Montrezl Harrell

Sweet 16 Power Rankings: How do the title contenders stack up?

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1. Louisville: Coming into the tournament, we knew that guard play would dictate far this team goes. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva played well, that would mean that the defense is able to set up and create turnovers, which takes the Cardinal attack to another level. They’ve not fallen short of those expectations so far and face Oregon next.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers were able to do enough against Temple to get the win, but the defense can’t allow another Khalif Wyatt-like performance in this tournament. Shooting from the perimeter will be key against the Syracuse zone in the next round, so the impact of Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford is magnified. As has been the case all season, the more involved and aggressive Cody Zeller is, the better off the Hoosiers are as a whole.

3. Duke: Ryan Kelly has yet to get going in this NCAA tournament, but the Blue Devils have still advanced without much trouble. If he starts to find his stroke like he did when he came back from injury, the offense will be able to spread the floor and make more happen. That will be especially key against a Michigan State team that is no slouch defensively.

4. Michigan: Michigan looked like a well-oiled machine against Virginia Commonwealth. When Michigan is playing up-tempo and in transition like that without turning the ball over, they’re hard to beat. The real question will be what happens when they meet a team that is physical inside and can exploit their lack of size in the paint.

MORE: This Sweet 16 (mostly) madder than any before

5. Michigan State: The first two games of this tournament were no problem for the Spartans, but point guard Keith Appling is banged up with injuries and will need to play well against Duke in the next round. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne will also be key as players who can go head-to-head with the strong front line of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee for the Blue Devils.

6. Miami: Miami can play at different paces and still win, as it showed Sunday night in a grind-it-out win over Illinois. It will likely be another slow-paced game against Marquette in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes need Shane Larkin to continue to run the show with the confidence that he has shown all season.

7. Kansas: Few liked what they saw from Kanas through sixty minutes of play in one and a half NCAA tournament games. The Jayhawks then took it to UNC in the second half of their win Wednesday. They’ll need to play for like that second half and get Ben McLemore more aggressive and involved to make a run to the Final Four.

8. Florida: It will be about defense if Florida wants to stop the high-flying Florida Gulf Coast attack. The Eagles already dismantled one quality defensive team, Georgetown, and will be out for another in the next round. The Gators got 25 points from Mike Rosario in their win over Minnesota. Can he be a reliable scorer down the stretch?

9. Ohio State: LaQuinton Ross broke out for 17 points in the Buckeyes’ win over Iowa State and that was a much-needed surprise. This team is solidly built around defense, but needs an ensemble of scorers around Deshaun Thomas to contribute in order to advance. Aaron Craft played the role of hero with his shot ISU.

MORE: The best photos of the NCAA tournament

10. Syracuse: Syracuse blew out Montana, but then struggled past California. Against Indiana in the next round, it will be up to Jim Boeheim’s zone to slow down Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. The biggest question is, though, can they hit shots consistently? Misses would create run-out opportunities for the Hoosiers and the Orange could get buried quickly.

11. Arizona: Arizona has yet to be given a test, but they beat two mid-majors in a way that they ought to. The bigger question moving forward centers around whether the inexperienced front court of the Wildcats can produce when it meets a team that matches up well in the paint. Teams will also try to neutralize Mark Lyons, so who steps up to score?

12. Oregon: Oregon has proven itself to be one of the most underseeded teams in this tournament. The key in the next round will be limiting turnovers because Louisville forces a lot of them. That weight falls on the shoulders of point guard Dominic Artis.

13. Wichita State: The Shockers were the first team to take down a No. 1 seed in this NCAA tournament when they beat Gonzaga. They have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight because of their size on the interior against the guard-oriented La Salle attack. Cleanthony Early needs to be a factor, as he has been up to this point.

14. Marquette: The Golden Eagles shot horribly from the field and barely escaped against Davidson, but deserve credit for outlasting a tough Butler team in the Round of 32. The reason for the low seeding here is because of their next matchup, Miami. The Hurricanes have proven that they can play at different speeds and still win ballgames.

15. Florida Gulf Coast: Florida Gulf Coast has been electric through the first two games of this tournament. They are confident, flashy, and explosive in transition. For all of that, though, they now face one of the nation’s best defenses in Florida. Does the show continue?

MORE: Is Florida Gulf Coast the most surprising Cinderella ever?

16. La Salle: The four-guard set for La Salle has been terrific so far, but big man Jerrell Wright will be the X-factor in the next round. Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland are great, but Wright’s ability to be a force inside is the complementary piece that makes this team more well-rounded.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky