As July nears, familiar faces have strong starts for 2013


The men’s college basketball July evaluation period is around the corner, and several familiar upper echelon college basketball programs are well positioned as a key month on the recruiting trail approaches. It’s too early to formulate team recruiting rankings, with around 30 of the top-100 high school prospects in the 2013 class verbally committed, but several schools have started strong in their efforts for next season. Ten schools that appear to be ahead of the game, in no order, are as follows:

North Carolina: Two top-20 prospects would be considered a haul at many schools, and the Tar Heels have locked down two potential impact players with in-state power forward Isaiah Hicks and USA U18 team member point guard Nate Britt. Hicks is an interior talent with massive potential, while Britt is a consummate point guard who has proven his talent in tough D.C.-area contests.

Florida: The Gators are no strangers to backcourt talent under coach Billy Donovan, but top-5 national talent Kasey Hill could star as an impact freshmen. Hill is considered the No. 2 point guard prospect and is the total package as a lead guard. The next step is to add a big man to Hill and what looks to be a deep backcourt going forward.

Kansas: If the 2012 recruiting class for the Jayhawks was meant to build depth, the 2013 class emphasizes quality. Two top-50 prospects are already locked up, with in-state combo guard Conner Frankamp currently playing from USA Basketball’s U17 team, and 6-6 swingman Brannen Greene. The Jayhawks can afford to be selective in targeting another top tier talent or two to complete this class.

Duke: While the Blue Devils will have to add some depth around him, 6-4 shooting guard Matt Jones is an all-around dandy. With scoring pop that extends deep across the 3-point line, Jones will be capable of stretching the floor. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that Jones plays on a grassroots team with the national No. 2 prospect, undecided power forward Julius Randle.

Michigan: There arguably isn’t a star in this group, but with three easy top-100 players, the Wolverines have a great group already committed to join a program on a definite upswing. Derrick Walton is the heir apparent at point guard if Trey Burke heads to the NBA after his sophomore season, and shooting guard Zak Irvin and power forward Mark Donnal both look like future starters.

Marquette: A great group of talent in Wisconsin is to the Golden Eagles’ benefit, as coach Buzz Williams and his crew of relentless recruiters have already snagged three pledges. All three are natives of Milwaukee, with burly wing forward Deonte Burton a strong player that fits perfectly in the system, as well as point guard Duane Wilson. Touted junior college forward Jameel McKay is also a Milwaukee native, though he’s playing at Indian Hills CC in Iowa.

Purdue: Perhaps like no other conference, the Big Ten schools have emphasized early verbal commitments in recent years. The Boilermakers will add tremendous depth and potential star power with their three early verbal commitments, headlined by knock down outside shooter Kendall Stephens, a long 6-5 guard with skills. In-state point guard Bryson Scott looks competent, and wing Basil Smotherman is a guy with some potential. Overall, this is a solid group.

Arkansas: When the Razorbacks received a verbal pledge from 6-9 power forward Bobby Portis, not many people had a firm evaluation on him. That’s changed. Portis has shot up player rankings charts with tremendous play at times. In Portis, the Razorbacks have a legitimate top-25 player that has the potential to go even higher. In-state point guard Dederick Lee recently decommitted from Arkansas, but the Hogs have time to find another lead guard to fill his shoes.

Alabama: It’s not always easy to find big men that can walk and chew gum, but the Crimson Tide has two early pledges from top-100 players in the 2013 class, in 6-10 center Jimmie Taylor and 6-8 forward Shannon Hale. Both big men have shown flashes in the spring, and have participated on different squads in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Alabama was among the last BCS schools to land a pledge in 2012, but is off to a hot start in this class.

Louisville: Dynamo combo guard Anton Gill looks like a slick fit after his pledge to the Cardinals. He’s a value with potential to play both guard slots, and has the ability to be a top notch guard at the college level. Strong numbers returning to the roster allows Louisville to be picky in their recruiting efforts, but it’s no secret that they’d like to add a talent big man to Gill.

Next Five: BYU, Indiana, Ohio State, Georgetown, Notre Dame..

Kellon Hassenstab runs Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.