North Carolina v Kansas

Veterans spark second-half revival in Kansas’ win over North Carolina

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With Ben McLemore playing as he did for the first few months of the season, it seemed as if the freshman wing would be the one expected to lead the Kansas Jayhawks back to the Final Four.

But if the second half of Sunday’s 70-58 win over South Region 9-seed North Carolina reveals anything, it’s that Bill Self’s veterans are both willing and capable of leading the way to Atlanta.

Senior Travis Releford, who Self refers to as “the rock” of this group, scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way for the Jayhawks, scoring 13 of his points in the second half.

Fellow seniors Jeff Withey (14 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots) and Kevin Young (ten points, nine rebounds) weren’t far behind, combining to grab 13 of Kansas’ 20 second-half rebounds. And not to be forgotten is sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe, who added 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

Next up for Kansas is 4-seed Michigan on Friday night in Arlington, Tex. P.J. Hairston led the way for North Carolina, which entered the game 2-0 all-time against 1-seeds in round of 32 match-ups (beating Oklahoma in 1990 and Stanford in 2000), with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Turnovers were a major problem for the Jayhawks in the first half, as the combination of 12 turnovers and 25% shooting resulting in a 30-21 Tar Heel lead at the half. McLemore struggled throughout, shooting 0-of-9 from the field and scoring just two points before Self made the decision early in the second half to go with his more experienced perimeter options.

An immensely gifted talent, McLemore is essentially a “reluctant superstar” for Kansas; even if his shots are falling he doesn’t have the temperament of a take-charge player…yet. Is that a mindset he can pick up with more experience? Without a doubt.

But in the one-and-done format that is the NCAA tournament, there isn’t time to wait for such a transformation to occur. Hence the importance of Kansas’ veterans, and on Sunday afternoon they did what championship contenders need their experienced players to do this time of the year.

They led.

As a result Kansas shook off their first half struggles, putting forth an excellent performance in the game’s final 20 minutes.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.