Missouri Valley conference tournament preview

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The Valley is, and always will be, the ultimate mid-major conference.

Every year, it seems, this league produces at least one team deserving of an at-large bid that is also capable of making the second weekend of the tournament. Why? Because the conference is so unbelievably competitive. Road wins are not easy to come by. Blowouts are fairly unheard of. Generally speaking, the MVC is as balanced of a conference as you are going to find, and I’m sure that whoever is in charge of putting together the bracket for Arch Madness — which is an event I’ve yet to attend but currently sits just below seeing a Duke-North Carolina game live on my college hoops bucket list — is well-versed in the tie-breakers that determine seeding.

This season is a bit unique. What was once thought to be a banner year for the Valley turned into two teams pulling away from the pack. Wichita State won the league by two games over Creighton, who finished five games in front of the mess that was a five-way tie for third place in the conference. Seriously. Five teams finished 9-9 and a sixth slid it at 8-10. I was saying something about balance earlier …

Anyway, the Valley is a two-bid league regardless of who win this tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are dancing. But if I was a betting man, I would bet the field to win the automatic bid.

That’s just the way they do it in the Valley.

The Bracket

Where: St. Louis

When: March 1st-March 4th

Final: March 4th, 1:05 p.m., CBS

Favorite: Wichita State

Back in November, this fact would have been fairly shocking to most. Creighton was playing their best basketball of the season with a legitimate Player of the Year candidate on their roster while the Shockers were competing with, but losing to, some borderline top 25 teams. It was clear the Shockers were good, but that they became this good — WSU is currently eighth in Kenpom’s rankings — is an impressive feat. But the Shockers are also the hottest team in the country. They won their last six games by an average of 20.7 ppg. That includes a trip to Davidson and a trip to Creighton. The worst team they beat in that run finished in the middle of the Valley pack. Watch out.

And if they lose?: Creighton

I have my reservations about the Bluejays. They don’t defend at an elite level and they have looked fairly ordinary over the last three weeks. But this is a veteran group with a number of weapons, headlined by all-american Doug McDermott, that has proven capable of winning close games. Throw in the fact that the Bluejays shoot the ball as well as any team in the country, and they are always going to be a threat. If they get hot for three days in St. Louis, there is no reason that Creighton can’t come away MVC Tournament champs.

Sleepers: There are almost too many to name. Indiana State won the league last year and returned most of their lineup, landing a couple of marquee wins throughout non-conference play. Northern Iowa had an impressive start to the season. Missouri State, Drake and Evansville all have legitimate stars on their roster. Like I said, this tournament is going to be a lot of fun.

Studs:

Kyle Weems, Missouri State: The reigning MVC Player of the Year took a while to get going, but he is as capable of taking over a game as anyone in the conference. He had 31 when the Bears beat Creighton in Omaha.

Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simons, Drake: There is a legitimate argument to make that these two are the MVC’s best one-two scoring punch.

Colt Ryan, Evansville: When this kid gets hot, watch out. He went for 43 points in an overtime loss to Creighton.

Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: The seven-footer is the best big man in the conference and one of the reasons that the Shockers won’t have a much of an issue as other mid-majors matching up with high-major front lines.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: How many all-americans make their way through the Valley?

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

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”