Andrew Wiggins wins Tuesday’s ‘Freshmen Showcase’

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CHICAGO — The Champions Classic should have been billed as the Freshmen Showcase.

I know, I know, I know. The event itself was about so much more than the eight top ten recruits to take the court at the United Center on Tuesday night. We had No. 1 vs. No. 2. We had No. 4 vs. No. 5. We had Coach Cal and Coach K, Izzo and Self. Sparty, Rock Chalk, Big Blue, the Dukies. It was the single most anticipated night of college hoops that I can remember that was not a part of the NCAA tournament, and if you want to pretend that had everything to do with the teams and the programs involved in the event, than go right ahead.

But you’ll be wrong.

This was the first chance for the general public to truly get a glimpse of all of those stud freshmen, many of whom will be the draft that picks that lowly NBA franchises will pin their futures to. For those freshmen — most notably Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins — this was their introduction into society.

This was their Basketball Cotillion.

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When Andrew Wiggins committed to play for Kansas back in May, it was billed as a season-changing event for Bill Self’s Jayhawks. Wiggins had all manner of superlatives being thrown his way. Some called him the best high school prospect since Kevin Durant. Some labeled him the best since Lebron. Some said that he would have been the No. 1 player in the obscenely talented Class of 2007, the one that included the likes of Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon.

But over the course of the last month, ever since preseason practices began, there has seemingly been a concerted effort to get the expectations that have been levied upon Wiggins to be reduced.

Part of this is Bill Self’s schtick. He loves to downplay the guys that he has on his roster. He loves saying the players in his program aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are. He did the same thing with Ben McLemore before last season, and McLemore ended up being a pretty talented player, didn’t he? But there’s more to the equation here than the simple fact that Self is trying to keep his guy from heading into his one season in college with impossible expectations. The fact that Wiggins has fallen from lock status as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has just as much to do with the fact that both Randle and Parker are elite, franchising-changing talents in their own right.

Heading into Tuesday night, heading into their Basketball Cotillion, heading into their debut into society, it was Parker — who went for 22 points in a dominating win over Davidson in Duke’s season-opener — and Randle — who averaged 22.5 points and 14.5 points in his first two college games — that had the momentum, and it certainly didn’t look like that would change by halftime of Tuesday night’s second game. After Randle went off for 27 points and 13 rebounds in the opener (with 23 points and nine boards coming in the second half), Parker lit up Kansas to the tune of 19 points in the first 20 minutes, hitting four straight threes and making one ridiculous, looping drive to the basket.

Wiggins?

He was stuck on the bench, having played just nine first half minutes as the result of foul trouble, his six points and three boards anything but impressive.

Things changed in the second half.

Wiggins took over. He scored 16 of his 22 points in the final 20 minutes, including a pair of breakaway dunks and arguably the biggest basket of the game, a step-back jumper from 17 feet on the wing to give the Jayhawks an 85-81 lead.

That’s not the most impressive part about Wiggins’ second half, however. This is:

“People have made a lot about Andrew’s personality because he’s so mild mannered and non demonstrative in his actions. Things come easy to him,” Self said after the game, “but he is competitive. He came to me the whole day, ‘let me guard Jabari. I want to guard Jabari’. I said, ‘That’s not how we practice, you’re not going to do that.’ At the 13 minute mark, I didn’t put him on Jabari, he just went to guard him. And he got a piece of his shot on that possessions. He is competitive and he wanted the challenge.”

Parker struggled in the second half, finishing with just eight points. Wiggins played a major role in shutting him down. You don’t think people noticed?

Or how about this: Wiggins left the United Center with the one thing that both Parker and Randle wanted: a win.

It’s too early to know what is going to happen this June. But on this day in November, it was Wiggins whose debut was successful.

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: