Buffalo adds former Alabama State guard Josh Freelove

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First-year Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley has the fortune of taking over a program that features arguably the best player in the Mid-American Conference in senior forward Javon McCrea. McCrea led the Bulls with averages of 18.0 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and he’s the early favorite in some circles to grab league Player of the Year honors.

But as evidenced by the Bulls’ 14-20 record, it can’t be McCrea doing all of the heavy lifting by himself if Buffalo is to improve its standing within the tough East Division of the MAC. Buffalo landed some help on Friday, as it was announced that former Alabama State guard Josh Freelove has joined the program and is eligible to play immediately.

Freelove’s name may be familiar to diehard MAC basketball fans, as he spent his freshman campaign at Toledo before transferring to Lewis and Clark CC (Ill.). As a junior at Alabama State, Freelove averaged 13.6 points per game on 46.1% shooting from the field.

Of Buffalo’s top four scorers from a season ago just one (guard Tony Watson II) doesn’t return, and in theory Freelove should be able to account for Watson’s graduation. With McCrea leading the way the pieces are in place for coach Hurley to make a splash in his debut season. But given how well programs like Akron and Ohio have performed in recent years, making that move up the MAC pecking order is easier said than done.

Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.

Texas freshman Mo Bamba declares for NBA draft

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Texas freshman Mo Bamba announced on Tuesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft, which comes as no major surprise to anyone that has been paying attention.

“After an incredibly rewarding year at The University of Texas, I will not be returning to school as I will be entering the NBA Draft,” Bamba said in a statement released by the program.

Bamba is a projected top ten pick in this year’s NBA Draft that has a chance to go in the top five. He was always going to be a one-and-done player. A 6-foot-11 center with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, he averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game during his one season with the Longhorns.

New Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis: My team will ‘respect the flag and the National Anthem’

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New Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis didn’t exactly get his tenure off on the right foot on Monday evening.

At his introductory press conference, Davis had this to say about the way that he’s going to run his program: “What is Ole Miss Basketball going to look like? It’s going to be relentless, athletic, explosive, a team that’s going to have to play on and on and on to beat. It’s going to be a team that’s going to be unselfish. We’re going to play fast and smart in transition. We’re going to try to get easy baskets. We’re going to try to play with great body language. We’re going to be a respectful team that respects the flag and the National Anthem. All those things from culture is what we’re about. It’s who we’re going to be.”

At Ole Miss, Davis is going to be recruiting young men that, for the most part, are African-American, which is precisely the demographic that has dealt with the institutionalized racism and police brutality that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and spawned Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.

When you’re already at a recruiting disadvantage because you’re Ole Miss, giving every other coach in the conference ammo to use against you on the recruiting trail — Do I need to spell that one out for you? — is probably not the best idea.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because we’re talking about how he’s building a program that respects the flag and the National Anthem, right?

The mascot for the school that he’s now coaching is, quite literally, named after confederate soldiers. If he’s such a proud American that he cannot tolerate black men protesting against institutionalized racism within our borders, how can he coach a team named after the soldiers that tried to tear this country apart 150 years ago just because they wanted to be able to own those black men?

If that’s not hypocrisy at its finest, I don’t know what is.

Purdue looking to get engineering students to help with Isaac Haas’ elbow brace

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Purdue University is an engineering school, and if you know anything about engineers, it’s that they like to build and invent stuff.

And so the basketball program is tapping into that. According to the Journal & Courier, those engineers are trying to find a way to make a brace for 7-foot-3 center Isaac Haas that would allow him to play this weekend. Haas, who broke his elbow in a first round win over Cal St.-Fullerton, tried to play with a brace on Sunday against Butler but it was not approved by the NCAA.

The problem, however, is that regardless of the brace that Purdue puts on Haas, he is still going to be asked to play with a broken elbow on his shooting hand. How will he make free throws? How will he score in the post if he can’t shoot right-handed jump-hooks? How can he, you know, play basketball with one arm?

“He has the best brace you can possibly have on that they didn’t approve,” Painter told reporters on Purdue’s campus Monday afternoon. “So if he has the best brace possible and he can’t shoot a right-handed free throw, this brace isn’t going to be better. It’s just going to be one that’s a little bit less [bulky] and it’s going to get approved. He still has a broken elbow.”

“Maybe with some decrease in inflammation. Maybe with some opportunities to rest it without any kind of additional treatment, maybe some natural healing will do it well,” Haas added on Sunday. “One thing is for sure: I’m going to ride with these guys as long as they last. I know they’ll make it all the way.”

If I’m Purdue, I chase the hell out of this. I do everything I can to find a way to get Haas cleared to at least get on the floor, because — as cliche as this is going to sound — the emotional boost that those other three seniors are going to get from seeing the fourth member of their class on the court with a broken elbow in the last games they’ll ever play together will be a benefit.

There is no way that Haas will be a better option than Matt Haarms with this injury.

But getting him on the court, even if just for a few possessions here and there, is something that would be a major boost to the Purdue team.

Get it done, engineers.

Winter Storm Toby ruining West Virginia’s travel plans

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West Virginia already had to deal with one of the tougher travel schedules of anyone in the NCAA tournament.

A team in the eastern timezone, the Mountaineers had to travel all the way out to San Diego for their first weekend games. They played the last game on Sunday night before flying back to Morgantown on Monday morning.

Now they’re on the move again. West Virginia announced Monday that the team will leave a day early for Boston, where No. 5-seed West Virginia takes on top-seeded Villanova in the East Region semifinals at TD Garden on Friday night.

The National Weather Service says the bulk of the wind-driven snow and sleet is expected to hit New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and parts of eastern Pennsylvania before heading off to Massachusetts early Thursday.

Good thing these student-athletes don’t have to worry about missing class or anything.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.