Caleb Johnson, Doug McDermott

West Region Preview: Arizona rules, but chaos could reign

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Every year, there is one region that just obliterates everyone’s bracket, and this season, that region could very well end up being the West. Arizona earned the No. 1 seed, which had been considered a given for weeks. The Wildcats are the best defensive team in the country and have finally found a rhythm on the offensive end without Brandon Ashley.

But after that, the West Region has some serious ‘all hell breaks loose’ potential.

There are three teams in the conference that had climbed into the top ten nationally at one point this season before having their season seemingly fall off a cliff. Oklahoma State lost seven straight games in Big 12 play before righting their ship as Marcus Smart turned back into the player we all fell in love with last season Baylor lost eight of their first ten Big 12 games, but they won nine of their last 11 and made it to the finals of the Big 12 tournament. Oregon lost eight of ten in Pac-12 play but won eight in a row — a streak that came within three one-possession games of being 13 straight — before getting dropped by UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament.

What’s crazier is that all three of those teams drew matchups that could end up vaulting them into the Sweet 16.

Yeah.

Good luck.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Doug McDermott’s chase for his One Shining Moment: McBuckets has had a legendary career that is missing one thing: a deep run in the tournament. I wrote a column on this two weeks ago.
  • 2. Is this the year Bo Ryan makes the Final Four?: Wisconsin’s head coach has had an exemplary career in Madison. He’s never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten in his 13 seasons at the helm, but he has just one Elite 8 and no Final Fours to show for it. This might be his most potent Wisconsin team. Can they break through?
  • 3. Will Scott Drew ever get credit for being a good coach?: He’s usually a punchline, but he did a terrific job turning this season around for the Bears. He’s been to two Elite 8s in the last four tournaments. Can he tap into that tournament magic again?
source: AP
AP

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 3 Creighton

I’m not going to lie: I’m very high on this Arizona team. When you can defend, you are always going to be in a game and, this season, there is no one near as good as the Wildcats are defensively. The key for them is going to be scoring in transition, as they struggle to get buckets against a set defense. As far as Creighton is concerned, I think they are quite beatable this season simply because so much of what they do relies on their ability to hit threes. On the nights they fall — especially when Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat are hitting — they’re near-unbeatable. When they aren’t falling, they can be beaten by anyone. There’s no one on their side of the bracket that truly strikes fear into me, however, so I’ll ride with McBuckets one last time.

It’s worth noting: this matchup would pit the nation’s best offense against the nation’s best defense as well as the nation’s best scorer (McDermott) against the nation’s best defender (Aaron Gordon).

MOREEight teams that can win the national title.

Final Four sleeper: Oregon Ducks

Like I wrote earlier, the Ducks are three two-point losses away from a 13-game winning streak late in the season. Ever since they started buying-in defensively, things have changed. Oh, and should I mention that Dominic Artis looks like he might have finally broken out of his slump? The Ducks matchup well with everyone on the bottom-half of the bracket and they are arguably the most talented team in the region.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 10 BYU vs. No. 7 Oregon: Both the Ducks and the Cougars like to run. Both score a lot of points. Neither play much defense. That’s always fun.
  • No. 9 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Gonzaga: The Pokes were one of the teams that I figured I would be picking to make a run regardless of where they would up, but the Zags are actually a tough matchup for them. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski are tough to handle inside, and Oklahoma State has neither depth nor size up front. But can Mark Few find a way to slow down Marcus Smart and Markel Brown?

Matchups to root for

  • No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 11 Nebraska: Two in-state rivals with large, passionate fan-bases that just so happened to be having banner years for their programs.
  • No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona: Two defensive powerhouses. Two programs that recruit Southern California as well as anyone. Two large, passionate fan bases. The game is in Anaheim. Gimme.
  • No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 7 Oregon: Creighton is kind of like BYU, only better.

The studs you know about

  • Doug McDermott, Creighton: He’s the National Player of the Year for a reason.
  • Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: Smart was a Player of the Year candidate entering the season, and he’s been playing like it since he returned from his suspension as he’s cut down on turnovers and displayed much-improved shot selection. But Brown may actually be the best scorer on this team and the best dunker in the country.
  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: He’s been battling turf toe all season long, but if he’s healthy, he’s one of the best lead guards in the country.

MOREAll-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: An NBA prospect from the Sun Belt, Payton is a bigger, athletic point guard that is a terrific defensive player.
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has turned into one of the nation’s most versatile front court players. He scores in the post, he hits threes and he squares people up on the perimeter.
  • Xavier Thames, San Diego State: The leading scorer for the Aztecs all season long, Thames has made innumerable big shots for SDSU this season.
  • Taylor Braun, North Dakota State: The Summit League Player of the Year is a 6-foot-7 wing that hit a number of huge shots in the league title game.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 7 Oregon over No. 2 Wisconsin: Wisconsin can score this year. They are getting up and down the floor much more than in the past, which fits in well with how the Ducks like to play. And the Badgers struggle against teams with guards that can penetrate.
  • No. 12 North Dakota State over No. 5 Oklahoma: If there is going to be a mid-major team that makes a run in the tournament this season, it’s going to be the Bison. The key? Defending the three-point line. NDSU hasn’t done it well this year, and Oklahoma A) shoots a lot of threes and B) shoots them well.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 9 Oklahoma State over No. 1 Arizona: There are a couple reasons for this: 1) the Pokes don’t have anyone that can handle Kaleb Tarczewski on the block; and 2) Arizona has three of the best defenders in the country, and they match up perfectly with OSU’s best players (Nick Johnson vs. Markel Brown, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson vs. Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon vs. LeBryan Nash).

Feeling like gambling?

  • Pick No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Oregon or No. 9 Oklahoma State to make a run to the Final Four. They’re talented enough to it.

CBT Predictions: No. 1 Arizona advances after a thrilling win over No. 3 seed Creighton.

Giacoletti resigns from Drake

Ray Giacoletti
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Ray Giacoletti’s tenure at Drake has come to an end.

In the midst of a 1-7 start to his fourth season, Giacoletti resigned Tuesday, handing the team over for the season to assistant coach Jeff Rutter.

“I think it’s time for a new direction,” Giacoletti told reporters at a press conference announcing the news.

Giacoletti compiled a 32-69 record with the Bulldogs, whose win totals decreased in each season from 15 in 2013-14 to nine the year after and seven last season. Giacoletti’s teams never won more than six games in Missouri Valley Conference play.

Prior to his six seasons as an assistant at Gonzaga under Mark Few, Giacoletti was the head coach at both Utah and Eastern Washington for three seasons each.

Drake’s start to this season has been nothing short of a disaster with its lone win coming against a Division III school and suffering a loss to Division II Alaska Anchorage.

Rutter joined Giacoletti’s staff in 2013 after serving as both an assistant and director of operations at Iowa State for Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg over the course of seven seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Northern Iowa for three seasons. Previous head coaching experience came at Division II Wisconsin-Parkside, where he helmed the program from 1996-2003.

Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb would not commit to retaining Rutter beyond the remainder of this season, which continues for Drake on Saturday against Jackson State.

The question for Drake, which has made just one NCAA tournament (2008) since 1971, is who will make the next hire for the program.

Hatfield Clubb is under pressure locally with her two hires – Mark Phelps and Giacoletti – having combined for two winning seasons since Keno Davis left for Providence after Drake’s tournament appearance in 2008. She was also recently named in a civil complaint from an athletic trainer who claims he was wrongly terminated due to a medical disability.

VIDEO: Mike Krzyzewski’s touching tribute to Jim Valvano

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The Jimmy V Classic, which Duke is participating in this season, is an event created to raise money for cancer research in honor of Jim Valvano, the legendary N.C. State head coach that passed away from the disease in 1993.

Mike Krzyzewski and Jimmy V were close – after his famous ‘Don’t give up’ speech, Coach K is one of the men helping Jimmy V off of the stage – and he spoke with Dear World about his memories of Valvano.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball stand out

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: The latest impressive performance from Mason came against Stanford, as he finished with 20 points, five assists and four boards in a 15-point win over the Cardinal. He’s the engine that makes that team go, averaging 19.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent from three, and he’s still the proud owner of the biggest shot of the season. Is anyone else fired up for when the Jayhawks head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky in January?

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last Tuesday, we talked about how Hart has improved his three-point shooting and has added the ability to operate in ball-screens to his offensive repertoire this season. Then he went out posted a triple-double in a win over Saint Joseph’s while averaging 9.5 assists in two games. Prior to last week, Hart had never averaged more than 1.9 assists in any season in college.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The value that Ball brings to this UCLA team goes well-beyond the numbers that he’s putting up, and his numbers are already quite impressive. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 boards, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals on the season, but it’s the nation’s-best 9.3 assists that he’s averaging that makes the difference. He, quite simply, makes everyone on the court around him better. It’s a cliché that’s used with point guards too often, but no one fits that mold better than Ball.

We saw it on Saturday against Kentucky. Ball struggled early in that game, committing five turnovers in the first 10 minutes as the Bruins dug themselves a 23-14 hole. When he finally turned it on, UCLA torched Kentucky’s defense, which is one of the best in all of college basketball. His unselfishness has permeated that roster. Watching the Bruins move the ball against a set defense is a thing of beauty. Draft Express posted a terrific breakdown of just what makes Ball’s passing so difficult to deal with last week.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The Wildcats ended up losing to UCLA on Saturday afternoon, but it was no fault of Fox, who finished with 20 points and nine assists while doing the heavy-lifting in keeping Lonzo Ball more-or-less in check. Fox is a terror in transition, nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, unselfish when he draws extra defenders and an elite on-ball defender. If he can find a way to become a consistently jump-shooter, he’s going to be very, very good.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been Duke’s best player this season, and that did not change in the last seven days, with the return of Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. He had 20 points in a win over Michigan State and followed that up with a career-high 35 points as the Blue Devils knocked off Maine. If Tatum turns out to be as good as advertised and Grayson Allen eventually returns to health, think about how scary a Duke back court is when Kennard is the third-best weapon offensively?

6. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Let’s put the numbers that Fultz is averaging this season – 22.7 points, 6.7 boards, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks – into perspective. No college basketball player since 1993 has averaged 22 points, six boards and six assists in a season before. Only 14 times in that time-frame has a player averaged 20 points, five boards and five assists, and only one of those 14 played at the high-major level – Evan Turner in 2009-10, when he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 assists and won National Player of the Year.

Making those numbers even more impressive is that none of the 14 players on that list have A) averaged more than one block per game or B) come close to shooting 48.4 percent from three. It’s early, yes, and Fultz still hasn’t played any elite competition, but what he’s done this season is remarkable.

Washington, who is just 4-3 on the season, will get their first real test of the year when they square off with Gonzaga in Spokane on Wednesday.

7. Mo Watson, Creighton: For all the love that UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is getting this season, it’s worth noting that Watson is doing something similar for the Bluejays. He’s averaging 12.0 points and 9.0 assists, second nationally to Ball, for a Creighton team that is in the top ten and running one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses. He’s been terrific.

8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: We saw Berry’s value last week when he struggled against Indiana in Assembly Hall and the Tar Heels played their worst game of the season to date. He’s now dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out for the next two games. With freshman point guard Seventh Woods stepping into the starting lineup against Davidson on Wednesday, we should really get a feel for just how imporant he is to this team.

9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans was held in check for the most part in Oklahoma State’s loss at Maryland on Saturday and he still managed to finish with 16 points, five boards and five assists.

10. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had a rough outing against Louisville last week. His finished with 14 points and 13 boards, but he also committed six turnovers and was one of the reasons that the Boilermakers had so much trouble on the offensive end of the floor in the first half.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

All in the family: Duke coach to face her own daughter

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 03:  Coach Joanne P. McCallie of the Duke Blue Devils directs her team duing a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Carmichael Arena on February 3, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Duke won 84-63.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie is trying to treat Thursday’s game against Elon like any other. That might not be so easy, because McCallie’s daughter, Maddie, plays for the Phoenix.

“I’ve always known the game was on the schedule, but it always seemed so far off. Well, now it’s here,” the coach said.

“Elon’s a great school. Elon’s a little mini Duke,” she added. “We pay them money and that helps their program, so it made sense. I felt it was the right thing.”

But the rarity of coaching against her daughter, a reserve guard at Elon, wasn’t lost on McCallie.

“It’s a good story,” she said. “I feel honored for my family. I also have two nieces who play Division I basketball.”

Maddie McCallie is just excited for the chance to play at No. 21 Duke in its famous home building, Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a lot of fun to play in Cameron,” Maddie McCallie said. “It’s a little weird seeing my mom right there on the sideline, but overall it’s another game.”

As much as the McCallies downplayed their mother-daughter matchup, it is definitely unusual. Cal State Bakersfield coach Greg McCall has gone against his daughter, Erica, twice over the last two seasons when his team played Stanford.

Although college players often play for their coaching parents, McCallie was happy her daughter chose Elon after transferring from Miami, Ohio, a few years ago.

“I’m really proud of her and she’s at the right place for her,” McCallie said. “I think it’s unique. One thing it speaks to, as much as I’d like Maddie on my team and she could have been, it’s really important to let your kids do their own thing. It would be fun; I didn’t think it was something that would help her develop. A lot of parents don’t know how to step away, and try to over-coach their kids. The best thing you can do is love them and step away and let other people coach them.”

Elon is only about 45 minutes from Duke, so McCallie has gone to see her daughter play a few times this year. Because the teams are scheduled to face each other, she had Maddie ask Elon coach Charlotte Smith for permission to attend.

Maddie had both her parents in the stands on Sunday. Hours after Duke upset No. 3 South Carolina, they were cheering on Elon against North Carolina.

“They have five seniors this year and are a terrific team,” McCallie said. “We talk often, but mostly not about basketball. It’s mostly about family. She’s really proud of her team. She was a starter last year and comes off the bench now. I’m really proud of her.”

While mother and daughter both know where they will be on Thursday, a big question will be where Joanne McCallie’s husband, John, sits and who he supports.

“I have a feeling that my dad will support me,” Maddie McCallie said, laughing. “Both ways are kind of weird to think about and both ways are kind of exciting. My dad will probably be supporting the Elon team and be sitting behind our bench.”

John McCallie, an economics professor at North Carolina, said it’s going to be a very tough choice.

“I haven’t decided on what to wear or where to sit yet,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “Definitely going to have both colors on.”

As far as which team he’ll be rooting for, that one was easy.

“I’m definitely pulling for a Duke win,” he said. “After all, we just got ranked and would like to keep that. It is going to be exciting, though. I’m really proud of Maddie and what she’s done forging her own path.”

Nicholls State coach DoBee Plaisance knows what the McCallies will be going through. She faced her daughter, Theresa, in 2010 when she was a freshman at LSU. The game was billed as a mother-daughter matchup, and the coach got LSU to take the hour-long trip to Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Six years later, Coach Plaisance still gets emotional talking about it.

“I remember the game like it was yesterday,” she said. “It was for me a very emotional, passionate struggle. There was a struggle from the onset. Scheduling the game, I didn’t want to do it. It was emotional for me for a while. Did I do right for the team? Did I show both teams respect?”

Her daughter had eight points, five rebounds and three assists in the 88-35 victory by LSU. The Nicholls State coach has a framed photo of a postgame hug with her daughter in her office, a constant reminder of a special day.

“The look on my face was a relief that it was over with,” said DoBee Plaisance, a court coach for McCallie at USA Basketball in 2006. “I hope Joanne has the same relief when her game is done.”

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No. 20 Arizona’s Jackson-Cartwright out up to 2 months

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Parker Jackson-Cartwright #0 of the Arizona Wildcats drives against the Butler Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butler won 69-65.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will miss about eight weeks with a high-ankle sprain, Wildcats coach Sean Miller said on Monday.

Jackson-Cartwright was injured last Wednesday in No. 20 Arizona’s home win over Texas Southern and did not play in the Wildcats’ loss to No. 8 Gonzaga in Los Angeles on Saturday.

The loss of Jackson leaves Arizona with its top distributor – 5.3 assists per game – and its roster even thinner.

The Wildcats lost forward Ray Smith to a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition game and Allonzo Trier has yet to play this season due to unspecified reasons.