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Five up, five down from college hoops’ huge day

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source: AP

It was beyond a busy day in college hoops with the numerous ranked matchups, Top 10 upsets and rivalry games. Here’s what you need to know.

Five up:

Grudge matches: No. 14 UNLV got its revenge for Jamaal Franklin’s buzzer-beating layup back in January with a 65-63 win over No. 13 San Diego State in what was the most exciting game of the day. In the middle of the country, Wichita State sent No. 17 Creighton to its third-straight loss, 89-68, taking a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley standings and getting revenge for the game that the Bluejays won on New Year’s Eve. There is little doubt that UNLV and SDSU are the two best teams in the MWC and Wichita State and Creighton are the two best in the MVC. They’ve both split their season series. Who else wants to see the rubber match in their respective conference tournaments?

Jeff Withey: The Jayhawk center had 18 points, 20 boards and seven blocks as No. 7 Kansas absolutely rolled through Oklahoma State. The final score of 81-66 didn’t do the game justice. At one point in the second half, Kansas led by as much as 29 points. That came just three days after Withey went for 25 points, five boards and three blocks in a win over Baylor. If he can become that kind of presence in the paint it takes an incredibly amount of pressure off of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

Michigan State’s title chances: You would be a fool to ever discount Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament, but we are now in mid-February and it seems like there are very few people that are actually talking about No. 11 Michigan State as a real contender. Well, guess what: they are. They figured out their issues on the road against No. 3 Ohio State with a 58-48 win, putting together the epitome of a Tom Izzo-performance. They hit the glass hard, they defended their tails off and they made a very good basketball team feel like they were out of the game down ten with ten minutes left. This group is going to make noise in March, mark my words.

Syracuse lacking a go-to guy: Its funny to me when I hear this criticism. Why? Because the No. 2 Orange have, like, three. In Saturday’s 85-67 win over UConn, it was Scoop Jardine who made the big shots. He hit two threes in after UConn cut the lead to two points late in the second half, finishing with 21 points on 8-9 shooting with six assists and no turnovers. But against Georgetown on Wednesday, it was Kris Joseph making all of the big shots. Earlier this season, this was becoming Dion Waiters’ team. Having more than one “go-to guy” isn’t a problem when none of the three have egos.

Indiana State’s shooting percentage: In a 78-68 win over Southern Illinois, the Sycamores went 12-12 from three. Seriously. 12-12 from three. That’s an NCAA record.

Five down:

William Buford and Deshaun Thomas: Jared Sullinger shot 5-15 from the floor and committed 10 turnovers, numbers ugly enough to make you overlook the 17 points and 16 boards he had. But there is an explanation: William Buford and DeShaun Thomas. Those two combined to go 4-24 from the floor. When they aren’t hitting their shots, Ohio State’s offense completely bogs down. On Saturday, the Buckeyes looked completely out of sync offensively, and they were. It was ugly. And that’s what happens when you ask Sullinger to do too much.

Baylor’s title chances: Look, this team isn’t going to win it all, and its not because they’ve lost all four games they’ve played against Kansas and No. 4 Missouri. Those are the only four games they have lost this season, and struggling against top ten teams is far from unique. The reasonNo. 6  Baylor won’t make the Final Four is that they don’t have the intestinal fortitude to get a big stop or score a big basket when their opponent is making a run. They don’t have a stopper. That’s not their mentality. And its going to come back to bite them, eventually.

Florida: I mean, what is there to say about No. 8 Florida that hasn’t already been said? The Gators are erratic, they don’t like physicality and they don’t always take the best shots. That’s why they do things like lose to Tennessee at home. While the final was 75-70, that doesn’t do justice to the beatdown that the Gators took. There may be some explanation, however. Patric Young’s ankle is still not 100 percent, Mike Rosario wasn’t playing in this game and Will Yeguete had a scary incident where he was knocked out cold when he ran into the basket stanchion. So should we blame the 41-22 hole Florida dug itself to the injuries?

West Virginia’s tournament chances: The Mountaineers are digging themselves quite the hole. They lost their third straight game to No. 24 Louisville on Saturday and their fifth out of their last six. This one came at home despite building a 13 point first half lead. These are, simply put, the kind of games you cannot lose if you want a chance at the NCAA Tournament. And for the ‘Eers, this loss was the result of a lack of composure. Deniz Kilicli got called for a tech, which helped him foul out of the game, and probably could have been called for another as well. Truck Bryant and his back court mates couldn’t handle Louisville’s press and it cost them the lead. WVU is in a major hole.

Terrell Stoglin’s tweeting: Stoglin was upset after Maryland’s 73-55 loss to No. 10 Duke, and its understandable. He sat for four minutes in the second half after going 4-16 from the floor and 0-6 from three. He was struggling, so he was benched. Then after the game, he ranted on twitter. And this is supposed to be a big deal? Come on, people. He’s 20. He just played like garbage against a rival, got benched on national television and lost a basketball game. He’s mad. So he takes to twitter, which — for those of us that aren’t in the media — use things like twitter and facebook for social reasons. Should Stoglin have tweeted that? Probably not. Is it a problem that he’s mad he stunk and got benched? Well, would you rather have him happy about it?

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)
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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.