Weekend Preview: Two B1G clashes, and Duke’s toughest test of the year

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Game of the Week: Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 8 Minnesota at No. 5 Indiana (Big Ten Net)

Full disclosure: when I write these Weekend Preview posts, it’s usually some point between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Right now, as I’m typing these words, it is Thursday afternoon, and let me tell you: I am already fired up about the prospect of seeing Indiana get tested at home by Minnesota. (Also, it’s worth noting that Indiana has a bit of reason to be looking to get some revenge.)

I’m buying the Gophers. I believe in them. I believe that the win over Michigan State at home and the deconstruction of Illinois in Champaign are legit. I love their balance, I love the inside-outside combo of Andre Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe, I think they are terrific defensively and I think they know their roles offensively. I’m not, however, all-in on the Gophers … yet. You know what can change my opinion on that? Guess.

As far as Indiana is concerned, I feel like the attention that has been put on them has waned ever since they lost to Butler. That’s what happens when your non-conference schedule includes 10 teams where I would have had a shot at making the rotation. But there are two things to remember about this team: they are still the same club that was more-or-less the consensus No. 1 team in the country in the preseason, except Victor Oladipo is playing like an all-american.

Six More Games You Need To Watch:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: No. 1 Duke at No. 20 NC State (ESPN): Duke will be without Ryan Kelly, which is terrific news for NC State, because Kelly is arguably the most important player for the Blue Devils. He’s turned himself into a terrific defender while also providing the ability to stretch the floor at the power forward spot. That’s a huge loss, one that could very realistically change the outcome of the game. If NC State is going to have a chance to win the ACC this season, this is a game they must get.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 14 Butler at Dayton (NBC Sports Net): You may not have ever heard of Kevin Dillard, but I promise you that he is one of the best point guards in the Atlantic 10 and probably deserves to be considered a snub on the Cousy Award list. He’ll be going up against Butler and Rotnei Clarke on Saturday. Making the game all the more important? The Flyers lost at VCU in their A-10 opener.
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: UCLA at Colorado (Pac-12): More than anything, the biggest reason that the Pac-12 is perceived to be down this season is that two of the three most talented teams in the conference — two programs that have enough pieces to be ranked in the top 20 — struggle to put together the kind of consistent effort that is needed by elite teams. But with Arizona losing at Oregon — and, technically, “losing” to Colorado — the conference is wide-open. Will that be enough motivation?
  • Sat. 6:00 p.m.: St. Louis at Temple (ESPNU): St. Louis has won nine straight games since Rick Majerus passed away and just got their star point guard back. Temple beat Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and nearly beat Kansas at the Phog. Both of those games, Khalif Wyatt went off. Against Xavier on Thursday night? He was 2-11 and the Owls get beaten.
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Colorado State at No. 16 San Diego State (NBC Sports Net): There may not be a tougher conference in the country that the Mountain West this season. It’s set up in such a way that the favorites simply cannot afford to lose games at home. But how will the Aztecs match up with CSU big fella Colton Iverson?
  • Sun. 1:30 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan at No. 15 Ohio State (CBS): The Big Ten is another league where losing home games is simply going to be unacceptable for a true title contender. Ohio State likes to think of themselves that way, but on the nights that Deshaun Thomas isn’t shooting well, they are very average. The best matchup here will be Trey Burke against Aaron Craft. The best point guard in the country, who just so happens to be a Columbus native, going up against the best on-ball defender in the country. Yes. Please.

And What About The Mid-Majors?:

  • Fri. 9:05 p.m.: San Jose State at Utah State (ESPN3)
  • Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Wright State at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)
  • Sat. 4:30 p.m.: BYU at Santa Clara
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Hawaii at Long Beach State
  • Sat. 8:30 p.m.: Stephen F. Austin at Oral Roberts
  • Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Canisius at Iona

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.”