Will Cummings

Late Night Snacks: Recapping the last day of the tourney’s first weekend

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After a relatively boring start to the NCAA tournament, Sunday provided us with enough fireworks.

We’ve got a No. 15 seed in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. They are joined there by a No. 13 seed, a No. 12 seed and a No. 9 seed. We’re still without a true buzzer-beater or an overtime game in this tournament, but we did get two game-winners tonight that both came within the final 2.5 seconds of regulation.

We also saw two No. 1 seeds get all they could handle before advancing, as well as a No. 2 seed that needed some big shots to survive. And lastly, we saw two teams get a gift from the officials down the stretch that may have changed the outcome of a game.

Here’s a recap of the final day of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend:

TEAM OF THE DAY: Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles are the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16, and they did so in impressive fashion: running past and dunking over both No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State. It’s not just the best story to come out of the NCAA tournament; it’s the best story in all of sports right now. It’s the best story we’ve had in college basketball since … well, I can’t come up with anything comparable off the top of my head, which should tell you how awesome this run is.

I’m not going to overload you with FGCU stuff here. We’ve written plenty about them this weekend already.

Who else was impressive?:

  • La Salle: The Explorers overcame a lack of front court depth against a bigger opponent for the second time this weekend, knocking off Ole Miss and canceling Marshall Henderson Show. Ramon Galloway had 24 points in the win, but Tyrone Garland is the MVP for his description of the game-winner he hit:
  • Kansas: I’m talking specifically about second half Kansas here, the one that absolutely ran North Carolina off the floor, outscoring them 49-28 in the final 20 minutes and doing so while getting absolutely nothing out of star Ben McLemore. Kansas will advance to take on Michigan in the Sweet 16.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast

I know, I said I wasn’t going to inundate you with FGCU information, but there really wasn’t anyone that had a more dominating performance in a more influential role than Comer did on Sunday night. He doesn’t score like Sherwood Brown or Bernard Thompson and he can’t dunk like Eddie Murphy or Chase Fieler or Erik McKnight, but Comer is the engine that makes FGCU go. He finished with 10 points and 14 assists on Sunday.

Who else was good?:

  • Ramon Galloway, La Salle: Garland hit the game-winner, but Galloway was the best player on the floor for the Explorers on Sunday, finishing with 24 points on 8-13 shooting, hitting 6-10 from three.
  • Khalif Wyatt, Temple: Temple couldn’t pull out the win against Indiana, but it wasn’t Wyatt’s fault. He finished with 31 points on 12-24 shooting, doing everything he could to keep the Owls ahead.
  • Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, Kansas: Withey had 16 points, 16 boards and five blocks while holding James Michael McAdoo to 5-19 shooting and Releford had 22 points, eight boards and three steals as the Jayhawks overcame a dreadful first half to run the Tar Heels out of the gym.
  • Mike Rosario, Florida: Rosario finished with 25 points, hitting 8-12 from the field and 6-9 from three, in a 14 point Florida win.
  • Rion Brown, Miami: Brown had 21 points and hit 5-10 from three, including a pair of huge threes late in the game, as the Hurricanes knocked off Illinois and advanced to the Sweet 16.

FIVE THOUGHTS

1) Aaron Craft’s game-winner: What made it impressive wasn’t that he simply hit the game-winner, it’s that he did so after essentially choking away the game with missed free throws and turnovers. Not many people could have overcome those struggles.

2) Shane Larkin’s step-back three was more impressive: With minute left and Miami behind after having blown a seven point lead, Larkin hit a ridiculously tough, step-back three to put the Hurricanes up 57-55, a lead they would never relinquish.

3) The common bond?: Unfortunately, neither Larkin’s nor Craft’s shots will be the lasting memory to come out of those two games. Ohio State held on to beat Iowa State is large part due to a brutal charge called against Will Clyburn with Iowa State up 75-74 and about a minute left in the game. Miami may have won anyway, but with 42 seconds left and the score 57-55, the referees blew an out-of-bounds call that was blatantly off of Miami.

4) Duke is going to need more out of Ryan Kelly: Kelly had just a single point in Duke’s win over Creighton on Sunday night. Remember all that talk about how he was the best player on the Duke team? He did a great job on Doug McDermott, but he’s going to need to make an appearance offensively.

5) Julian Gamble is my hero: Yup.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson