Michigan keeps exceeding expectations during another tournament run

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan was supposed to be in this position.

Heading to the Elite 8 behind a balanced offensive attack led by the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Except consensus preseason All-American Mitch McGary has been out of the lineup for Michigan since December 21st with a back injury that forced the sophomore big man to have season-ending surgery on January 7th.

Many left the Wolverines for dead with no chance of making it back to the Final Four after last year’s championship-game loss to Louisville. But now, No. 2 seed Michigan is one game away from doing just that after Friday’s 73-71 win over No. 11 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

Behind a new Big Ten Player of the Year — sophomore wing Nik Stauskas — Michigan is sporting one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country as the Wolverines look like a major threat in the Midwest thanks to its potent perimeter attack.

“We have a really confident group here,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we’ve been through that run we had last year, we just have to go out and have fun. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just try to stick to our game plan and have fun doing it.”

Michigan entered Friday’s contest shooting 39.8% from three-point range this season and that trend of hot shooting continued against Tennessee on Friday. Michigan started 7-for-9 from distance in the first half before finishing 55 percent (11-for-20) for the game.

With five different Wolverines knocking down a three-pointer, Michigan forces teams to pick and choose who to help off of on ball screens and on the perimeter. With three guys in Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton that can operate pick-and-rolls and hit shots from the perimeter, the Wolverines can throw a lot of different looks at an opposing defense. And that doesn’t include the offensive versatility and athleticism of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.

“You saw that with Texas. I feel like we had a really balanced attack in that game,” Stauksas said. “It makes it toughest for teams to guard you if you have four or five or six guys who are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that. I think you saw that in the first half (against Tennessee), especially, with our spacing on the floor, they didn’t really know who to help off of, who not to help off of and it kind of led to some easy baskets.”

While Stauskas and the perimeter threats were a known commodity entering the Tournament, the continued solid play of senior forward Jordan Morgan is a huge reason why Michigan is in its current position.

Morgan and Robinson III were thought to be at a disadvantage facing Tennessee’s interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes but Michigan held the duo to 13 points on Friday as Morgan took the potential game-saving charge on Stokes with six seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a 72-71 lead. The senior also had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan after recording back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said. “So we’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it’s just ‑‑ I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”

People must have forgotten that Morgan and Robinson had to defend a healthy McGary in practice last season or that they went through a tough and physical Big Ten. Michigan played a difficult non-conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford. Morgan and his Michigan teammates feel prepared to face anything by this point.

“(I told them to) have a strong chest and try to keep them off the glass and that’s what they did out there tonight,” McGary said of his frontcourt teammates against Tennessee.

Although McGary is relegated to the role of America’s most famous cheerleader during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore dressing in uniform and warming up with his teammates before the game seemed to give Michigan an additional emotional boost.

“Obviously I’m not going to play or anything like that but I feel more connected to my teammates when I dress,” McGary said. “I think it (gave my teammates a lift for) a little bit. I also didn’t want to take credit away from them because people make such a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I’m wearing a uniform just like them.”

People made a big deal of Michigan losing Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines keep humming along and winning close games. They’re 22-4 since McGary went down with the season-ending injury and now they’re in position to potentially make another Final Four.

Not many anticipated Michigan to be in this position — given this season’s adversity — except for the confident group of Wolverines that keep hitting shots and winning close games.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing but we just seem to have a thing about pulling out games and winning in the last couple of minutes,” Stauskas said. “Maybe that’s our toughness or resiliency to get these wins but we’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively to hold onto these games.”

Kentucky fans flood Facebook page of official John Higgins’ company with negative reviews

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Unhappy with how John Higgins performed at his part-time job, Kentucky fans did their best trash him at his full-time gig.

The Facebook page of the referee’s Omaha-based roofing company was flooded by Big Blue Nation with negative comments and reviews after they were displeased with the official’s work in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.

Not only did fans leave obviously fake and vulgar comments on the page, they also deluged it with one-star reviews to drive down its average significantly.

Once again, the Internet is struck by its proportionality problem. What could be considered a silly bit of online pranking by a small minority suddenly turns into an avalanche of nastiness that could do real damage to someone’s life, business and family, given the importance of social media for companies in 2017. It becomes cruel when it reaches a level like this.

When there’s so many general complaints about the state of officiating in college basketball, it’s also not helpful to do something like this to one of the referees generally considered to be one of the country’s best. It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for prospective future officials to follow the career path if it brings this level of negative attention to you off the court.

Report: North Carolina to miss out on NCAA events through 2022 if HB2 not addressed by Thursday

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North Carolina is in danger of losing out on hosting NCAA events through 2022 if the state does not make changes to HB2, the controversial so-called “bathroom bill” by Thursday afternoon, according to the leader of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” Scott Dupree, the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”

“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

The NCAA, as it reminded North Carolina last week, is making its determinations on hosts for events from 2018-2022 this week. There was movement last week at the North Carolina statehouse for a compromise on the bill, but that apparently stalled out, the News & Observer reported, though there remain efforts to make progress on a pact.

Should lawmakers not reach an agreement in time, the state’s flagship basketball programs will be without an NCAA tournament home-court advantage that they have often enjoyed. HB2 just this past year moved the first and second rounds out of the state and to South Carolina, where No. 2 seed Duke lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in their home state.

Clearly, there’s much more to consider here than NCAA tournament implications, but it’s another reminder of the economic impact the bill has made in North Carolina. This week, The Associated Press estimated it will cost the state $3.76 billion over a 12-year period.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.