Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs
How could it not be the Bulldogs? Butler took on the big, bad Indiana Hoosiers in Conseco Fieldhouse in the opening game of the Crossroads Classic and won in overtime, 88-86. Roosevelt Jones led the way with 16 points, 12 boards and seven assists while Rotnei Clarke finished with 19 points and Andrew Smith did the dirty work in the paint, to the tune of 12 points and nine boards. But it was former walk-on Alex Barlow, who coaxed home a runner over Jordy Hulls with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to win it.
The most impressive part of this win wasn’t the fact that Butler was able to pull the upset, because, by now, there shouldn’t be anything that Brad Stevens does that surprises you. What was most impressive was that the Bulldogs were able to pull out the win despite the fact that Jones, Smith and Erik Fromm — also known as three-quarters of their front line — fouled out. Jones and Smith were gone with a couple of minutes left in regulation. And yet, the Bulldogs were able to hang on in regulation and pulled out the win in overtime.
Co-Team of the Week: Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats had one of the more miraculous comebacks of the weekend, as they knocked off previously undefeated Florida 65-64. They did it by forcing a trio of turnovers in the final minutes and by catching a break as Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Mark Lyons hit the game-winner.
Florida outplayed the Wildcats for a 90% chunk of this game, but good teams win games in which they don’t play well and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. That’s precisely what Sean Miller’s club did. Two important takeaways: a) Arizona’s big men got outplayed, but in beating one of the best teams in the country this season, there is no question they build confidence; and b) Mark Lyons was brought in not because of his playmaking ability, but because he is a veteran, tough-minded kid that has been through a lot in his career. He was brought in to hit big shots, in other words, and he did just that on Saturday night.
Five teams deserving of a shoutout:
- Cincinnati: Here’s the thing about the Bearcats: they always seem to get out to a quick start to the season, so the fact that Mick Cronin’s club is 10-0 right now is certainly not a surprise. But neither is the fact that they’re being somewhat slept on a month and a half into the season. This year is different, however. Cincinnati isn’t filling up on pastries; they’ve beaten Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State and won at Marshall. Not exactly a murderer’s row, but that’s much more than we are used to from the Bearcats.
- Miami: The Hurricanes are now 4-0 with Durand Scott in the lineup, with all four of those wins being of the impressive variety. The latest? A 77-46 drubbing of previously undefeated Charlotte. Scott led the way with 16 points, 12 boards, four assists and four steals.
- Boise State: The Broncos just keep on winning. The latest, which moved them to 7-2 on the season, came against LSU at home in the form of a 19 point victory. Anthony Drmic led the way with 34 points, but Derrick Marks chipped in 23 points, six boards, and six assists while Ryan Watkins chipped in with 12 points and 17 boards, 10 of which came on the offensive end of the floor.
- Santa Clara: The Broncos moved to 8-2 on the season — with both of those losses coming in overtime — with a 75-71 win over Pacific on the road on Saturday. Last year, we thought that SCU was going to be able to compete in the WCC, but with Marc Trasolini tearing his ACL and Kevin Foster getting suspended, the Broncos completely collapsed. This season could end up being different, as those two, plus point guard Evan Roquemore, make up one of the most underrated 1-2-3 punches in the country.
- Tennessee: The Volunteers picked up a much-needed, statement win over Wichita State on Thursday evening. Playing without Jeronne Maymon and with Jarnell Stokes in foul trouble much of the game, the Vols got 25 points and five assists from Trae Golden in a 69-60 win over the then-No. 23 Shockers.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.
Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.
Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.
This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.
Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.
Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.
The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.
Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.
He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.
UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.
The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.
This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.
The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.
For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.
Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.
A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.
Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.
“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”