Doug McDermott returned to school to take on the challenge of a new league

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Doug McDermott is living college basketball’s version of the American Dream.

He’s spent his life in places like Cedar Falls, Ames and Omaha. He’s either undersized or not quite athletic enough, depending on what position you’re trying to pigeonhole him into, but he makes up for his tweener reputation by being arguably the best shooter in all of college basketball. He was a scrawny, 6-foot-nothing big man as a freshman in high school, “blossoming” into the sixth-man as a junior on a team that also included Harrison Barnes.

When it came time to pick a college, McDermott passed on a chance to walk-on at Iowa State, where his dad, Greg, was coaching, to sign a letter of intent at Northern Iowa. The only reason he ended up at Creighton was that Greg left ISU before being asked to leave, taking over for Dana Altman, who bolted Omaha for Oregon.

It was there that Doug began to live out the dreams of every kid that grew up in America’s Heartland: he averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 boards as a freshman, launching a college basketball career that will, in all likelihood, see him put his name along side the likes of Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale as three-time AP All-Americans.

He went from “that other kid” on Harrison Barnes’ team to a fixture on Sportscenter and ESPN.com, from a mid-major afterthought to a guy that actively made the decision to forego being a first round pick in the NBA Draft.

His career has been the script of a Disney movie that seems just a bit too good to be true, but it would have ended before this season began if it weren’t for a little luck in conference realignment.

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The first time that Doug McDermott ever set foot in New York City was for an AAU tournament. His team in Iowa had traveled all the way to the Big Apple to play in front of scouts and coaches, to try and earn themselves a scholarship.

The trip was anything but glamourous.

“We took a bus,” McDermott said. “21 hours.”

(MORE: Check out the NBCSports.com Big East Preview. Where does Creighton rank?)

His second trip to NYC came last month. The McDermotts hopped on a chartered jet with a couple of other members of the Creighton program, flying from Omaha to New York to hit Chelsea Piers for Big East media day where they spent hours decked out in suits, giving interview after interview after interview. He answered questions about what it will be like playing in Madison Square Garden or Hinkle Fieldhouse, taking roadtrips to Philly and DC and NYC, playing in a conference whose name evokes so much history and hoops prestige.

“That’s a little different experience,” McDermott said with a laugh, but it’s precisely the kind of experience that McDermott is looking for. It’s one of the biggest reasons that the two-time Missouri Valley Player of the Year will enter this season as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year instead of starting out on the bench on some NBA team’s roster.

McDermott was ready to move on from the Valley, and the new league provided him with precisely the landing spot he was looking for.

“I feel like I really accomplished as much as I could have playing in the Valley,” he said. “I wanted a new challenge, and if the Big East weren’t there, I think the decision [whether or not] to come back would have been a lot easier. I think I would have gone. The new challenge of playing against new teams and traveling to different cities.”

“The excitement around our school and our program is at an all-time high right now, and it’s tough to walk away from that.”

McDermott was effusive in his praise for the Missouri Valley, and it sounded sincere enough to make it clear that the savvy 21 year old wasn’t simply following the fundamental rules of speaking to the media: compliment everyone. He said he’ll miss the conference and the traditions of the league, that he’ll miss the long-standing rivalries and the familiarity of the fan bases. He specifically mentioned his disappointment in losing the rivalry with Wichita State, a statement that anyone with a proper appreciation for college hoops will agree with.

So understand, when McDermott says he was ready to move on and he needed a new challenge, he wasn’t taking a swipe at the Valley.

He’s just being honest.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“In the MVC, everyone seems to kind of have people figured out. That’s why sometimes we would hit a rough patch, like in February when we lost a couple in a row,” McDermott said. “It’s kind of the way it is, it’s a grind. I think the Big East will be that way as well, but it’s going to be new for some of these teams that are playing us. It’s something I thought about, it’s going to feel like an NCAA tournament kind of game the first time around. That’s something that I’m really excited about.”

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The relationship between Greg and Doug is as strong as it has ever been, but when Doug made the decision to enroll at Creighton, he knew that turning Dad into Coach Dad wouldn’t be the easiest transition to make.

“It was really tough at first. I wasn’t a huge fan of it,” Doug said. “It’s almost annoying, like, ‘Man, I’ve heard this stuff over and over again for 18 years, and now it’s in a different tone and he’s yelling at my teammates and my friends?'” But they’ve grown since those first weeks, slowly learning how to keep basketball on the basketball court and family time back at the house.

“Now that everything’s established and we have a good group of guys that understand the whole situation, it’s been really easy,” Doug said. “When we have a tough day and coaches really get on us or something, it’s not like I’m going to be on my dad’s side. Everyone’s in the same boat. I’m pissed off at him too.”

The pinnacle came during Doug’s decision-making process last spring, when McDermott had to choose whether he wanted to lead his father’s program into the Big East or if it was time for him to head off to pursue a career as a professional. Greg never pushed for Doug to stay put, even though he knew it that having an all-american on his roster would allow the Bluejays to compete for the league title in their first season.

“I was completely honest with Doug about the feedback that I received from NBA teams,” Greg said. “Some of it was great, some of it was middle of the road and some of it was ‘I’m not sure if this guy guards, I’m not sure what position this guy plays.'”

“I was proud that he was able to navigate through the process and come to a decision that was best for him. I’m proud as his coach, but I’m also proud as his father.”

Ironically enough, Doug’s decision to return also forced his dad’s hand.

Starting point guard Grant Gibbs received a waiver that will allow him to be eligible for a sixth season, meaning that Creighton was one scholarship over the limit of 13.

Doug, who could become the first player since the mid-80s to be a three-time first-team all-american, is now a walk-on. It’s also the first time that he’s received special treatment since joining the program.

“The only thing is [when] my dad is talking to the team, it’s, ‘Alright, all you scholarship guys and Doug, come watch film’. I’m like, ‘C’mon man’. Everyone was laughing, telling me I’ve got laundry today.”

Maybe things aren’t that different at home and at practice after all.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

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

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.