The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 12 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.

Today is the day. 13 automatic bids will be handed out today, the most of any day during Championship Week. The day is highlighted by the final game in the Big East for both Syracuse and Louisville. Make sure to keep your eye on the MAC championship, where Akron and Ohio meet in a battle between current powerhouse and former champ.

Today is the last Saturday of the non-March Madness portion of the 2012-2013 college hoops season.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

Game of the Night: Kansas State vs. Kansas
You know what they say about beating the same team three times in the same season, right? The Jayhawks will go for the sweep against their Sunflower State rivals. Because of Duke’s loss to Maryland on Friday night, a spot on the top line in the NCAA tournament could be for grabs.

– Watch this too: Michigan State vs. Ohio State
The Buckeyes and Spartans meet in a rematch of last year’s title game. Ohio State enters the game having won six-straight. Both teams held serve on their home courts during the regular season. Can Aaron Craft shut down Keith Appling again? Can the Spartans reduce DeShaun Thomas’ offensive production?

Player to Watch: Dez Wells, Maryland
There is not a more athletic and dynamic combo-guard in the country than Maryland’s Dez Wells. When the sophomore is match-up nightmare when he asserts himself into the game, and he’s done just that in the Terrapins two previous ACC tournament games. In the quarterfinals against top-seed Duke, Wells scored a career-high 30 points to keep the Terrapins tournament hopes alive for another 24 hours. He’s going to have to repeat his performance against North Carolina, who swept the regular season series with the Terps.

He’s good too: Chaz Williams, UMass
The Brooklyn-native has played his best basketball of the season in front of his family and friends at the Barclays Center this week, propelling upstart UMass into the Atlantic-10 semifinals agaisnt VCU. The one-on-one match-up between Williams and VCU defensive mastermind Briante Weber will be fun to watch and may detrmine whether or not the Minuteman can sneak in the back door of March Madness.

Saturday’s Schedule:

America East Conference Finals
11:30 a.m. – Alabany (4) vs. Vermont (2)

Atlantic Coast Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – North Carolina State (5) vs. Miami (1)
3 p.m. – Maryland (7) vs. North Carolina (3)

Atlantic 10 Conference Semifinals
1:30 p.m. – Butler (5) vs. Saint Louis (1)
4 p.m. – UMass (6) vs. VCU (2)

Big 12 Conference Finals
6 p.m. – Kansas State (2) vs. Kansas (1)

Big East Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Louisville (2)

Big Sky Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Weber State (2) vs. Montana (1)

Big Ten Conference Semifinals
1:40 p.m. – Wisconsin (4) vs. Indiana (1)
4 p.m. – Michigan State (3) vs. Ohio State (2)

Big West Conference Finals
10:30 p.m. – UC-Irvine (4) vs. Pacific (2)

Conference-USA Finals
11:35 a.m. – Southern Mississippi (2) vs. Memphis (1)

Great West Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Houston Baptist (4) at Chicago State (3)

Mid-American Conference Finals
6:30 p.m. – Ohio (2) vs. Akron (1)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Finals
5 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. Morgan State (5)

Mountain West Conference Finals
6 p.m. – UNLV (3) vs. New Mexico (1)

Pac-12 Conference Finals
11 p.m. – Oregon (3) vs. UCLA (1)

Southeastern Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – Alabama (4) vs. Florida (1)
3 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. (3) Ole Miss

Southland Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Northwestern State (2) vs. Stephen F. Austin (1)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Finals
4:30 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Southern (1)

Western Athletic Conference Finals
11 p.m. – UT-Arlington (4) vs. New Mexico State (3)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.