This game needs to be a classic.
We need it to be great.
As a whole, the tournament has been kind of a bust this season. Florida Gulf Coast was fun while it lasted. Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross have hit some game-winners. Marquette played a couple exciting first weekend games. But the majority of the games have been blowouts. Even Wichita State’s run to the Final Four has been a bore, for the most part.
But this game? It has the chance to be a classic. Player of the Year vs. the toughest defense in the tournament. The most surprising freshman vs. the most athletic front line in the country. John Beilein vs. Jim Boeheim. Three point shooters vs. the zone.
Most importantly, two of the five most talented teams in the country squaring off on the biggest stage when they’re playing their best basketball. It should be fun.
Key Player: Mitch McGary
McGary has been arguably the best player in the tournament to date. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 boards through four games, single-handedly keeping the Wolverines in the game against Kansas for 33 minutes and then setting the tone in the blowout win over Florida. And the big fella has a pretty good matchup with this Syracuse team. Their big guys are long and athletic, but they aren’t nearly as physical as McGary is. There are few big men in the country that are as long and athletic as Jeff Withey, and eight days ago he gave the Kansas all-american 25 points and 14 boards.
Key Matchup: Trey Burke guarding Michael Carter-Williams
It feels obvious to say that the key matchup is the most important player from one team guarding the most important player from the other team, but it’s true. Carter-Williams is going to have a good five inches on Burke, and the last time we saw him going up against a guy where he had that kind of a size advantage, Carter-Williams gave Yogi Ferrell and Jordy Hulls 24 points in his best offensive performance of the season. That was in the Sweet 16. Will it be the same deal in the Final Four? Who knows, but I do know that Michigan cannot win if Burke cannot at least make things difficult for the Syracuse star.
Key Stat: 12-94
That’s what opponents are shooting from three against Syracuse in this tournament. Michigan has relied on the three-ball as much as anyone in the country this season. The Wolverines don’t have a chance if those three-balls aren’t going down.
Who Wins?: It’s going to come down to the final possession, which means that I’m going with Michigan. You don’t bet against Trey Burke in the clutch.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.
Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.
Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.
But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.
Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.
Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.
The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.
Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.
Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.
The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.
The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.
College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.
Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.
Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.
The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.
Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.
Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.
The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.
Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.
“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”
The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.
With Karnowski returning along with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.
Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.