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Four dark horse Final Four teams

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As evidenced by the brackets filled out by the CBT writers, there are just a handful of teams with a reasonable expectation to make the Final Four in this year’s tournament. Arizona, Florida, Louisville, and Michigan State (with one selection of Wichita State) headline the group, but despite this unintentionally uniformed thinking, could there be an outlier, or two, that end up playing until April’s first weekend? We examine the four teams that could possibly keep dancing.

No. 7 Oregon — West

At one point, the Ducks were among the nation’s hottest teams, but a midseason swoon — Oregon won just two games over the course of the month (losing eight contests) — subsequently sidelined Dana Altman’s squad. The team finished league play strongly, posting wins over Arizona and UCLA, and have been propelled by their offensive efficiency rating — 1.16 points per possession — which ranks twelfth nationally. Oregon was fortunately seeded amongst teams whose defense is, at best, optional.

Other than Nebraska, no other team in San Antonio or Milwaukee holds opponents under one point per possession, catnip to Joseph Young (52 percent of his twos, 41.6 percent of his threes) and the other offensively proficient Ducks. Oregon already has an advantage even before the tournament tips — UO played its first-round opponent, BYU, during its non-conference slate, and the Cougars will be playing without arguably the best player (Kyle Collinsworth). If Dana Altman’s squad emerges in the Elite Eight, a potential match-up is Arizona looms, a team UO already split with during Pac-12 play (their lone loss to the Wildcats was by two points).

No. 4 UCLA — South

UCLA has likely the least chance of this quartet to make the Final Four, but that is why the Bruins are a dark horse! It is unclear whether Steve Alford’s team will even escape their first, or second, round games, but if they do manage to leap-frog their initial region, one filled with swipe-happy, ball-pressuring defenses, a match-up versus Florida will determine UCLA’s NCAA livelihood. The Bruins’ unique offense, one that starts with an iso problem in Kyle Anderson, continue with the Wear twins (both dilemmas for opposing bigs), and ends with one of the Pac-12’s most improved players, Norman Powell, is a defensive nightmare — i.e. in the Pac-12 final, against Arizona, the Bruins scored north of 1.40 PPP — and even though the Gators’ defense is stingy, the team hasn’t faced an offense as explosive as the one showcased in Westwood.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 that won’t  |  TV times  |  Bracket contest

No. 11 Tennessee — Midwest
The toughest region in this year’s bracket, the consensus picks to reach Arlington are Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, or Duke, BUT there is another team that could completely bust the bracket and win four games — Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s team has twelve losses, but eleven of those defeats were within single digits (two of those losses came on buzzer-beaters to Texas A&M). The Vols have an offensive and defensive efficiency rate that both rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, and UT is able to withstand their low shooting percentages by grabbing a high rate of their misses (nearly 40 percent, fifth nationally). Mercer has become a trendy upset pick to beat Duke — this is one of the weakest Blue Devil defenses in the KenPom era (since 2002-03) — and should the Vols get past (likely) Michigan, the squad is familiar with one of their potential Elite Eight match-ups — UT faced the Shockers during their non-conference slate and only lost by nine.

No. 7 New Mexico — South

We keep telling ourselves that the Lobos won’t desert us like last year. That first-round, premature exit thanks to Harvard can’t possibly happen again. The Mountain West team is too experienced, and much more efficient from within the arc (51.8 percent, as compared to 46.1 percent in ’13), to suffer another early exit, and the selection committee did Craig Neal’s squad a solid by setting up a potential match-up with Kansas, a team with a frontcourt that may miss Joel Embiid, or Ohio State, a squad that is backcourt-heavy. Should they advance to play either of those teams, the odds have to favor the Lobos, but first they need to beat to Stanford, which is certainly no easy task.

White decides to return to Nebraska

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Nebraska’s second-leading scorer from last season will return for his senior season as Andrew White III announced Wednesday he will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft.

“I felt good about the pre-draft process, White said in a statement released by Nebraska. “It was encouraging, and I gained as much ground as anyone throughout the process. I wanted one more year to fine tune my game and put myself in better position for the NBA next summer.  

“I want to thank the teams who invited me their in-house workouts, and Nebraska for supporting me during this process.  It has been very helpful in gathering information in preparation for my future Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress throughout the spring and being understanding and supportive, as I evaluated whether to turn pro or return for my senior year.”

White, a Kansas transfer, tallied 16.6 points per game last season while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. He also pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game.

“We are excited to have Andrew remain with our program,” coach Tim Miles said. “This has been a valuable time for him, as he has tested his skills against some of the best competition and received very important insight from key NBA personnel.  

“We look forward to continuing to help Andrew’s development to improve his NBA profile even more than he already has done through this process.  I believe next year could be our most complete team with a great opportunity for success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, I’m happy Andrew will be with us to go out and prove it.”

The news is certainly welcome for the Cornhuskers and Miles, who will be under pressure to show improvement after back-to-back disappointing seasons following an NCAA tournament appearance in 2014. Shavon Shields, last year’s leading scorer, has exhausted his eligibility and the Huskers will need White to help fill the void.

Trimble coming back to Terps

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
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Melo Trimble is returning to Maryland.

The Terrapin guard will be back to for his junior season in College Park, according to multiple reports.

Trimble went from freshman first-rounder to question mark after a rough end to his sophomore season for Maryland in which his points per game, shooting percentage (both overall and from 3-point range) and rebounding dipped from his first season. Only his assists per game showed any sort of improvement. He waited until the last possible day to announce his intentions to return to school, but really his options were limited after seeing his production drop.

His decision to come back to school gives him a shot to restore his draft stock while Maryland gets its floor general back to help ease the transition from last year’s Sweet 16 squad that lost Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman. The Terps might not be a sure-fire top-25 team with Trimble back, but their NCAA tournament chances are now significantly higher.

Nevada lands Martin twins

Caleb Martin, Jordan Roper
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Eric Musselman keeps adding reinforcements to his roster. For the 2017-18 season.

Musselman and Nevada received commitments from N.C. State transfers and twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, according to multiple reports.

That brings Nevada’s sit-out transfer count for this upcoming season to four with Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already in the fold. Under NCAA transfer rules, the quartet will have to sit out the upcoming season before being eligible in 2017-18.

Caleb averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep while Cody put up 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The timing of having four sit-out transfers works well for the Wolf Pack given that two of the team’s three leading scorers from last year, D.J. Fenner (a senior) and Cameron Oliver (a sophomore), return while senior transfers Marcus Marshall (Missouri State) becomes eligible. Having those four experienced transfers begin playing in 2017-18 while all but two players from this upcoming team slated to return makes Nevada an interesting team, a year from now.

Louisville big man heading to NBA Draft

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After a day of mixed messages, Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku finally made it official.

He’s staying in the NBA Draft.

“After talking to my family and going through the NBA process,” Onuaku wrote in an Instagram post, “me and my family have decided that it would be best for me to keep my name in the draft.”

The day started out with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino telling multiple media outlets that the 6-foot-10 sophomore would remain in the draft after he declared last month without an agent and attended the draft combine. Onuaku, though, appeared to at least mildly refute that with an Instagram post that said his decision wouldn’t come until later Wednesday evening. Which it did, confirming Pitino’s words.

The confusion may have been frustrating for observers, but Onuaku’s social media presence no doubt has benefited from the bizarre day.

Onuaku averaged 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 assists in 24.6 minutes per game last season, making his per-40 numbers, a metric NBA teams like to take into consideration, nothing short of fantastic. He also shot a not-so-shabby 62.0 percent from the floor. His size, athleticism and ability to score around the basket (he’s taken one 3-pointer in two seasons) make him a potential first-round selection in next month’s draft.

The 19-year-old Onuaku underwent a procedure on his heart last week due to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It has been described as a minor procedure that will not affect his ability to play long-term or work out with teams leading up to the draft.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, should be able to absorb Onuaku’s loss seemlessly as they return the bulk of last year’s team that went 23-8 and was ranked 10th in KenPom, but was banned from the postseason as a result of the Katina Powell bombshell. Newcomers Tony Hicks (Penn transfer) and V.J. King (consensus top-30 recruit) will also make for solid additions.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.