Oriakhi’s value to Missouri should not be understated

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On Friday evening, Alex Oriakhi, the nation’s most sought-after transfer, officially made his commitment to play his final season at Missouri.

And while the former UConn big man let the decision-making process play itself out, it turns out that Missouri was the desired destination all along.

“This is where I wanted to go from the beginning,” Oriakhi told the Kansas City Star. “It was just a matter of me visiting. Why should I delay it when my heart was telling me to commit?” Oriakhi said. “To be honest, I wanted to get it over with so I could relax and focus on getting better.”

The importance of Oriakhi’s commitment cannot be overstated, so much so that I think the only thing holding the Tigers back from contending for an SEC title will be whether or not their plethora of transfers are able to come together.

Missouri has loads of talent on their roster. It starts with the return of the Tiger’s dynamic back court of Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon, and while the loss of Kim English and Marcus Denmon will hurt, adding Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell and Oregon transfer Jabari Brown (at the end of the fall semester) will certainly make their graduation easier to endure and will provide an additional scoring pop. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross should be able to contribute at the small forward spot where he will lineup alongside the now-healthy Laurence Bowers, a guy that was arguably the best player on Missouri’s 2010-2011 team.

That’s a solid core before you include the good-but-not-great, seven-man recruiting class Haith has brought in.

But what that group was missing was a big man in the middle, which is precisely the role that Oriakhi will fill.

Oriakhi got lost in the shuffle at UConn this past season. His minutes were wiped away by the late-August addition of Andre Drummond, and between his inconsistent playing time, his deteriorating relationship with head coach Jim Calhoun and the issues that the Huskies dealt with as a unit all season long, Oriakhi saw his minutes and his production dwindle as the season went on. What people tend to forget, however, is that Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 boards for UConn’s 2011 National Title team, providing an invaluable presence in the paint as a shot blocker and a rebounder.

That is precisely what he will be asked to do for the Tigers next season.

Oriakhi is a similar player to Ricardo Ratliffe. Both are big, both are strong, both can rebound and both take up a lot of space in the paint. But where Ratliffe was probably a little more refined on the offense end of the floor, Oriakhi is a much better defender and shotblocker. Oriakhi’s mediocre back-to-the-basket game won’t be much of a factor, either, as he’ll feast off of the wide-open dunks he gets playing with Phil Pressey.

With four transfers joining the three returning members of the Missouri rotation, Haith is going to have his work cut out for him getting his team to buy into his system. But that was something he had to do this year, as he took over a senior-laden team that struggled with selfishness at the end of the 2011 season.

Haith did a masterful job coaching up the Tigers last season, and next year will likely require much of the same.

But if he can pull it off, Missouri will again spend much of the season in the top ten.

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

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.