Divergent paths for A-10, Mountain West in NCAA tournament

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The Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West came into the 2013 NCAA tournament as the two toughest mid-major conferences in the country, but their showings so far have been far from similar. Through the First Four and Round of 64, the A-10 is a perfect 6-0, while the Mountain West is 2-3.

That 6-0 record for the A-10 is thanks to two wins by La Salle (vs. Boise State, vs. Kansas State), and one each from VCU (vs. Akron), Temple (vs. NC State), Butler (vs. Bucknell), and Saint Louis  (vs. New Mexico State). Meanwhile, the Mountain West has fallen victim to Harvard (New Mexico), UNLV (California), and La Salle (Boise State), with wins by Colorado State (vs. Missouri) and San Diego State (vs. Oklahoma).

But how does a team with a No. 1 RPI ranking have such a tumultuous first two rounds? Much of it comes down to matchups.

Aside from Saint Louis, which was heavily favored to begin with against New Mexico State, the A-10 benefitted from the matchups they drew in their first and second round games. That doesn’t mean teams didn’t gameplan to their strengths or execute or weren’t the better team all together, but it’s worth noting that there were factors to exploit and these teams, to their credit, took advantage.

For example, La Salle’s tough four-guard set was too difficult for Boise State to contain off the dribble and was the reason the Explorers had an 18-point halftime against Kansas State. Khalif Wyatt’s poise and maturity for Temple contrasted with a young and inexperienced NC State backcourt. Butler’s Andrew Smith was physical in containing Bucknell’s best player, Mike Muscala. VCU’s turnover-inducing defense was too much for an Akron team that was without its starting point guard.

By contrast, Harvard’s slow pace caught New Mexico on a 38 percent shooting night. California’s size on the inside was able to counter UNLV’s usual depth advantage in the paint. Boise State couldn’t keep up with the dribble penetration of La Salle’s guards.

And that’s how this NCAA has been playing out and will continue to play out. Colorado State could advance if it continues to rebound the basketball well against Louisville. San Diego State is bound for the Sweet 16 if it can match the intensity of Florida Gulf Coast in transition. Having parity in a tournament creates a need for another factor to decide these games. That factor this year is, simply put, matchups and execution.

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

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.

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”