Late Night Snacks: Kansas fans go Wilde for Olivia’s hat

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Game of the Night

No. 4 Louisville 80, Kentucky 77: With realignment destroying old rivalries left and right, thank goodness for the river of localized vitriol that keeps this wonderful annual matchup alive. Last time, it was an unplanned Final Four meeting, won by Kentucky on the way to a national title. This time, it was just one non-conference win for the Cardinals, but that didn’t make the joy any less sweet for Louisville fans, nor the taste any less bitter for Wildcat partisans. Russ Smith went all Russdiculous with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 turnovers (natch) in the win.

Meaningful Results

Tennessee 51, Xavier 47: The Vols will grind it out and kill the tempo in every major matchup they have this season. So far, results have been mixed. Against Oklahoma State, Georgetown and Virginia, that approach ended in barely-watchable losses. Recently, the road grader strategy has been working, leading to a win over Wichita State two weeks ago, and tonight’s triumph over a game Xavier squad. Sophomore swingman Josh Richardson shot 5 of 6 from the floor to lead the Vols with 12 points.

No. 2 Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73: Trey Burke had 22 points and 11 assists to lead the Wolverines to 13-0 against a feisty Chippewas squad. Nick Stauskas kicked in 19 and Glenn Robinson III had 20, and Michigan has an unblemished non-conference record to celebrate. A Big Ten opener at Northwestern is next.

No. 14 Florida 78, Air Force 61: Forgive the Gators if they shudder a little bit at the name “M. Lyons” in the starting lineups. This time, fortunately for them, it was Michael Lyons of Air Force, not Mark Lyons of Arizona. Still, the Falcons gave Florida a game, going into the half down by just two points. This time, the Gators wisely spent more time feeding the post, leading to a 21 point game for Erik Murphy and a complementary 13 for Patric Young.

No. 18 Butler 68, Vanderbilt 49: Vandy ain’t what they used to be, but this is still a road win in the difficult environs of Memorial Gym, and it’s exactly the kind of game Butler must continue to win in order to get back to the Big Dance. It’s easy when Rotnei Clarke puts up 22 points, but you’d like to see a little more from his supporting cast.

Starred

Jerrelle Benimon, Towson: The former Georgetown Hoya single-handedly willed the Towson Tigers to an overtime road win over the Oregon State Beavers. His line speaks for itself: 20 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists and one block. Benimon played all 45 minutes of the contest and logged only three personal fouls.

Kevin Ollie, UConn: It’s been a pretty decent week for Kevin Ollie, the former UConn player who took over for hoops icon Jim Calhoun on a seven-month contract in September of this year. Ollie and the Huskies visited Newtown in an emotional show of solidarity with the town’s shooting victims earlier this week. Then, as the East Coast Huskies prepared for a visit from the Washington Huskies, Connecticut announced a 5-year contract extension that should ease Ollie’s mind for a while. Then his team beat Washington 61-53 to run the team’s record to 10-2 just in time for Big East play to begin (the beginning of the end?) on New Year’s Day at Marquette.

KU’s power couple: Fans of other schools have long been secretly jealous of Kentucky’s ‘special relationship’ with Ashley Judd. One rival is starting to feel a little smug these days, as the brand new hotness is now housed in Lawrence:

Struggled

Syracuse: Sure, they won by 21 points, but this one begs for a closer examination. They scored 57 points against a 2-12 Alcorn State team that gift-wrapped 86 points in a loss to Fort Valley State earlier this year. The Braves fumbled away 25 turnovers, but also snatched 19 defensive rebounds against a team that towered over them at every position. Worst of all, the Orange shot just 37.5% from the floor and a miserable 20% from behind the arc. All this in the Carrier Dome after losing to Temple there last week. This team needs to clear out the cobwebs, and quickly.

Kentucky at the line: “Hack a Willie Cauley-Stein” doesn’t have the same ring as “Hack a Shaq”, but it’s a platinum-plated strategy for future Kentucky opponents. Louisville put Cauley-Stein on the line four times in the waning minutes of a tight game, and Cauley-Stein missed all four of his charities. He was hardly alone. The Wildcats as a team were just 47.8% from the line.

Mike Moser, UNLV: Moser’s return from injury was anything but glorious, as he played 12 minutes, picked up five quick fouls, and went back to the bench with just 3 points, one board and one turnover.

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

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

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

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.