It’s fitting: Buzz Williams reaches Sweet 16 with his most ‘Marquette’ team to date

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — All you need to know about this Marquette team can be summed up in a two minute stretch that happened early in the second half of the No. 3 seed Golden Eagle’s 71-61 win over No. 2 seed Miami in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

The Hurricanes were a no-show, digging themselves a 14-5 hole in the first five minutes and finding themselves down 29-16 at the half. By the time Jim Larranaga called his first timeout of the second half with 14:47 left in the game, Miami was down 41-23 and you had to wonder if the Hurricanes were ever going to show up.

Well, they did, if only briefly.

Miami came out of that timeout and star point guard Shane Larkin drew a foul, which sent us to another TV timeout. That’s seven minutes of commercials broken up by 16 seconds of game time, enough to knock any team out of a rhythm. Larkin hit both free throws, and Miami immediately threw a press on. They forced a turnover by Trent Lockett immediately, which led to a layup for Durand Scott. Marquette wasn’t rattled, however, and calmly broke the press on their next possession, working the ball inside to Davante Gardner for a layup. Miami answered with a three, cutting the lead to 13 and finally putting together some kind of momentum offensively.

But Junior Cadougan broke Miami’s press singlehandedly on the next possession, going the length of the court for a layup. After another missed jumper from Kenny Kadji, Marquette worked the shot clock, getting a 15 foot jumper from Vander Blue to put them back up 17 with 12:17 left. That lead eventually grew to 21 points, and Miami wouldn’t get that close again until there was less than a minute left on the clock.

The Golden Eagles didn’t get rattled by that press. They weren’t affected by the fact that the first time they really got into a rhythm, they were forced to spend seven minutes sitting on the bench while the NCAA raked in TV’s advertising dollars. Not in the slightest. They calmly broke the press, then did it again, and then slowly but surely extended their lead.

That’s toughness.

“Buzz’s favorite quote is ‘ring the bell everyday’,” senior forward Jamil Wilson said after the game. What’s that mean? “Getting up and showing up every time.”

“In this part of the season, in March, crucial possessions can come back and haunt you. So we just define toughness by being there every possession.”

And for 40 minutes, Marquette did just that. Miami’s game-plan isn’t a secret. So much of what they do offensively runs through Larkin and his ability to use ball-screens from Miami’s big men to create. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Marquette’s focus on the defensive end of the floor was getting the ball out of Larkin’s hands. Every time Miami tried to set him a ball-screen, Marquette trapped him. If they were going to get beat, they were going to get beat by Trey McKinney Jones and Kenny Kadji and Rion Brown hitting threes, not by Larkin coming off of a ball-screen.

Marquette also took advantage of their size inside. With Reggie Johnson physically and Julian Gamble mentally back in Miami — Gamble finished with six points and six boards, the majority of which came when Miami was already down by 20 — Gardner and Chris Otule had their way in the paint, while Trent Lockett swooped in and finished with 11 boards, including one swooping, highlight-reel tip-dunk in traffic. All told, Marquette scored 40 of their 71 points in the paint.

“All of the things that we wanted to do — keep them out of the paint with their drives, keep them off the offensive boards, find the open man on our end and make some threes — we weren’t able to do any of those things,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said.

It’s only fitting that Buzz Williams finally broke his Sweet 16 curse with this group of cast-offs and misfits. Perhaps no team in his tenure in Milwaukee has better personified Marquette basketball than this group.

There aren’t any pros on this roster unless Vander Blue develops three-point range. Trent Lockett is a transfer from Arizona State. Jamil Wilson couldn’t crack the rotation at Oregon. Chris Otule called himself terrible coming out of high school. Davante Gardner is a 6-foot-7, 300 lb center that committed to Marquette over South Florida.

Everyone on this Marquette team has a chip on their shoulder. Everyone of them has been overlooked and underrecruited. Everyone of them, including their head coach, has gotten to where they are through grit and determination and effort. They are the epitome of an underdog.

Are they talented? Compared to me, yes. Compared to Indiana? Not as much.

The irony?

That’s what they want to hear. That’s what they feed off of. Pick them to lose in the opening round? Well, that just means the Golden Eagles are going to get that many more floor burns and fill up the puke buckets in practice just that much more.

“If you just look at our roster, you wouldn’t think we’re an Elite 8 team,” Blue said. “That fuels our fire. There’s nothing we can do about that. When we step on the court, if you don’t give us respect, we’re going to earn it. Sooner or later, you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due.”

“We want to keep being the hunter. We don’t want to be the hunted.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

 

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.