Oklahoma v Kansas

No. 5 Kansas locks up 10th straight Big 12 title, an incredible feat

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Naadir Tharpe scored 12 of his 19 points in the final six minutes, adding five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-for-7 from the floor as No. 5 Kansas knocked off Oklahoma, 83-75, earning the Jayhawks at least a share of their 10th straight Big Ten title.

I’ll get back to that in a second, because it’s an incredible feat, but first I want to talk about Tharpe.

Five Jayhawks scored in double-figures on Monday night, including four others that will likely end up being first round picks by the time they leave Lawrence. Two of them, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, will likely end up going No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft in June. But with Kansas up 76-71 with just over a minute left in the game, Bill Self called a timeout to draw up a play for Tharpe.

That play?

A simple 1-4 high-set, allowing his junior point guard to go one-on-one. Tharpe repayed him with a driving lay-in that put the Jayhawks up seven and all-but iced the game.

Oh, and did I mention that Tharpe is this team’s question mark?

Tharpe has had an up-and-down career with Kansas, but he’s been tremendous for the Jayhawks during conference play. He still has some bouts of inconsistency — the end of the Texas Tech game, for example, where he had two unforced turnovers and airballed a three in the final minutes — but the bottom-line is that when he is playing well, Kansas is near-unbeatable this season.

And he’s been playing well more often than not of late.

Which is why Kansas became the first power conference team to lock up at least a share of their league’s regular season title, the 10th consecutive season that is the case.

I hope all of you appreciate just how difficult that is to do, especially in a power conference. For comparison’s sake, only four teams currently have streaks of three consecutive regular season titles currently intact: Belmont (Atlantic Sun and OVC), Bucknell (Patriot), Harvard (Ivy) and Long Beach State (Big West). Only two of those programs, Belmont and Harvard, are currently in first place in their conference this season, while LBSU is a game back with four games left.

Only four other programs in Division I history have ever won ten straight regular season titles: Gonzaga (2001-2011), UNLV (1983, 1992), UCLA (1967-1979) and UConn (1951-1960).

In the last ten years, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Indiana, UConn, Louisville, Arizona, Ohio State, Florida and Syracuse have all missed the NCAA tournament at some point. Michigan State lost 15 games in 2011. Duke finished sixth in the ACC in 2007 and got Eric Maynor’d in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In a day and age where early entry to the NBA Draft has forced programs at the highest level of the sport into a cycle of rebuilding that is faster than ever, Self has kept Kansas in control of the league for an entire decade. Think about this: three of these ten league titles have come without Kansas returning a single starter.

Including this season!

He’s locked up the toughest conference in the country in February with three regular season games left on the schedule.

And this was supposed to be the season that the streak ended.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson