The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 11 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

If you thought yesterday was crazy, which it was, make sure you to strap your self in tight and hide all the sharp objects. This is one of those “Skip work and watch college basketball all day” types of occasion.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Friday.

Game of the Night: Big East Semifinals
Whatever your plans were for tonight, make sure to change them immediately. The stage has been set for a truly magical set of semifinals at the final Big East tournament before the realignment shift. One semifinal showcases a rematch of the longest game of the season, a five-overtime classic between Louisville and Notre Dame. the second semifinal pits the conference’s greatest rivals against each other for the final time. Bonus fact: three of the four semifinalists are soon-to-be-former-members, and the fourth is the keystone of the new basketball order. Friday night at The Garden. Ain’t nothing better than that.

– Watch this too: Iowa State vs. Kansas
The Jayhawks won both regular season match-ups but needed magic, luck and bad officiating to get the sweep. Iowa State had the first game won until Ben McLemore banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime. Kansas squeaked by in the second match-up thanks to two horribly bad officiating blunders and Elijah Johnson’s 35-point masterpiece. A win over the Jayhawks would cement their place in the field of 68.

– Watch this too: Kent State vs. Akron
Once the hottest team in the country, the Akron Zips have lost two of their last three games, including a loss to the Golden Flashes in the regular season finale. These two bitter rivals have produced many memorable postseason clashes, including a brawl at the end of overtime in the 2011 MAC Championship game.

Player to Watch: Russ Smith, Louisville
Notre Dame has been kryptonite to Russ Smith this season, so it’s fitting that the Irish will be wearing their hideous neon green Adidas uniforms against the Cardinals today. Whether it was Smith’s 5-point performance in the regular season finale, or his numerous mental gaffes during the late stages of their fiver-overtime epic in South Bend, Smith has not had his best stuff against the Irish. Smith needs to follow up his 28-point performance against Villanova with a strong showing against Notre Dame.

He’s good too: Dez Wells, Maryland
The dynamic guard is the Terrapins most talented player, and he will need to have his best game of the season against Duke today if the Terrapins want to keep their postseason hopes alive. Wells is coming off a 21-point performance against Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament and had two good showing against Duke during the regular season.

He’s good too: Cannon Burrage, UT-San Antonio
Awesome name, better game. The senior guard has fueled the Roadrunner’s surprise run out of the No. 9-seed in the WAC tournament with a 20-point performance against San Jose State and a 26-point, 13-rebound performance in their shocking upset over heavily favored Louisiana Tech.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Friday is day-2 of the March Madness dry-run. By the end of today, 95 elimination games will have been played since Thursday morning. That’s more games than the entire first weekend of the NCAA tournament. If you want to be ready for next week, I suggest you take the day off today and get acclimated to the madness.

Friday’s Schedule:

Atlantic Coast Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Boston College (8) vs. Miami (1)
2 p.m. – North Carolina State (5) vs. Virginia (4)
7 p.m. – Maryland (7) vs. Duke (2)
9 p.m. – Florida State (6) vs. North Carolina (3)

Atlantic 10 Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Charlotte (9) vs. Saint Louis (1)
2:30 p.m. – Butler (5) vs. La Salle (4)
6:30 p.m. – St. Joseph’s (10) vs. VCU (2)
9 p.m. – UMass (6) vs. Temple (3)

Big 12 Conference Semifinals
7:30 p.m. – Iowa State (5) vs. Kansas (1)
10 p.m. – Oklahoma State (3) vs. Kansas State (2)

Big East Conference Semifinals
7 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Georgetown (1)
9:30 p.m. – Notre Dame (6) vs. Louisville (2)

Big Sky Conference Semifinals
7:30 p.m. – North Dakota (3) vs. Weber State (2)
10 p.m. – Northern Colorado (5) vs. Montana (1)

Big Ten Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Illinois (8) vs. Indiana (1)
2:30 p.m. – Michigan (5) vs. Wisconsin (4)
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska (10) vs. Ohio State (2)
9 p.m. – Iowa (6) vs. Michigan State (3)

Big West Conference Semifinals
9:30 p.m. – Cal-Irvine (4) vs. Long Beach State (1)

Conference-USA Semifinals
4 p.m. – UTEP (3) vs. Southern Mississippi (2)
6:30 p.m. – Tulsa (5) vs. Memphis (1)

Great West Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Houston Baptist (4) vs. NJIT (1)
8:30 p.m. – Chicago State (3) vs. UT-Pan America (2)

Mid-American Conference Semifinals
6:30 p.m. – Kent State (4) vs. Akron (1)
9 p.m. – Western Michigan (3) vs. Ohio (2)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Bethune-Cookman (8) vs. Morgan State (5)
8 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. Delaware State (6)

Mountain West Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – South Dakota State (4) vs. New Mexico (1)
11:30 p.m. – UNLV (3) vs. Colorado State (2)

Pac-12 Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Arizona (4) vs. UCLA (1)
11:30 p.m. – Utah (10) vs. Oregon (3)

Southeastern Conference Quarterfinals
1 p.m. – LSU (9) vs. Florida (1)
3:30 p.m. – Tennessee (5) vs. Alabama (4)
7:30 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. Kentucky (2)
10 p.m. – Missouri (6) vs. Mississippi (3)

Southland Conference Semifinals
6 p.m. – Southeastern Louisiana (4) vs. Stephen F. Austin (1)
8:30 p.m. – Sam Houston State (6) vs. Northwestern State (2)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Semifinals
3:30 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Jackson State (2)
9 p.m. – Alabama A&M (6) vs. Southern (1)

Western Athletic Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Texas State (7) vs. New Mexico State (3)
11:30 p.m. – UT-San Antonio (9) vs. UT-Arlington (4)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.

Moe-mentum: Wagner stands tall for Sweet 16-bound Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.

“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”

Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.

The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.

After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.

The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.

The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.

Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.

“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”

The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .

Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.

“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”

The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.

What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .

There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.

Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.

“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”