Xavier Thames leads No. 4 San Diego State to first Sweet 16 since 2011

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It’s been the story for West Region No. 4 San Diego State all season long: when senior point guard Xavier Thames is rolling, the Aztecs are a very difficult team to beat. North Dakota State became the latest team to learn that lesson the hard way, as Thames led San Diego State to a 63-44 victory with 30 points and six assists.

Taking the points scored on the six baskets Thames assisted on into consideration, the point guard was responsible for 45 of the 63 points San Diego State scored against the Summit League champions.

Thames did much of the heavy lifting for San Diego State offensively, with his ability in ball screen situations proving to be too much for the Bison to handle as the game progressed. It should also be noted that the fifth-year senior had help in the form of junior wing Dwayne Polee II, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds off the bench. This is the fourth consecutive game in which Polee’s scored in double figures, and he’s a much-improved player for San Diego State since not having much of an impact during the first month of Mountain West play.

Counting last weekend’s Mountain West tournament Polee’s averaging 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in San Diego State’s last five games, and his growth is an important development for the Aztecs moving forward. If Polee can continue to have an impact off the bench, he gives San Diego State a needed supplementary option on the offensive end of the floor.

San Diego State’s win can’t be discussed without a mention of the defense, with the Aztecs making life difficult for Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun throughout the contest. Braun, who averaged 18.0 points per game, shot 2-for-14 from the field and scored seven points. San Diego State’s length was a significant issue for Saul Phillips’ team, with North Dakota State shooting 30.6% from the field and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Yet even with the team defense and Polee’s contributions, it will be the play of Thames that sticks out for a San Diego State team headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. And with Thames leading the way, the Aztecs are capable of accomplishing even more.

Merchandise with Bagley III’s likeness shows up for sale online

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What started off as a father’s attempt to promote and support his son may have morphed into an NCAA issue for Duke.

The father of Blue Devils star freshman Marvin Bagley III designed shirts with the younger Bagley’s likeness on them and distributed them to Duke students last week, but the design has subsequently shown up online for sale on all sorts of different merchandise, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Apparently, it was without the consent or knowledge of the Bagley family.

“THESE CROOKS on this website tried to copy my shirt and ILLEGALLY profit on my son’s name, image and likeness!” Bagley, Jr., the father of the star forward, wrote on Facebook on Jan. 14, according to the News & Observer.

It is, of course, impermissible under NCAA rules for a player or his family to profit of his likeness.

Duke “will take whatever action is necessary for NCAA, intellectual property and trademark purposes,” spokesperson Jon Jackson told the News & Observer. “This is not the first time we’ve had to address this kind of issue with one of our student-athletes and we are taking the necessary steps through our compliance office and legal counsel to address it.

“In all other instances such as this, the eligibility of the student-athletes was not in question.”

Given that both the Bagley family and Duke appear to be pushing back on the monetization of his likeness – and not profiting from it themselves – there would seem to be little concern that Bagley III would be in any sort of jeopardy with the NCAA. It does, though, highlight the problematic nature of the NCAA’s amateurism rules.

By apparently no fault of their own, the Bagley family is having to deal with this situation instead of simply being in the position to better control Bagley III’s name and likeness themselves if NCAA rules didn’t keep them from making money off it while Duke and the NCAA can use it in their own promotional material.

Bagley will likely cash in as a top-five pick in June’s NBA Draft, but this episode just shows there’s a market for his celebrity that he’s banned from participating in, leaving the door open for the more unscrupulous.

 

Creighton loses starter Krampelj for the season

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Creighton big man Martin Krampulj will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left team, the team announced on Thursday.

Krampelj was one of the most improved players in the Big East this year, averaging 11.9 points and 8.1 boards while starting 19 games. He suffered the injury in a win over Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Last year, the Bluejays lost all-american point guard Mo Watson to a torn ACL right around this same point in the season.

Colorado freshman out while dealing battling stroke-like symptoms

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Colorado redshirt freshman Evan Battey suffered a medical scare while back at home in California during the semester break, and it’s unclear how and when he’ll be able to return to practice.

The team has not detailed specifics of what happened to Battey but that is mainly because they aren’t quite sure the specifics. They said that he is dealing with stroke-like symptoms after collapsing at his home.

“He’ll be meeting with doctors and starting his rehab process this week as we get going,” Boyle told reporters this week. “The doctors are still gathering information. Now our doctors can look at him, see him, and get him to who he needs to see. They’re still getting everything from the doctors in California from when the event happened. There’s a lot of things that need to go on.”

“Obviously I want it to happen right away. Evan wants it to happen right away. But we’re just going to take it one day at a time, have him get better and improved. He’s been doing that and that’s all we can ask.”

Battey has had some tough breaks during his basketball career. He did not pay his final season in high school after a family issue caused him to have to repeat his freshman year. Since he did not graduate in four years, he also had to redshirt this season.

What’s Wrong With Trae Young: An in-depth look at how defenses are adjusting to the Oklahoma superstar

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In the past two weeks, Oklahoma’s Trae Young learned the hard way that there is always a cost that comes with success, and for him, it appears to be the weight of expectation.

Young has become a sensation in college basketball this season. He is this year’s version of Adam Morrison, or Jimmer Fredette, or Stephen Curry. He is the best story in college basketball, must-see TV not just because of the numbers he puts up but because of the entertainment that comes with getting seats to the The Trae Young Show.

Not only that, but Young is playing in the toughest conference in college basketball for a title contender as a 19-year old freshman in the biggest, most important and most influential role I can ever remember seeing a player in. Put another way, he has the best coaches in the country ranking their brains for a way to slow him down and get the ball out of his hands all while he, in the back of his mind, is wondering how he can top what he did the game before.

Young has never told me that’s the way he feels, but isn’t that human nature? When I write a great story, I want the next one to be just as good if not better. Musicians want their next single to be better than their last. Lawyers that crush a cross-examination want their closing argument to ensure they win the case. And Young wants to be better every game than he was the previous.

And that, it seems, is why Young has hit the first slump of his post-high school career.

On Tuesday night, No. 4 Oklahoma went into Kansas State and got whooped, 87-69, as Young shot 8-for-21 from the floor and turned the ball over 12 times. Against the Wildcats, Bruce Weber came up with a game-plan that was as simple as it was effective. They blitzed Young on every ball-screen and dribble-handoff, forcing the ball out of his hands before face-guarding him to try and prevent him from getting the ball back.

That came on the heels on committing nine turnovers against TCU over the weekend. He currently leads the country in turnovers – 5.2 per game, including 39 turnovers in his last five games – and it’s a result of the degree of difficulty of the plays that Young is trying to make; it’s almost as if he’s trying to get an assist, to make a highlight reel pass, on every possession, an issue that gets magnified by the number of layups opponents get off of those turnovers:

“He’s trying to do too much,” Young’s father, Rayford, said this week. “He wants to win so bad. He’s got to understand in this league coaches make a lot of money to scout you and shut you down.”

“That’s the difference between now and the beginning of the year. People didn’t understand how to get the ball out of his hands. Now there is some film on him.”

The other issue with Young of late is making the right read. I wrote earlier this season about Young’s passing and how he is so good at reading where defenders are in pick-and-rolls. He had a knack for almost always making the right pass:

But he’s made mistakes more often in recent games than in the first couple of weeks of the season.

In the first clip below, you’ll see Young try to make a no-look pass to the roll-man out after getting blitzed, not seeing that Kansas State was sending a weak-side defender to help. The pass that was open was to the weak-side corner, where Christian James would have had an open look at a three:

In the second clip above, the pass Young tries to make isn’t wrong – getting Jamuni McNeace the ball with a smaller defender on his back can work – but he didn’t put the ball on the money.

That is another trend I noticed watching Young in recent games. I’m not sure sloppy would be the right word to use, but where he typically had been putting the ball exactly where it needed to be previously, he’s now throwing the ball into the crowd.

In the first clip below, you’ll see Young make the right read and find Brady Manek for an open three. The shot didn’t go down, but that’s the shot that Oklahoma is looking for. In the second clip, Young does the same, except the pass ended up three feet off the mark and resulted in a turnover. At the end of the play, Young is visibly frustrated:

In the end, I think the fix here is fairly simple.

For starters, Lon Kruger just needs to settle the kid down. The first action of a possession doesn’t have to lead to a shot. Keeping possession and running more offense is better than forcing a pass with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. I would also expect Kruger to find more ways to get Young into a ball-screen action that goes beyond a simple high-ball screen. Some false motion at the start of a possession can work wonders moving a defense around and getting individual defenders into uncomfortable positions.

Young also needs to trust his teammates a little more, and not in the sense that he doesn’t think they can get the job done but because it would alleviate some of the pressure that falls on his shoulders. Brady Manek, Christian James, Kameron McGusty. Those are good players that can probably handle more of the load.

At the end of the day, opponents have made some adjustments to what Oklahoma wants to do.

And now it is on the Sooners to tweak what they do.

This happens with every team in the country during the course of the season, but given how reliant Oklahoma is on one player, the effect is magnified.

That’s a long-winded way of saying this: The Sooners are fine.

Stanford’s surprising mid-season turnaround continues with upset of No. 16 Arizona State

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Stanford earned a huge home win over No. 16 Arizona State on Wednesday night, taking down the Sun Devils for an 86-77 Pac-12 win.

The win for the Cardinal continues one of the best (and most surprising) turnarounds in the nation as Stanford is keeping pace with Arizona atop the Pac-12 standings. Now sitting at 5-1 in the conference, the Cardinal have won five consecutive games after sitting at 6-8 for the season following a loss to Cal. Stanford has picked off UCLA, USC and Arizona State since the start of 2018 while also sweeping the Washington schools on the road last week. Now Stanford is 11-8 overall while looking like one of the more dangerous teams in the Pac-12.

So how did this turnaround exactly happen?

Stanford figured things out with the mid-season addition of touted freshman forward Kezie Okpala. A bit of a late-blooming prospect coming out of high school, the 6-foot-8 Okpala was a high-end four-star recruit who had to sit out Stanford’s first 12 games this season due to academic complications.

During his final semester of high school, Okpala dropped below the threshold of what Stanford required in an AP calculus course while he tried to juggle the academic rigors of three AP classes. Stanford’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions notified Okpala of this and said they’d honor the original decision to admit him if he agreed to sit out of competition.

It was initially unclear if Okpala would play this season, but he’s figured out the academic side of things, and Stanford is very happy that he’s with them on the court. Since Okpala’s debut, the team has gone 5-2 with the freshman playing extended minutes in all seven contests. Okpala has even scored in double-figures in five of seven games he’s played in so far this season.

While Okpala actually had his worst shooting performance of the season on Wednesday in the win over Arizona State — finishing with four points on 1-for-8 shooting — his size and skill level on the wing (five assists) helped the Cardinal in other facets of the game. Outrebounding the Sun Devils, 44-30, while adding 13 offensive rebounds, Stanford has a long and athletic main lineup with Okpala in the mix.

Forward Reid Travis (18 points, 10 rebounds) remains one of the Pac-12’s most productive players after helping dismantle the Sun Devils with another double-double. Seniors like guard Dorian Pickens (19 points) and center Michael Humphrey (four points, five rebounds) are solid contributors. Freshman guard Daejon Davis (13 points, eight assists) is also seeing his play improve over time as he’s been picking things up lately as conference play gets going.

It might be too-little, too-late when it comes to Stanford’s NCAA tournament hopes after such a rough start. At least the Cardinal are showing plenty of fight now that they have their prized recruit in the lineup. Okpala’s return has given Stanford a major boost as the Cardinal look like a real threat with its rotation in place.

There’s still a long way to go before the Pac-12 conference race is decided. Stanford still has to prove this five-game winning streak isn’t merely a fluke like the half-court buzzer-beater that lifted them past USC. But the Cardinal has at least put themselves in the conversation among the league’s better teams. Nobody saw that coming a few weeks ago.