Late Night Snacks: No. 2 Syracuse, No. 15 Kansas win key conference battles

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 15 Kansas 80, No. 9 Oklahoma State 78

At the conclusion of last season’s meeting at Allen Fieldhouse Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart pulled off a celebratory backflip. While both teams stated that last year’s finish would have no effect on Saturday’s meeting, it was clear that these two teams are too fond of each other. A Frank Mason strip of Le’Bryan Nash in the final seconds preserved the victory for the Jayhawks, who received an outstanding performance from center Joel Embiid.

Embiid finished the game with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks, helping the Jayhawks navigate a quiet afternoon from Andrew Wiggins. For the Cowboys it was Phil Forte III who picked up the slack for a struggling Marcus Smart, hitting seven three-pointers and scoring 23 points.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) No. 2 Syracuse 59, No. 22 Pittsburgh 54

After years of this being a big matchup in the Big East the Orange and Panthers met with first place in the ACC on the line, and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis was the difference-maker in the end. Ennis, who finished the game with 16 points and three assists, scored six points late to ensure that the Orange would remain undefeated. Pittsburgh dropped its first ACC game, but if anything the Panthers likely proved to the skeptics that they are an ACC contender.

2) Michigan 77, No. 3 Wisconsin 70 

Since Mitch McGary was ruled out for the remainder of the season John Beilein’s team has won seven straight games, the most recent being a seven-point win in Madison. Nik Stauskas, who’s expanded his game since last season, put up 23 points, four rebounds and four assists to lead the way. The win is Michigan’s first in Madison since 1999.

3) No. 25 Oklahoma 66, No. 12 Baylor 64

The Sooners didn’t play well in the first half, shooting 23% from the field in Waco. The good news for Lon Kruger’s team at the half: they only trailed by six points. In the second half Buddy Hield scored all 19 of his points and Cameron Clark added ten of his 14 to lead Oklahoma to a solid resume-building victory.

STARRED

1) Andrew Rowsey (UNC Asheville)

The freshman scored 35 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the Bulldogs’ 80-76 win at Charleston Southern.

2) Sam Dower (Gonzaga) 

28 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in Gonzaga’s 82-72 win over Loyola Marymount.

3) Richaud Pack (North Carolina A&T)

Pack scored 30 points, dished out eight assists (one turnover) and grabbed five rebounds in the Aggies’ 88-82 win over NJIT. NJIT’s Damon Lynn scored 34 points in a losing effort, shooting 9-for-18 from three.

STRUGGLED

1) N.C. State

The Wolfpack shot just 8-for-16 from the foul line and committed 21 turnovers in their 95-60 loss at No. 23 Duke.

2) Branden Frazier (Fordham) 

The Rams’ second-leading scorer (19.0 ppg) ran into No. 24 Saint Louis’ stingy defense and the results weren’t good, as he went scoreless and shot 0-for-10 from the field.

3) Yogi Ferrell (Indiana)

Ferrell shot 2-for-14 from the field, finishing with nine points and just one assist in the Hoosiers’ 54-47 home loss to Northwestern.

NOTABLES

  • Styles make fights, and in the case of Florida State and Virginia this may simply be a bad matchup for the Seminoles. The Cavaliers won 79-66, sweeping the season series with both wins being convincing.
  • No. 13 Kentucky rebounded from a slow start to beat Tennessee 74-66 in Knoxville. Andrew Harrison led the way with a career-high 26 points.
  • No. 23 Duke looked like the team many expected them to be on Saturday afternoon in their 95-60 win over N.C. State. Jabari Parker scored 23 points and five other Blue Devils scored at least nine points.
  • Utah picked up a huge win for its program on Saturday afternoon, beating No. 25 UCLA 64-59 in Salt Lake City. Jordan Loveridge led four Utes in double figures with 17 points (and nine rebounds).
  • No. 5 Wichita State moved to 19-0 with a 68-48 win over Indiana State, with Ron Baker leading four Shockers in double figures with 16 points.
  • Toledo made a nice statement within the MAC, winning 75-61 at Akron in a matchup of two of the early favorites to win the conference. Julius “Juice” Brown scored 25 points and J.D. Weatherspoon added 20 and 14 rebounds for the Rockets.
  • Georgetown’s in trouble, as they fell to Seton Hall at home 67-57. Prior to this year the Hoyas hadn’t lost to the Pirates and Providence in the same season since the 2003-04 campaign.
  • Speaking of the Friars they won their third consecutive game, beating No. 20 Creighton, 81-68. Bryce Cotton led five Friars in double figures with 23 points.
  • No. 18 Louisville picked up an important resume-building victory, winning 76-64 at UConn. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie wasn’t around for the finish, and Russ Smith scored 23 and Montrezl Harrell added 18 and 13 rebounds to lead the winners.
  • Jonathan Holmes scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Texas to an 86-76 win over No. 8 Iowa State.
  • Casey Prather made his return in No. 7 Florida’s 68-61 win at Auburn and he played well, scoring 21 points and grabbing six rebounds off the bench.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

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.