NCAA Basketball Tournament - Louisville v Florida

Lenzelle Smith, Chane Behanan spark Final Four runs

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People are incorrect when they say that it was the play of Kemba Walker that carried UConn from the first day of the Big East tournament to 11 consecutive wins and, eventually, an NCAA Championship.

Kemba was sensational, don’t get me wrong. But he was sensational all season long. He went for 42 points in the second game of the regular season. He scored 90 points as the Huskies ran through the Maui Invitational in the third week of the regular season. There was the triple-double he had against New Hampshire, the game-winners he hit against Villanova and Texas, the 31 points and 10 assists he had against Georgetown.

You get the point.

As good as Kemba was, it was the emergence of Jeremy Lamb as a secondary scorer, Alex Oriakhi as a dominant rebounder and Shabazz Napier as a capable ball-handler that allowed Jim Calhoun to make a run to his third national title.

If we’re going to take anything out of UConn’s run, it’s that simply relying on a star is not enough to get a team to the Final Four. It’s the production of the supporting cast — both expected and unexpected — that is the difference between hanging a Final Four banner and heading home after the tournament’s first weekend.

You needn’t look any further than Saturday night’s Elite Eight action to see it.

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Louisville has one of the weirdest roster compositions you’re ever going to come across.

The Cardinal’s two most important players — Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva — happen to be the fifth- and sixth-leading scorers on the team, respectively. Their two leading scorers — Kyle Kuric and Russ Smith — have gotten more attention this season for the shots they’ve missed than the shots they’ve made.

Perhaps the least-talked about member of Louisville’s team is Chane Behanan, the undersized power forward whose physical, blue-collar presence in the paint is the perfect compliment to Dieng’s ability as a shot-blocker. Behanan, who averages 9.3 ppg and 7.4 rpg, has made a name for himself thanks to his ability to finish around the rim, often times with a powerful dunk in traffic. But he’s far from what you would consider a big-time scoring threat; he scored 17 or more points just three times this season heading into Saturday.

But against the Gators, Behanan did just that, finishing with 17 points and seven boards.

It was more than the number of points he scored, however. It was when he scored them. With the Gators up 11 and less than nine minutes left in the game, Behanan reeled off seven straight points in less than two minutes to get the Cards back within six. With three minutes left in the game — and with Siva on the bench with five fouls — Behanan hit a short jumper in the lane that tied the score for the first time since the 10 minute mark of the first half. With 1:12 left in the game, Behanan hit another short jumper that gave Louisville a 69-68 lead.

Florida wouldn’t score again, and Louisville would advance to the Final Four with a 72-68 win.

“Really wanted the ball, really played terrific down the stretch when we needed him,” Pitino said of Behanan. “Very surprising for a freshman.”

It was more than just Behanan’s offense that changed the course of this game, however. Florida torched Louisville’s zone in the first half, to the tune of 8-for-11 shooting from three. Rick Pitino switched to a man-to-man defense in the second half, but Florida began to expose the mismatches by using whoever  Gorgui Dieng was guarding in a pick-and-roll.

So down the stretch, Pitino had Behanan and Dieng essentially rotate the big man they were guarding, with Dieng protecting the rim and Behanan switching onto whoever set the screen. It was his ability to defend those ball-screens that led to Louisville’s 18-3 run over the final eight minutes of the game.

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Lenzelle Smith, Jr., has been one of the most enigmatic players on the Buckeye roster this season.

Smith had reached double figures just once this season when he exploded for 28 points in a 17-point win over Indiana in January. Three games later, Smith had 17 points in a 15-point win over Michigan. In between those two offensive explosions? Smith had a total of two points.

Seriously.

Two points. In two games.

So heading into this tournament, it really wasn’t a secret that Smith was able to score in bunches. What was unknown, however, was when he was actually going to show up. On the nights that Smith does show up, he makes Ohio State such a different basketball team. We all know about Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, but with the youth on the rest of the roster and the inconsistency of William Buford this season, finding another source of points has been vital.

On Saturday, Smith was that guy. He finished with 18 points in Ohio State’s 77-70 win over No. 1 seed Syracuse, scoring 16 of those 18 points in the second. Included in that stretch were arguably Ohio State’s two biggest shots of the night. With just under 12 minutes left in the second half, Syracuse had whittled a 10 point lead down to three when Smith buried a 3-pointer. Four minutes later, Syracuse had gotten the lead down to a single point when Smith hit his third triple of the second half.

The Orange would never have the ball with a chance to take the lead the rest of the game.

I guess at this point it would probably be prudent to remind you that Smith knocked heads with Brandon Triche hard enough to split over his right eyebrow, which required three stitches to stop the bleeding.

Smith had hit 25 threes in a row during Ohio State’s shootaround on Saturday, but it took a while to convince head coach Thad Matta that shooting touch had carried over to the game.

“[Smith] had lost his man on defense and given up a three and then came down and threw kind of a wild pass that almost got picked off,” Matta said, “and I was literally saying he doesn’t have it at the moment, let’s get him out and we’ll talk to him.”

“Then he bangs a three, and I’m like, he’s back.”

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Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas combined for 33 points and 16 boards against Syracuse, while Aaron Craft provided his typical, petrifyingly tough on-ball defense.

Gorgui Dieng was only credited with one block while adding eight points and six boards, but he controlled the paint in the second half against Florida. Peyton Siva, before he fouled out, finished with nine points, eight assists and just a single turnover. Russ Smith chipped in with 19.

Chane Behanan and Lenzelle Smith weren’t alone on Saturday night. But they were the difference makers.

And they are just as much the reason the Buckeyes and the Cardinals are still playing as anyone.

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

Coach Cal softball game raises $300K for La. flood relief

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John Calipari is known for his ability to amass talent. Over the weekend, that quality helped raise $300,000 for Louisiana flood relief.

The Coach Cal Celebrity Softball Classic brought Kentucky stars like Keith Bogans, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns and the likes of former UK quarterback Tim Couch and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Carter to Lexington to help aid Louisiana in conjunction with the Red Cross after the area suffered major flooding earlier this month.

“I didn’t want to really do a softball game,” Calipari said according to his website, “but then we decided to do it and then Louisiana happens and now you have a cause. … It’s kind of neat. You have a cause, you have a why.”

Towns’ team was the 18-12 victor over Team Calipari on the day.

“This is amazing,” Towns said on CoachCal.com. “This is something that we get a chance to rarely do. We get to help the community out but at the same time have fun. There’s nothing better than doing something that we would do for free but for charity. This is something we’re going to have a lot of fun doing today.”

The softball game was played the same weekend as the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience which generated $1 million that will be shared with 14 charities.

‘Noles add legacy guard to 2017 class

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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Florida State has added another solid member to its 2017 recruiting class.

Anthony Polite, a 6-foot-6 guard from Florida, pledged to the Seminoles on Tuesday morning.

“Officially committed to Florida State University #Nole Nation,” Polite wrote on Twitter.

Polite chose Leonard Hamilton’s program out of a final top-five that also included Pitt, Memphis, Texas Tech and Miami. He also sported offers from TCU, Boston College, Kansas State and Utah, among others.

“It was a really tough decision,” Polite said according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Miami had a great coaching staff. I just thought FSU would be the best fit for me and I had more of an opportunity to talk to the players at Florida State.”

Polite, whose father played for the Seminoles during his college career, averaged 21.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year as a junior playing for St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton, Fla.

“Anthony Polite is a skilled wing who can handle the ball and distribute a bit,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “Florida State still needs to help Polite improve his perimeter jumper, but his commitment gives them another talented playmaker from the wing who can handle and attack the rim.”

Regarded as a three-star prospect, Polite join power forward RaiQuan Gray and fellow guard Bryan Trimble in the Seminoles’ 2017 class. It doesn’t have the star power of Hamilton’s group last year, which included five-star Jonathan Isaac and four-star Trent Forrest, but they can be important pieces for a Florida State team that has just one senior on the 2016-17 roster.

Kansas players make weight room gains – and losses – this summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 18: Udoka Azubuike #105 in red runs back for defense the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 18, 2015 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
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Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.

Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.

“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.

“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”

Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.

Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.

Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.

 

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.

Five-star 2017 point guard Trevon Duval down to 10 schools

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
(Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Five-star point guard Trevon Duval is the most electrifying lead guard in the Class of 2017. The native of Delaware dominated the Under Armour circuit this spring and is currently regarded by many as a top-five player in the class by most recruiting services.

Now he’s down to 10 schools as his recruiting is starting to become more of a focus. The 6-foot-2 Duval is down to Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Maryland, Oregon, St. John’s, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC and Villanova.

Things are still early in the process for Duval and it will be interesting to see if he schedules any official visits soon.