Pregame Shootaround: No. 3 Kentucky meets No. 20 Baylor in Arlington

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)

This isn’t a difficult choice, as the meeting between the Wildcats and Bears at the site of this season’s Final Four is the only contest matching ranked teams. And it’s a chance to make a statement nationally for Baylor, with sophomore Isaiah Austin stating before the game that “Kentucky is not better than us in any way, shape or form.” He’s certainly entitled to that line of thinking, and Austin will be one of the key figures in this contest. Kentucky’s front court features Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, with the Bears countering with a deep group led by Austin and senior Cory Jefferson. The team that wins the rebounding battle will more than likely emerge victorious, with both teams rebounding at least 43% of their missed shots (UK: 48%, Baylor: 43.6%).

You can read more about this matchup and the other marquee games this weekend here.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? California (at UCSB, 10:00 p.m.) 

First off, kudos to the Golden Bears for being willing to visit the “Thunderdome,” as few high-major programs would take on such a challenge. And it’s definitely a challenge, as the Gauchos hung with UCLA for much of the night on Tuesday before running out of steam late. Alan Williams is a very good interior player, and UCSB has multiple players capable of knocking down perimeter shots. Cal’s veterans, led by seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, will need to keep the group (they have five freshmen) composed in front of what should be a frenzied atmosphere.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Towson at Stephen F. Austin, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3) 

Both the Tigers and Limberjacks have the pieces needed to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth this season, as both are considered to be serious contenders in their respective leagues. Towson’s Jerrelle Benimon (17.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.0 apg) should be well-known amongst college basketball diehards by now, but how about SFA’s Jacob Parker? Parker’s (17.1, 7.9) more than doubled his scoring average from a season ago, with his best performance of the season being a 31-point, 11-rebound night in a win over Marshall last month.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) After suffering a sprained ankle in a loss to Miami on Sunday, Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson is expected to play tonight at DePaul (7:00 p.m., FS1). With Carson not at 100% the Sun Devils will need someone to step up offensively as the look to win at DePaul, with Cleveland Melvin leading the way for the Blue Demons (Brandon Young’s out with an ankle injury).

2) No. 9 Oklahoma State is back in action, as they host South Carolina in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks are young but they compete, and they took Baylor down to the wire back in November. Marcus Smart will look to rebound from a subpar performance in the Cowboys’ Old Spice Classic final loss to Memphis.

3) Of the four ranked teams in action No. 12 UConn has the “easiest” matchup as they host Maine (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). One thing to keep an eye on in this one: how the big men rebound. This should be a game in which the Huskies, who have struggled on the glass, control that aspect of the game.

4) Four MAAC games on the slate, including newcomers Quinnipiac hosting Fairfield (8:30 p.m., ESPN3). The Stags have just one player averaging double figures (Marcus Gilbert- 13.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg) while QU has five, led by versatile guard Zaid Hurst (15.0, 10.7).

5) Not sure that Loyola Marymount has enough to knock off Pittsburgh, but in senior Anthony Ireland the Lions have one of the nation’s best floor generals. This experience should benefit Pitt sophomore PG James Robinson down the line.

TOP 25 GAMES 

  • No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • South Carolina at No. 9 Oklahoma State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • Maine at No. 12 UConn, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

NOTABLE GAMES

  • Loyola Marymount at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Arizona State at DePaul, 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
  • Fairfield at Quinnipiac, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Mark Emmert: NCAA Board of Governors to meet ‘in the next few days’ to determine N.C.’s tournament standing

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Late on Wednesday night, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to repeal the controversial and discriminatory House Bill 2 law, which is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The NCAA had given the state a deadline of Thursday morning to make a change in this law or they would miss out on hosting NCAA tournament game until the 2022 season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots here. The pressure the NCAA asserted on the state helped create a change.

The question is just how much of a change, as many believe that the repeal does not do enough to change what is discriminatory about the law.

“What distinguished North Carolina,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill, and they removed some of them but not all of them. If you removed two or three of them, is that enough?”

The NCAA Board of Governors have stretched out the process of determining future tournament sites as far as possible, Emmert said, meaning that a decision on this new bill will be made soon.

“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to find a time to get together with the board, and that will probably happen in the next few days,” Emmert said, and in those meetings, the board “will determine if this [new] bill is sufficient change.”

“I’m personally very pleased they have a bill to debate and discuss. Hopefully we can be in a place where we can announce the board’s decision early next week.”

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.