Wichita State

As the last Cinderella, can Cleanthony Early and Wichita State reach the Final Four?

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Three mid-majors advanced to the Sweet 16, but now only one remains. Wichita State beat La Salle to earn a spot in the Elite Eight, set to play Ohio State on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.

But can the Shockers shock the college basketball world and beat one of the Big Ten’s elite teams? It will come down to a few important factors, most importantly forward Cleanthony Early.

When Wichita State struggled during a stretch of the Missouri Valley schedule this season, it was a matter of the offensive stalling in the half court and going long stretches without scoring. That typically meant both Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall (now sans his signature dreads) were not involved or were kept from getting involved.

Look at Early in particular to see why Wichita State has been able to make this run. In two games when he was most important to the Shockers, against Pittsburgh and Gonzaga with their size inside, he was a focal point of the offense and he produced. Against Pittsburgh, Early had 21 points and seven rebounds then following that up with 16 points and seven rebounds against the Bulldogs.

Not only that, but Early did it in differing ways. Against Pittsburgh, he was 0-of-6 from three-point range but was able to get to the line and hit seven of his eight free throws. Against Gonzaga, it was nearly entirely reversed. He was 4-of-7 from three-point range against the Bulldogs and did not make a trip to the line.

Ideally, Early would strike a balance between the two versus Ohio State. The typically stifling Ohio State defense would be hurt by either getting into foul trouble or an effectively spaced Wichita State attack.

That also means that Wichita State point guard Malcolm Armstead will need to limit his turnovers and be a facilitator on the offensive end of the floor. If Armstead is strong with the ball, that opens up quality shots for the Shockers and gives them the best opportunity to shoot a high percentage. That high percentage, in turn, keeps Ohio State from getting out in transition with point guard Aaron Craft and the rest getting creative in the scattered court.

Keep those factors in check means Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas will have to work for his points. It’s difficult to completely neutralize Thomas, but working to contain him gives Wichita State the best chance to win.

Either way, even being careful with the basketball and hitting shots, Wichita State needs to be ready for a grind on Saturday. Don’t expect an 87-85 game like Friday night between Kansas and Michigan. We just won’t see it.

Tip off is at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 6 Kentucky bounces back with blowout win against Valparaiso

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points and Malik Monk chipped in with 15 as No. 6 Kentucky blew out Valparaiso in Rupp Arena, 87-63.

The outcome was really never in doubt in this one, as Kentucky jumped out to leads of 24-4 and 35-9 against a good Crusaders team. The Wildcats were coming off of a loss to UCLA where they gave up 97 points in their home arena, getting humbled in a game that was supposed to solidify their standing as the best team in college basketball.

Kentucky’s defense on Wednesday was just suffocating. Valpo finished with 19 turnovers while shooting 34.3 percent from the floor, numbers that were somewhat inflated by the fact that Kentucky had this game won in the first 10 minutes.

Valpo is a good basketball team. They’ve beaten Alabama, BYU and Rhode Island this season, and their only two losses on the year have come on the road to Oregon and Kentucky.

But this?

This was a buzzsaw they ran into. Winning at Kentucky was never going to be easy. Winning there 72 hours after UCLA beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena was always going to be near-impossible.

Valpo will be fine. Come Selection Sunday, this is going to look like a really good win for the Wildcats.

PHOTO: Pres. Bush, P.M. Cameron sit courtside at SMU

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 17:  Former U.S. President George W. Bush attends a game between the Illinois-Chicago Flames and the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Moody Coliseum on December 17, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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President George W. Bush is no stranger to sports in the Dallas area, most notably as the former owner of the Texas Rangers.

On Wednesday, he sat courtside at Moody Coliseum for a game between TCU and SMU. He was joined by his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, and former British prime minister David Cameron.

They’re no Jack Nicholson or Penny Marshall, but not bad star power for a non-conference game in December.

No. 16 Butler suffers first loss at the hands of Indiana State

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 5: Brenton Scott #4 of the Indiana State Sycamores shoots the ball against the Evansville Aces during MVC Basketball Tournament  Semifinals at the Scottrade center on March 5, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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There are now just 10 undefeated teams left in college basketball after No. 16 Butler fell to Indiana State on Wednesday night, 72-71.

It was the second time this season that a top 25 team from the state of Indiana lost a road game to an in-state foe, and it was the second this season that in-state foe had a Scott twin on the roster.

Brenton Scott plays for the Syramores. The senior guard had 24 points, nine boards, three assists and a pair of steals to lead the way for Indiana State on Wednesday night. His twin brother, Bryson, had 18 points, 12 boards three assists and three steals for Fort Wayne when they picked up a win over then-No. 3 Indiana earlier this season.

Brenton wasn’t the star on Wednesday. That title belongs to Matt Van Scyoc. He had 23 points and hit six threes on the night, with three of them being daggers that came in the final three minutes of the game.

This loss is going to hurt for the Bulldogs come March. Where Fort Wayne has a chance to be the Summit League champions this season, Indiana State is a team that already has a loss to a bad Quinnipiac team and looks destined to finish in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley.

If you needed another example for why high-major head coaches don’t schedule road games against mid-major competition, this is it. Chris Holtmann’s Bulldogs were on the wrong side of a court-storming with more than three months left until the start of Big East play and in the process took a loss that could end up having a significant impact on their NCAA tournament seeding.

That’s not exactly ideal for the Bulldogs.

Andrew Chrabascz led the way with 18 points for Butler. Their leading scorer on the season, Kelan Martin, had just 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting.

VIDEO: Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene hits ridiculous three

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You should know the name Marcus Keene by now.

He’s the nation’s leading scorer, the only guy in the country averaging better than 30 points this season; at just 5-foot-9, he’s averaging 31.4 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 boards. On Tuesday night, Keene went for 40 points. He was in such a zone, he felt the need to make this little pirouette before banging home a three.

I mean, just check this out:

Here’s what makes that shot so crazy: this game wasn’t close to over!

Central Michigan was up by six points with more than two minutes left, and Keene not only buried that shot, he actually shot it.

Former Kentucky coach Gillispie announces retirement

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Head coach Billy Gillispie of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean E. Smith Center on November 18, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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One of the most mercurial college coaching careers of recent years is coming to a close.

Billy Gillispie, who rose in the profession to helming Kentucky and then fell to the junior college ranks, is retiring amid health concerns, he told the Dallas Morning News.

“No one’s ever enjoyed coaching more than I have, I promise, and no one’s ever been luckier in the coaching profession than I have,” Gillispie told the newspaper in a text message. “What a wonderful career!

“I’ve been very sick with blood pressure issues since the summer, but I’ve tried to fight it out. I got a report Monday that told me if I didn’t address this blood pressure situation immediately, irreversible, bad things were very likely to happen here relatively soon and my long-term health could be compromised.

“Timing isn’t great, but I’ve decided to do what I was told and try to return to healthy ASAP.

“I’ve had a wonderful career and in the last two years some of the best days I’ve ever experienced as a coach. I hate leaving this team because they are really coming around, but they understood me being sick. That’s the worst part of it, not coaching.”

After lengthy stints as an assistant, Gillispie got his first head coaching job at UTEP in 2002 and turned the Miners into an NCAA tournament team by his second season, which paved the way for his exit to Texas A&M and the Big 12. He won 20-plus games in all three of his seasons with the Aggies and brought them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, spending much of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top-10.

Gillispie then took over for one of the most storied programs in the history of the sport when Tubby Smith bolted for Minnesota, but he would last just two seasons in Lexington before being fired after missing the 2009 NCAA tournament.

Two years later he resurfaced at Texas Tech, but didn’t make it to a second season in Lubbock after allegations of player mistreatment.

He’s spent the last year-and-half at Ranger College in Texas.