Game of the Weekend: No. 13 Michigan State at No. 7 Indiana (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)
It hasn’t been pretty for the Spartans, but after almost a month of Big Ten play, Tom Izzo’s team is sitting all alone in first place in the league standings at 6-1. And when you look at what the Spartans have done this season, it’s tough not to wonder why they’re not being discussed as a true contender. They have three losses on the year. One was in the season’s opening game in Germany when they played an ugly 15 minutes to start the game. One came at Miami before Reggie Johnson broke his thumb. One came Minnesota when they were up by five with nine minutes left.
This is a really good basketball team, one that may actually be able to knock Michigan and Indiana out of the Big Ten’s top spot.
The Hoosiers are not going to be an easy team to beat at home, however. Not after Wisconsin went in there and won. But Michigan State can do some of the same things Wisconsin did. They can control the tempo, they can control the back boards, they have size to bother Cody Zeller and they have athletes on the perimeter that can chase people off of the three point line. Whatever the case, Sunday’s game should be a dandy, and Assembly Hall should be rocking.
Five more games to watch:
- No. 15 New Mexico at San Diego State (4:00 p.m. ET NBC Sports Net): This is a long way from a must-win game for the Aztecs, but if they have any thoughts of winning the Mountain West regular season title, this is a game that they need. New Mexico currently holds a two-game lead on every in the conference. The Aztecs get them at home with a chance to avoid falling three games off of the pace. And you don’t want to have to make up three games in this meat-grinder that is the Mountain West.
- No. 12 Minnesota at Wisconsin (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Net): After being tossed into the conversation with Michigan and Indiana at the top of the Big Ten, the Gophers all of a sudden appear to be pretty average. After losing to Indiana and Michigan, Minnesota went into Evanston and lost their third game in a row to Northwestern. And now they have to visit the Badgers while trying to avoid a fourth straight loss and a fall below .500 in the Big Ten? Ugh. Good luck.
- La Salle at No. 19 VCU (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net): La Salle is coming off of beating No. 9 Butler at the buzzer. VCU is coming off of a loss to rival Richmond on the road in overtime. Will momentum carry over? La Salle does matchup fairly well with the Rams, as they have a quartet of solid guards in their back court.
- North Carolina at No. 18 NC State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): This game as a chance to be as entertaining to watch as any game this weekend. North Carolina loves to get up and down the floor, and NC State is no stranger to pushing the tempo either. Both teams have quality scorers and some high-flying athletes, and neither team is a big fan of playing defense. James Michael McAdoo and CJ Leslie going head-to-head should be interesting, and it should allow us to determine who is the captain of the “All-You-Should-Be-Better” team.
- No. 5 Louisville at Georgetown (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Can Louisville turnaround this two game losing streak? Can the Hoyas build off of the momentum they established with their win at Notre Dame? It’s going to come down to two things for the Hoyas — Can they avoid turning the ball over against Louisville’s pressure? And can they score in the half court against their 2-3 zone without a lot of shooters on the floor?
And the Mid-Majors?
- North Dakota State at South Dakota State (3:05 p.m. ET)
- Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State (4:00 p.m. ET)
- Belmont at Eastern Kentucky (7:00 p.m. ET)
- Iona at Loyola (MD) (Sun. 12:00 p.m. ET)
- George Mason at Northeastern (Sun. 8:00 p.m. ET)
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”