Big 12 conference tournament preview

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We all thought this was finally going to be the year.

With the amount of talent that Kansas lost off of their roster from last season and with the majority of their recruiting class finding themselves ineligible to play this season, the Jayhawks were left with the inconsistent Tyshawn Taylor, the unproven Thomas Robinson and a supporting cast of former walk-ons and ex-bench players to try and win their eighth straight Big 12 regular season title.

With the amount of talent on the roster at Baylor and with Texas A&M putting a veteran group on the floor every night, it only made sense to finally pick against the Jayhawks.

And anyone that did regretted it.

Thomas Robinson exploded, morphing into one of two serious candidates for National Player of the Year. Tyshawn Taylor shook off a rough start to the season by playing like an all-american in the last two months. That supporting cast of walk-ons and ex-bench players? they turned out to be pretty good.

There are those that will call this Bill Self’s best coaching performance of his career. Those people aren’t wrong.

The Bracket

Where: Kansas City

When: March 7th-March 10th

Final: March 10th, 7 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Kansas

At this point, how can you bet against them? They weren’t supposed to win this season, yet they did. With what amounts to, more or less, a two-and-a-half man team — depending on which Jeff Withey shows up — the Jayhawks lost just two games in Big 12 play. I’ve been saying it all season long: Tyshawn Taylor is the most important player on this team. Thomas Robinson is going to go out and get you 17 points and 12 boards every single night. He’s going to bust his tail and outwork everyone else on the floor. You know what you are going to get out of him. Taylor, on the other hand, is as talented as he has been inconsistent throughout his career. When he plays like he has the last two months, the Jayhawks are a Final Four team.

And if they lose?: Missouri

I’m not going to lie: I’m rooting for Missouri. And I’m rooting for Kansas. If there is one thing in this world that all us college basketball fans want to see, its Round III of KU-MU in Kansas City with the Big 12 title on the line. You want to talk about atmosphere? Yeesh. As far as the Tigers are concerned, they are a known quantity at this point. You can’t match up with their perimeter attack, Marcus Denmon has proven himself to be lethal in the clutch and their guards are just tough enough that they can hang with the Big 12’s best bigs on the glass.

Other contenders?: Baylor is obviously a contender. They are a contender for the Final Four as well. When you have as much talent as the Bears do, there really isn’t you aren’t capable of. But if they don’t play hard or play with heart, they’ll lose. Iowa State should also be thrown into the mix here. The Cyclones have the league’s most versatile and unique talent in Royce White and surround him with guys that can either jump out the gym or knock down threes from press row.

Sleeper: Kansas State

I just love the way Frank Martin teams play. They are tough, they are relentless and they always play hard. The difference is that this season the Wildcats don’t have quite as much natural ability as in years past. They are also pretty young, especially in the back court. When Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez are playing well, they are a sneaky-good team.

Deeper sleepers: Texas is still a year away, but they are a talented group led by a star in J’Covan Brown. Can he carry this team?

Studs:

Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas: Both will be all-americans.

Royce White, Iowa State: He leads ISU in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. And he’s a 6’8″, 270 lb point guard.

Mike Dixon, Missouri: I’ll give Dixon the love here as he as been the most under-appreciated member of that back court. He makes things happen off the bench almost every single game.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson has quickly become Baylor’s most important player. He had 35 points the last time out.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: Nothing about McGruder’s game is overwhelming, but he does everything well and can go for 25-30 in a given night.

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

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.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.