Weekend Preview: Florida at Arizona highlights a nice weekend slate

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Game of the Weekend: No. 5 Florida at No. 8 Arizona (ESPN)

This choice isn’t all that complicated. There is only one game this weekend featuring two teams that are in the Top 25, and it just so happens that both of those teams are ranked in the top eight nationally. So, yeah, there really isn’t much of an argument against this game being the best of the weekend; it’s one of the best of the season thus far.

But there is so much more to look forward to here than the simplicity of stating that it is two top ten teams doing battle.

Florida has looked like a legitimate national title contender through the first month and change of the season. They worked Wisconsin at home. They worked Marquette at home. They were up 50-19 on Florida State in Tallahassee. They defend extremely well, they are balanced offensively and they win despite the fact that they don’t have a sure-fire first round pick. But that is precisely the question mark with this group: can a team really be legit if they are counting on a pair of shoot-first guards (Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario) and a center without a true low-post game? Will their defense hold up against another elite opponent?

Arizona is, or at least appears to be, elite. Their trio of freshmen big men look better and better as the season progresses while Mark Lyons’ playmaking issues have been offset by his ability to be an efficient scorer and the versatility of Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. But as of now, the Wildcats have not done anything notable this year. Winning at Clemson and Texas Tech? Meh. Beating LBSU? Talk to me when their transfers get eligible. The most impressive thing Arizona has done this season is win a game despite turning the ball over 27 times.

Saturday will be a gauge for both parties. Here’s to hoping they both come to play.

Five more games to watch this weekend

  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 1 Indiana vs. Butler (CBS): This year’s version of the Crossroads Classic pits Purdue against Notre Dame, which means that the headline show at Conseco Fieldhouse this Saturday will be the Bulldogs taking on the Hoosiers. We all know how good Indiana is this season, but I think that Butler has the make up of a team that can beat them. Andrew Smith is big enough to bang with Cody Zeller on the block, they have athleticism along their front line and a pair of deadly shooters in Kellen Dunham and Rotnei Clarke. My biggest concern: How will Clarke get his open looks? There’s no way he’s beating Yogi Ferrell or Victor Oladipo off the dribble.
  • Sat. 2:30 p.m.: No. 6 Louisville at Memphis (FSN): Since the Tigers got back from the Bahamas, they have finally looked like the team that we all thought had a chance to play their way to the Final Four this season. And it should come as no surprise that it was someone other than Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas leading the way, as Geron Johnson appears to have emerged as the Tiger’s most talented player. What, eventually, happens with Memphis will be unclear, but a win over powerhouse Louisville at the FedEx Forum would go a long way for the Tigers.
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Belmont at No. 9 Kansas (ESPNU): Belmont is coming off of an impressive win at home over a good Middle Tennessee State team, but the Blue Raiders aren’t in the same category as the Jayhawks are in Phog Allen. The Bruins have a talented, veteran back court, but both Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark will be giving up quite a bit of size to Kansas’ duo of Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Can Belmont find a way to score?
  • Sat. 9:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at Montana: Here’s to hoping that health prevails. Why? Because if everything goes according to plan, this will be a matchup between two of the best mid-major teams in the country, highlighted by a head-to-head battle between two of the best point guards in the country, period. Will Cherry broke his foot a few months back, but he’s expected to be in the lineup on Saturday. As is Nate Wolters, who missed a game at Minnesota last week because of a sprained ankle.
  • Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Kansas State at No. 14 Gonzaga: Gonzaga will be looking to make a statement here against the Wildcats. The Zags are coming off of a fairly embarrassing loss at home to Illinois, where they couldn’t find a way to stop Brandon Paul. K-State has a pretty good scoring guard of their own in Rodney McGruder, but he’s a different kind of player than Paul. McGruder is at his best playing off the ball; Paul did a lot of his damage in pick-and-roll situations. Gonzaga has struggled to defend those all year long. Can Angel Rodriguez be the guy to exploit that weakness?

And the mid-majors?:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Akron at Detroit
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m. Eastern Michigan at Illinois-Chicago
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: La Salle at Bucknell

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”