Wichita St. v La Salle

By this evening, we’ll know who half of the Final Four will be

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It feels like a week ago that I was sitting in the Barclays Center, getting ready to watch Maryland take on Kentucky in the first-ever college basketball game played in the House That Hova Built.

Believe it or not, that was more than five-and-a-half months ago, as we head into a Saturday afternoon in late March where we’ll crown our first two Regional Champs and Final Four participants.

The action kicks off in DC at 4:30 p.m. as No. 3 seed Marquette and No. 4 seed Syracuse square off to see which future ex-Big East member will be representing the conference in Atlanta, followed up by a 7:05 p.m. tip out in LA as No. 9 seed Wichita State looks to advance past No. 2 Ohio State.

Let’s start with the East.

Take away that brutal final 16 minutes against Louisville in the Big East title game, and the Orange may be playing the best basketball of anyone in the country during the postseason. They rolled over Montana, they knocked off an under-seeded Cal team and then they manhandled Indiana on Thursday night. Michael Carter-Williams has played much better of late, while Brandon Triche finally seems to be hitting some shots.

But Marquette is a different team that Indiana. They have more physical bigs, they have bigger perimeter players, and they love to make rim runs at the offensive glass. Ask Miami, because they found that out the hard way:


Marquette has already beaten Syracuse this season, but that loss came at a time when the Orange weren’t playing well. If there is a knock of the Golden Eagles, it is their struggles to shoot from the perimeter — it’s no secret that they wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for some improved three-point shooting, including the three threes they hit against Davidson in the final minute that allowed them to stave off an early upset.

And while there’s plenty of intrigue surrounding this matchup, the more entertaining game may be out west, as Wichita State has a real shot at knocking off Ohio State.

Here’s the way I see it: what Ohio State wants to do is go small. They want to play Deshaun Thomas at, essentially, the five-spot, with LaQuinton Ross and/or Sam Thompson out there on the floor with him. They want to spread the floor and force you to risk guarding one of those three with your center or to play a smaller lineup without your best players on the floor.

La Salle does something similar, and the Shockers punished them for it. Carl Hall went off for 16 points and seven boards in that win, doing most of his damage early in the game as WSU’s lead grew to as large as 22 points.

If he can play that way again on Saturday night, Gregg Marshall may be taking a Missouri Valley team to the Final Four.

Not bad for a guy that entered this season with just one NCAA tournament win in eight trips to the dance.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.