A post-withdrawal deadline, but still early preseason Top 25

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One more deadline’s in the past — and now we’re that much closer to the start of the 2011-12 season. Well, a little closer anyway.  Here’s an updated Top 25 projection to tide you over in the meantime.

1. North Carolina

Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: SF Harrison Barnes, PF John Henson, C Tyler Zeller , PG Kendall Marshall, SG Leslie McDonald, SG Dexter Strickland, SF Reggie Bullock
Key losses: None
Incoming recruits: PF James McAdoo, SG P.J. Hairston

The skinny: The Tar Heels hit the jackpot when their stars skipped out being NBA draft lottery picks. No team has more overall talent (thought Kentucky’s close) mixed with experience. But don’t pencil in a national title just yet. Marshall must stay healthy and the Heels’ perimeter shooting needs to improve.

2. Kentucky

Record: 29-9 (Final Four)
Key returnees
: PF Terrence Jones, SG Doron Lamb, SF Darius Miller, C Eloy Vargas, SF Jon Hood.
Key losses: PG Brandon Knight, C Josh Harrellson, SF DeAndre Liggins
Incoming recruits: PG Marquis Teague, SF Michael Gilchrist, PF Anthony Davis, PF Kyle Wiltjer

The skinny: Once again, the Wildcats are loaded with talent. And once again, many of those talented players are freshmen. Given that Kentucky beat UNC for a Final Four spot in 2011, you could argue they should be the top team. The biggest concerns: The frontcourt depth and Teague as the primary ball-handler. They’ll struggle if he gets hurt.

3. Duke

Record: 32-5 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: PF Mason Plumlee, SG Seth Curry, PF Miles Plumlee, G Andre Dawkins, SF Ryan Kelly
Key losses: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Nolan Smith, SF Kyle Singler
Incoming recruits: SG Austin Rivers, PG Quinn Cook, C Marshall Plumlee, SF Michael Gbinije

The skinny: Irving bolted, but the Devils are primed to replace him and Smith with Rivers and Cook. No incoming player can match Rivers’ scoring, while Cook thrives as a creator and floor leader. The bigger questions might be if Duke can fill Singler’s role as a versatile scorer and defender. That means more time for the Plumlees and Kelly, and perhaps Gbinije.

4. Syracuse

Record: 27-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Scoop Jardine, SF Kris Joseph, SG Brandon Triche, SG Dion Waiters, SF C.J. Fair, C Fab Melo, PF Baye Moussa Keita
Key loss: PF Rick Jackson
Incoming recruits: C Rakeem Christmas, SG Trevor Cooney, SG Michael Carter-Williams

Jim Boeheim loses just one starter and adds two impact recruits in Christmas and Carter-Williams. The Orange will miss Jackson’s reliable rebounding and post defense, but he’s hardly irreplaceable. They’ll need Jardine to be more consistent and for Joseph and Melo to finally deliver on their tantalizing skills, but all the pieces are there for Syracuse to post yet another outstanding season.

5. Ohio State

Record: 34-3 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: C Jared Sullinger, PG Aaron Craft, SG William Buford, SF Deshaun Thomas, SG Jordan Sibert
Key losses: SG Jon Diebler, SF David Lighty, C Dallas Lauderdale
Incoming recruits: C Amir Williams, C Trey McDonald, SF Sam Thompson, SF LaQuinton Ross, PG Shannon Scott, transfer Evan Ravenel.

The skinny: Once Sullinger decided to return, the Buckeyes became a top 10 team. Buford and Thomas should have more prominent roles, but with the addition of solid freshmen such as Williams and Ross, expect Ohio State to remain a balanced, inside-outside team. But they’ll dearly miss Diebler and Lighty.

6. Arizona

Record: 30-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: PG Momo Jones, SG Kyle Fogg, SF Solomon Hill, SF Kevin Parrom, SF Jesse Perry, PG Jordin Mayes
Key losses: PF Derrick Williams, PF Jamelle Horne
Incoming recruits: PG Josiah Turner, SG Nick Johnson, PF Angelo Chol, PF Sidiki Johnson

The skinny: Williams is gone, but that’s no reason to write off the Wildcats. Every other starter is back along with one the nation’s top recruiting classes. That’s more than enough to offset the loss of one player, no matter how good he may be (Read: Evan Turner/Ohio State). Arizona handled Duke in the NCAA tournament because it finally started to play defense hit shots. The biggest boost? When Sean Miller decided to stay put.

7. Vanderbilt

Record: 23-11 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG John Jenkins, SF Jeff Taylor, C Festus Ezeli, PG Brad Tinsley, PF Lance Goulbourne, PF Steve Tchiengang
Incoming recruits: SG Dai-Jon Parker, PG Kedren Johnson, PF Shelby Moats

The skinny: Only North Carolina got a bigger gift from players passing on the NBA. This might be a bit high for the Commodores given they were never this good with the same group last year, but having Jenkins, Taylor and Ezeli is enough for an early push to the Top 10.

8. Louisville

Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Peyton Siva, SG Chris Smith, PF Jared Swopshire, SF Kyle Kuric, SF Rakeem Buckles, PF Gorgui Dieng
Key losses: SG Preston Knowles, PF Terrence Jennings
Incoming recruits: SG Wayne Blackshear, PF Chane Behanan, C Zach Price

The skinny: The Cards overachieved in 2010-11, winning 25 games and finishing tied for third in the Big East. Expect more. Siva’s primed for a breakout, Kuric and Smith developed into key players and Buckles and Swopshire will both be healthy. Knowles’ departure will be offset by Blackshear’s addition and Jennings’ production will be displaced by Buckles and Dieng. Still a talented team.

9. Wisconsin

Record: 25-9 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: PG Jordan Taylor, SG John Gasser, SF Mike Bruesewitz, SF Ryan Evans, PF Jared Berggren
Key losses: PF Jon Leuer, SF Keaton Nankivil, SF Tim Jarmusz
Incoming recruits: PF Jarrod Uthoff, SG Traevon Jackson, C Frank Kaminsky

The skinny: Write off the Badgers if you like. But with a solid core returning, a 4-star prospect in Uthoff coming in and Taylor – a national player of the year candidate – running the show, Wisconsin’s going to be what it always is under coach Bo Ryan: Fantastic at home, solid on the road and brutally efficient on offense.

10. Pitt

Record: 28-6 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Ashton Gibbs, SF Nasir Robinson, PG Travon Woodall, PF Dante Taylor, SG J.J. Moore, SF Lamar Patterson, PF Talib Zanna
Key losses: SG Brad Wanamaker, SF Gilbert Brown, C Gary McGhee
Incoming recruits: PF Khem Birch, SG Durand Johnson, C Malcolm Gilbert, PF Jaylen Byrd, SG John Johnson.

The skinny: The Big East champs are out three starters, but Gibbs’ return gives them a solid scorer in which their young, talented roster can thrive. There’s every reason to think that coach Jamie Dixon can put together another 25-win season and vie for the Big East title.

11. Kansas

Record: 35-3 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: PG Tyshawn Taylor, PF Thomas Robinson, PG Elijah Johnson
Key losses: SF Marcus Morris, PF Markieff Morris, SG Josh Selby, SG Brady Morningstar, SG Tyrel Reed
Incoming recruits: PG Nadir Thorpe, SG Ben McLemore

The skinny: The latest talent drain for coach Bill Self might be a rougher transition than in 2009. Kansas added one late recruit in McLemore, but bringing in PF DeAndre Daniels would be a welcome addition. Still, if the Jayhawks are to stay atop the Big 12, they’ll need Robinson and Johnson to boost their games as starters.

12. Cincinnati

Record: 26-9 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: C Yancy Gates, SG Sean Kilpatrick, SG Dion Dixon, PG Cashmere Wright, G Jaquon Parker, SF Justin Jackson, C Anthony McClain
Key losses: SF Rashad Bishop, C Ibrahima Thomas
Incoming recruits: SF Shaquille Thomas, SF Jermaine Sanders, SG Jeremiah Davis, SG Ge-Lawn Guyn

The skinny: A solid core mixed with talent gives Mick Cronin a legitimate Big East contender. When Cincinnati’s offense finally matches its defense – and when Gates plays consistently – it’ll be a Top 10 team.

13. Connecticut

Record: 32-9 (Won national championship)
Key returnees
: PF Alex Oriakhi, SG Jeremy Lamb, PG Shabazz Napier, PF Roscoe Smith, C Tyler Olander
Key losses: PG Kemba Walker, SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, SG Donnell Beverly, C Chuck Akwandu
Incoming recruits: PG Ryan Boatright

The skinny: There’s no lack of talent in Storrs, and 5-star prospect Boatright only adds to that mix. More impressive was that the Huskies didn’t play like a young team in 2010-11. But … that was with Kemba running the show and making plays when needed. When he struggled, the Huskies struggled, thus their 9th place finish in the Big East. They’ll miss him at times.

14. Baylor

Record: 18-13
Key returnees: C Perry Jones, SF Quincy Acy, PF Anthony Jones, PG A.J. Walton, C J’Mison Morgan.
Key loss: SG LaceDarius Dunn
Incoming recruits: SF Quincy Miller, SG Deuce Bello, PG Pierre Jackson (and Cal transfer Gary Franklin)

The skinny: Jones’ return to Waco may have been the biggest individual surprise of the offseason. The immensely talented post player started slow last season, but seemed to finally be comfortable by year’s end. And the additions of Miller and Bello give the Bears two explosive talents. Now. Can the play defense?

15. Memphis

Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Will Barton, PG Joe Jackson, PF Tarik Black, SF Drew Barnham, SG Antonio Barton, SG Charles Carmouche, SF Wesley Witherspoon.
Key loss: PF Will Coleman
Incoming recruit: SF Adonis Thomas

The skinny: Will Barton’s return gave the Tigers as much talent as any team in the nation when you include Thomas, one of the elite 2011 recruits. Next up? Improving that predictable offense and so-so-defense.

16. Temple

Record: 26-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Ramone Moore, PG Juan Fernandez, SG Khalif Wyatt, PF Michael Eric, SF Rahlier Jefferson, SF Scootie Randall
Key loss: PF Lavoy Allen
Incoming recruits: PG Will Cummings, SF Jimmy McDonnell

The skinny: The Owls will miss Allen inside, but he’s the only guy gone from a team that thrived at the end of the year. They won’t turn the ball over, they’ll hit 3-pointers and they’ll win games. That gets you in the Top 20.

17. Michigan

Record: 21-14 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Tim Hardaway, C Jordan Morgan, SF Zack Novak, SG Stu Douglass, PF Evan Smotrycz, PF Jon Horford
Key loss: PG Darius Morris
Incoming recruits: SG Carlton Brundidge, PG Trey Burke

The skinny: Morris’ departure hurts. A lot. Michigan’s still a Big Ten contender, but they don’t have much room for error without their point guard. Hardaway and Morgan are a solid duo. But they’re chasing Ohio State and Wisconsin. And maybe Purdue.

18. Texas A&M

Record: 24-9 (Second round of NCAA tournament
Key returnees
: SF Khris Middleton, PF David Loubeau, PF Kourtney Roberson, SG Dash Harris, SF Naji Hibbert, SF Ray Turner
Key losses: PG B.J. Holmes, SF Nathan Walkup
Incoming recruits: PG Jamal Branch, SG Jordan Green, SF Elston Turner (transfer)

The skinny: The Aggies don’t win any beauty contests, but that’s by design. They’re here because of their defense. Simple as that. It also helps to return four of five starters and to plug in a recruit like Branch. If Middleton’s offense continues to develop, A&M will be more than defensive show.

19. Purdue

Record: 26-8 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SF Robbie Hummel, PG Lewis Jackson, SF D.J. Byrd, SG Ryne Smith, SF John Hart, SG Terone Johnson, SF Kelsey Barlow, PF Patrick Bade, PF Travis Carroll
Key losses: SG E’Twaun Moore, C JaJaun Johnson
Incoming recruits: PF Jacob Lawson, PF Donnie Hale

The skinny: Johnson and Moore are gone, but the Boilermakers have three key pieces returning: Hummel – who sat out the entire 2010-11 season – Jackson and coach Matt Painter. Painter, who spurned Missouri’s efforts to lure him away from West Lafayette, may be the most crucial piece, too. Few coaches get more out of their teams.

20. Marquette

Record: 22-15 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: SG Darius Johnson-Odum, PF Jae Crowder, PG Junior Cadougan, SG Vander Blue, C Davante Gardner, PF Jamil Wilson
Key losses: SF Jimmy Butler, SG Dwight Buycks
Incoming recruits: SF Juan Anderson, SG Todd Mayo, PG Derrick Wilson

The skinny: Coach Buzz Williams is back and he’s got his roster of solid, underrated players with him. That Sweet 16 berth wasn’t a fluke because the Golden Eagles were always a team that was far better than its record indicated. That’ll be true again in 2011-12 when Johnson-Odom, Crowder and Cadougan get a boost from Anderson.

21. Belmont

Record: 30-5 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Ian Clark, PF Mick Hedgepeth, PG Kerron Johnson, PF Scott Saunders, PG Drew Hanlen, SF J.J. Mann
Key losses: SG Jordan Campbell, SF Jon House

The skinny: The A-Sun champs lose two starters, but that’s just a technicality. The Bruins used so many guys last season, everyone logged significant minutes during their 30-win season. Besides, their top players – Clark, Hedgepeth and Saunders – are all back, along with that full-court pressing defense.

22. Florida

Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: SG Kenny Boynton, PG Erving Walker, PF Erick Murphy, PF Patric Young, SF Casey Prather, SG Scottie Wilbekin
Key losses: PF Vernon Macklin, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Alex Tyus
Incoming recruits: SG Brad Beal, SG Mike Rosario (transfer)

The skinny: The Gators are loaded – with shooters. Boynton and Walker can hoist their share of shots, but how will it work with the additions of Beal and Rosario? Someone’s gonna have to pass and defend. They’ll certainly miss the steady play of Macklin, Parsons and Tyus, though. So why are they ranked? There’s too much talent to ignore.

23. Xavier

Record: 24-8 (First round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Tu Holloway, SG Mark Lyons, C Kenny Frease, SF Jeff Robinson, SG Brad Redford, F Justin Martin, F, Travis Taylor
Key losses: PF Jamel McLean, SF Dante Jackson
Incoming recruits: PF Jalen Reynolds, SF Dezmine Wells, PG Dee Davis

The skinny: That was a massive sigh of relief coming from Xavier coach Chris Mack once Holloway withdrew from the NBA draft. They have questions up front, but welcome two solid guards in Wells and Davis. Pair them with Holloway, a national player of the year candidate, and the Musketeers will again be a Top 25 team.

24. Wichita State

Record: 29-8 (Won NIT)
Key returnees
: PG Toure’ Murry, C Garrett Stutz, SG David Kyles, PG Joe Ragland, SF Ben Smith, SG Demetric Williams
Key losses: PF J.T. Durley, PF Gabe Blair, SG Graham Hatch
Incoming recruit: SG Evan Wessel

The skinny: The NIT probably deserved an NCAA tourney bid. That’ll be rectified in 2012 when Murry and Kyles ensure the Missouri Valley’s best team flirt with the Top 25 all season. The Shockers got a big boost when coach Gregg Marshall stayed put over the offseason, too.

25. Alabama

Record: 25-12 (Lost in NIT championship)
Key returnees
: PF JaMychal Green, SF Tony Mitchell, PG Trevor Releford, SG Andrew Steele
Key losses: SG Senario Hillman, SG Charvez Davis, PF Chris Hines
Incoming recruits: PF Nick Jacobs, C Moussa Gueye, SF Rodney Cooper, SG Levi Randolph

The skinny: Green, Mitchell and Releford are an underrated trio and the Tide should get a boost with Jacobs and Randolph. Both can be immediate contributors and vie for starting roles. Of course, this assumes the defense picks up where it left off in 2011.

Best of the rest: Gonzaga, George Mason, UCLA, Clemson, Michigan State, New Mexico, Arkansas, Villanova,  Florida State, West Virginia.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.