NCAA tournament Day 3 recap

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Player of the Day: Brady Heslip, Baylor: For all the talent and all the NBA potential on the Baylor roster, the kid that saved Baylor’s season was a guy that has been a perennial afterthought. He played on a loaded AAU team, transferred to Baylor after leaving Boston College and has been nothing but a role player in his time in Waco. Not on Saturday, however, as Heslip hit nine threes en route to 27 points to lead the No. 3 Bears to a 80-63 win over No. 11 Colorado. Heslip’s biggest contributions came in the first half, when he hit six of those threes and scored 18 of Baylor’s 37 points. The Bears led by just two points at the break.

They were good too:

Marquis Teague, Kentucky: Teague played the best game of his collegiate career, going for 24 points and seven assists as the Wildcats knocked off No. 8 Iowa State in impressive fashion, 87-71.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Christmas didn’t put up huge numbers, but he was a presence inside for the Orange on Saturday. They are going to need him to play up to his recruiting ranking if Syracuse hopes to avoid a disappointing tournament run.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Like Teague, Craft played his best game as a collegian on Saturday, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists and just one turnover as the Buckeyes advanced past Gonzaga.

Team of the Day: Louisville Cardinals: You have to be happy for this Louisville team. After everything they have been through this season — the losses, the injuries, the struggles of their best players — the Cardinals have persevered and are now playing their best basketball of the season. Led by Peyton Siva’s play in the clutch, the Cardinals advanced past New Mexico and have gone from a potential bubble team in mid-January to a Big East champion and a Sweet 16 member.

Shoutouts:

Syracuse Orange: Syracuse may have given up 8,000 offensive rebounds to Kansas State, but they also put together one of their best offensive halves of the season in the second half, steamrolling the Wildcats for 50 points.

Game of the Day: Indiana 63, VCU 61: This is the closest that we have come to a buzzer-beater in this NCAA tournament. The Rams blew a late lead to the Hoosiers, who were sparked by a pair of tremendous drives from Victor Oladipo, with just 12.7 seconds left on the clock, a 12 footer baseline jumper from Will Sheehy. At the other end of the floor, VCU got a good look at a three that would have won the game, but it bounced off of the front of the rim.

For the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 18 years, the Hoosiers are headed back to the Sweet 16, where they will get a rematch of their early season classic with Kentucky. I think it is fair to say that Tom Crean officially has this program back.

They’ve had better days: Vanderbilt Commodores: Jeff Taylor had nine points on 4-12 shooting. John Jenkins had 13 points on 3-13 shooting and missed a would-be game-winner. Festus Ezeli had 14 points and 11 boards, but he was also benched early in the game for a rules violation. The ‘Dores lost 60-57 to Wisconsin. Not exactly the way this group wanted to go out.

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

Swanigan to stay in draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.