Louisville Cardinals NCAA Basketball Celebration

Stars returning to school means the ’13-’14 season is shaping up to be unreal

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College basketball fans have become accustomed to the month of April consistently disappointing them.

Over the course of the month, we’ve learned, player after player will announce their intentions to forgo the rest of their collegiate eligibility and enter their name into the NBA Draft. All those hopes and dreams you had about your favorite team building a contender get crushed with one star’s decision to rush off to the NBA.

This April, however, has been quite the opposite.

Instead of watching a mad dash of draft prospects head for the NBA to try and take advantage of a weak draft and a potentially guaranteed contract that comes with being a first round pick, some of the nation’s biggest stars have headed back to school.

And their return has laid the groundwork for what should end up being a thrilling season of hoops.

On Thursday afternoon, the most decorated returnee made his decision, as two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott announced that he would be coming back to Creighton for his senior season. This sets up all kind of intrigue for Bluejay fans, as they will have arguably the greatest player in school history back to lead the program into a new era. McDermott, who will be chasing down 3,000 career points, is the favorite for the new Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year award, and will have a chance to showcase his skills against the likes of Georgetown, Marquette and Butler and in cities like NYC, DC and Philly. That’s a bit of a difference from the road trips to and from Springfield, MO, and Evansville, IN.

McDermott’s decision came a day after Russ Smith and CJ Fair announced that they will be spending their senior seasons at Louisville and Syracuse, respectively.

(CLICK HERE to follow along with who is turning pro and who is returning to school.)

Smith’s return makes Louisville a legitimate contender to win back-to-back national titles, as he not only was the KenPom National Player of the Year — which should give you a sense of his value to that Louisville team — but also the most entertaining player in the country, both on and off the court. It also sets up just an ideal situation in the Commonwealth. Kentucky and Louisville could end up being the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, two bitter, intrastate rivals that have accounted for the last two national championships. Oh, and should I mention that Kentucky brought back Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress to join their loaded recruiting class?

Anyone got an extra ticket for their annual matchup?

The irony? Kentucky isn’t a lock to win the SEC, not when Florida brings in a loaded recruiting class and returns Patric Young, giving them arguably the best front line in the country.

While Smith brings the Russdiculousness, Fair may be his polar opposite. Often overlooked, Fair’s return was the single most important part of this offseason for Syracuse. A perfect fit athletically for the Orange’s 2-3 zone, Fair was also their leading scorer and rebounder a season ago, as well as a forward that was able to score on the perimeter. Syracuse will have a ton of length and athleticism once again, but Fair is the only front court player that can help spread the floor.

His return will make the Orange, in all likelihood, a top ten team and a contender in the ACC.

Yup, Syracuse is going to be in the ACC next season. Almost forgot that, didn’t you? That means that the Orange will be battling with Duke, who will be a top five team next season, and North Carolina, who will also be a top ten-ish team, for ACC bragging rights. The reason that UNC is going to be so good next season? Not only did they get James Michael McAdoo back for his junior campaign, leading scorer PJ Hairston made the decision to return to school as well.

That three-way battle for ACC supremacy is going to be quite entertaining even if you don’t like ACC hoops.

Duke-UNC and Louisville-UK won’t be the only rivalries that will continue to flourish in 2013-2014. Michigan may have lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, but with the announcement that both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will be back for their sophomore seasons, the Wolverines will have enough talent to compete for the Big Ten title. The favorite in the league? Michigan State, especially after Gary Harris announced that he’ll be back for his sophomore campaign. And if Adreian Payne returns as well? We may just need to clear some space in the top three for the Spartans.

But easily the biggest surprise when it comes to players returning to school was Marcus Smart. A projected top three pick, Smart announced earlier this month that he simply wasn’t ready to give up being a kid and become a professional. “I know how much money I’m giving up,” he said, which is great news for Oklahoma State fans, as they suddenly jump into the top spot in the preseason Big 12 standings.

Above Kansas.

Who has won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season title.

And that may end up being the most run league race to follow along with this season. Can Oklahoma State, a team coached by Travis Ford, end up being the one that ends the Jayhawk streak?

If that’s not enough, Joe Jackson, Jordan McRae, Sean Kilpatrick and Jahii Carson will all be back next season as well.

And you thought last season was fun.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Before he won an Academy Award, Mahershala Ali played at Saint Mary’s

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Actor Mahershala Ali accepts Best Supporting Actor for 'Moonlight' onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the film ‘Moonlight’ on Sunday night.

How does that tie into college basketball?

It’s simple: Ali played college basketball for four years at Saint Mary’s, from 1992-1996.

Now, this was before Saint Mary’s turned into the Saint Mary’s that Randy Bennett has built. At the time, Ernie Kent was the program’s head coach, and the teams that Ali — whose used his given last name of Gilmore at the time, although he was already using the shortened version of his first name, Mahershalalhashbaz — played on weren’t really all that good. They finished under .500 in the WCC three of the four season, finding a way to finish in a tie for second place in his junior year.

As a senior, Ali averaged 7.0 points for the Gaels.

This would probably make Ali the most famous player that Kent has ever coached. He’s more famous than Aaron Brooks, who had about two good NBA seasons, and he’s definitely more famous than Luke Ridnour, who is best known either for getting traded four times in a week or being name-dropped in a song by the rapper Wale, who bragged about being able to turn ‘Ducks into Bucks [like] Luke Ridnour.’

 

VIDEO: Tom Izzo’s touching senior day tribute to Eron Harris

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Eron Harris #14 of the Michigan State Spartans kisses the midcourt logo on senior day during the second half of the college basketball game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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Eron Harris suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game at Purdue earlier this month, meaning that he would not be able to take the floor for his Senior Day.

Tom Izzo made sure to rectify that, as he called a timeout with just 12 seconds left in Michigan State’s win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday, giving Harris a chance to go out to the center of the court, get a standing ovation and give the Spartan logo a smooch.

He was also greeted by the Wisconsin team. All around great moment:

Nick Ward-led Michigan State beats No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the second half at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Nick Ward had 22 points and nine rebounds, Miles Bridges had 17 points and Matt McQuaid added a season-high 15 to help Michigan State beat No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74 on Sunday.

The Spartans (18-11, 10-6 Big Ten) have won six of their last eight games, moving them into a third-place tie in the conference and perhaps sealing their spot in a 20th straight NCAA Tournament.

The Badgers (22-7, 11-5) have lost four of five and lost a chance to pull into a first-place tie with No. 14 Purdue.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes scored 22 points, Bronson Koenig had 17 and Zak Showalter added 15. Ethan Happ fouled out with eight points, more than six points below his average for the Badgers.

Michigan State went on an 11-1 run midway through the second half, building a 12-point lead that it was able to maintain unlike a big lead in the first half.

In the first half, the Spartans led 36-23 only to allow the Badgers to come back with a 15-4 run to pull within a point at halftime.

Michigan State’s Cassius Winston had 10 points and eight assists and Joshua Langford had nine points.

In the last game of the season at Breslin Center, senior guard Eron Harris checked in late in the game a little more than a week after he had a season-ending knee injury. Harris, with a brace on his right knee, went to center court and kissed the Spartan logo to follow a senior tradition Shawn Respert started in 1995.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have been shooting poorly and it is catching up with them. They were held to 43.1 percent shooting against Michigan State, a ninth straight game of connecting on 44 percent or fewer of their shots. They made 13 of 25 free throws at Michigan State after shooting 67 and 57 percent from the line the previous two games.

Michigan State: The Spartans are surging at the right time and are gaining confidence perhaps allowing them to position themselves for better seeding at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

POLL IMPLICATONS

With Wisconsin’s losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers will likely plummet from No. 16 in The Associated Press poll on Monday.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: The Badgers end the regular season at home, hosting Iowa on Thursday night and Minnesota on Sunday.

Michigan State: The Spartans close on the road, playing Illinois on Wednesday night and No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Seventh-ranked Louisville dominates Syracuse

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The hint arrived early that Louisville might be no kind of matchup for Syracuse when the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. The Orange, though, appeared to steady and seemed intent on delivering an interesting Sunday afternoon and a maybe another resume-changing win after beating Duke earlier in the week as the roared back to take a lead.

Everyone should have taken the early hint.

Louisville used a 21-4 first-half run to gain separation and never looked back as the Cardinals dominated Syracuse, 88-68, on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

The win was the fourth in five games for Louisville, which shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

Donovan Mitchell was sensational, going for 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was his third-straight game with at least 20 points.  He also had an absolutely dynamic one-handed alley-oop late that was just fantastic.

The Cardinals showed no ill effects of a hangover stemming from the loss earlier this week at North Carolina, but instead it was as dominant a performance as they’ve had in weeks.

On the losing side of the ledger are the Orange, who looked to be building some momentum after a three-game losing streak by beating Duke on Wednesday. Then, the Blue Devils went and lost to Miami and Syracuse just got smashed by another ACC contender. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

For Syracuse, it looks destined to spend another Selection Sunday sweating, though there’s certainly enough time for it to go either way. The Orange can really only hurt themselves until the ACC tournament with Georgia Tech heading to the Carrier Dome this week. That’s a game Syracuse will need to win, lest they really want the pressure ratcheted up in Brooklyn.

A big part of the issue for Syracuse pinning its hopes on the ACC tournament is its total lack of depth. Tyler Lydon and Andrew White both went at least 40 minutes for the 11- and 10-straight games, respectively. Syracuse played seven and got 28 minutes total from its bench.

With a few days typically between days, that’s pretty sustainable for the regular season, but those minutes are sure to weigh on players going on back-to-back (and maybe longer) days.