UConn Maryland Basketball

Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: Loaded day of conference tournament action

Leave a comment

GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Memphis vs. No. 21 UConn, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

This is one heck of a quarterfinal matchup in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament that pits the only matchup of the day between ranked teams. Memphis will have the homecourt advantage playing in its hometown, even though they are the No. 5 seed, and they’ll look to avenge being swept in the regular season by the Huskies. UConn, meanwhile, has struggled on the offensive end down the stretch as they’ve failed to crack 70 points in their last six games. The last time the Huskies cracked 70? An 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15th.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Kansas, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Cowboys have won five out of six games — including a 72-65 home win over Kansas — since the return of Marcus Smart and they’ll look to keep that momentum going in this Big 12 quarterfinal matchup. Oklahoma State looks like a different team in these last few weeks after their nearly devastating mid-season swoon, and a win over Kansas would continue to build momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, meanwhile, will see how they fare without center Joel Embiid in the lineup once again and it will be interesting to see how Andrew Wiggins plays after his monster performance against West Virginia. Whether Wiggins has a huge game or not, Kansas needs more consistency from its guard-play, as Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason and company were soundly outplayed on both ends of the floor in the loss to West Virginia last Saturday.

RELATED: Conference Tournament schedules for every league

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Florida State vs. Maryland, 12:00 p.m., ESPN

This would be an upset only in the sense that Florida State (18-12) is still fighting for a potential at-large bid while Maryland is playing the role of spoiler. The Terps (17-14) are playing some decent ball down the stretch as they’ve beaten Virginia Tech and Virginia and have close losses to Clemson, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia. Maryland also knocked off Florida State the last two times these teams played in February. The Seminoles need all the wins they can muster at this point in the season and they had won three consecutive games before a double-digit loss to Syracuse. It’s tough to get a read on this Florida State team this season and their inconsistent play could come back to bite them in this one.

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Ohio vs. Akron, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3

A really solid battle in the MAC as Ohio (23-10, 11-7) and Akron (20-11, 12-6 MAC) square off in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. These two teams split in the regular season as Akron has won three straight games while Ohio has won four straight games and is also playing some good ball entering the conference tournament. It’s not very common to see a battle of 20-win teams in a mid-major quarterfinal, but both of these teams could use a win like this to propel them to the tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid. Buffalo, Toledo and Western Michigan might have something to say about that, but the MAC is pretty deep with teams that could win the conference tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The Big 12 quarterfinals are easily the best top-to-bottom matchups of the day as West Virginia (17-14) takes on Texas (22-9), Baylor (22-10) faces No. 17 Oklahoma (23-8) and Kansas State (20-11) battles with No. 16 Iowa State (23-7) besides the aforementioned Oklahoma State and Kansas showdown.

2) While No. 3 Villanova and No. 14 Creighton should get by Seton Hall and DePaul, respectively, in the Big East quarterfinals, an interesting potential play-in game is brewing as St. John’s (20-11) takes on Providence (20-11) at 2:30 p.m. Both teams sit squarely on the bubble and the loser’s bubble would likely burst. Marquette (17-14) and Xavier (20-11) in the nightcap at MSG is also an enticing matchup.

3) Not to overlook our friends on the West Coast, the Pac-12 quarterfinal slate is also tremendous. Utah (21-10) will be looking for a major boost to its tournament resume with a win over No. 4 Arizona (28-3), UCLA (23-8) and Oregon (23-8) will square off in a great matchup, while bubble implications occur as Arizona State (21-10) takes on Stanford (20-11) and Colorado (22-10) matches up with Cal (19-12).

4) The SEC has some bubble teams playing in the quarterfinals as well as Missouri (21-10) takes on Texas A&M (17-14) and Arkansas (21-10) battles South Carolina (13-19). A win likely doesn’t do much good for either team, but a loss would be potentially devastating to an at-large bid.

5) The Conference-USA quarterfinals will be one to monitor today as Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech still battle for at-large bids while fighting for the automatic birth, as well. Southern Miss (26-5) has a challenging game with UTEP (23-9) while Louisiana Tech (25-6) will take on Charlotte (17-13). It’s worth noting that Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech tied atop the league standings at 13-3 with Middle Tennessee (23-8) and Tulsa (18-12), who also have quarterfinal matchups today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Rutgers vs. No. 5 Louisville, 3:00 p.m.
  • Utah State vs. No. 8 San Diego State, 3:00 p.m.
  • UCF vs. No. 13 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fresno State vs. No. 20 New Mexico, 9:00 p.m.
  • Purdue vs. No. 24 Ohio State, 2:25 p.m.
  • Houston vs. No. 25 SMU, 1:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Penn State vs. Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
  • Northwestern vs. Iowa, 8:30 p.m.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Leave a comment

Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
Leave a comment

With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

AP Photo
Hartford coach John Gallagher, AP Photo
Leave a comment

Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.