College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Could an injury to Moser actually be a blessing in disguise for UNLV?: Before I get to my line of thinking, I want to emphasize something: this is no way, shape or form a good thing. Miker Moser dislocated his elbow — according to head coach Dave Rice, it was “very dislocated” — in a win at Cal on Sunday night, an injury that didn’t cause a fracture but will force Moser out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Maybe even the rest of the season. Considering this kid’s talent and the fact that he passed up on a chance to enter the NBA Draft after a breakout sophomore campaign, the pain from popping an elbow out of place isn’t the only reason this injury hurts. No one wants to see him sitting on the bench. No one.

But this will make Rice’s decisions easier to make in the near future. You see, Moser is a natural four in today’s college basketball. He’s 6-foot-8, he can rebound and defend in the paint, but he can also step out and knock down a three. Spread the floor offensively and protect the rim defensively. It’s ideal. It’s also a position that is currently being manned by Anthony Bennett, whose 25 points and 13 boards pushed his freshman year averages up to 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Khem Birch returns next week, and if he’s as good as the hype says he is — I know we always hear a transfer being forced to sit out is the best player in practice, but sometimes that turns out to be the case — than that means Moser would be forced to the small forward spot.

Because you don’t sit a talent like Mike Moser, even if it means playing him out of position.

With Moser out of the lineup, however, that means that the Chuck Brothers — Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt — can take up residence on the perimeter with Anthony Marshall manning the point, and while I don’t love that trio being tasked with distributing the ball when the front court is where UNLV’s strength lies, it may end up being a better option that using an out-of-position Moser.

Kansas is on track to become one of the nation’s elite: The thinking about Kansas throughout the preseason was that this would be an elite defensive team that will slowly develop into a very good offensive team as Elijah Johnson learns to be a point guard and Ben McLemore becomes more comfortable in a feature role offensively. Well, the former is true, as Withey has become the nation’s premiere defensive force in the paint, anchoring a defense that currently ranks sixth in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. And McLemore? He’s averaging 16.0 points with an offensive efficiency rating of 116.0 (a really good number) and a usage rate of 25.6% (meaning he’s the focal point offensively). As he becomes a more consistent three-point shooter (he’s currently at 31.4%), those numbers will only improve.

The only thing Kansas is really waiting on is Johnson, or Naadir Tharpe, to learn how to protect the ball offensively. Kansas is going to be right there in the mix all season long, and a 36 point shellacking of Colorado on Saturday is only further evidence of that.

How many teams constitute ‘the nation’s elite’?: Here’s the way I see it right now: Duke and Indiana are the nation’s top two teams as of this moment. It doesn’t really matter how you rank them — I still have IU in the top spot, but if you want to put Duke there because of who they have beaten this season, I have no qualms with that — but those two need to be No. 1 and No. 2. I think Michigan is the third best team in the country, followed very closely by Syracuse at No. 4. The next tier is made up of Louisville, Kansas and Florida.

I consider those seven teams the ‘nation’s elite’. Arizona, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Missouri, Illinois, Creighton, anyone from the Mountain West — they’re not on that same level.

What does the loss to Illinois tell us about Gonzaga?: I’m torn over this. Illinois was quite impressive in winning at Gonzaga on Saturday night, but just what does a win at Gonzaga mean right now? The Zags have one of the biggest and most versatile front lines in the country, and their back court is loaded with talent and athleticism, but there are two major concerns I have with this group:

  • Kevin Pangos is a terrific player, but he’s not a point guard; he’s a scoring guard that can handle the ball. The only point guard on Gonzaga’s roster is David Stockton, and he turns the ball over far too often and is a defensive liability, especially when he shares the floor with Pangos. And while Pangos is struggling a bit early on this year, he still needs to be on the floor for this team.
  • The Zags are going to have an advantage in the paint in every game, and they certainly had one against a much smaller Illinois team. But they couldn’t get the ball to Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk or Prmezek Karnowski in the second half against the Illini. Some of that was due to a zone that Illinois was in, but there was also an issue with perimeter players hunting shots. Is this going to be a consistent issue? Because if it is, Gonzaga won’t be playing to their strength.

It’s too early to write off the Zags, but this loss was a worrisome development given the way the past couple of seasons have gone.

Brandon Triche, the nation’s most prolific starter?: Here’s a cool stat for you: Brandon Triche has started all 115 games of his college career. He’s never missed one and never come off of the bench for one. The record for most starts in a college career was set by Kyle Singler, who started 147 games. Singler came off the bench once as a sophomore, however, which is why former VCU Ram Bradford Burgess holds to current NCAA record for most consecutive starts with 146. Syracuse has played eight games this season, which means that if they can make it to the finals of both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament without coming off the bench or missing a game, he’ll be able to break Burgess’ record and tie Singler’s record while setting his record for most career starts without missing a game or coming off the bench in a career.

No other senior in the country has started every single game in his career. The closest is Drew Crawford or Northwestern. He’s currently at 110 career starts, but he came off the bench once as a sophomore. Ohio’s DJ Cooper has started 114 games in his career, but he’s come off of the bench four times. Kenny Boynton has 112 career starts, coming off the bench once in each of his first three seasons. Elias Harris has 108 starts, but he missed a game as a freshman and as a sophomore and came off the bench once as a sophomore.

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.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

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.