Week in Review: Reggie Hamilton and Florida are honored

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Player of the Week: Reggie Hamilton, Oakland

You should know who Reggie Hamilton is by now. He’s one of the most dynamic guards in the country and the star of a team that could legitimately win a game in the NCAA Tournament if they are able to get there. He went for 35 points in a nationally televised win over Tennessee and followed that up with 28 points in a tough loss to Michigan. The 5’11” Hamilton averages 22.0 ppg and 4.2 apg on the season, but he had the best game of his career on Saturday afternoon.

Hamilton went for 41 points in a win over Valporaiso. He made 14-24 shots from the floor, hitting five threes and added four assists, four steals and three rebounds. More impressive, however, was the fact that the Grizzlies were down by as much as 17 points in the second half, but Hamilton lead the charge back. He scored the first 12 points during an 17-1 run that trimmed the lead to 61-60 and kept Oakland in the game. It was Hamilton’s final shot of the game that truly made the difference, as he went the length of the court in the final five seconds and banked in a runner as time expired:

The Summit League is going to be exciting to follow this season. With South Dakota State (who just beat Washington by double figures at Washington) and Oral Roberts (who won by 22 at Xavier) being joined by teams like IUPUI this season, the battle for the Summit’s regular season title will be a fun one to watch.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too team:

G: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: Wolters played well in his first game of the week, going for 24 points, six boards and five assists in a win over North Dakota, but it was his play in SDSU’s 92-73 win over Washington that earned him his spot on this list. Wolters had 34 points, seven assists, five boards and no turnovers.

G: Michael Dixon, Missouri: The Tigers have a terrific back court, but the guy that is often overlooked in that group is Dixon. That’s not necessarily a knock on him, either, as much as it is a sign of how good Phil Pressey, Marcus Denmon and Kim English. But Dixon can play, and he showed it this week. He averaged 24.0 ppg, 3.0 apg and 3.0 spg in a 2-0 week, including a 30 point performance against William & Mary.

F: DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas helped Buckeye fans forget that Jared Sullinger has been banged up this season. Thomas had 23 points in a win over USC-Upstate and followed that up with 30 points and six boards against South Carolina. On the week, Thomas was 23-31 from the floor.

F: Ian Hummer, Princeton: Hummer had a terrific all-around week. He averaged 20.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 6.5 apg and 4.5 spg while leading the Tigers into a 2-0 week with wins over Rider and Boston U.

C: Andre Drummond, UConn: Drummond is finally starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be when he entered college. Granted, it came against Holy Cross, but Drummond had easily the best game of his collegiate career, finishing with 24 points, eight boards and five blocks on 11-12 shooting form the field.

Bench: Julian Boyd, Long Island (29 pts, 17 rbs vs. St. Peter’s); Keith Clanton, Central Florida (23 pts, 16 rbs, 4 blks vs. Old Dominion); Gorgui Dieng, Louisville (14 pts, 14 rbs, 6 blks vs. Memphis); Drew Gordon, New Mexico (13 pts, 20 rbs, held LeBryan Nash to 2-15 shooting); Jorge Gutierrez, Cal (24 pts, 5 rbs, held Damian Lillard to 4-17); Elias Harris, Gonzaga (18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg); Bernard James, Florida State (13.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 4.0 bpg); Perry Jones, Baylor (28 pts, 8 rbs vs. BYU); Steven Pledger, Oklahoma (31 pts, 10 rbs, 2 stls vs. Houston); Herb Pope, Seton Hall (24 pts, 17 rbs vs. Mercer); John Shurna, Northwestern (32 pts, 9-12 3’s vs. EIU); Russ Smith, Louisville (24 pts, 7 stls vs. Memphis); Antwaine Wiggins, Charleston (21.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg); Tony Wroten, Washington (25.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Tyler Zeller, North Carolina (31 pts, 10 rbs)

Team of the Week: Florida Gators

The Gators are a team that is being undervalued right now. Heading into their weekend tilt with then-No. 22 Texas A&M, Florida was ranked 13th in the country largely due to their two losses on the season. Those losses came on the road against Syracuse and Ohio State, the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams in the country, by a grand total of 11 points. Yes, a loss is a loss, but at some point being competitive in a tough road environment is worth something. Duke, who was ranked No. 4 in the country, lost by 22 at Ohio State. Florida lost by four.

The reason that I bring this up is because the Gators spent the weekend proving themselves to their doubters. The Aggies have had their struggles early in the season, but that is partly the result of Khris Middleton’s injury. Where Texas A&M thrives is on the defensive end of the floor, particularly on the perimeter. And that is precisely where Florida dominated them. The Gators hit 11 threes and got a combined 54 points out of Erving Walker, Brad Beal and Kenny Boynton.

The question that people are going to ask is whether this win is fool’s gold. Florida is at their best when they are getting Patric Young touches, and on Saturday he didn’t show up. The big man played just 20 minutes, finishing with five points and four boards, taking just two shots from the floor and committing four fouls. Florida was hot enough early in the game to build a 20 point lead before the Aggies realized what had happened, which is the benefit of having players that can as hot as Boynton and Walker. But they are streaky. Young is steady. Could this come back to bite them before the season is over?

Teams deserving a shout out:

Baylor: The Bears won two games this week, including a thriller against BYU at the Marriott Center in Salt Lake City. It was the first time this season that Baylor really showed how good they can be. Yes, they only won by three points, but anyone that has watched hoops in Utah will tell you that BYU is a difficult team to beat at home. Baylor overcame a 13 point deficit against a good team on the road. That’s impressive, even if the Bear’s had their defensive rebounding issues exposed.

Butler: I was ready to leave the Bulldogs for dead after their 4-6 start to the season. But Brad Stevens worked a little of his magic, as Butler overcame a second-half deficit that climbed as big as 15. With a second left on the clock, Andrew Smith tipped in the game-winner to beat Purdue. This certainly doesn’t erase the start that the Bulldogs have had this season, but it should show you just where this team can be as they continue to develop.

Cincinnati: We talked a bit about Xavier and how they struggled without their back court yesterday. The Bearcats are missing their starting front court to suspensions stemming from the brawl, but they have been winning. After beating Wright State 78-58 in the middle of the week, Cincinnati beat Radford 101-70 over the weekend. Granted, Wright State and Radford aren’t exactly mid-major powerhouses, but the Bearcats looked and played like a different team. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright have been terrific as Cincy’s pushed the pace and caught fire from three (24-53 from deep on the week).

College of Charleston: The Cougars picked up two wins this week, including their second straight against Tennessee. Bobby Cremins’ team is going to be a group to look out for come March. They have legitimate size in the front court and a talented perimeter attack, led by Andrew Lawrence and Antwaine Wiggins.

Indiana State: The Sycamores notched a big win as they went into Nashville and knocked off Vanderbilt at Memorial Coliseum. Jake Odum had 10 points, eight boards and seven assists while RJ Mahurin led the way with 14 points off the bench. ISU was no secret heading into the season, but their presence in the MVC was diminished early in the year due to the success that Creighton, Wichita State and Northern Iowa have had. This win should get them back into the discussion.

Iona: The Gaels are a well-known quantity at this point, but picking up wins at Richmond and at Vermont will earn you mention here.

Kansas State: The Wildcats are a team that I am having trouble figuring out. They struggle at home against a team like North Florida, having to go to overtime to beat the Owls, and then easily dispatch one of the favorites in the SEC — Alabama — by 13 points. Is it an effort thing with Frank Martin’s club, or is this just going to be one of those teams that confuses us all year long.

Louisville: The Cardinals finally had the offensive explosion we’ve been waiting for in a win over Memphis. They posted 95 points, including a career-high 24 out of sophomore point guard Russ Smith. Gorgui Dieng was also impressive, notching 14 points, 14 boards and six blocks. When Louisville is getting those kind of performances from those players, Louisville becomes a better team offensively.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs picked up a couple of wins this week, including going into Detroit and knocking off a very good Detroit team that has been playing up to their potential since Eli Holman returned to the lineup. What was most impressive about that win wasn’t the play of the front court (33 points, 20 boards from Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney) or the emergence of Brian Bryant (17 points, six boards), it was the fact that MSU blew a 15 point lead on the road, but was able to regroup and hold on for the win.

Murray State: The Racers didn’t notch a win as impressive as knocking off Memphis on the road, but they did win two games and remain undefeated.

St. Joseph’s: How good can this St. Joseph’s team be? Top three in the Atlantic 10? Top four? Are they a top 25 team? All of the above? St. Joe’s has a talented back court in Tay Jones and Langston Galloway and some athletes on their front line. They can run the floor and are capable of putting on impressive displays of athleticism. And as Villanova and Creighton can attest, the Hawks can beat anyone at home. Now they have to prove they can do it on the road, too.

UNLV: Can someone figure this UNLV team out for me? They smacked North Carolina at home, got worked on the road by Wichita State and Wisconsin on the road, and now they beat Illinois in Chicago by 16 points? I don’t get it.

Five thoughts:

Terrence Jones vs. Will Barton: Terrence Jones missed a chance to prove his doubters wrong on Saturday afternoon. After scoring just six points in the last 60 minutes of basketball for Kentucky heading into their game against Chattanooga, Jones dislocated the pinky on his left hand early in the game. He tried to return, but he couldn’t. The injury furthered the questions surrounding Jones, and its not so much the result of another poor outing due to the injury as much as it is the fact that he didn’t have a chance to change the public’s mind. Personally, I won’t have my mind changed until Jones becomes a dominant presence in a game like the one that Kentucky will play on New Year’s Eve against Louisville. Be the best when the lights are the brightest.

Will Barton has the opposite issue. Where Jones seems to struggle with his intensity and focus, Barton plays hard every second that he is on the floor for Memphis. He did it again as the Tigers lost to Louisville on Saturday, finishing with 28 points and 16 boards. On the season, Barton is posting all-american numbers, averaging 21.2 ppg and 8.6 rpg. The problem is that he is the only one on Memphis that plays that way. Until their entire team can put forth the kind of effort that Barton does on a nightly basis, Memphis will continue to underachieve.

The Pac-12 is awful: It just keeps getting worse out west. On Saturday, it was the drubbing that Arizona got when they went up to Seattle to take on Gonzaga. On Sunday, it was the beatdown that Washington took at the hands of South Dakota State. Oregon lost to Virginia by 13. USC lost to Georgia. Oh, and Arizona State lost to Northern Arizona, who fired their coach a week ago. Cal is probably the league favorite still, but after that? Is Stanford the second best team? What about Oregon State? Can Washington or Arizona figure it out?

Who is the third best team in the SEC?: Kentucky is No. 1 and Florida is No. 2. That much is, for the most part, inarguable. But who is the third-best team in the league? I’m ready to write off Vanderbilt, who lost to another mid-major program at home on Saturday, their fourth loss of the season. They also lost two games in overtime. But I don’t trust Alabama anymore, either. The Crimson Tide can defend like crazy and have some athletes up front, but they have now lost three of their last four games, including Saturday’s defeat at Kansas State.

So is it Mississippi State? The Bulldogs won at Detroit on Saturday, improving to 11-1 on the season and extending their winning streak to 10 games. They have proven that they can win on the road against a quality team on a night when their star guard, Dee Bost, is struggling to score the basketball. They have a big front line, they have scorers on the wing and they have three or four guys capable of scoring 15 points.

The Summit League is pretty good: And the conference race is going to be a lot of fun to watch. South Dakota State just knocked off Washington by 19 points on the road. Oral Roberts beat a depleted Xavier team by 22 on the road. Oakland owns a win over Tennessee and is coming off of a buzzer-beating win against Valparaiso on the road. The league has star power — Nate Wolters, Reggie Hamilton, Frank Gaines, Alex Young — and teams capable of beating anyone, anywhere.

So much for “Rick Barnes can’t coach”: Anyone notice what’s going on in Austin? After a disappointing showing in the Legends Classic, the Longhorns have won seven straight games. On Saturday, they beat a good Temple team 77-65. For the first time in recent memory, Barnes does not have a roster stocked with future pros and did not head into the season with the kind of hype normally reserved for the blue bloods. Instead, he’s put together a team that plays hard and embraces their underdog role. I still have question about J’Covan Brown being the leader of a team, but as Myck Kabongo and the rest of the youngsters on the Texas roster continue to develop, the Longhorns will only get better.

Game of the Week:

Butler 67, Purdue 65:

Miami 93, Florida Atlantic 90 2OT: Wild finish to this one. Down six with just under a minute left, FAU got a couple of buckets surrounding a turnover by Miami, and after the Canes hit 1-2 from the free throw line, Omari Grier buried a three from the corner at the buzzer to force OT. The first overtime was intense, including a wild sequence that saw five baskets made in the span of 1:45 — a Ray Taylor three gave FAU a 77-76 lead, but that was answered by a Kenny Kadji three. Kore White tied the game with a dunk, which was followed up with Rion Brown and Grier trading threes. Miami eventually took control in the second overtime, winning the game.

Matchups of the Week:

– Tue. 9:00 pm: Charleston @ No. 4 Louisville
– Tue. 8:00 pm: Oakland @ Arizona
– Tue. 8:00 pm: Ohio @ Northern Iowa
– Tue. 9:00 pm: Butler @ Gonzaga
– Wed. 7:00 pm: Texas @ No. 6 UNC
– Wed. 9:00 pm: Oklahoma State @ No. 21 Alabama
– Thu. 7:00 pm: Memphis @ No. 17 Georgetown
– Thu. 7:00 pm: Florida State @ No. 13 Florida
– Thu. 9:00 pm: No. 19 Illinois @ No. 8 Missouri
– Thu. 10:30 pm: St. Mary’s @ No. 7 Baylor
– Thu. 11:00 pm: Long Beach State @ No. 9 Xavier
– Fri. 9:00 pm: West Virginia @ No. 7 Baylor

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

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.