The key player in each Sweet 16 matchup


Yancy Gates, Cincinnati vs. Ohio State: It’s no secret who Ohio State’s offense is orchestrated around — Jared Sullinger. He’s the most dangerous low-post scoring threat in the country. But Sully can struggle when he goes teams with more length. Gates isn’t all that much taller than Sullinger, but he’s just as strong. When Sullinger is struggling to score, Ohio State is forced to rely on Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and William Buford for points. Those three can be inconsistent, and thus Ohio State becomes beatable.

Tu Holloway, Xavier vs. Baylor: Holloway’s importance is two-fold. On the one hand, he is Xavier’s best offensive weapon. As you are well aware, he is a big-time scorer that thrives in pressure situations. If Baylor is sitting back in their zone, Holloway is going to be the guy they look at to break down the defense. Holloway is also the best defender on Xavier, and he will be tasked with trying to keep Pierre Jackson out of the lane, which is not an enviable task.

CJ Leslie, NC State vs. Kansas: Leslie has become developed into quite an effective low-post scoring threat this season, and he’s been a dominant factor in the Wolfpack’s first two wins in this tournament. He’ll be going up against Thomas Robinson, a contender for National Player of the Year, as NC State takes on Kansas. Getting T-Rob in foul trouble wouldn’t hurt.

Erik Murphy, Florida vs. Marquette: Murphy is going to be the guy tasked with matching up with Marquette’s Jae Crowder, which will be a difficult thing for him to do. Crowder is about as versatile as a forward gets. He’s capable of going for 26 points, 14 boards, four assists and four steals in a game, as he did against BYU in the opening round. Murphy is a stretch-four, meaning that his role is to knock down threes to open up space in the paint for Patric Young and Florida’s guards. Can he defend Crowder?

Peyton Siva, Louisville vs. Michigan State: Louisville can muck it up defensively with anyone in the country, including Michigan State. Their issue is on the offensive end of the floor, and that is where Siva comes into play. Prior to Saturday’s win over New Mexico, Siva had been averaging 14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 2.6 spg over a five-game stretch. He only had six points and five assists against the Lobos, but he made all the big plays down the stretch. His emergence is the reason Louisville has made it this far in March; he’ll need to continue to play at this level is Louisville wants to continue to advance.

Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin vs. Syracuse: With or without Fab Melo, the Syracuse zone still have tough defenders on their perimeter. The Badgers are a team that thrives on their ability to shoot the three, and Jordan Taylor will be the guy that makes that happen. His ability to get into the paint and either a) hit a shot in the mid-range or b) find one of Wisconsin’s shooters will be the difference in the game.

Stilman White, North Carolina vs. Ohio: With Kendall Marshall’s broken wrist, White has all of a sudden become the most important player on the Tar Heel’s roster. He’s their only option at the point. There is not way that he is going to be able to lead the break the way that Marshall did, but UNC should still be able to advance if he can get the ball to the scorers for the Tar Heels.

Cody Zeller, Indiana vs. Kentucky: A major part of the reason that Indiana was able to knock off Kentucky earlier in this season is that Cody Zeller was able to get Anthony Davis into foul trouble. If the Hoosiers have any hope of pulling the sweet, Zeller is going to have to do the same thing.

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

Louisville’s Deng Adel and Ray Spalding to test draft process

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A season that began with the firing of Rick Pitino in mid-October came to an end Tuesday night, as Louisville lost to Mississippi State 79-56 in a Postseason NIT regional final. There are a lot of questions to be answered, most notably who will lead the program moving forward after interim head coach David Padgett led the Cardinals to 22 wins.

As for the players, two announced following the loss that they will be going through the NBA Draft process. Junior wing Deng Adel and junior forward Ray Spalding both confirmed that they will be entering the NBA Draft but not hiring agents, so as to preserve their collegiate eligibility should they decide to return to school.

This will be the second time that Adel has entered the NBA Draft, doing so last spring before making the decision to return to school.

Playing just over 33 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Adel averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest, shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from three. Moving into the starting lineup after serving as a reserve in each of his first two seasons at Louisville, the 6-foot-10 Spalding averaged 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27.4 minutes per game.

Mississippi State advances to NIT semifinals at MSG

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Mississippi State advanced to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York with a 79-56 victory over Louisville on Tuesday night.

Mississippi State (25-11) will face Penn State (24-13) on March 27.

Lamar Peters opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer and Mississippi State led by at least nine points the rest of the way. Weatherspoon scored eight points during a 12-3 run to start the third for a 51-31 advantage and MSU cruised.

Aric Holman added 16 points and eight rebounds for Mississippi State, which has won its most games since the 2009-10 season. Xavian Stapleton and Nick Weatherspoon each chipped in with 12 points. Abdul Ado had three blocks to tie Jarvis Varnado for the most blocks by a MSU freshman with 67.

Ray Spalding paced Louisville (22-14) with 13 points and 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. The Cardinals shot 35 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 42-32.

Gregg Marshall does right by Alex Lomax with NLI release

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Memphis introduced Penny Hardaway as its new head coach Tuesday morning, with the former Tiger great and Memphis native making his triumphant return to campus.

And it didn’t take long for Hardaway’s hiring to have an impact on the recruiting trail either, as the point guard who led Hardaway’s Memphis East squad to its third straight TSSAA AAA state title is expected to play for his longtime mentor.

Alex Lomax, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, requested to be released from his NLI on Tuesday. It didn’t take Marshall long to make his decision, granting Lomax’s request and citing the unique circumstances in his statement as to why.

“Obviously, we take commitments to the Shocker program very seriously, but this is a very unique situation where a young man’s mentor and coach since the 5th grade has become a Division I head coach,” Marshall said. “Allowing him out of his NLI without any penalty is the right thing to do.”

The National Letter of Intent, for those who may not be too familiar with it, is a document that when signed binds the recruit in question to the school they’ve committed to. If the circumstances surrounding the recruitment change, getting released from the NLI can be incredibly difficult. Coaches and universities have no obligation to release a recruit once they sign, and it seems like every year we run into a situation where a coach is refusing to so.

Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham is only a senior this season because, after signing an NLI with Appalachian State, he was not given a release and forced to go to prep school for a year. That’s not as uncommon as you might think.

That is also perfectly within the bounds of the rules, if not the laws of being a decent human being.

Wichita State and Marshall could have taken this opportunity to make life miserable for Lomax, and there would have been those who rushed to say that since the young man made a commitment he should stick by it no matter what. Lomax was a noteworthy recruiting win for the program during its first season in the American Athletic Conference, as the Wichita State went into Memphis and landed a pledge from a prospect who was likely to be a key part of the program’s plans moving forward.

But the hit that comes with allowing Lomax to leave without fuss is far less severe than what happens if Wichita State and Marshall make things difficult for him.

Faced with the opportunity to do the right thing and help out a young player, Marshall and Wichita State did just that.

The program should, and will, be applauded for it.

Stevens’ 30 points leads Penn State past Marquette in NIT

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Lamar Stevens tied his career high with 30 points, Tony Carr added 25 and Penn State beat Marquette 85-80 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

The Nittany Lions (24-13) will face either Mississippi State or Louisville at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. They advanced to the NIT semis for the first time since winning the 2009 tournament.

Stevens hit three crucial buckets in the final three minutes, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Josh Reaves for an eight-point lead with one minute left. The 6-foot-8 Stevens then maneuvered through a couple Marquette players to secure a rebound off Andrew Rowsey’s missed 3 with 46 seconds left.

Carr went 5 of 8 from the foul line over the final 30 seconds to give Marquette another chance. Rowsey hit a 3 and a layup to get the Golden Eagles as close as 83-80 with six seconds left before the Golden Eagles ran out of time.

Rowsey, a senior, scored 29 points for Marquette (21-14).

The Golden Eagles had whittled a 14-point deficit early in the second half to 72-68 with 2:39 left on three foul shots by Rowsey. Penn State went nearly three minutes without a bucket and got sloppy with the ball and the sharpshooting Golden Eagles started hitting 3s to get back in the game.

Report: Joseph Chartouny to transfer from Fordham

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After three seasons at Fordham, guard Joseph Chartouny will be leaving the school to play his final year elsewhere. News of Chartouny’s transfer was reported Tuesday afternoon by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, and the 6-foot-3 guard from Montreal will be eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.

Chartouny made 28 starts for the Rams this season, averaging 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals in 36.0 minutes per game. Leading the nation in both total steals and steals per game, Chartouny was an Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team selection.

In three seasons at Fordham Chartouny, the 2016 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averaged 11.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Given his abilities as a defender and a distributor, Chartouny stands to be a popular player amongst programs looking to add an immediately eligible contributor who also has ample experience at the Division I level.

With Chartouny reportedly moving on, Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer has a significant hole to fill in his backcourt rotation for 2018-19.

Transfers Antwon Portley (Saint Peters’s) and Erten Gazi (DePaul) will be eligible next season, with reserve Cavit Havsa set to be a junior next season. Fordham’s also landed three perimeter recruits in its 2018 class, with three-star point guard Nick Honor among that trio.