Pregame Shootaround 2.3.13: Marquette-Louisville sets table for Super Bowl

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Game of the Day: No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Marquette coach Buzz Williams has his team where few expected it to be after losing key starters Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder after last season. The Golden Eagles are competing and contending in the Big East, off to a 6-1 start in league play thanks to increased production from Vander Blue and Davante Gardner.

Louisville comes into Sunday’s game on a much different note. The Cardinals were once the No. 1 team in the land, but have since dropped three of four games and find themselves in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The key Sunday will be increased offensive production. Against a tough Marquette defense, if Louisville can’t score points like it was earlier in the season, coach Rick Pitino’s team could be headed to a 5-4 mark in league play.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 23 Minnesota (-9.5) vs. Iowa (1:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

The Gophers snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Nebraska earlier this week, but now they face an Iowa team that could give them problems. I have faith in this Iowa team, one that hung with Indiana and Michigan State before losing down the stretch, and gave Michigan a run for its money in the first half before the Wolverines shifted into another gear entirely.

The Hawkeyes match up well on the boards and can keep with Minnesota when it comes to scoring points. It will be a plus if Iowa can contain Trevor Mbakwe. In a Minnesota loss to Northwestern, Mbakwe was efficient, but the Gophers’ only scoring option.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Army (1:00 p.m. ET) 

When star guard C.J. McCollum went down with an injury, the road to a Patriot League title got a lot tougher for Lehigh. But even without him, the Mountain Hawks are 5-1 in conference play and can pull into a tie for first with Bucknell if they can get  a win Sunday against Army. Lehigh already has a big road win over Bucknell, which gives them the advantage in the standings, but expect all roads to lead to Feb. 18, when the two teams meet again.

Five Things to Watch For

1) When Illinois was tearing through its non-conference schedule, the Illini looked like another legitimate contender in the loaded Big Ten. Coach John Groce’s team has now lost five of its last six games, which includes double-digit losses to Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Illinois gets another shot at Bo Ryan’s Badgers on Sunday.

2) Villanova has been one of the most pleasant surprises in conference play so far, having beaten back-to-back Top 5 teams. The Wildcats take on a Providence team Sunday that ran Connecticut down to the wire before ultimately losing in overtime earlier this week.

3) It seems that Stanford might have flipped a switch and now become a solid contender in the middle of the Pac-12 race. Dominating wins over Utah and a short-handed Oregon team have the Cardinal closer to reaching its potential, considering the talent they feature on the roster. The more agressive Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis are, the better off Stanford will be.

4) Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell led Virginia to a solid home conference win over NC State earlier this week and will try to carry that momentum against Georgia Tech on Sunday.

5) Connecticut had to grind to beat Providence in overtime, but you still continue to get the sense that coach Kevin Ollie has this program moving in the right direction. They have a chance to improve to 5-3 in the conference with a win over South Florida on Sunday.

The Top 25

No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 23 Minnesota vs. Iowa (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Other Notable Games

Providence vs. Villanova (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

South Florida vs. Connecticut (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Oregon State vs. Stanford (3:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Wisconsin vs. Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

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

John Calipari reminds Kentucky fans to remain classy in defeat

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Before traveling to Phoenix for the Final Four festivities, Kentucky head coach John Calipari used his Twitter account in an effort to diffuse the anger members of Big Blue Nation have directed at a referee following a heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight.

In the days following the season-ending loss to North Carolina, some fans — not all — have harassed official John Higgins. They’ve flooded the Facebook page of his roofing business, leaving negative reviews and lowering his company’s star rating. Some have gone even more extreme, going as far as sending death threats over the phone.

Based on the replies, some have received the message. Others haven’t. The latter, despite it being a small but vocal group, can, unfortunately, paint a fan base with a broad brush.

Mark Emmert: NCAA Board of Governors to meet ‘in the next few days’ to determine N.C.’s tournament standing

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Late on Wednesday night, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to repeal the controversial and discriminatory House Bill 2 law, which is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The NCAA had given the state a deadline of Thursday morning to make a change in this law or they would miss out on hosting NCAA tournament game until the 2022 season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots here. The pressure the NCAA asserted on the state helped create a change.

The question is just how much of a change, as many believe that the repeal does not do enough to change what is discriminatory about the law.

“What distinguished North Carolina,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill, and they removed some of them but not all of them. If you removed two or three of them, is that enough?”

The NCAA Board of Governors have stretched out the process of determining future tournament sites as far as possible, Emmert said, meaning that a decision on this new bill will be made soon.

“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to find a time to get together with the board, and that will probably happen in the next few days,” Emmert said, and in those meetings, the board “will determine if this [new] bill is sufficient change.”

“I’m personally very pleased they have a bill to debate and discuss. Hopefully we can be in a place where we can announce the board’s decision early next week.”

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.