NCAA Basketball Tournament - Cincinnati v Florida State

The key player in each Sweet 16 matchup

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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.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.