CBT Roundtable: Who are the National Title favorites?

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ROB DAUSTER: I don’t gamble, because when I do gamble, I always end up, ahem, making a donation. But we’re going to be doing a little betting today. I’m going to pick the five teams I think are most likely to win the national title, and you’re going to tell me why you’d take those five teams or take the rest of the field.

My five teams: Arizona, Michigan State, Syracuse, Kansas and Florida.

RAPHIELLE JOHNSON: I’ll take the field. While that’s certainly a quality list you have there, has there really been a team (or teams) who have shown themselves to be near unbeatable? I know what you (and readers) will say: Arizona and Syracuse are both undefeated still. However I can’t say that this season has struck me as one in which we can make a list of five teams in mid-January and say “that’s it.” Personally I believe Wisconsin has the goods to win it all (and even with their consecutive losses I think Ohio State will be heard from as well). And there’s also Kentucky, who may not look like a threat right now but with their talent why can’t they run off six straight in March/April?

RD: I hear you Raph, but if we’re looking at a “young team gelling to become dominant” team, that has to be Kansas the way I see it. Andrew Wiggins is starting to round the corner a bit, aided on by the emergence of Wayne Selden and the dominance of Joel Embiid.

And did you just say Ohio State? That defense, and Aaron Craft, is appealing, but if you want to rely on LaQuinton Ross, go right ahead. Fourth best team in the Big Ten. Yeah, I said it.

RJ: Ohio State has plenty of time to right the ship, and that includes accounting for Ross’ glaring deficiencies on the defensive end. Remember, they had to do the same for Deshaun Thomas last season and reached the Elite 8.

source: Getty ImagesAs for Kentucky, yeah they haven’t lived up the preseason hype. But why can’t they get going at some point in SEC play and ride that momentum into the NCAA tournament? I will say this: of the two young teams I would take Kansas as well. I just believe that this isn’t a season in which we hitch our wagon to five teams right now.

RD: I can get behind that theory, and full disclosure: Kentucky was the hardest team to leave off that list.

That said, I do believe we have a dominant team this season: Arizona. And I think they are easily the title favorite. The tournament is all about matchups. As the saying goes, style wins the fight. Arizona will never be in a situation where they’re on the wrong end of a mismatch thanks to the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If needed, Arizona can go small because those two can play the 4/5. They can also play the 2/3 if Arizona needs to play big with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley on the floor.

Oh, and should I mention T.J. McConnell’s three-point stroke finally showed up?

RJ: Fair points made there, especially about Arizona’s matchup versatility. And yeah, your three-point stroke is going to reappear when a team practically watches you shoot the ball as USC did McConnell on Sunday night (seriously, what in the world were they doing?). My question is this: outside of his 12-point outing against UCLA Gabe York’s done his best work against overmatched opponents. While that would be great for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is that good enough for the second and third weekends? I’m a big fan of their rotation and execution, but I really think they’ll need York at some point. But in all fairness, if that’s my big question regarding Arizona the Wildcats are in pretty good shape.

However, they call it gambling for a reason. I’ll take the longer odds if that’s the case.

SCOTT PHILLIPS: I’m going with the field as well, and as close as I am to picking Arizona, I’m still not sold on any one team yet this season.

I don’t trust any of these teams to beat three of the top dozenish teams in the country for their final three games to be a guaranteed title winner. It’ll all depend so much on matchups and the uncertainty of elite young players — many of them freshmen — stepping up big in the tournament every single game.

Just too much of a crapshoot.

I do really like Arizona and I really like also Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. Wisconsin can win in the 50s or reach triple digits and they’re a matchup nightmare on a quick turnaround because they can defend and create from multiple positions on the offensive end this season.

And if Florida gets healthy and Chris Walker gets to play, they could be very dangerous as well. The Gators have faced a lot of adversity this season and had different players step up in close games at different times. The Gators will be prepared for anything in March.

RD: I like this Wisconsin team a lot, and I’ve been asked this question a couple of times on the radio in recent weeks: I don’t think I’d put money on Wisconsin winning a national title. It’s been proven, time and time again, that if you don’t have NBA caliber talent on your roster, you don’t win national titles. Find me a team that won a national title without three players on their roster that were either A) Drafted by the NBA or B) Played in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony’s 2003 Syracuse team with Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is one. UConn in 2011 with Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb is two, although that will change once Shabazz Napier gets drafted. Name another.

Who on Wisconsin is an NBA caliber talent?

RJ: I think Sam Dekker can be an NBA guys once his college career ends, and I agree with your noting that characteristic of national champions over the years. But, I think if anyone’s equipped to get over that “hump” it’s this Wisconsin team. They’ve shown the ability to play multiple styles without getting out of character, although their defending dribble penetration left something to be desired on Tuesday night.

SP: Sam Dekker already rates highly on Chad Ford’s Big Board and they have experienced and talented players at all five positions. Facing an elite interior scoring team concerns me with Wisconsin.

One team that we’ve failed to talk about is Wichita State. Can the Shockers get back to the Final Four and can they maybe win the whole thing?

I think much of that depends on the consistent play of Cleanthony Early, but sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet has filled in admirably.

Where do the Shockers rank among contenders and how far will they make it?

RD: Wichita State’s back court is one of the best in the country. Seriously. I can’t think of five teams who wouldn’t trade their guards for Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. Cleanthony Early is a bit inconsistent, but Chadrack Lufile’s play inside has been a difference maker the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if they can win it all, but they will not be an easy out. Ever.

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.