person for the first time. Kennedy coached the Racers for five seasons before departing to lead Texas A&M this season.

''I was a little nervous,'' Prohm said. ''Man, if he comes and we lose, it's going to be really disappointing.''

Instead, the sixth-seeded Racers topped Colorado State 58-41 in Louisville, Ky., and will face third-seeded Marquette in the West Regional on Saturday.

Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease earlier this year and the players often talk about their former coach's presence in their lives even after he left.

''For him to come down and watch us compete in the NCAA tournament is a great feeling. I'm sure he's proud of us,'' point guard Isaiah Canaan said. ''We're just going to go out and just try to play and finish the legacy that he started at Murray State.''

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HAPPY FOR A HAIRCUT: Mike Scott and Jontel Evans are sporting new hairdos in Omaha, Neb., after making good on their promises to cut their hair if Virginia made it to the NCAA tournament.

Scott and Evans showed up at a team party on Selection Sunday with poofed-out hair, though the clippers were out an hour after the Cavaliers' West Regional game against Florida was announced.

Scott vowed late last season to not get his hair cut until Virginia made the NCAAs.

''I don't know how the women, how you guys can do your hair,'' he said. ''I was getting my hair done once a week, trying to get a new `do' every game. I'm glad it's over.''

Coach Tony Bennett said he likes the way Scott and Evans look.

''They're a little more aerodynamic,'' he said.

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RECRUITING GIMMICK: Forget the posh locker room or beautiful basketball court. St. Bonaventure's biggest edge in convincing Andrew Nicholson to play for the Bonnies was a new science building. Really.

''It was just a perfect match,'' St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said.

The 6-foot-9 Nicholson is averaging 18.4 points per game, a key reason why the 14th-seeded Bonnies will meet No. 3 seed Florida State on Friday in the East Regional in Nashville, Tenn. And the Atlantic 10 player of the year who started as a chemistry major will be finishing with a degree in physics, a change made only because Nicholson faced three-hour chemistry labs this year.

''He has three more classes to graduate with a physics degree so he can be a physicist, whatever that does,'' Schmidt said.

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PRESIDENTIAL PICKS: North Carolina State is seeded 11th in the Midwest Regional, but coach Mark Gottfried is feeling the heat because his team has become a popular choice by some bracketologists - including President Barack Obama.

Obama selected the Wolfpack to beat San Diego State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, and make it all the way to the round of 16.

Gottfried, who worked as a TV analyst before taking over at N.C. State, said he sent a text to an ESPN reporter about Obama's picks.

''I actually sent Andy Katz a text this morning and I told him that the President's trying to get votes; I'm trying to get wins,'' he cracked. ''It's a little different. We respect his opinion. But we also understand this game will be decided once the ball goes up in the air.''

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BIG BROTHER: The NCAA tournament really is a family affair for two Alabama players.

Trevor Releford's older brother Travis plays for Kansas while Andrew Steele's older brother Ronald previously played for the Crimson Tide. Both sought and received advice from their big brothers on their upcoming Midwest Regional game Friday against Creighton.

''I talked to him a lot about it and he told me that it's one of the most exciting things you can go through, but you have to remember that at the end of the of the day it's still basketball,'' Steele said. ''And you got to have the right mindset coming in to win.''

Releford said he got similar advice.

''My brother told me there's no better feeling than winning and advancing, because it gets better and better,'' Releford said. ''And I just want to see how it goes from there.''

Tagged: North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame, Jontel Evans, Dexter Strickland, Andrew Steele, Andrew Nicholson, Tim Abromaitis, Mike Scott, Trevor Releford

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