Southern Conference tournament preview

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Another year, another Southern Conference title for Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats, who finished the regular season 17-1 in league play. Jake Cohen was the coaches’ pick for SoCon Player of the Year, and he combines with De’Mon Brooks (who won the award last season) to form the conference’s best front court tandem.

Elon, led by guard Jack Isenbarger and forward Lucas Troutman, won the North Division by three games over Appalachian State. The College of Charleston managed to go 14-4 in SoCon play with point guard Andrew Lawrence running the show, finishing second behind Davidson in the South Division.

The Bracket

Where: ExploreAsheville.com Arena at Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center and Kimmel Arena, Asheville, North Carolina

When: March 8th-11th

Final: March 11, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Davidson

Having two players the caliber of Brooks and Cohen makes Davidson the team to beat, and McKillop has more than just two weapons at his disposal. Nik Cochran (9.8 ppg) leads five other Wildcats averaging between 7.3 and 9.8 points per game, and both he and J.P. Kuhlman have been solid distributors this season. With their weapons and efficiency on both ends of the floor Davidson’s going to be a tough out this weekend.

And if they lose?: College of Charleston 

Elon (13-5 SoCon) did manage to win the North but it’s Charleston who won 14 conference games. Lawrence was also the starting point guard for Great Britain in last summer’s Olympics, and he’s got plenty of experience running the show. He and Anthony Stitt lead the way offensively, and sophomore Adjehi Baru has performed well inside. Charleston’s strong suit is their defense, and if they can control tempo the Cougars can win the tournament.

Sleepers: Elon

Tough to say a team that won 13 conference games is a sleeper, but that’s the role Elon will find itself in this weekend. Isenbarger and Troutman lead the way for the Phoenix, who enter the tournament having won five of their last seven. No team outside of the top three seeds finished .500 overall, which makes the pickings quite slim when considering sleepers.

Studs: 

– F Jake Cohen and F De’Mon Brooks (Davidson): The last two coaches’ selections for SoCon Player of the Year, they’re most definitely studs.

– G Trevis Simpson (UNC Greensboro): Simpson averages 18.8 points per game for the Spartans, and he dropped 41 on Chattanooga back on January 27.

– F Nathan Healy (Appalachian State): Healy (14.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) won SoCon Defensive Player of the Year due to his work on the boards and ranking second in the conference in steals (2.0 spg) and third in blocks (1.4 bpg).

CBT Prediction: Look for some upsets throughout the weekend but in the end Davidson and College of Charleston will play for the title, with the Wildcats earning their second consecutive NCAA appearance.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.