Conference Catch-ups: Memphis likely Conference USA’s only NCAA tournament team

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Big 12 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Memphis

Despite the fact that so many jumped off the Memphis bandwagon after the Tigers’ performance in Atlantis, Josh Pastner’s team is still going to likely be the lone NCAA tournament representative of the C-USA. Point guard Joe Jackson is beginning to hit his stride offensively after struggling in two key early season losses, averaging over 18 points per game in his last four.

Looking at a year-to-year comparison, it’s worth mentioning what D.J. Stephens has done in increased minutes for Memphis. He leads the team in rebounding with 6.1 per game and is also averaging 6.0 points and 1.4 blocks per game.

Contenders:

Central Florida is banned from the NCAA tournament this season, but that hasn’t stopped Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes from leading their team to a 9-4 start. They lack any real impressive wins, but have split the season series with South Florida and got a three-point win over Belmont, a tough mid-major.

Behind the scoring duo of Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas, Houston has the conference’s best record in non-conference play. They’ve yet to beat any high-majors, but they rank in the nation’s Top 25 in both scoring and rebounding.

Biggest Surprise: Southern Methodist

Larry Brown and his staff had made big strides on the recruiting trail and in the transfer market during his short time at Southern Methodist, but we weren’t sure how that would translate on the court in his first season. The answer, so far, is surprising. The Mustangs began the season 8-1 and, though they’re enduring some struggles now, are 10-5 to start conference play.

Jalen Jones has been the biggest contributor so far, averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Paired with Nick Russell (14.2 points per game), the Mustangs have a formidable duo.

Biggest Disappointment: Marshall

With DeAndre Kane as the cornerstone of the program, many thought Marshall would be able to challenge Memphis for a conference title. Now, at the start of conference play, the Thundering Herd are 7-7 and coming off a loss to Delaware State. Part of the problem stems from the team’s poor shooting from the field, ranking 233rd in the nation, but much of it has to do with such a reliance on Kane.

Kane is averaging 15.0 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, but efficiency has been the main question. He takes 15 shots per game and shoots just 35.7 percent from the field. Not only that, but if Kane is out of the lineup, the rest of the team does not look like a squad that ever could or would challenge Memphis.

Player of the Year: DeAndre Kane, Marshall

As was mentioned above, Kane is averaging more than 15 shots per game and shooting under 36 percent, which is less than desirable, but is putting up All-Conference numbers. His 15.0 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds are keeping Marshall afloat, or at least at the even record they hold today. Without Kane, Marshall would be in much worse shape. So, from that standpoint, he is certainly the league’s most valuable player to his respective team.

Also of note: Josh Davis 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds per game (Tulane)

Best Freshman: Danuel House, Houston

House came into the season as part of a very strong Houston recruiting class and one that the Cougars hope will be the foundation for the program’s future. He was a Top 25 recruit in the Class of 2012 and has been a solid third scoring option for Houston behind Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas. At 12.5 points per game, he is one of only two freshmen in the conference’s Top 20 in scoring and adds 5.2 rebounds per game.

Also of note: James Woodard (Tulsa), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis)

Three Predictions

  •  Memphis will be the league’s only NCAA tournament team: One year before a mass exodus to the Big East, the C-USA is pretty weak. It looks like the Tigers will be the lone representative.
  •  Josh Davis will finish the season averaging a double-double: He is on track to do it right now, and his production should keep up. Davis is an All-Conference player.
  •  Rice might have a tough time winning more than a few conference games: With wins over Chicago State, Houston Baptist, and Southeastern University, the C-USA slate will likely not be kind to a struggling Rice squad.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Memphis*
2. Central Florida
3. Houston
4. Southern Miss
5. Tulane
6. Southern Methodist
7. UTEP
8. East Carolina
9. UAB
10. Tulsa
11. Marshall
12.Rice

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: