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Sweet 16 preview: West Region’s top players, champ

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The details: There are all kinds of intriguing storylines in this region. For starters, there is the potential matchup between Duke and UConn, who have played three times in the tournament, all of which have yielded classic games. There is Sean Miller, who has brought the Arizona program back to national relevancy with a Pac-10 title and a trip to the Sweet 16. Then there is Steve Fisher, the coach that went down with the Fab Five, potentially making his return to the Final Four.

Matchups

No. 2 San Diego State (34-2) vs. No. 3 UConn (28-9)
Time: 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 Duke (32-4) vs. No. 5 Arizona (29-7)
Time: 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS

Team to beat: Duke Blue Devils

I fully expect Kyrie Irving to be close to 100% by the time the Sweet 16 games roll around, meaning that Duke will once again be arguably the most talented team in the country. Kyle Singler was a preseason favorite for national player of the year, Irving was a favorite for national player of the year before he got hurt, and Nolan Smith has emerged as a favorite since Irving was injured. Not many teams can boast that kind of 1-2-3 punch. The problem? Duke’s weakness is on the interior, and the three teams that the Blue Devils can end up facing all have at least one powerful front court presence.

Team with nothing to lose: San Diego State

The Aztecs, despite being the No. 2 seed in the West region, are the underdog heading into the Sweet 16. They play in the Mountain West Conference. They played all of one BCS conference team this season, beating Cal by 20 points. They have a head coach with the reputation of a guy that just rolls the ball out. They were the trendy pick by analysts to get upset in the second round of the dance by Temple. This team has no expectations, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They head into the Sweet 16 playing without pressure.

Players to watch:

  • Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: Leonard is one of the most entertaining players in the country to watch, and its a shame that he isn’t known on a more national scale. When dreaming up a prototype small forward, you think of Leonard. He’s 6’6″, he’s got long arms, he’s quick and athletic and explosive. He attacks the glass as hard as anyone in the country, but he can also lead the break when need be. By the time he fully develops, he’s the kind of player that can average 15, 10, 5, 2, and 2.
  • Alex Oriakhi, UConn: Kemba Walker is the star. Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, and Shabazz Napier take turns as his sidekick. But Oriakhi may be the most important player on the roster outside of Walker. He’s really the only strong, interior presence the Huskies have. He defends the rim and is one of the best in the country at battling on the offensive glass.
  • Derrick Williams, Arizona: Like Leonard, Williams is probably a talent that you haven’t seen enough of this season. He’s a versatile, 6’8″ forward that can score from any where on the floor. He’s been good enough this season to warrant consideration as the No. 1 overall pick come June. And he’ll be a nightmare for the Plumlees to cover.
  • Nolan Smith, Duke: I fully expect Kyrie Irving to be back to full strength by the time the Sweet 16 games come around, which puts Smith in an awkward position. Will the senior that has become the team’s leader, star, and is a national player of the year candidate and defending champion be willing to play second fiddle to a freshman with seven games experience?

Coach under pressure: Jim Calhoun

The coach isn’t going to be under pressure as much as the team is. The Big East sent 11 schools to the NCAA Tournament. All but two of them have been eliminated. The other one? No. 11 seed Marquette, playing in the toughest region left. Its too much to say that the fate of the Big East is riding on UConn’s shoulders. But it isn’t too much to say that the Huskies are the conference’s only hope to make the Final Four.

Outcome: Duke is the favorite to reach the Final Four out of this region. But that doesn’t mean that they are going to have an easy road. Derrick Williams will be a matchup nightmare for the Plumlees or Ryan Kelly or Kyle Singler or whoever they end up putting on him. San Diego State’s front line will be even more difficult for Duke to matchup with. Billy White, Kawhi Leonard, and Malcolm Thomas are just that much more physical than Duke’s. Alex Oriakhi is a horse in the paint, and Duke has had issues with players of his ilk this season.

So much of what happens will depend on which Kyrie Irving we see. That said, my money is going to be on the winner of the San Diego State-UConn game.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.

PHOTO: Arizonas Kobi Simmons puts his chin above the rim

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 06:  Kobi Simmons in action during adidas Euriocamp Day 1 at La Ghirada sports center on June 6, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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Kobi Simmons has some ridiculous hops.

How ridiculous?

Well, take a look at this tweet:

His vertical is … 45 inches? That’s pretty impressive, but not quite as impressive as the pictures that he tweeted out, the full effect of which you cannot receive until you see the picture in it’s entirety:

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1. Look how high he is off the court.

2. Look at where his hand is in relation to the top of the back board.

3. … LOOK AT HIS CHIN!

I know that the angle of this picture is probably playing some visual tricks on us, but think about how high you have to be able to jump just to have a camera visually trick someone’s eyes into thinking your chin is above the backboard.

The Perry Ellis All-Stars

Michigan guard Spike Albrecht (2) makes a layup between Northern Michigan forward Brett Branstrom, top left, and center Vejas Grazulis (52) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Michigan won 70-44. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Beginning in September and running up until November 11th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

You know the feeling. You’re flipping between games and stumble upon him. Maybe it’s a team you only rarely catch, or maybe it’s a conference foe you’ve watched play dozens of times over the last few years, but as you watch for a few moments, that’s when you see him. You could have sworn he graduated last year. Or even maybe the year before. But alas, there he is. That four-year starter. The dude who got a medical redshirt. A graduate transfer. It’s one of college basketball’s enduring and unique phenomena.

We present, to you, the Perry Ellis All-Stars.

PERRY ELLIS ALL-STARS, FIRST TEAM

MVP G Spike Albrecht, Purdue: After averaging just 2.2 points and 0.7 assists per game for Michigan as a freshman, Albrecht broke through with one of the most memorable NCAA tournament title game performances of all-time against Louisville, hitting four of five 3-pointers, scoring 17 points and letting loose one of the most epic heat checks of all-time.

Albrecht’s career was set to come to a close with the Wolverines last year, but recovery from hip surgery didn’t go as quickly as hoped and he sat out with a medical redshirt. That paved the way for an intra-conference graduate transfer to West Lafayette, where the 24-year-old will bolster the backcourt and make legions of fans wonder how the hell he’s still playing college basketball.

G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State: Once best known for simply being Marcus Smart’s best friend, Forte has grown into his own and become one of the top – and most enduring – players in the Big 12. He’s averaged double-figures in scoring in every season and was set to be the face of the Cowboys last year in his senior season, but a torn elbow ligament delayed that final season to this year, when he’ll try to help the Brad Underwood era get off the ground as a likely all-conference player. Not bad for an unranked Class of 2012 recruit who many thought had his high-major opportunity only because of his friendship with a future top ten pick.

G Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford gets his spot on the first time because it feels like he’s been a major topic of conversation in hoops circles for a half-decade, even if it’s only been a little over two years. That’s what happens when you’re the shoot-happy son of the UCLA coach. He’s been a flashpoint for Bruins fans who have been less than thrilled with coach Steve Alford, given how much the offense – and shots – have gone through Bryce. With a monster freshman class coming to Westwood this season, Bryce’s role will be one of the more interesting subplots in college basketball this season.

F Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: The Charlotte native arrived in Chapel Hill as a McDonald’s All-American with expectations as large as his 6-foot-9, 315-pound frame. He averaged just 16 minutes per game as a freshman, but a productive NCAA tournament and as offseason dominated by talk of all the weight he lost propelled those expectations. He averaged 11 points and 7 boards in 23 minutes per game as a sophomore, but saw his minutes and production drop as a junior. A career that some thought would be a quick one at North Carolina will now reach its four-year conclusion this season, with Meeks a topic of discussion for the Tar Heels each and every offseason he’s been in Chapel Hill.

F Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson, another Class of 2012 recruit and McDonald’s All-American, returns for a fifth season with the Blue Devils due to a medical redshirt that was a product of a foot injury that cut Jefferson’s season last year short amid him putting up the best numbers of his career. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as he’s now part of a roster many have pegged as the best in the country, giving him a chance to pair another ring with the NCAA championship he won in 2015.

MORE: All-Americans | Impact Transfers | Expert Picks | Trending Programs

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 13: Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Amile Jefferson (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

PERRY ELLIS ALL-STARS, SECOND TEAM

G Stevie Clark, Oakland: Best known for his arrest after police said he was urinating out of a moving car, Clark attended two junior colleges and has now resurfaced at Oakland with two years of eligibility remaining.

G Katin Reinhardt, Marquette: After stops at USC and UNLV, the one-time top-40 2012 recruit — the supposed second-coming of Jimmer Fredette — is finishing his career in Milwaukee.

G Rodney Purvis: He started his career at N.C. State, transferred to UConn and submitted his name for NBA draft consideration, but the former top 15 prospect is back for his fifth year of college ball.

F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: The Badger senior was both a reserve and a starter in Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four runs and became something of an internet sensation with his fascination with stenographers. He’s now become one of the faces of the Wisconsin program and an outspoken socially conscious voice.

F Alex Murphy, Northeastern: A potential McDonald’s All-American in the Class of 2012, he enrolled at Duke a year early only to redshirt the 2011-12 season. After a year and a half seeing limited bench minutes, he transferred to Florida where, in the second half of the 2014-15 season, he saw limited bench minutes. An injury kept him out last season and, after receiving a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA, will play at Northeastern this year.

C Przmek Karnowski, Gonzaga: The 7-foot-1 Poland native is the veteran of 113 career games, but only five came last year after a back injury forced him to take a medical redshirt.

YUP, THEY’RE STILL IN SCHOOL, TOO

Dajuan Coleman, Syracuse
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
London Perrantes, Virginia
Tracy Abrams, Illinois
Dylan Ennis, Oregon
Je’lon Hornbeak, Monmouth
Myles Davis, Xavier
Tyler Lewis, Butler

PHOTO: Thad Matta models Ohio State’s new jerseys

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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One of the things that basketball programs like to do near the start of the season is to blast out the new version of their uniforms on social media.

It gets fans excited about the upcoming season, it gets players excited to throw those jerseys on, it might result in some extra sales of team apparel. All that good stuff.

Typically, these pictures are with the uniforms modeled on a player or a mannequin. Not if you’re Ohio State, and not if you’re Thad Matta:

Here’s how the picture came to be, courtesy of ESPN:

According to Buckeyes video coordinator Kyle Davis, who took the Twitter photo, the staff was looking for a way to to show off the team’s new uniforms on social media before media day kicked off in earnest. He and OSU director of basketball operations David Egelhoff were laying the uniform out on various surfaces — tables, floors and so on — when Matta, en route to his daily workout, walked by.

“He asks us, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and we tell him we’re trying to show the new uniforms but we don’t really know what to do with this — we don’t have a mannequin,” Davis said. “And he says, ‘Why do you need a mannequin? I’m right here.'”

“We thought there was no way he was actually going to do this,” Davis said. “But Coach said ‘give me two minutes,’ and sure enough he came out wearing the uniform. He wanted everyone to know he still had it.”