NCAA Spotlight on the Aussie Men: March Madness in Review

Damian Arsenis checks back in with all the latest on the Aussie men who played in NCAA Division I post season action.

March and the madness that it brought is now all over. Sadly for the Australian men, nobody managed to progress any further than Mangok Mathiang and the Louisville Cardinals who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. With the Final Four scheduled for this coming weekend and the season all but over the for Aussies, it is time to recap the NCAA post-season action.

NCAA Tournament (NCAA)

#4 Louisville | Mangok Mathiang

The 2013 reigning national champions and #4 seed Louisville entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation after scorching the American Athletic Conference on their way to the big dance. The #4 seed allocated by the selection committee was arguably a slap in the face, however the Cardinals made the deepest run of any team featuring an Aussie in this year's tournament with 6'10" freshman forward Mangok Mathiang playing a key support role off the bench through the year.

Mangok Mathiang with the block against Southern Mississippi - Courtesy University of Louisville

Getting things underway in round 2, the Cardinal had to fight hard to shake off a pesky Manhattan, eventually pulling away in the last 2 minutes to prevail 71-64. Mathiang only saw 7 minutes in which he compiled 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal in a minor role. In round 3, Mathiang stepped up for 11 minutes on court in which he contributed 3 points, 1 rebound and 1 block as the Cardinal moved into the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive year. Louisville proved to strong for Saint Louis all over the court in winning 66-51.

With high expectations of securing a berth in the Elite Eight, the Cardinals needed to take care of business against Kentucky and their NBA caliber talent. Despite building a double-digit lead in the first half and by 3 points at the main break, Louisville were unable to hold off the Wildcats as they fell short 69-74. Mathiang gained some valuable experience in delivering 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 17 important minutes. While it may have been considered a disappointing finish to the season for the reigning national champions, the experience gained by their raw Aussie forward may prove invaluable for the following year.

#7 New Mexico | Cameron Bairstow & Hugh Greenwood

After accounting for Mountain West Conference champions San Diego State in the conference tournament, New Mexico were snubbed by the selection committee by being given a #7 seed in comparison with the Aztec's #4 seed. The Lobos were primed to make amends for being bundled out in their first game of the tournament in 2013 and were pitted against the Pac-12's fifth best team in Stanford first up. It was the Cardinals who took the initiative as they established a 16-point first half lead as the Lobos spluttered. New Mexico fought back with an 8-0 run to close within 5 by the half time break, but they needed to play better if they wanted to advance. Their best option was clearly 6'9" senior forward Cameron Bairstow who appeared to be near unstoppable. The Lobos went to their big Aussie in the second half and he delivered, nailing his first 4 shots and enabling his team to tie the game at apiece. However Bairstow was playing a lone hand as the Lobos failed to get decent output from their other key players in Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk. Without another scoring option to support Bairstow, it would ultimately prove the Lobos downfall as they once again exited the big dance early (53-58).

Bairstow was big-time on the big stage yet again, scoring a game-high 24 points on 10/18 shooting alongside 8 rebounds and 1 block in playing a tireless 39 minutes. He ends his collegiate career following an outstanding senior year where he averaging an impressive 20.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Hugh Greenwood was his usual solid self, adding 9 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block before fouling out in 35 minutes. It ends what was a very good season by the Lobos, but one that also feels like it ended far too early for a team with the talent it boasted. So close, yet also so far. Next year Greenwood will need to step up his scoring output to help cover for the graduating duo of Bairstow and guard Kendall Williams.

#16 Albany Great Danes | Luke Devlin, Sam Rowley, Peter Hooley & Mike Rowley

Albany rode the hot shooting of sophomore guard Peter Hooley to the America East tournament title and with it a ticket to the big dance. With the #16 seed, the Great Danes were chosen to play in one of the "First Four" games to open the 2014 edition of the NCAA Tournament, and they did not disappoint. Taking on fellow #16 seed Mount St. Mary's, it proved to be a close encounter with neither team giving anything away. Hooley was once again inspiring, scoring a 20 points (7/14 FG) with 4 rebounds and 3 assists in a blemish free 40 minutes as the Great Danes held off the Mountaineer's to win 71-64. Forward Sam Rowley was almost as impressive, pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds with 8 points, 1 assist in 37 minutes on court. Luke Devlin in a cameo off the bench had 2 rebounds, 2 assist and 1 steal in 10 minutes as the Great Danes booked a date with #1 seed Florida.

The Aussies at Albany: 2014 America East Champions - Courtesy Peter Hooley

Faced with the daunting task of Florida, Albany took on their more fancied foe with great aplomb and making the Gators look like they were beatable. The Great Danes hit 10/15 from the field to open the game and take the contest right up to Florida, raising hopes of the first upset of the tournament. In the end, Albany was outscored by the Gators by just 6 points in each half in what turned out to be a highly respectable 55-67 loss. Florida did their homework though, restricting Hooley to just 6 points on 1/10 shooting although he was able to collect 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals along the journey. Sam Rowley was also well covered, with just 3 points on 1/8 from the field alongside 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Mike Rowley saw his first NCAA Tournament action in logging 3 minutes on court, while Devlin closed out his college career with 2 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block. With most of their core returning, Albany will be aiming for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, with their Australian contingent playing a major role in their ongoing success.

#12 North Carolina State | Jordan Vandenberg

Given an invitation to the big dance by the selection committee, like Albany, they were tasked with playing a "First Four" contest to prove their worth. The #12 seeded Wolfpack took on fellow #12 seed Xavier and were able to pull away for a convincing 74-59 victory. North Carolina's 7'1" senior center Jordan Vandenberg was efficient in hitting 4/5 from the field on his way to 9 points with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and an impressive 4 blocked shots in 25 minutes. With the win, the Wolfpack progressed to a 2nd round showdown with #5 seed Saint Louis.

Vandenberg the man in the middle - Courtesy North Carolina State University

Unlike Xavier, Saint Louis would prove to be a far more formidable opponent in what proved to be a very entertaining game between two tough teams. North Carolina State gained the early ascendancy as they managed to build a 4 point lead by the main break. The Wolfpack would continue to build the lead to as many as 16 before the Billiken's fought back. In a frantic final minute, the scores remained tied at 70 despite a final second chance by the Wolfpack and an extra period was needed to separate the two teams. As history now shows, the Billiken's managed to edge ahead to eventually record an 83-80 win. For Vandenberg who contributed 3 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 2 blocks, it would prove to be his final collegiate game after an injury interrupted 5 years at North Carolina State.

National Invitational Tournament (NIT)

#4 Saint Mary's | Matt Hodgson & Dane Pineau

After failing to earn a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the Gael's were invited to the NIT and were drawn to take on #5 seed Utah in the first round. Despite trailing by 7 points at the main break, Saint Mary's stormed back in the second half to earn a well deserved 70-58 win. Senior 6'11" center Matt Hodgson enjoyed a fruitful game, going a perfect 4/4 from the field in finishing with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 4 blocks in 18 minutes off the bench. Fellow compatriot Dane Pineau, a 6'9" freshman forward from Melbourne logged 5 minutes as the Gael's advanced to a round 2 clash with Minnesota.

Saint Mary's carried their momentum into the game against the Gophers, scoring the first 14 points of the game. However that lead was slowly whittled down by Minnesota who regrouped and then closed to within 4 points at half time. The Gophers then outscored the Gael's by 12 points in the second half to end the game 63-55 victors and ending Saint Mary's season in the process. Hodgson again was rock solid in providing 6 points (3/5 FG), 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks in his final game of college basketball. Pineau did not see any action but is likely to play a larger role for the Gael's next season.

#5 Louisiana State | Darcy Malone

Like the Gael's, Louisiana State make a solid start to the NIT by earning a good win against #4 seed San Francisco 71-63. The Tigers were able to win without needing the services of 7'0" freshman center Darcy Malone who has been biding his time behind star center/forward Johnny O'Bryant III. Next the Tigers took on #1 seed Southern Methodist and were outclassed 67-80. Malone again did not see any action as the Tigers season came to an end.

CBI Tournament (CBI)

Wyoming | Nathan Sobey

Taking on Texas A&M, Wyoming started badly, trailing 16-32 by half time. While the Cowboys regrouped in the locker room, the damage was already done as Wyoming would eventually lose by 16 (43-59) to end a promising season derailed by an injury to star player Larry Nance Jr. Starting senior guard Nathan Sobey contributed 9 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 steal in 31 minutes in what turned out to be his last game in what was an outstanding final year of college.

Oregon State | Angus Brandt

Also ending his collegiate career after 5 years was 6'10" center Angus Brandt. It was not the ending he would have hoped for as the Beavers lost 92-96 despite outscoring their Radford by 8 in the second half. In an old-fashioned shoot-out, Brandt would finish with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 1 blocked shot to complete a solid season following his return from knee surgery.

South Dakota State | Matt Donlan

In the first round of the CBI, South Dakota took on Old Dominion and never seriously threatened in going down 65-72. 6'6" freshman guard Matt Donlan did not see any action.

CIT Tournament (CIT)

Pacific | Spencer Llewellyn Grand Canyon | Sam Daly

Pacific took on Grand Canyon in the first round of the CIT and it delivered a close finish. Despite trailing by 10 points at the main break, the Tigers would storm home to steal a 69-67 win. Both Spencer Llewellyn and Sam Daly took no part in the game. The Tigers then dismantled Texas A&M-CC to the tune of 89-60 to book a semi final clash with San Diego. Pacific were then workmanlike in advancing to the semi-final of the CIT as they defeated San Diego 75-60. Llewellyn has so far not seen any post-season action for the Tigers. Pacific take on Murray State in the semi-final on 2 April Australian time.

What a big season for the Aussies! Stay tuned for Damian's much-anticipated All-Australian Awards for season 2013/14!