Monday’s Pregame Shootaround: Preseason NIT starts, SMU heads to Arkansas

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: SMU at Arkansas, 8:00 p.m. ET

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs have been quite intriguing early on this season, as they are sitting pretty at 2-0 with a dominating win over Rhode Island. They’ll get a real test tonight, however, as they make the trip to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas. The Razorbacks aren’t exactly expected to be great this year, but they do have a tremendous home court advantage and they play a style that is difficult to prepare for. This will be a good gauge for us: should we take SMU seriously?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Southern Miss at North Dakota State, 8:00 p.m. ET

Do we consider Southern Miss a high-major program still? Even in this new, watered down Conference USA? I’ll go with yes just so that I can say that NDSU will pull off the upset when they beat them at home tonight. The Bison, led by Taylor Braun, are good.

MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE DAY: Drexel vs. Elon at Rutgers, 5:00 p.m. ET

Elon is one of the better mid-major teams in the country this season, as they are the favorite to win the Big South this season. But Drexel is a scrappy, physical group that is finally healthy and gave UCLA a fight in Pauley Pavilion earlier this season.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) The Preseason NIT kicks off tonight, with the regional being held at Rutgers, Alabama, No. 6 Duke and No. 5 Arizona. That’s what Drexel and Elon will be taking part in. So not only will Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon be in action tonight, but Ryan Harrow — the Kentucky transfer now at Georgia State — will launch his campaign to get to MSG.

2) No. 1 Michigan State will look to have a bit of a better performance against Portland tonight than they did against Columbia this weekend.

3) Canisius heads to Rutgers tonight, where we will get a chance to see Billy Baron go up against a high-major program again.

4) Miami FL has not been overly impressive early on this season. They’ll head to Charleston tonight to take on the Cougars who trailed Louisville by just three points with seven minutes left in the game in their opener.

5) Mercer just knocked off Seton Hall in double overtime at home on Saturday. They’ll head to Indiana to take on Evansville on Monday night.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Southern at No. 16 Florida, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • St. Francis NY at No. 9 Syracuse, 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Sacramento State at No. 22 UCLA, 11:00 p.m. ET

NOTABLES

  • Vermont at Providence, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • The Citadel at Tennessee, 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Houston Baptist at Texas, 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Arkansas State at Colorado, 9:00 p.m ET
  • Southern Utah at Cal, 11:00 p.m. ET

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.

Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.

This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.

Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.

This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.

The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”