Once again, No. 15 Iowa loses a close game to an elite opponent

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For the fifth time this season, No. 15 Iowa blew a great chance to pick up a season-defining win.

They lost to Villanova in overtime in a game they led by nine at the half. They lost at Iowa State is a game they led by double figures late in the first half and lost when they couldn’t hit free throws late. They wasted a dominating first half performance at Wisconsin. They lost by eight at Michigan in a game they probably deserved to lose but were certainly never out of the game.

Four losses, four top 20 teams, none of which came in Iowa City.

Which is why Tuesday night’s visit from a injury-riddled No. 7 Michigan State was so important.

This was a chance for the Hawkeyes to finally pick up an elite win, and do it on their home court. But Fran McCaffery’s club failed to capitalize on the opportunity, going for 14 minutes without a field goal down the stretch in a 71-69 loss in overtime.

For a team known for their uptempo style and high-powered offense, Iowa allowed Michigan State to walk into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and completely set the tone the game. This was a low-possession, physical slugfest, one that saw the Spartans spend much of the game in foul trouble while working through an offense that looked atrocious at times. That’s what Michigan State does, though, and with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson out of the lineup, it’s not a surprise that Izzo was able to turn this game into a rugby match.

What is concerning for the Hawkeyes is that they once again lost a game against elite competition that they simply couldn’t close out down the stretch.

Iowa has the talent. They have the depth. They can score and they can beat teams up and down the floor. They have size, they have perimeter depth, they have shooters and they have guys like Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff that allow them all kinds of lineup versatility and the ability to use different defenses.

On paper, they’re awesome.

On the court, they’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat, but to date, they’ve yet to be able to make the kind of a statement that you want to see out of a real Final Four contender.

Is Iowa really a contender?

Or is this team simply good enough not to lose to bad teams?

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.”