Ben McLemore, Martavious Irving

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

2 Comments

This was supposed to be the year where someone could come out of nowhere and knock the Jayhawks off of their pedestal, but that didn’t happen. In fact, if Kansas hadn’t been blown out by Baylor on the last day of the regular season, the Jayhawks would have been the outright Big 12 champs despite losing three games in a row earlier this year.

But the Jayhawks did get blown out by Baylor. And they did lose three games in a row earlier this year, which is why this year’s Big 12 tournament — much like college hoops as a whole — should be as fun and exciting as any tournament in recent memory.

There is no dominant team. There is no team without flaws. And frankly, if TCU can beat Kansas soundly, if Baylor can blow Kansas out when the Jayhawks have an outright regular season title on the line, than anything can happen.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Kansas City, MO (Sprint Center)

When: March 13 – March 16

Final: March 16, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Kansas

Until someone knocks Kansas down a peg or two, they will forever be the favorite to win any and every title in the Big 12 while Bill Self in their head coach. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season titles, including this season. If they win the Big 12 tournament title this week, it will be the sixth time in the last eight seasons that they have done so. As you can tell, the Jayhawks are owned the Big 12.

Things may actually be a bit more open this season than usual, as the Jayhawks are as good as anyone in the country but they have some exploitable flaws. Jeff Withey’s defense can be nullified with a jump-shooting big man. Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe can be flustered with oppressive on-ball defense. Ben McLemore can struggle when he’s forced to be nothing but a jumpshooter. And despite all of those issues, the Jayhawks are still 26-2 outside of that three-game losing streak where they lost all sense of confidence. Pretty impressive.

And if they lose?: Kansas State

The Wildcats are an intriguing team this season. They still have that toughness and that defense mindset that was ingrained in their heads when Frank Martin was their head coach, but with Bruce Weber running the show, the Wildcat offense has been better. It helps that Angel Rodriguez has blossomed into one of the more underrated playmakers in the Big 12, and Rodney McGruder is still one of the best players in the conference. If Kansas State can avoid getting beaten on the offensive glass and get consistent perimeter shooting out of McGruder and Rodriguez, they’ll have a chance to make a run.

Other contenders: Oklahoma State is probably the most talented team outside of the state of Kansas in the Big 12 this season, as the trio of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash have become one of the most dangerous three-headed monsters in the country. Oklahoma should have a chance to win this thing as well. The Sooners are a tough team to matchup with given the versatility of their bigs, Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby. Plus, Buddy Hield is back. If only the Sooners can erase the pain of an embarrassing loss to TCU out of their minds.

Sleeper: Iowa State

The Cyclones are a very dangerous basketball team thanks to their ability to spread the floor and shoot the ball. Fred Hoiberg’s club is never going to be much defensively and they are going to struggle on the nights their threes aren’t going down, but when they’re hot, they will be able to play with anyone in the country. They are also entertaining to watch, as they push the ball and have athletes up and down their roster.

Deeper sleeper: Baylor

The Bears have the talent to be a top 15 team. That’s inarguable. Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson. Their performance this season was disappointing, but that’s what makes them a threat to win this tournament. Look at what happened on Saturday: Baylor beat the Jayhawks by 23 after losing eight of their last 11 games. What happens if the Bears actually try hard this week?

Studs:

–  Ben McLemore, Kansas: He could end up being the first pick in the draft, and he’s got a gorgeous jumpshot complimented by the athletic ability to dunk on anyone. Fun player to watch.

– Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson can get out of control at times, but when he’s playing well, the 5-foot-9 Jackson is dominant. He’s as quick as anyone in the country, he can soar, and he’s an excellent playmaker off the dribble.

– Tyrus McGee, Iowa State: ISU’s sixth-man, when he gets in a rhythm, everything he throws up goes in.

CBT Prediction: Like I said, I’m rolling with Kansas until proven otherwise.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

brimah
Leave a comment

Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

2 Comments

The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

GettyImages-468631066
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson

 

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Leave a comment

Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.