Burning Questions: Who is the best team in Kentuckiana?

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Real, live college basketball games start on Friday, and with all of our glorious preseason content finally finished, this week we will be providing you with water cooler fodder as we roll through a series of Burning Question. You can read them all right here.

Who is the best team in Kentuckiana?

Indiana:

  • (Daniel Martin): Louisville is coming off of a Final Four run and Kentucky plays the role of the villain on the national scene, but Indiana is the best in this trio. Take perhaps the best player in the nation in Cody Zeller, add that to a stellar freshman class, including point guard Yogi Ferrell, and you’ve got legitimate reason to be No. 1 in the nation. The special thing about Indiana being so nationally renowned is that when the Hoosiers are good, it raises the quality of college basketball itself. It’s one of those historic programs like Kansas or Kentucky or UCLA that draws the casual fan because of its connection to the very roots of the game.
  • (David Harten): As a lifelong resident of the area, these three teams have consumed my life since birth. Since I moved away, there’s still no way I can escape them, and I don’t want to. Not with this year being the greatest year for basketball in the Bluegrass and the Heartland. Indiana brings back a the National Player of the Year Candidate in Cody Zeller and a cast of role players. Louisville’s defense is some of the best in the nation and they rode it to the Final Four last season. Kentucky, well, Kentucky has John Calipari, who is the nation’s best recruiter and has developed into a solid X’s and O’s coach. This year should put all three in the Final Four.

Louisville:

  • (Raphielle Johnson): As much as I like Indiana and agree with the picking of them as the top team in both preseason polls, when it’s all said and done I’ll take the Cardinals due to their interior depth. Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell and more. On the perimeter while it remains to be seen how much Peyton Siva’s improved his jump shot, the addition of Luke Hancock should not be overlooked. He’ll be another facilitator that Rick Pitino can call on, and will help counteract the occasional craziness that comes with Russ Smith. Add in a healthy Kevin Ware and Wayne Blackshear and Louisville has an embarrassment of riches at every position.
  • (Eric Angevine): Because, really, who wants to read five identical paragraphs about Indiana? When comparing three top-5 teams, the margins are razor-thin, so I’m going back to first principles to make my selection. College basketball is a guard’s game, and an experienced, quality point guard is crucial to season-long success. Therefore, I’m giving Louisville and Peyton Siva the nod. The fact that they’re loaded at every other position and have Gorgui Dieng as a mistake-eraser seals the deal.

Kentucky:

  • (Rob Dauster): Since no one else here wanted to pick the Wildcats, I guess I’ll be tasked with making the argument in their favor. Neither Louisville nor Indiana are complete teams. The Cardinals were downright bad on the offensive end of the floor for much of last season and lost their two most efficient scorers to graduation. Indiana struggled on the defensive end of the floor, and many of those same issues look like they could end up arising for the Hoosiers again this season. Kentucky certainly isn’t a complete team right now, either, but they are more of a clean slate. John Calipari will have a ton of talent to mold and blend and turn into a title contender. If Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin can develop into 15 ppg scorers and the trio of Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer can find a way to effectively rotate through in the front court, Kentucky has as much raw talent as any team in Kentuckiana.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling 69-68 victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face top-seeded Kansas or No. 4 Purdue in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

Jordan Bell was unquestionably the deciding factor for Oregon. The senior big man had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points, continuing his stellar play this month. Derrick Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes to enter NBA draft

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is entering the NBA draft.

The 6-foot-4 junior made his announcement on Instagram on Thursday and also informed the school of his decision. He did not say whether he intends to hire an agent, a move that prevent him from returning to school.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 10.6 points per game this season and averaged 4.8 assists, which was sixth in the conference. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6-to-1 was third in the ACC.

The All-ACC defensive team selection helped Florida State (26-9) reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. The Seminoles advanced to the second round before a 91-66 loss to Xavier.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 12.4 points in his three seasons with the Seminoles and is the 46th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Rutgers guard Corey Sanders to enter NBA Draft

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders is entering the NBA draft.

In making the announcement Thursday, the university said Sanders will not sign with an agent.

Sanders will be able to attend workouts scheduled by NBA teams and will be eligible for invitation to the league’s combine next month. Players have until 10 days after the combine to remain in the draft or return to school, as long as they don’t sign with an agent.

Sanders started 31 of 33 games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Sanders needs to make an informed decision on his future.

“My dream has always been to play in the NBA,” Sanders said. “I look forward to determining where I am in that journey.”

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

It took four years, but Sindarius Thornwell has finally put South Carolina on the basketball map

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NEW YORK — If the NCAA tournament ended today, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell would be named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

Through two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 6-for-12 from three. He’s been the catalyst of an offensive explosion fro the Gamecocks that no one — not Thornwell, not Frank Martin, not anyone — could have seen coming.

South Carolina, a team that ranked in the 130s in offensive efficiency nationally and in the 300s in effective field goal percentage prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, put up 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke. They scored more second half points in their upset win over the Blue Devils — 65! — than they did in ten games this season, five of which they won.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that No. 7 seed South Carolina’s opponent in the East Regional semifinals, No. 3 seed Baylor, have zeroed in on Thornwell as the man they need to slow down on Friday night.

“Coach has broke down every made shot that he’s had and we have all watched at least about three hours of film on just Sindarius,” Baylor senior Ishmael Wainwright said. “He’s just a great player. The whole team, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, but the whole team, we’ll be trying to stop him.”

It’s fitting that Thornwell is the cornerstone of South Carolina’s arrival on the national scene, as the Lancaster native was the most important commitment of Frank Martin’s tenure with the Gamecocks. A blue-chip prospect that ranked in the top 40 of every recruiting service, Thornwell was an in-state kid that was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. South Carolina, at the time that Thornwell committed, had a new head coach that took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in eight years and had the prestige of making four trips to the Big Dance in the previous 38 seasons.

More to the point, it wasn’t clear whether that new head coach, Frank Martin, was there because he wanted to be there or because he simply didn’t want to be at Kansas State anymore, a program where his relationship with his Athletic Director had deteriorated.

Thornwell, who at that point had left Lancaster High School for the more prestigious Oak Hill Academy, had every reason in the world not to go to South Carolina.

But he did.

He wanted to play for his state, for his family. He is loyal, and that loyalty almost kept him from leaving Lancaster for Oak Hill in the first place.

“They had to force him to go, because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family,” Martin said. “His uncle, ‘Big Country’, Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, ‘You’re going to school here. This is for your own good.'”

“And it’s who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, ‘I want to do this with you,’ when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods. He wanted to help us build. He wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family’s name on the back of his jersey. And that’s powerful.”

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year in 2017. He was in the mix for a spot on the NBC Sports All-American teams before South Carolina’s late-season swoon. He’s had a sensational senior season individually, but more importantly, he got South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He led them to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. South Carolina had never won back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament before.

As in ever.

Thornwell did that for his state, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow senior Justin McKie and sophomore P.J. Dozier are both from Columbia, and the Gamecocks have quite a bit of young talent on their roster, as well as a five-man recruiting class headlined by four-star prospect David Beatty and former Delaware guard Kory Holden, who sat out this past season as a transfer.

The South Carolina program is as healthy as it’s been in decades, and Thornwell has as much to do with that fact as anyone.

“I have been born and raised in South Carolina,” Thornwell said, saying that all of the South Carolina natives play “for the same reasons, for our family, for our state. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program.”

“For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don’t feel like we get the recognition that we deserve.”

The Gamecocks certainly got plenty of recognition last weekend, becoing the focal point of the nation’s glare as they played a the biggest role in putting an end to the soap opera that was Duke’s season.

And Thornwell is going to find himself getting plenty of recognition on Friday night, as the Bears will focus plenty of their attention on slowing down the Gamecock star.

After all, three hours of film on one player is a lot of film.

“They exaggerate so much,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It was only two and a half.”