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NCAA Tournament Day 3 recap

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pitt 70

This wasn’t only the game of the day. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games that I’ve seen in, well, ever. Butler and Pitt spent the first 39 minutes and change slugging this one out. Pitt kept trying to open up a lead, but Butler’s Shelvin Mack was playing one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points, hitting countless big jumpers, to keep the Bulldogs in it. As good as the game was, all anyone is going to talk about is the ending.

Pitt eventually took a 69-68 lead, but Butler had the ball with 7.1 seconds left in the game. They inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who drove and found Andrew Smith for a layup with 2.2 seconds left. Pitt didn’t have any timeouts left, so Ashton Gibbs led Gilbert Brown up the sideline when Mack fouled him with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first and missed the second, but Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard with 0.8 seconds left on the rebound. Howard hit one of two, and Butler took out the first No. 1 seed.

Player of the Day: Kemba Walker, UConn

UConn may very well be the hottest team in the country, having now won seven straight games in March. And Kemba Walker could very well be the hottest player in the country. He scored 130 points as UConn won five straight games in the Big East Tournament before he went for 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards in a first round win over Bucknell.

Kemba was just as hot against Cincinnati on Saturday night. He had 33 points, six boards, and five assists. More impressively, however, is that after struggling through the first 10 minutes of the second half — scoring two points as he battled what appeared to be a wrist injury — Walker scored 16 points to help hold off a scrappy Bearcat team.

Team of the Day: Wisconsin Badgers

I’ve said it numerous times in this space — Jordan Taylor is arguably the best point guard in the country and inarguably the most important player on the Wisconsin team. I’ve also said that Jacob Pullen is the guy that Kansas State needs to go off if they hope to make run in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday night, Pullen scored 38 points and showed off every reason he has cemented himself as a legend in Manhattan, Kan., while Jordan Taylor struggled his way to a 2-16 shooting performance.

But at the end of the game, it was Wisconsin — and Taylor — that made all of the big plays. The Badgers erased a six-point deficit late in the game, and after Taylor nearly blew a three-point lead by fouling Pullen on three point attempt (he missed the second), Taylor blocked a game-tying three point try from Pullen to seal the game. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Wisconsin had a chance to win this game if I told you that Pullen scored 38 points and Taylor went 2-16?

No. 2 San Diego 71, No. 7 Temple 64, 2OT: The Aztecs did everything they could to hand this game to Temple. They turned the ball over in the back court. They failed to win the game at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime. But when the final buzzer sounded, SDSU picked up a win in the exact manner that you would expect. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas combined for 45 points, 31 boards (10 offensive), seven assists, five steals, and five blocks.

No. 4 Kentucky 71, No. 5 West Virginia 63: Just two days after hitting the game-winning shot — his only field goal of the game — Brandon Knight scored 30 points in a win over West Virginia. He sparked an 11-0 run to open the second half and erase an eight point half time deficit and then hit six free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Of note — it was the first time in eight years that John Calipari was able to knock off Bob Huggins.

No. 2 Florida 73, No. 7 UCLA 65: Erving Walker was the hero against UCLA scoring 10 of the last 12 Gator points and hitting two huge shots down the stretch. Walker finished with 21 points on just eight field goals attempts. The other important note from this game is that Kenny Boynton rolled his ankle in the second half. He came back and tried to play, but he was limping badly and was completely immobile.

No. 3 BYU 89, No. 11 Gonzaga 67: After getting 24 points and six assists from Marquise Carter in an impressive win over St. John’s in the first round of the tournament, the Zags were trending upwards. Or some we thought. Carter was a no-show and BYU ran Gonzaga on the floor. Jimmer Fredette finished with 34 points and six assists and Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock combined for 29 points and six threes.

No. 12 Richmond 65, No. 13 Morehead State 48: Morehead State had no answer for Richmond’s Justin Harper, who finished with a game-high 19 points as the Spiders advanced to the Sweet 16. Kevin Anderson added 14 points. Kenneth Faried had 13 boards, seven on the offensive end, but only managed to score 11 points. Demonte Harper had just four points on 2-15 shooting.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.