First Weekend Superlatives: MVP, Best Dunk, Best GIF

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FIRST WEEKEND MVP: Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast

This pick was easy, really. The FGCU point guard is the engine that makes Dunk City run. In wins over No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State, Comer averaged 11.0 points, 12.0 assists and 4.0 boards, setting the table for each and every one of those ridiculous alley-oops that his lanky and athletic front court finished for him. Perhaps more incredibly, he finished with just five turnovers 64 minutes despite throwing some ridiculously difficult passes. The Eagles want to get out and run the floor. They want to score in the 70s and the 80s and they want to be the Greatest Show in March. Comer is the guy that allows them to do just that.

All-First Weekend Team:

  • Khalif Wyatt, Temple: Wyatt couldn’t lead his Owl team out of the first weekend, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort: he went for 31 points against both No. 8 NC State and No. 1 Indiana.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Vander Blue had 16 points and a game-winner in a win over No. 14 Davidson, then finished with 29 and four steals, sparking the Marquette comeback, as the Golden Eagles knocked off Butler.
  • Ramon Galloway, La Salle: Galloway led the Explorers from the First Four to the Sweet 16 by averaging 21.3 points. 4.0 boards, 3.7 assists and hitting 12 threes.
  • Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon: Kazemi averaged 10.0 points, 16.5 boards and 2.0 blocks as Oregon knocked off both No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 St. Louis on the way to the Sweet 16.
  • Jeff Withey, Kansas: Withey was the best player on the floor for Kansas in a win over WKU and then turned into a dominating force on both ends in the second half rout of North Carolina. He averaged 16.5 points, 11.0 boards and 6.5 blocks in the two games.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PERFORMANCE: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State

The opening round was supposed to be highlighted by Nate Wolters vs. Trey Burke, but Wolters picked an awful time to have a terrible game. He finished with just 10 points on 3-14 shooting as the Jack Rabbits lost to No. 4 Michigan 71-56. Ironically enough, Wolters may have actually helped his NBA cause with that performance, as he did a solid enough job defending the National Player of the Year Trey Burke.

BEST GAME: No. 3 Marquette 59, No. 14 Davidson 58

For all the talk about how boring the first day of the tournament was, it did provide us with our best game of the first weekend. Marquette, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, avoided elimination by hitting three threes in the final minute to shave down a Davidson lead. Then with less than 10 seconds left, Davidson was up 58-57 and simply had to try to drain the clock, but managed to turn the ball over, setting up this final possession from Vander Blue:

MOST OVERHYPED GAME: No. 4 Michigan 78, No. 5 VCU 53

This was supposed to be a thrilling matchup between Havoc and the nation’s best point guard, but it turns out that Havoc couldn’t hang. The Rams were shredded by the Wolverines, who eventually stomped every last ember of VCU’s will in a thorough whooping of Shaka Smart’s crew.

WHO WAS UNDERSEEDED?: No. 12 Oregon

The Ducks suffered half of their losses this season with Dominic Artis out of the lineup. They were coming off of a Pac-12 tournament title. They were a top ten team in the country before Artis went down with his foot injury. And for all of that work, the committee gave them a No. 12 seed? Oregon proved them wrong, beating both No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 St. Louis in impressive fashion while advancing to the Sweet 16.

WHO WAS OVERSEEDED?: Everyone in the MWC?

For a league that generated so much hype during the season, it’s a surprise that there will not be a single member of the Mountain West in the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. Boise State lost in the play-in game and Colorado State got bounced in the round of 32 by Louisville. That’s understandable. But No. 5 UNLV lost in the opening round to No. 12 Cal, No. 3 New Mexico was upset in their first game by No. 14 Harvard and No. 7 San Diego State became the second victim of Dunk City.

BEST DUNK: Comer-to-Fieler vs. Georgetown

There were about 25 options from FGCU alone, but between the moment, the unexpected nature and the fact that Chase Fieler had his hand above the square … yeah, this was incredible:

WORST DUNK: Chane Behanan vs. North Carolina A&T

This is about as embarrassing as it gets:

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BEST SHOT: Aaron Craft’s game-winner

This was the closest thing we had to a buzzer-beater during the first weekend:

BEST GIF: Julian Gamble, photobomb

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BEST PICTURE: The Wat-swat

Christian Watford’s block on Anthony Lee may have saved Indiana from getting eliminated in the round of 32:

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(Image via Terry Gilliam / McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

Rutgers guard Corey Sanders to enter NBA Draft

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders is entering the NBA draft.

In making the announcement Thursday, the university said Sanders will not sign with an agent.

Sanders will be able to attend workouts scheduled by NBA teams and will be eligible for invitation to the league’s combine next month. Players have until 10 days after the combine to remain in the draft or return to school, as long as they don’t sign with an agent.

Sanders started 31 of 33 games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Sanders needs to make an informed decision on his future.

“My dream has always been to play in the NBA,” Sanders said. “I look forward to determining where I am in that journey.”

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

It took four years, but Sindarius Thornwell has finally put South Carolina on the basketball map

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NEW YORK — If the NCAA tournament ended today, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell would be named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

Through two games, he’s averaging 27.5 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 6-for-12 from three. He’s been the catalyst of an offensive explosion fro the Gamecocks that no one — not Thornwell, not Frank Martin, not anyone — could have seen coming.

South Carolina, a team that ranked in the 130s in offensive efficiency nationally and in the 300s in effective field goal percentage prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, put up 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke. They scored more second half points in their upset win over the Blue Devils — 65! — than they did in ten games this season, five of which they won.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that No. 7 seed South Carolina’s opponent in the East Regional semifinals, No. 3 seed Baylor, have zeroed in on Thornwell as the man they need to slow down on Friday night.

“Coach has broke down every made shot that he’s had and we have all watched at least about three hours of film on just Sindarius,” Baylor senior Ishmael Wainwright said. “He’s just a great player. The whole team, it’s not just me, it’s not just me, but the whole team, we’ll be trying to stop him.”

It’s fitting that Thornwell is the cornerstone of South Carolina’s arrival on the national scene, as the Lancaster native was the most important commitment of Frank Martin’s tenure with the Gamecocks. A blue-chip prospect that ranked in the top 40 of every recruiting service, Thornwell was an in-state kid that was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. South Carolina, at the time that Thornwell committed, had a new head coach that took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in eight years and had the prestige of making four trips to the Big Dance in the previous 38 seasons.

More to the point, it wasn’t clear whether that new head coach, Frank Martin, was there because he wanted to be there or because he simply didn’t want to be at Kansas State anymore, a program where his relationship with his Athletic Director had deteriorated.

Thornwell, who at that point had left Lancaster High School for the more prestigious Oak Hill Academy, had every reason in the world not to go to South Carolina.

But he did.

He wanted to play for his state, for his family. He is loyal, and that loyalty almost kept him from leaving Lancaster for Oak Hill in the first place.

“They had to force him to go, because he did not want to leave his state, did not want to leave his high school team, did not want to leave his high school coach, did not want to leave his family,” Martin said. “His uncle, ‘Big Country’, Dajuan Thornwell, may he rest in peace, who was his father figure basically put him in a car and drove him and said, ‘You’re going to school here. This is for your own good.'”

“And it’s who he has become. The day I got the phone call from him telling me, ‘I want to do this with you,’ when he could have gone to some of the blue bloods. He wanted to help us build. He wanted to surround his heart with the state name that means so much to him and his family’s name on the back of his jersey. And that’s powerful.”

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year in 2017. He was in the mix for a spot on the NBC Sports All-American teams before South Carolina’s late-season swoon. He’s had a sensational senior season individually, but more importantly, he got South Carolina back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. He led them to the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. South Carolina had never won back-to-back in the NCAA Tournament before.

As in ever.

Thornwell did that for his state, and he wasn’t alone. Fellow senior Justin McKie and sophomore P.J. Dozier are both from Columbia, and the Gamecocks have quite a bit of young talent on their roster, as well as a five-man recruiting class headlined by four-star prospect David Beatty and former Delaware guard Kory Holden, who sat out this past season as a transfer.

The South Carolina program is as healthy as it’s been in decades, and Thornwell has as much to do with that fact as anyone.

“I have been born and raised in South Carolina,” Thornwell said, saying that all of the South Carolina natives play “for the same reasons, for our family, for our state. We all grew up in South Carolina. We all have been through the struggles and with the program.”

“For us all to be in the spotlight is just tremendous because we don’t feel like we get the recognition that we deserve.”

The Gamecocks certainly got plenty of recognition last weekend, becoing the focal point of the nation’s glare as they played a the biggest role in putting an end to the soap opera that was Duke’s season.

And Thornwell is going to find himself getting plenty of recognition on Friday night, as the Bears will focus plenty of their attention on slowing down the Gamecock star.

After all, three hours of film on one player is a lot of film.

“They exaggerate so much,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It was only two and a half.”

Rice promotes Scott Pera to head coach

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Rice didn’t have to look far for its new head coach.

The university announced on Thursday afternoon that associate coach Scott Pera will take over the program. He replaces Mike Rhoades who returned to VCU to fill its vacancy on Tuesday.

Pera had been with the program for three seasons following stints at Penn and Arizona State. Based on the reaction from the players, they approve of the hire.

Pera was also the high school coach of James Harden.

The Owls, coming off a 23-12 season, are expected to bring back three double-digit scorers for next season: Marcus Evans, Egor Koulechov and Marcus Jackson.

Report: NCAA affirms its Louisville allegations

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The NCAA continues to hold the position that Louisville coach Rick Pitino failed to properly monitor the program amid the scandal surrounding a former staffer and illicit parties, according to documents obtained by ESPN.

Louisville received the notice of allegations from the NCAA in January, and In its response, Louisville did not deny the NCAA’s findings, but argued that Pitino should not have been seen as failing to monitor Andre McGee, who is alleged to have organized the gatherings at Minardi Hall on the Louisville campus.

McGee is alleged to have paid for women to dance for and perform sex acts on Cardinals recruits.

The NCAA stated that Pitino “did not uphold his duties as head coach and in doing so, failed to discover” McGee’s actions and that if he “saw no red flags in connection with McGee’s interactions with then prospective student-athletes, it was because he was not looking for them,” according to ESPN’s report.

The original allegations were made by Katina Powell in a book that was published in 2015.

Louisville self-imposed a 2016 postseason ban and scholarship reductions as part of the scandal, but was looking to avoid further punishment on Pitino, who could be subject to suspension.

 

Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job after all. Kelsey, 41, had agreed to terms with UMass on Tuesday. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reports that Kelsey is heading back to Winthrop.

In five seasons at Winthrop, Kelsey compiled a 102–59 (56–30 Big South) record, leading the Eagles to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Kelsey was expected to replace Derek Kellogg, who was relieved of his duties after nine years at his alma mater. Kelsey was a smart hire. He had ties to the Atlantic 10, both as a player and an assistant coach at Xavier. His freshman recruiting class included a player out of the NEPSAC, showing that Kelsey was also familiar with the New England prep school recruiting landscape.

This has gone from a hire that was seen as a good one by many, to a nightmare scenario for UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford, who was making his first major decision in Amherst.

Other names linked to the vacancy were Vermont’s John Becker, Miami associate head coach Chris Caputo and Boston Celtics assistant coach, and former Butler and Purdue assistant, Micah Shrewsberry.