The Morning Mix

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I know you’re anxious. We’re roughly 24 hours away from real, live, meaningful college basketball. No messing around today. Time to get dialed it.

Top Stories:

Dez Wells is able to play, Maryland suddenly much better: Xavier-transfer Dezmine Wells was approved by the NCAA to participate with Maryland on Wednesday morning. When added to a core of Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, David Padgett, Alex Len and Shaq Cleare, the Terrapins should now be considered a legitimate threat in the ACC.

Indiana tops preseason NCAA tournament projections: Dave Ommen, NBC Sport’s resident bracketologist released his first NCAA tournament projections of the season, and as you would expect, Indiana is the No.1 overall seed. He also has the Atlantic-10 getting five bids while the Pac-12 only gets three. Kinda makes sense, though.

Who is the best team in “Kentuckiana”?: The latest installment of our “Burning Questions” series features a made-up region just north of the greater “Charlanta” region. You can clearly tell my answer was not used.

While there are better X’s and O’s coaches than John Calipari, there is nobody better at marketing (or recruiting): Much of the public’s disdain for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats stems from the seemingly endless national media coverage of the man many call “Teflon John”. But while Kentucky does command a lot of attention, Coach Calipari uses the spotlight better than anybody in order to benefit the university, the program and the community. There is no denying that he’s the game’s best recruiter, public speaker and marketer.

Son of legendary UNLV coach Tarkanian loses House race in Nevada: Danny Tarkanian (R), the youngest son of lengendary, towel-bitting UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian was unsuccessful in his bid at a seat in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D) won the race  by a 50-42 margain according to 80% of the reporting precincts. Who doesn’t love politco hoops?

Hoops Housekeeping:

– Ben Howland got a commitment from three-star wing Noah Allen despite never actually scouting the player in person. That’s kinda bizarre. That’s so UCLA. (Bruins Nation)

– Speaking of UCLA, Shabazz Muhammad may actually be able to play in the Bruins season opener (Los Angeles Times)

– Missouri guard Michael Dixon will remain suspended for the season opener on Saturday. Keion Bell will return to the starting lineup after sitting out with a fever of 103-degrees (Columbia Tribune)

– Hawaii-transfer Shaq Stokes has been granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA and will be able to play immediately at Hofstra. The Brooklyn native averaged 8.4ppg as a freshman at Hawaii and was named the New York City Player of the Year coming out of high school. (Zags Blog, SNY.tv)

– Villanova backup guard Ty Johnson has decided to transfer schools. The sophomore averaged just 3.3ppg last season. (Philly Inquirer)

– Jordan Daniels started 25 games as a freshman for Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles. But the sophomore guard has decided to transfer out of Chestnut Hill and back closer to his family on the West Coast. (SB Nation Boston)

– Suspended Murray State sophomore Zay Jackson had his plea deal rejected by Calloway County Judge Craig Clymer. It seems like Jackson could be headed to jail for more than a month’s time (OVC Ball)

Observations & Analysis:

– With the season just 24 hours away, the UCLA Bruins are preparing as if they will be without freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad (Fox Sports)

– No.18 UNLV needed a Carlos Lopez-Sosa overtime buzzer-beater in order to defeat Dixie State in their final exhibition game, 81-80 (Las Vegas Sun)

– John Wilner previews the upcoming season for the six Bay-area schools (Oakland Tribune)

– Billy Donovan is concerned that his Florida squad may struggle to dominate the glass (Gainesville Sun)

– Pitt Panther fans are very excited to see freshman big-man Stephen Adams in real, meaningful action. Why else would they chart his progress through the exhibition games? (Cardiac Hill)

– An current evaluation of the major trends in Texas Tech hoops (Viva The Matadors)

Lists, Polls & Rankings:

– Eamonn Brennan must moonlight as a television critic, because his viewing guide of the must-see non-conference games is spot-on (ESPN)

– Former-Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg ranks the top shooters in the country (ESPN)

– Mike DeCourcy does roughly the same thing, ranks the non-conference games (The Sporting News)

– It’s no #AllNameTeam, but it will work: The All-Hipster Freshman Team (Grantland)

– The Patriot Center is arguably the toughest venue for road teams in the CAA, but it’s not alone. Three other places are gaining notoriety for being hard places to win on the road (CAA Hoops)

– Pat Forde provides a solid list of the top-25 most intriguing coaches to watch for in 2012-2013. One notable absence is Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos, arguably college basketball’s most entertaining interviewee. (Yahoo Sports)

Odds & Ends:

– I apologize for missing this earlier in the week, but ESPN released their broadcast announce pairings for the upcoming season.  My favorite pairings? Joe Tessatore & Sean Farnham, Dave O’Brien & Doris Burke, John Schiambi & Fran Fraschilla, and Bob Wischusen & Stephen Bardo. I will miss Gottlieb. Raftery, Bilas & McDonough are always appointment viewing too (ESPN Media Zone)

– A broadcast viewing guide for all you Creighton Bluejay fans out there. any televised game featuring Grant Gibbs (@DoubleGfor3) is mandatory appointment-viewing (White & Blue Review)

– A viewing guide for those interested in watching the postponed Battle on the Midway between San Diego State and Syracuse (Syracuse Post-Standard)

– Despite the decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, THC remains off-limits for college athletes in the two states (The Dagger)

– A quick Q&A session with Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, who for my money is the nicest college basketball coach I’ve ever come across. He’s also a winner (545-284 at Belmont) and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer (The Byrd Cage)

Video of the Day:

In honor of Dez Wells getting cleared by the NCAA to participate at Maryland, let me reintroduce you to the nastiest single-game display of #POSTERIZATION I have ever seen. In person too. #BIAHRoadTrip was court side at the Cintas Center for this. Rick Broering can vouch for us. (Ballin’ is a Habit)

Do you like the new Morning Mix? Hate it? Have a suggestion or wanted something featured? Troy Machir will take all your praise, insults and inquiries via Twitter (@TroyMachir)

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

Cleveland State hires Dennis Felton as head coach

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Cleveland State has found its next head coach as the school announced the hiring of Dennis Felton.

A veteran head coach with previous stops at Western Kentucky and Georgia, Felton made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the Hilltoppers before taking the job with the Bulldogs before the 2003-04 season.

Felton takes over for previous head coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons at Cleveland State.

“I’m extremely excited to return to the head coaching ranks with this opportunity at Cleveland State University,” Felton said in the release. “I’m grateful to Dr. Berkman and Mike Thomas for the opportunity to lead this program. Cleveland State is an outstanding University that continues to grow in stature on the national landscape. I’m eager to start working with our players to build a championship program and getting out to share my vision of how we plan to partner with the entire community to do special things at Cleveland State.”

Felton made one NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with Georgia as he was fired in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Having a tough time overcoming NCAA sanctions lobbied after the Jim Harrick’s time with the school, Felton’s time with the Bulldogs never got rolling as he dealt with scholarship limitations and other obstacles.

After his time coaching in college, Felton spent time as a college scout with the Phoenix Suns before becoming director of pro player personnel for the San Antonio Spurs for a few seasons.

Cleveland State finished 18-45 over the last two seasons as they’ve struggled in the Horizon League. Felton will be tasked with turning the Vikings around as he hopes to find some of the magic that helped make Western Kentucky a consistent winner.

But with NBA connections and a lot of head coaching experience, Cleveland State made a solid hire here.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.

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

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)