Who should be the Preseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart or Andrew Wiggins?

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Earlier today, we released the NBCSports.com All-American teams, which also included our pick for Preseason National Player of the Year: Marcus Smart.

We gave Smart the nod after a long argument because Raphielle Johnson and myself, and I figured that the back-and-forth was worth posting here. It’s been cleaned up a bit to make it suitable for posting:

Dauster: The way the season breaks down it seems that there are really only two logical choices for Preseason National Player of the Year: Oklahoma State sophmore point guard Marcus Smart and Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, a battle made all-the-more juicy by the fact that they represent the two favorites in the Big 12 race.

When it comes down to it, I always err on the side of talent, and with all due respect to Marcus Smart, Wiggins is the most talented player in the country. At his size with his athleticism and his mobility, there really isn’t anything that he can’t do. Throw in the fact that he’s playing on a team that actually will provide him with a supporting cast, and there’s a chance that, come March, the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Hard to bet against the best player on the best team.

Johnson: While I certainly respect the talent Wiggins possesses, I don’t even know if he’s the most important player on his own team. I’d argue that Naadir Tharpe, the starter at a position (point guard) where the Jayhawks really don’t have a concrete answer behind him, is that guy for Kansas. While skill level and production obviously need to be accounted for when discussing Player of the Year possibilities, I think a player’s importance to his team needs to be factored in as well. That’s why I take Smart, who will once again be asked to set up guys like Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown while also scoring himself. With his skills, leadership ability and competitiveness, I think Smart’s the best choice.

Dauster: If Naadir Tharpe is the most important player for Kansas, than wouldn’t Michael Cobbins be the most important player for Oklahoma State? Decent talent looking to prove himself at a position without much depth on an otherwise loaded team?

And if we’re talking about how valuable a player is, let’s think about this: Wiggins may not actively set players up the way Smart does, but the attention that he will garner on the offensive end of the floor will make things that much easier for Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. I’m not sure either of those guys are quite good enough yet to be the No. 1 and 2 options on a Big 12 contender. But when defenses are keyed in on stopping Wiggins, Selden and Ellis should be able to take advantage.

That said, the key word in your last email was competitiveness. Can Wiggins consistently bring the effort to dominate like he’s capable of?

Johnson: Attempting to apply my Tharpe thinking to Cobbins is apples to oranges and you know it.

As for attention, Smart won’t garner enough to take the pressure off of his teammates? I certainly believe he will, because while guys like Brown and Nash ultimately are talented enough to make things happen in their own the Cowboys have other pieces that need Smart’s presence in order to be at their best. And I think he’s going to be an improved perimeter shooter this season after making just 29% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13, which will make Smart even more dangerous. I’m a big fan of Wiggins but we aren’t talking about the top pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. We’re talking about the best player in college basketball, and right now I’m taking the guy who last season led his team to their first win at Allen Fieldhouse since 1989.

Dauster: I don’t disagree with anything you just said about Smart — although there’s no questioning the validity of my Tharpe/Cobbins comparison! — but it belies a bigger point: the only thing keeping Andrew Wiggins from winning National Player of the Year is Andrew Wiggins.

We’ve all seen the early season reports, that he’s not yet competing on every possession in practice and that it’s been guys like Selden and Ellis and Joel Embiid that have drawn the rave reviews from reporters that have made the trip to Lawrence this month. We also know Wiggins reputation as a guy that coasts at times when he’s not being challenged on the court.

But there are two things to remember here: the last two times that Wiggins was really presented with some adversity, he went out and dominated Julius Randel at the Peach Jam in 2012, and he dropped 57 points for Huntington Prep on a day he was ticked off about an article that was written up on SI.com. If Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate for 40 minutes every night, I think he can dominate for 40 minutes every night. Even if Smart can now shoot like Doug McDermott, Wiggins will still be bringing home the Naismith trophy.

Johnson: But therein lies the problem with making Wiggins POY: he’s still not to the point where he’s competing on every possession in practice. That isn’t an issue with Smart currently and it wasn’t last season either. He performed well enough with the US U-19 team to be one of two college players to receive an invite to their senior team training camp this summer, and that competitiveness/leadership was a big reason why that happened. I’m a huge fan of Wiggins and expect him to have an excellent career. But I can’t label a guy as being the best player in America when we’re still talking about him “choosing” when to dominate. Give me the guy who goes at his opponent’s throat consistently.

Dauster: Fine. Well roll with Smart. But don’t think for a second I’ll let you forget about this when Wiggins goes all Kevin Durant on the Big-12.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

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.