College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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VCU’s ridiculously ‘havocy’ this season: VCU may not be sitting atop the Top 25 this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the best team that Shaka Smart has had in his tenure in Richmond. Let’s look past the fact that, you know, this group has the kind of talent that you usually find in the Big East or the ACC, not in the Atlantic 10’s newest addition.

VCU thrives on creating ‘Havoc’, which is the name that Smart has given his system. They press, they trap and they try to force turnovers. And thus far this season, the Rams have been the best team in the country at forcing turnovers. VCU’s opponents have turned the ball over on 30.4% of their possessions this season. But where VCU thrives is on steals, the live-ball turnovers that they can turn into layups and open shots at the other end of the floor. The Rams steal percentage is 19.0%, which is far and away the highest number in the country.

Illinois’ issues are on the defensive end: The knock on Illinois earlier this year was that they were too reliant on Brandon Paul; when he had an off night, the Illini were vulnerable. Well, Paul was awful against Auburn — 3-12 shooting, six turnovers — and the Illini still won, thanks in very large part to a 27-point, five-assist performance from Tracy Abrams.

The bigger issue was that Auburn was able to score 79 points against the Illini, a week after Missouri put up 82 on them. Illinois is 71st in the country in defensive efficiency, a number that has gone down after giving up 1.08 PPP and 1.09 PPP in their last two games. Illinois has a ceiling unless they get better on that end of the floor.

LBSU adds Keala King and Tony Freeland: Long Beach State was waiting all year to get Keala King and Tony Freeland eligible, and on Saturday, they saw their first action for the 49ers. Freeland, a transfer from DePaul, started and scored 15 points. King, who averaged 13.7 points as a sophomore at Arizona State, finishing with just one points and four turnovers in 19 minutes off the bench. We’ll go ahead and assume that performance was the result of first game jitters, because the possibility of a lineup consisting of Michael Caffey, Peter Pappageorge, Janes Ennis, Danny Jennings and Freeland with King coming off the bench is scary.

Phil Pressey isn’t the difference maker for Missouri, defense is: The Tigers are 58th in the country in defensive efficiency, which is surprising given how many good defenders there are on Frank Haith’s roster. It’s not because they struggle keeping teams from getting good looks at the rim; they are 20th in the nation in defensive effective field goal percentage. It’s not because they can’t rebound; the Tigers are one of the best in the country on the offensive glass and they’re way above average on the defensive glass. They don’t foul too much.

The problem? Missouri isn’t making plays defensively. They are 331st in the country in defensive turnover rate. They are outside the top 200 in block and steal percentage. Frank Haith doesn’t like pressuring defensively, which doesn’t make much sense based on the pieces that he has at his disposal, but it does explain why Missouri isn’t an elite defensive team.

Who is the best team on the West Coast?: Arizona will be the popular pick, and frankly, if you’re going based on record, they’ve earned it. The Wildcats are one of just four undefeated teams left in the country, they have a win over Florida and they’ve beaten San Diego State. But the win over Florida was a gift-wrapped collapse by the Gators, and the win over SDSU came thanks to an unbelievable defensive play made by Nick Johnson. Not exactly dominant.

Then again, who is better than them? I love Gonzaga, but their defensive issues in the back court worry me. SDSU has been promising, but they are still unproven. UNLV looked downright bad in their trip to UNC. UCLA looked good in their win over Missouri, but that was the first time they’ve looked good this season. Could it be New Mexico? I’ll give the Lobos the benefit of the doubt after losing to South Dakota State and Nate Wolters, especially considering their win at Cincinnati on Thursday. If Alex Kirk continues to be a force in the paint, the Lobos have the perimeter weapons to be scary come March.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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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.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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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.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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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.

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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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 misses practice on Thursday

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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.”