Weekend Preview: Five Storylines

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Marshall Henderson vs. BJ Young: Easily the most entertaining individual matchup this weekend will be when Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss square off with BY Young’s Arkansas team. If you’ve never seen Henderson play, he’s kind of similar to Jimmer in that he’s got no conscience when it comes to shooting, but that comparison only works if you imagine Jimmer having the personality of a professional wrestler. Young, on the other hand, is an athletic and dynamic comb0-guard that fits perfectly in with Mike Anderson’s uptempo style of play.

Making this game all the more interesting is that it is actually relevant. The Rebels are 3-0 on the season in the SEC and 14-2 overall. They have a real chance at earning an at-large bid this year. But losing to a team like Arkansas is not the best way to go about solidifying your resume.

Will someone step up in the ACC?: Here’s what we know about the ACC right now: Duke, when healthy, is the league’s best team. When they aren’t healthy, NC State and Miami might have a shot at claiming that title. Beyond that? It’s a mess, and part of the reason is that we really have no idea what is going on with Maryland or North Carolina.

Which is why the timing of the Terps’ trip to Chapel Hill couldn’t have been more perfect. Maryland is coming off of a big win over NC State at home on Wednesday, but one where they again struggled to execute and needed a last-second tip-in from Alex Len to win the game. Can UNC take advantage of Maryland’s flaws, though? That’s the big question that needs to be asked, because the Heels are very much a work in progress themselves. That said, they are coming off of a nice win over Florida State. If PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock are both playing well, UNC can still be pretty good.

How good is Pitt?: I think that’s a question we’re all waiting to get an answer on. They had to Hartford on Saturday to take on the Huskies. Tray Woodall is back and healthy after the concussion he suffered against Marquette and will have his hands fulll with UConn’s guards. Pitt is now 2-3 in the Big East, but they’ve won their last two roads with the loss to Marquette coming in overtime when Woodall was out. If the Panthers can knock off UConn, it might be time to take them a little more seriously.

Let down for Wisconsin?: The Badgers travel to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m., which has been a place that Bo Ryan’s team has struggled in recent seasons. They got swept by Iowa last season and were taken to overtime on the road in 2011 by the Hawkeyes. They are also coming off of a win over Indiana in Assembly Hall, which sets them up perfectly for a disappointing performance against a scrappy Iowa team that really needs a win.

Key mid-major battles: North Dakota State travels to Western Illinois (Sat. 8:00 p.m.) for the right to first place in the Summit League. NDSU is 7-0 in conference play while WIU is 6-1. The big news, however, is that NDSU won’t have leading scorer Taylor Braun. And while Louisiana Tech may lead the WAC, Utah State at Denver (Sat. 6:30 p.m. ROOT) will be a battle for second place.

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.”