Tennessee’s balanced offensive makes them a different team

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Both Tennessee and Virginia had something to prove entering Monday’s non-conference clash in Knoxville.

The Volunteers and Cavaliers were both seen as underachieving teams with a final chance at a solid non-conference win — and a momentum boost — heading into conference play.

After the way Tennessee came out and thoroughly dominated Virginia on Monday, they should be very pleased heading into SEC play. The Volunteers held Virginia to 32 percent shooting and 16 percent shooting from the three-point line as they cruised to an 87-52 win.

But while the Tennessee defense was obviously impressive, head coach Cuonzo Martin has to be excited about the balanced offensive effort that the Volunteers had against Virginia. Earlier on Monday, I broke down Tennessee’s reliance on its top three players — Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae — on offense and how the Volunteers had struggled to find scoring elsewhere against marquee opponents.

In its last two losses against high-major programs, Maymon, McRae and Stokes combined for 43 of Tennessee’s 61 points in a loss to Wichita State and followed that up the next game with 48 of the team’s 58 points in another loss to North Carolina State. No other player on Tennessee’s roster had more than six points in either game.

That changed dramatically on Monday.

Josh Richardson (20 points) got the Vols going early, as the junior had a 15-point first half in which he confidently knocked in jumpers and moved well without the ball. After going scoreless in losses to Wichita State and North Carolina State, senior Antonio Barton put up 14 points on 5-for-6 six and 3-for-4 from the three-point line.

Even with freshman reserve guards Robert Hubbs III and Darius Thompson not giving much of an offensive boost, Tennessee was able to easily control the game against Virginia because their offense among the starting lineup was so balanced and tough to defend.

McRae (21 points) and Stokes (20 points) continued their solid production, but with the added bonus of Richardson and Barton knocking down shots, they won comfortably and made a usually solid Virginia defense look awful.

I don’t expect Tennessee to shoot nearly as well as they did on Monday every game out, but even if Richardson and Barton miss a few of those shots, Tennessee has to be happy with how confidently and aggressively their starting five played on both ends of the floor.

Tennessee thoroughly outplayed an opponent that had something to prove — on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes — and Martin has to like that heading into the SEC.

No. 7 South Carolina upends No. 3 Baylor to advance to the Elite 8

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.