Ten things to prepare football fans for college basketball’s stretch run

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1. Which Andrew Wiggins will show up?: We’ve seen how good he can be when it call comes together. That 29-point performance in the win over Iowa State? The 19 points he scored in the first half against TCU? The 26 points and 11 boards he had against Florida? When Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate … he dominates.

The problem is that that Andrew Wiggins doesn’t always show up. He’s just as likely to finish 2-for-12 from the field with a handful of turnovers and blown defensive assignments as he is to dominate a game on both ends of the floor. And here’s the conundrum for Bill Self, Kansas fans and anyone filling out a bracket: Kansas is the most dangerous team in the country when Wiggins shows up, because the combination of improved play from Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden and the overpowering front line of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid is already really good.

But when Wiggins doesn’t show up, he’s a liability. And you just never know when he’s going to decide he wants to play.

2. The Big 12 is going to be a lot of fun: To be honest, I actually kind of enjoy the inconsistency of Andrew Wiggins, as it lends some serious intrigue to a Big 12 race that is going to be as wild as anything we see this season.

There are ten teams in the Big 12 this season, and seven of them look like they have an inside track on making the NCAA tournament. Six of those teams — Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas — are all, for the most part, equivalent. What that means is that on just about a nightly basis, we are going to have a key Big 12 matchup between two tournament-caliber teams playing with a lot on the line. So last night’s three-overtime thriller between the Cyclones and the Cowboys? If all goes to plan, that will be commonplace.

Back to Kansas, they are the overwhelming favorite in the league. But they’re young enough that they can lose on any given night, especially when they’re on the road. Can anyone put together the winning streak needed to catch them?

Ten things to get you caught up on the season

3. Set up for great Elite 8 and Final Four: The way that this season has shaken out, there are a handful of teams that have set themselves apart from the rest of the field. Arizona and Michigan State, before their injuries, looked like the two best teams in the country. Syracuse, the way they’ve played the last two games, may have taken over that title. Florida’s defense is downright abusive, as is San Diego State’s and Cincinnati’s. Wichita State is making a run at perfection, Duke seems to be peaking at the right time and Villanova and Creighton have set themselves apart from the Big East crowd.

All told, there are five or six teams that look like national title contenders and another five or six that look like legitimate Final Four-caliber teams. With the amount of inconsistency throughout the rest of the country, we could be looking at a scenario where the first weekend of the tournament is wild, but where the top of the bracket is strong enough to advance.

That’s what we want, right? A couple of 12 or 13 seeds winning early, a few buzzer-beaters, and the best of the best marching on through to the Elite 8? There’s nothing better than a matchup of two powerhouse programs late in March.

source:  4. Wichita State’s undefeated regular season hinges on this week: The Shockers will pay a visit to Indiana State and Northern Iowa this week, who are probably the second and third best teams in the Missouri Valley. If they can get through this week, they’ll have a great chance at entering Arch Madness without a loss.

I’m rooting for it to happen. I’d love to the Shockers enter the NCAA tournament without a blemish on their record.

5. Syracuse? Not so much: It would be fun to see the Orange enter the tournament without a loss as well, I just don’t see it happening. Five of their last eight games are on the road, which may actually be their five toughest road games of the season: Pitt, Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Maryland. Then there’s the ACC tournament. The Orange are the real deal, but even The Truth can stumble in that stretch.

6. How many bids from Big Ten?: The Big 12 is the most entertaining league.

The Big Ten may be the weirdest.

Think about it like this: two top former five teams played on Sunday, with Ohio State beating Wisconsin as both teams now sit at 4-5 in league play, a half-game behind … fourth-place Northwestern.

Seven teams are in a position to get a bid to the Big Dance. How many will make it?

7. Can anyone catch Dougie McBuckets?: He’s far and away the best player in the country at this point in the season. His numbers are inarguable. His team is ranked in the top 15. He’s a senior dominating in a land of freshmen. Can any of those freshmen put together the late season run needed to catch him?

8. A resurgence in the Bluegrass State: This was supposed to be a season dominated by Kentucky and Louisville. Instead, neither team even looks like the best in their respective conference. Kentucky certainly has the talent to make a run at a national title, but whether or not they actually have the toughness to pull it off is a different story.

And Louisville? Well, they’re front court is depleted, their back court doesn’t seem to be able to get along and they can’t beat a top team in their conference in the Yum! Center. It’s crazy to think that there may not be a real Final Four contender in the Bluegrass State this year.

9. Final Four sleepers: We went over some of the title favorites earlier, but outside of those teams, who has the makeup to put together a run to the Final Four?:

  • When Nik Stauskas is playing like he did for the last month, Michigan is as good as anyone. When he plays like he did against Indiana, they’re very beatable.
  • Iowa State is a matchup nightmare, using their center (Georges Niang) to bring the ball up and posting their point guard (DeAndre Kane). They have the pieces, but they’ll need beneficial matchups.
  • Iowa can make a run as well, they just need to learn how to close out games against elite competition.

10. Not a lot of mid-majors will get at-large bids: Don’t be surprised to see quite a few middle-of-the-pack power conference teams get a bid to the dance as the mid-major ranks are somewhat depleted right now. Outside of Wichita State and Gonzaga, there aren’t many teams from outside one of the top nine conferences that deserve an at-large. Maybe Southern Miss, but that’s it.

In other words, there aren’t many bid-stealers this season.

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?