Late Night Snacks: Recapping tonight’s Round of 32 action

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Before I get into the meat of this post, we need to just go ahead and thanks Butler and Marquette, as well as Wichita State and Gonzaga.

Because for much of Saturday — and, for that matter, basically the entire non-Florida Gulf Coast portion of this tournament — the basketball was a complete bore. The first five games of the day, and there were only eight total, were duds. Blow outs. Decided more or less before the first half was over. Memphis made a run at the end of the first half and VCU made a run to start the second, but generally speaking, Saturday started out as a disaster.

It was March Mollywhoppings.

And then Butler and Marquette came along and had their ridiculous finish. And Wichita State came along and upset the first No. 1 seed to go down in this year’s tournament. And by the time we were done, it ended up being a pretty good night of basketball, even if the first six hours left a lot to the imagination.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Wichita State

The Shockers pulled off the biggest upset of the day on Saturday, as they hit seven threes in the final 12 minutes to knock off No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The most impressive part? Wichita State made the run at a time when it looked like the Zags had grabbed complete control. Gonzaga was on an extended, 36-15 run. They had taken a 49-41 lead and finally had Kevin Pangos and Kelly Olynyk playing well.

And then Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet caught fire, leading the Shockers back to their first Sweet 16 since 2006 and Gregg Marshall’s first Sweet 16 in his career. And if that wasn’t enough, Wichita State will lock horns with the winner of No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle next weekend, meaning that they are going to have a very real shot at getting to the Elite 8 and having a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four. How about that?

Who else was impressive?:

  • Louisville: Louisville dominated Colorado State. Just flat out dominated them. The Rams didn’t have one possession while the score was in reach where they looked comfortable offensively. No. 1 seed Louisville will advance to the Sweet 16 as a result and play Oregon.
  • Oregon: Speaking of Oregon, the No. 12 seed Ducks blew out heavy favorite St. Louis by 17 points on Saturday afternoon, rolling into the Sweet 16 despite being arguably the most under-seeded team in the entire tournament.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Vander Blue, Marquette

Blue was nothing short of sensational on Saturday night, finishing with 29 points on 9-15 shooting to outduel Rotnei Clarke and lead Marquette to a come-from-behind win over No. 6 seed Butler. Perhaps the most impressive part about Blue’s performance is the fact that he shot 3-4 from three, hitting a number of big jumpers for the second night in a row. Blue also made a couple of enormous plays in the passing lanes to get layups at the other end. It was a terrific performance, and it came on the heels of a game-winner he hit to beat Davidson. The win moves the Golden Eagles into the Sweet 16.

Who else was good?:

  • Russ Smith, Louisville: Smith took over Russ Arena on Saturday night, scoring 27 points on 7-15 shooting to lead the Cards past Colorado State.
  • Mark Lyons, Arizona: Lyons went for 27 points as well, setting the tone early as Arizona smoked Harvard, jumping out to a 30-9 lead before the Crimson were able to wake up.
  • Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary was the best player on the floor for the Wolverines as they moved on to the Sweet 16 with a dominating win over VCU on Saturday. He finished with 21 points and 14 boards while hitting 10-11 from the field.
  • Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon: Kazemi is one of my favorite players in the country to watch. He finished with 16 boards (seven offensive), three assists, two steals and two blocks to go along with eight points in the win over St. Louis.
  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: The freshman Baker, who missed 21 games prior to the start of MVC tournament play, finished with 16 points, six boards and four assists — with 11 points and two assists coming in the final 12 minutes — to lead the Shockers to a win over Gonzaga.

FIVE THOUGHTS:

1) Adreian Payne should be a first round pick: The idea that this draft is weak is incorrect. There aren’t franchise-changing talents at the top of the draft board, but there is a lot of talent in the mid-to-late first round. Payne is one of those guys. With his size, athleticism and shooting ability — and with the way he played this weekend — Payne could end up being the breakout star of this NCAA tournament.

2) Brandon Triche struggled again: Thursday’s beatdown of Montana made it seem like Triche had gotten over his slump, but after shooting 1-8 from the floor on Saturday night in a win over No. 12 seed Cal, it’s still a concern. The Orange need him to be a factor offensively.

3) Dominic Artis struggled again, too: Artis seemed to finally snap out of his funk on Thursday, scoring 13 points in 17 minutes, the most impressive work he’s done since injuring his foot. But he regressed again on Saturday, shooting 0-7 from the floor while Jonathan Loyd went for nine points, six assists, four steals and five boards.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.