Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas, makes Jayhawks a title contender

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Remember all that talk about how this could end up being the year that Kansas ends their streak of winning at least a share of nine straight Big 12 regular season title?

Remember how we all thought that Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash — and maybe Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson — returning to school for another season would be the biggest news of the offseason in the Big 12?

Remember when Oklahoma State was the best team in the conference?

That all changed on Tuesday afternoon when Andrew Wiggins, the Canadian-born forward out of Huntington Prep (WV) and the top high school recruit in the country, announced that he would be spending his one year of college basketball playing for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks.

Of the four teams involved in the final pursuit of a prospect many believe to be on par with Kevin Durant and LeBron James, Kansas probably had the most to gain by bringing in the freakishly athletic, 6-foot-7 wing. Wiggins is a pure-bred scorer, a kid whose athleticism borders on genetic mutation — that’s what happens when your father was a first round pick in the NBA and your mother won silver medals as a sprinter in the Olympics — that has the handle and shooting ability to be so much more than just a dunker. He’s the go-to guy that Self has desperately needed since Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor headed off to the NBA after the 2012 national title game.

Because the Jayhawks do have talent on their roster, it’s just young talent.

Joel Embiid may be the best center in the Class of 2013. He’ll team up in the front court with Perry Ellis, a scoring machine when he was in high school that finally gained some confidence by the end of the season. Self will have a myriad of perimeter weapons at his disposal as well– five-star freshman Wayne Selden, Andrew White, Brannen Greene and the three-headed attack at the point of Naadir Tharpe, Connor Frankamp and Frank Mason.

The problem is that as good as all of those kids are going to be down the road, they are all young and/or inexperienced right now. Tharpe is going to be next year’s ‘veteran leader’, and he was so shaky at the point last season that Self was forced to play Elijah Johnson there even when Johnson was playing with the self-confidence of a middle school tuba player hitting on Blake Lively. Ellis was a touted recruit coming out of high school, but he played behind a guy that transferred in from Loyola Marymount. Combined, those two played fewer minutes per game last season than Travis Releford.

That’s the kind of experience that Self was going to be forced to deal with in 2013-2014.

But with Wiggins on the roster, those young guys can simply embrace being role players. They won’t have to shoulder too much responsibility, because Wiggins will be the guy that a) Self builds his offense around and b) defenses focus on stopping. It will be a lot easier for someone like Ellis or Selden or Embiid to have an impact offensively when they are constantly going up against a defense shaded towards Wiggins.

The beauty of it is that this is also a good thing for Kansas basketball in the future. Wiggins is gone after this season, but with a year of development at the collegiate level, who’s to say that someone like Embiid or Selden can’t turn into an all-american caliber player as a sophomore? Self is as good at developing talent as any coach in the country, and with Wiggins in the fold, he can do just that with his youngsters without having to worry about putting too much on their plate too early in their career.

Because that streak is a burden.

No one wants to be a part of the Kansas team that couldn’t win the Big 12 regular season title.

With Wiggins on the roster, the burden of that pressure lands on his shoulders.

And he’s good enough to handle it.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: