The Morning Mix

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The last day of finals week is here. Not very much happened on the court last night. But that’s OK, because we have a lot to get to, you know, with the Big East imploding and everything.

What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about? Strap in and buckle up, because we have a lot to get it.

Lets hit the links.

Friday’s Top Games:  Only five games on the schedule tonight feature a match-up of D-I teams
7:00 p.m. – Central Florida @ Old Dominion
7:00 p.m. – Maine @ Army
7:00 p.m. – Charlotte @ Miami (FL)
8:00 p.m. – East Tennessee State @ Ole Miss
9:00 p.m. – LSU @ Boise State
 
 
Read(s) of the Day:
This is, unquestionably, the best article I’ve read regarding the implosion of the Big East. Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant has no sympathy for the Big East, and can we blame him? No we cannot. Please, I’m begging you. Read this. (Hartford Courant)

Read(s) of the Day:
Dana O’Neil’s strong profile piece on “The Game of Change” is something you need to read before tip between Mississippi State and Loyola (IL) on Saturday. Read it. (ESPN)

Read(s) of the Day:
Luke Winn’s Power Rankings. Need I say more? Read it every Friday. (Sports Illustrated)
 
 
Top Stories:
Why the Big East’s breakup isn’t all bad: For us East Coasters born on traditional Big East basketball, this is as good of an outcome as we could have gotten. Rob Dauster explains why.

VIDEO: John Feinstein talks about the departure of the Catholic 7: Via CSNWashington, John Feinstein takes a look at what today’s Big East news means for Georgetown and for college basketball as a whole.

Report: Butler and Xavier to join the Catholic 7: According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Butler and Xavier will be a part of the newly established conference made up of the seven catholic schools that disbanded from the Big East on Wednesday.

Exam week essay about the likelihood that a D-I player scores 100 points in a game: Jack Taylor, the Grinnell College sophomore, scored an NCAA-record 138 points in a game earlier this season. It was a result of the rapid and concentrated scoring style that Grinnell implements in every game. Do you believe that Division I will ever see another 100-point game in the modern era?

Holiday wish list for Arizona: The Wildcats are on the cusp of joining the group of elite teams in the country. In order to do so, they are asking for Mark Lyons to take care of the ball better, and for their young big man to continue to grow.
 
 
Hoops Housekeeping
– Rutgers head coach Mike Rice has been suspended three games and fined $50,000 for mistreatment of players, which includes throwing basketballs at their heads. (New Jersey Star-Ledger)

– Louisville center Gorgui Dieng had his cast removed from his hand and returned to practice. He should be able to return to action by December 22. (Card Chronicle)

– Kansas junior Justin Wesley suffered a broken pinkie in practice yesterday and will miss approximately the next three weeks (KUSports.com)

– Illinois State guard Geoffrey Allen suspended indefinitely following arrest. (Chicago Tribune)

– New Mexico State center Tshilidzi Nephawe underwent surgery to fix torn ligaments in his right hand. It is unsure if he will return or not this season. (Las Cruces Sun-Times)

– Former Washington State point guard Reggie Moore will transfer to Western Washington after being dismissed in September. (College Basketball Talk)

– Maryland freshman Jake Lyman was benched by coach Mark Turgeon during the first half against Monmouth because he failed to meet academic standards set by the head coach. (Washington Post)
 
 
Observations & Insight:
– Pete Thamel provides an excellent read on the in’s and out’s of the implosion of the Big East and the logistics behind the “Catholic-7” (Sports Illustrated)

– Jason McIntyre’s take on the collapse of the Big East is also worth your time (The Big Lead)

– A great profile on the Big East “Catholic” Conference’s additions based on NCAA history and attendance (Rumble in the Garden)

– Another great take from Dana O’Neil on the calculated risks being taken by the “Catholic-7” (ESPN)

– Brian Ewart wonders exactly how the “Catholic-7” will go about leaving the Big East (VU Hoops)

– Jeff Eisenberg on the winners and losers from the “Catholic-7” split (The Dagger)

– Now that the “Cahtolic-7” had split, and Butler and Xavier are expected to join, the A-10 is now on red alert for program poaching (Eye on College Basketball)

– With the Big East is a current free fall, what are the chances that Louisville and Notre Dame can join the ACC early than previously expected (Eye on College Basketball)

– Creighton officials declined comment on Thursday on whether or not the Bluejays would have any interest in joining a new basketball conference made up of the seven former members of the Big East (Omaha World-Herald)

– Gonzaga is one of the programs that is currently reaching out to the new Catholic conference about potential membership (Slipper Still Fits)

– The MAAC is set to vote on membership for three NEC schools. Quinnipiac is thought to be a lock, as is Monmouth, with Wagner having an outside shot (New York Daily News)

– Tennessee got a hard-fought victory over No.24 Wichita State last night, handing the Shockers their first loss of the season (Rocky Top Talk)

– Billy Donovan nearly left Florida a few years back to pursue the head coaching job with the Orlando Magic, but at the last-minute he decided to stay. But the long-time Gator head coach isn’t ruling out the possibility of coaching in the NBA some day (Gainesville Sun)

– Andy Glockner on the new challenges and environment that have Larry Eustachy in a “perfect fit” at Colorado State (Sports Illustrated)

– Tom Izzo wishes he could spend less time recruiting and more time with his family. I can’t imagine he’s the only coach who feels this way (MLive.com)
 
 
Odds & Ends:
– Eamonn Brennan fills us in on an interesting situation regarding a radio show featuring Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik, and the show’s decision to censor the caller interaction. As you would imagine, this did not sit well with the fan base (ESPN)

– Jabari Parker is set to make his college decision on the 20th, but he still isn’t exactly sure what school he is going to decide on (SNY.tv)

– College of Charleston lost a stunner last night to D-II Anderson University 65-49 in an exhibition game. Here is what reactions to the score look like in .GIF form (King Kresse)
 
 
Video(s) of the Day:
An awesome trick-shot video put together by Oklahoma freshman James Fraschilla, the son of ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. The video benefits the Hayden’s Hope Foundation. (ESPN)
 

 
Video(s) of the Day:
Vin Parise and Erik Kuselias discuss the departure of the “Catholic-7” from the Big East. (NBC Sports Talk)
 

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

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.