Final Four Previews: What you need to know about Michigan

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There was a point in time where many people, myself included, thought that Michigan might be the best team in the country.

Trey Burke was playing like, well, Trey Burke. Nik Stauskas was hitting seemingly every shot that he took. Tim Hardaway Jr. was playing like an all-american and Glenn Robinson III didn’t look like a freshman at all.

But that all changed late down the stretch of the regular season. Stauskas slumped, Robinson struggled against top-flight competition, Jordan Morgan got hurt and, after a flameout in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines ended up with a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance.

Things clicked once the tournament began, however, and John Beilein’s club once again looks like a title contender.

How they got here: The Wolverines torched both No. 13 seed South Dakota State and No. 5 seed VCU on the first weekend. In the Sweet 16, Michigan erased a 14 point deficit in the final seven minutes and an eight point deficit in the final 1:14 to beat No. 1 seed Kansas before blowing out No. 3 Florida for the right to go to the Final Four.

Odds to win the title: 3:1

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

Why they can win: Trey Burke is awesome, but the reason that Michigan can win a national title is because everyone else around him is playing well. Nik Stauskas went 6-6 from three and scored 22 points against Florida. Glenn Robinson III was arguably the team’s best player in their wins over SDSU and VCU. Most importantly, Mitch McGary is starting to look like the guy that was ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2012 at one point during his time in high school. He has averaged 17.5 points and 11.5 boards in the four games of the tournament.

When Burke is getting that kind of support, Michigan can survive some of his shooting struggles. Because, to be quite honest, outside of the three minute stretch where Burke took over against Kansas to force overtime and win that game, he has played pretty average basketball (by his standards) the last four games.

Why they won’t win: Their defense, specifically Trey Burke. Who is he going to guard on Syracuse? Michael Carter-Williams? He feasted on Indiana’s small guards, finishing with 24 points. Will Michigan put him on Brandon Triche? Maybe, but Triche not only has four inches on Burke, he has 40 pounds on him. What if they make it to the title game? Can Burke stay in front of Siva or Smith without getting into foul trouble? What about Malcolm Armstead?

And Burke isn’t the only player on the team that can struggle on the defensive end of the floor. McGary isn’t exactly known as a shot-blocking menace. Robinson can get overpowered by bigger four-men. There’s no question that Michigan is going to be able to score, but their work on the defensive end will end up being the difference.

Key stat: There are two you need to know: they are the best in the country when it comes to protecting the ball, and they are 11th in the country in effective field goal percentage. Why does that matter? Well, they should be able to pass through and shoot over the Syracuse zone, and should they play Louisville in the final, they may not have as much trouble with the Cardinal’s press as other teams have.

Game-changer: Mitch McGary. He’s not a shot-blocker, but his physical presence on the interior certainly makes a difference, especially when he’s getting to the offensive glass and setting screens for Burke.

Prediction?: I actually think that Michigan is going to lose to Syracuse in the Final Four, but if they manage to knock off the Orange, I think that the Wolverines would be a better matchup with Louisville that Syracuse would.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Coach Cal takes another shot at Duke, Coach K

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Duke and Kentucky have been at the forefront on the recruiting world for some time now, and as of late, it has been Duke that has been winning those wars.

In the Class of 2018, Duke has beaten Kentucky on Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett and, on Saturday, Zion Williamson. Kentucky landed Kevin Knox, who many believed was a heavy Duke lean, but the Blue Devils also beat out Kentucky on Marques Bolden.

That has not quite gone as well as planned, but nonetheless, Bolden’s commitment did set off the most recent Petty Wars between the two programs. It started with something that was posted on Coach Cal’s website that said that Kentucky isn’t trying to sell recruits on the idea that the program and the program’s alumni-base will take care of the kid for the rest of his life. That was a clear reference to comments that Hamidou Diallo made about Duke tried to recruit him.

Then, after Bolden committed to Duke, the Duke twitter account did their best to troll Coach Cal, responding to a tweet where he said “Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish” with this tweet:

That was in the summer prior to the 2016-17 season.

After this year’s Champions Classic, where Kentucky lost and Duke beat Michigan State by playing zone the entire game, Cal had this to say:

“You know what was really funny? We were going to come in and I was going to play 40 minutes of zone. We were. My staff talked me out of it. And then I heard Duke played zone the whole. Like, the whole game. And I was going to do it simply to see if we can really play it then we’ll have to play it against this team. And then naturally I didn’t play one down of it, but I had come in with the idea. Like, let’s just throw it up and play zone the whole game. I laughed and I said look at—when you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do.” (My emphasis added.)

That leads me to today, where Coach Cal met with local media to talk about, among other things, some of the issues that his program has had on the recruiting trail. (Quotes courtesy my buddy Kyle Tucker at SEC Country):

“I don’t sell, like, ‘When you come here, the university and the state will take care of you the rest of your life,’ ” Calipari said. “You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property in some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”

 

“Every one of us in this country is based on you’ve gotta take care of yourself. And then when you make it, you make sure that you’re helping [others]. And along the way you bring other people with you,” Calipari said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’ Some [recruits] like that. Some don’t like it.”

I am so here for all of this.

I love Duke-Kentucky becoming a year-round rivalry. I wish that they played more often than every three years in the Champions Classic.

As part of my effort to become commissioner of college basketball, I propose that these two programs must play at least once every year.

UCLA lands McDonald’s All-American center Moses Brown

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UCLA landed one of the premier Class of 2018 players left on Monday as five-star center Moses Brown pledged to the Bruins.

The 7-foot-1 Brown brings legitimate size and length to the interior for the Bruins as the New York native is one of the better big men in the class. A McDonald’s All-American, Brown is regarded as the No. 20 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018 rankings, according to Rivals. Brown made his announcement with a tweet through Slam.

Brown becomes the headliner of a strong four-man class for the Bruins that includes four-star forward Jules Bernard and guard David Singleton and three-star big man Kenneth Nwuba. UCLA has continued to recruit well despite the Chinese incident and the Ball family essentially leaving the program for good this season.

With his size and ability to impact the game inside, Brown could get early minutes right away for UCLA next season as he becomes an important piece for its future. If Brown stays around for a few years then he could anchor the interior for the Bruins — although it remains to be seen how Brown will look in a more up-and-down system.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kentucky is no longer a top 25 team

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The latest coaches poll was released on Monday, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who the top three teams in the country are.

Villanova, Virginia and Purdue are the consensus three best teams in the sport.

Kentucky also fell out of the top 25 after a pair of losses this week.

Here is the full top 25 poll:

1. Villanova
2. Virginia
3. Purdue
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
8. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Oklahoma
12. Arizona
13. Ohio State
14. Texas TEch
15. Gonzaga
16. Wichita State
17. Clemson
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Auburn
20. Arizona State
21. Tennessee
22. Florida
23. Rhode Island
24. Miami
25. Michigan

College Basketball AP Poll: Kentucky falls out of Top 25 for 1st time since 2014

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Kentucky is out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in nearly four years while another bunch of Wildcats — Villanova — maintained their hold on No. 1.

Kentucky slid out of Monday’s latest poll from No. 18 after losses to South Carolina and Florida, snapping a 30-game home winning streak for the Wildcats in Southeastern Conference play. That dropped coach John Calipari’s Wildcats out for the first time since March 2014 and snapped a 68-week stretch in the poll.

The top three of Villanova, Virginia and Purdue remained the same, with the Wildcats (18-1) remaining firmly in place by collecting 63 of 65 first-place votes. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers (18-1) and the Boilermakers (19-2) have combined to win 25 straight games, 19 by double-digit margins, and split the remaining first-place votes.

Duke inched up a spot to No. 4, while Kansas jumped five spots to No. 5 after winning at West Virginia. Michigan State, West Virginia, Xavier, Cincinnati and reigning national champion North Carolina rounded out the top 10, which saw three teams — Oklahoma, Wichita State and Texas Tech — each lose twice last week to take big tumbles.

Kentucky (14-5, 4-3 SEC) started the year at No. 5 and remained in the top 10 until Christmas Day, but the Wildcats have lost three of five overall and are 0-2 against ranked teams this year.

They also rank outside the top 25 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive national rankings through Sunday’s games. Coach John Calipari’s teams in Lexington have finished outside the top 25 in both categories only once before: the 2012-13 season that ended with 12 losses and a first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris.

Then again, the last Kentucky team to fall out of the AP poll in 2014 went from being a 10-loss disappointment to playing for the NCAA championship in the span of weeks.

“We’re going to be fine,” Calipari said after Saturday’s 66-64 loss to Florida. “I was worried after South Carolina, now. I’m not worried after this. We’ll be fine. I was worried after Vanderbilt to be honest with you, and we won that game. They do this and they stay this course and this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”

Here is the full poll:

1. Villlanova (63 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (1)
3. Purdue (1)
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
9. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Arizona
12. Oklahoma
13. Ohio State
14. Texas Tech
15. Gonzaga
16. Saint Mary’s
17. Wichita State
18. Clemson
19. Auburn
20. Florida
21. Arizona State
22. Tennessee
23. Nevada
24. Rhode Island
25. Michigan

PURDUE’S SURGE

The Boilermakers (8-0 Big Ten) have won 15 straight to remain at No. 3, their highest since being ranked No. 2 in March 1988. They have won three straight Big Ten games by at least 23 points for the first time in school history.

THE LONG CLIMB BACK

Arizona (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12) went from ranked No. 2 to unranked in the span of a week in November after a disastrous 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, including a 25-point loss to Purdue — which started the Boilermakers’ run — in the eight-team tournament’s seventh-place game.

But the Wildcats have won 13 of 14 since and check in this week at No. 11, their highest ranking since falling out.

TOP RISERS

No. 13 Ohio State (17-4, 7-0 Big Ten) is up nine spots for the week’s biggest leap. The Buckeyes checked in at No. 22 last week for their first AP Top 25 ranking since March 2015.

UNC matched Kansas’ five-spot jump to No. 10 after beating Clemson last week at home.

LONGEST SLIDES

Wichita State’s first two losses in its new American Athletic Conference home had the Shockers drop 10 spots to No. 17 for the week’s biggest fall.

Two Big 12 teams also took big tumbles after two-loss weeks. Oklahoma and freshman star Trae Young fell eight spots to No. 12 after losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State, while No. 14 Texas Tech slid six spots after losses to Texas and Iowa State.

Arizona State also fell five spots to No. 21 and has lost four of seven since a 12-0 start.

NEWCOMERS

Saint Mary’s led the newcomers at No. 16 after winning at Gonzaga in West Coast Conference play last week. The Gaels, led by Jock Landale, were ranked for three November polls before falling out but have won 14 straight.

No. 20 Florida — which reached No. 5 in December before falling out — and No. 23 Nevada both returned to the poll after being ranked earlier this season, while No. 24 Rhode Island checked in for the first time this season.

SLIDING OUT

In addition to Kentucky, Seton Hall (No. 19), TCU (No. 24) and Miami (No. 25) fell out of this week’s rankings.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Kentucky stinks, Zion Williamson’s to Duke, is Trae Young selfish?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Jeff Borzello of ESPN to roll through all the happenings in college hoops this weekend, from Zion Williamson committing to Duke to Kentucky, Texas Tech, Seton Hall and Wichita State getting swept to the issues at Gonzaga to whether or not Villanova, Purdue and Virginia are elite. Plus, a geography lesson and the great queso disaster of 2018.

Here is a rundown for today’s podcast:

OPEN: Sunday’s queso fiasco

4:30: Zion Williamson’s commitment to Duke

11:10: Most worried about Texas Tech, Wichita State, or Seton Hall?

16:30: What is going on with Kentucky?

23:50: Trae Young taking 39 shots in a loss

31:00: Are Villanova, Purdue and Virginia ‘elite’?

42:10: Is Gonzaga the fifth-best team on the west coast?