Pregame Shootaround 1.31.13: Arizona, Butler with tough road tests

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

After starting out Pac-12 play 4-0, Washington has dropped three straight games and found themselves two back of conference leader Oregon. The Huskies record, while far from impressive and including a loss to Utah, may be a bit inflated as well; five of their 11 remaining league games will come against UCLA, Arizona and Oregon. But if you’re a Washington fan, that’s a good thing. Because right now, the Huskies are not an NCAA tournament team, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance of playing their way in. Beating Arizona at home is a good place to start.

As far as the Wildcats are concerned, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to figure out just how good this team truly is. I like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. I think Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons make up a solid back court. There is potential in the Wildcat front court. But when it’s all put together, I’m just not sure I see one of the top ten teams in the country.

Sean Miller has never won at Washington as the head coach at Arizona. Can he change that tonight?

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

Butler has Rotnei Clarke back and St. Louis now has Kwamaine Mitchell healthy and playing well, which means that this should be just as good of a game as we all expected it to be back in October. Butler is sitting all alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings with a half-game lead on what feels like two-thirds of the conference. St. Louis is looking to makeup for losing to Rhode Island at home earlier this month. Will the Billikens be able to defend Butler’s perimeter attack well enough to get the win at home?

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Drexel at George Mason (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Net)

Drexel has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and while some of that is the result of bad luck on the injury front, they also simply haven’t played up to their potential this season. Neither has George Mason, for that matter, which is what makes this game so interesting. This was one of the best games of the CAA season when the schedule game out, and a tough start to the year doesn’t necessarily change that.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Illinois visits No. 13 Michigan State tonight. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) Their next three games? Wisconsin, Indiana and at Minnesota. They still have roadies to Michigan and Ohio State. They’re 2-5 in the Big Ten right now. They need to turn this thing around, and quickly.

2) It’s been seven years since UConn has won at Providence. That’s not a long time considering it’s been 32 years since Dayton has won at Xavier, but considering how good UConn has been and how bad Providence has been, that’s a rather incredible number. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

3) First place in the MAAC is on the line as Iona and Niagara square off at Niagara. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

4) Loyola Marymount has struggled this season, but Anthony Ireland is one of the best point guards on the west coast. He’ll be on ESPN2 tonight at 11:00 p.m. ET squaring off with Gonzaga.

5) We wrote about Jahii Carson today. He plays tonight at Washington State. If you haven’t watched him yet this year, he can do things like this. Might wanna tune in. (11:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Net)

The Top 25

  • No. 7 Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 8 Arizona at Washington (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 9 Butler at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)
  • Illinois at No. 13 Michigan State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Other Notable Games

  • Stetson at Jacksonville (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Middle Tennessee State at Florida International (7:30 p.m. ET)
  • Morehead State at Belmont (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Arkansas at Alabama (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling 69-68 victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face top-seeded Kansas or No. 4 Purdue in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

Jordan Bell was unquestionably the deciding factor for Oregon. The senior big man had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points, continuing his stellar play this month. Derrick Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes to enter NBA draft

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is entering the NBA draft.

The 6-foot-4 junior made his announcement on Instagram on Thursday and also informed the school of his decision. He did not say whether he intends to hire an agent, a move that prevent him from returning to school.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 10.6 points per game this season and averaged 4.8 assists, which was sixth in the conference. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6-to-1 was third in the ACC.

The All-ACC defensive team selection helped Florida State (26-9) reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. The Seminoles advanced to the second round before a 91-66 loss to Xavier.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 12.4 points in his three seasons with the Seminoles and is the 46th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Rutgers guard Corey Sanders to enter NBA Draft

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders is entering the NBA draft.

In making the announcement Thursday, the university said Sanders will not sign with an agent.

Sanders will be able to attend workouts scheduled by NBA teams and will be eligible for invitation to the league’s combine next month. Players have until 10 days after the combine to remain in the draft or return to school, as long as they don’t sign with an agent.

Sanders started 31 of 33 games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Sanders needs to make an informed decision on his future.

“My dream has always been to play in the NBA,” Sanders said. “I look forward to determining where I am in that journey.”

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

It took four years, but Sindarius Thornwell has finally put South Carolina on the basketball map

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NEW YORK — If the NCAA tournament ended today, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell would be named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

Through two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 6-for-12 from three. He’s been the catalyst of an offensive explosion fro the Gamecocks that no one — not Thornwell, not Frank Martin, not anyone — could have seen coming.

South Carolina, a team that ranked in the 130s in offensive efficiency nationally and in the 300s in effective field goal percentage prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, put up 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke. They scored more second half points in their upset win over the Blue Devils — 65! — than they did in ten games this season, five of which they won.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that No. 7 seed South Carolina’s opponent in the East Regional semifinals, No. 3 seed Baylor, have zeroed in on Thornwell as the man they need to slow down on Friday night.

“Coach has broke down every made shot that he’s had and we have all watched at least about three hours of film on just Sindarius,” Baylor senior Ishmael Wainwright said. “He’s just a great player. The whole team, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, but the whole team, we’ll be trying to stop him.”

It’s fitting that Thornwell is the cornerstone of South Carolina’s arrival on the national scene, as the Lancaster native was the most important commitment of Frank Martin’s tenure with the Gamecocks. A blue-chip prospect that ranked in the top 40 of every recruiting service, Thornwell was an in-state kid that was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. South Carolina, at the time that Thornwell committed, had a new head coach that took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in eight years and had the prestige of making four trips to the Big Dance in the previous 38 seasons.

More to the point, it wasn’t clear whether that new head coach, Frank Martin, was there because he wanted to be there or because he simply didn’t want to be at Kansas State anymore, a program where his relationship with his Athletic Director had deteriorated.

Thornwell, who at that point had left Lancaster High School for the more prestigious Oak Hill Academy, had every reason in the world not to go to South Carolina.

But he did.

He wanted to play for his state, for his family. He is loyal, and that loyalty almost kept him from leaving Lancaster for Oak Hill in the first place.

“They had to force him to go, because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family,” Martin said. “His uncle, ‘Big Country’, Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, ‘You’re going to school here. This is for your own good.'”

“And it’s who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, ‘I want to do this with you,’ when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods. He wanted to help us build. He wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family’s name on the back of his jersey. And that’s powerful.”

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year in 2017. He was in the mix for a spot on the NBC Sports All-American teams before South Carolina’s late-season swoon. He’s had a sensational senior season individually, but more importantly, he got South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He led them to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. South Carolina had never won back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament before.

As in ever.

Thornwell did that for his state, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow senior Justin McKie and sophomore P.J. Dozier are both from Columbia, and the Gamecocks have quite a bit of young talent on their roster, as well as a five-man recruiting class headlined by four-star prospect David Beatty and former Delaware guard Kory Holden, who sat out this past season as a transfer.

The South Carolina program is as healthy as it’s been in decades, and Thornwell has as much to do with that fact as anyone.

“I have been born and raised in South Carolina,” Thornwell said, saying that all of the South Carolina natives play “for the same reasons, for our family, for our state. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program.”

“For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don’t feel like we get the recognition that we deserve.”

The Gamecocks certainly got plenty of recognition last weekend, becoing the focal point of the nation’s glare as they played a the biggest role in putting an end to the soap opera that was Duke’s season.

And Thornwell is going to find himself getting plenty of recognition on Friday night, as the Bears will focus plenty of their attention on slowing down the Gamecock star.

After all, three hours of film on one player is a lot of film.

“They exaggerate so much,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It was only two and a half.”