Breaking down position matchups for Kentucky vs. Kansas

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There’s no denying Kentucky boasts more elite talent than Kansas. But that talent gap might not be as wide as you think.

The Wildcats start three guys who are projected as NBA lottery picks, a first-rounder and two more who are at least second-rounders.  The Jayhawks’ lone lottery pick is forward Thomas Robinson, but they also have two more who’ll be drafted in the first round, and another second-rounder.

Six draft picks vs. four drafts picks? That’s not insurmountable. So how’s it compare position-by-position? Let’s break it down.

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Point guard: Marquis Teague vs. Tyshawn Taylor
Teague’s developed nicely as Kentucky’s freshman point guard, cutting down on his turnovers, boosting his assists and not forcing shots. Taylor, Kansas’ four-year starter, is often criticized for his turnovers, but he commits them at a lower rate than Teague and is a better defensive player. The only thing preventing Kansas with a big edge here? Taylor’s shooting woes in the NCAA tournament.
Edge: Kansas

Shooting guard: Doron Lamb vs. Elijah Johnson
Lamb’s a lights-out shooter who doesn’t commit turnovers and is the perfect weapon to keep defenses from sagging on the Kentucky big men. Johnson’s a streakier scorer, but has been hot lately, averaging more than 15 points in his last seven games. Johnson’s a bit better in the open court, but Lamb’s ball-handling are toughness are underrated.
Edge: Even

Small forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Travis Releford
Kidd-Gilchrist is a lock-down defender, dynamic play-maker in the open court and a solid mid-range shooter. When he’s on, Kentucky’s usually rolling. Releford’s shorter, slower and can struggle to create his own shot. He’s a good player, but MKG is on another level.
Big edge: Kentucky

Power forward: Terrence Jones vs. Thomas Robinson
The most intriguing matchup of the bunch. Jones is a physical player, capable of handling the ball on the break, finishing in transition and knocking down a 3-pointer. Robinson’s slightly bigger, slightly stronger and much more aggressive. He’ll be relentless on both ends. The difference will be which one stays out of foul trouble and if Jones stays focused. Robinson will get his. Jones might not.
Edge: Kansas

Center: Anthony Davis vs. Jeff Withey
Davis is the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft and the national player of the year. He’s been more aggressive on offense during the NCAA tournament and continues to be a difference-maker on defense. But Withey’s hardly a chump. He actually had more blocks than Davis did during the Final Four and boasts more size, something that can bother Davis around the rim.
Edge: Kentucky

Bench
Kentucky’s Darius Miller is a senior, shoots 37 percent from beyond the arc, can play three positions and has been clutch throughout the season. Kyle Wiltjer is slow, but could be Kentucky’s best perimeter shooter. Kansas uses Connor Teahan for spot minutes, but unless he’s hitting 3s, he’s a defensive liability. Kevin Young is there for depth and fouls, not much else.
Big edge: Kentucky

Coaching
Bill Self’s got the better of John Calipari during the 2008 national title game and was just named the Naismith coach of the year. He took a roster that lost four starters and two key players to the Final Four and another Big 12 title. He’s also made crucial halftime adjustments throughout the tournament that have helped Kansas get this far. But don’t write off Calipari. His Wildcats are rolling thanks to his coaching and motivational methods. Xs and Os aren’t his strong suit, but he’s no dummy, either.
Edge: Even

X-factor
Will Kentucky have a letdown after beating Louisville? It seems unlikely given the team’s focus throughout the season. They play hard, they’re unselfish and don’t play like underclassmen. They’ve already handled Kansas once this season and have only gotten better since.But the Jayhawks have played like a team possessed the last five games, refusing to give into their shoddy shooting. The biggest factor might be preventing a Kentucky run. The last time the two played, the Wildcats used a 26-9 run over a 10-minute span to create separation. That happens again, Kansas is toast.
Edge: Kentucky

By my reckoning, Kentucky has edges in four areas, including a massive one at small forward. Unless Robinson and Taylor are superb, this game’s going to the Wildcats. Miracles do happen in the NCAA tournament. If Kansas pulls off one here, it’ll be a stunner.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.

Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.

This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.

Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.

This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.

The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”