The Secondary Break: Friday’s Links

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Selflessness from Joe Harris helped UVA reach first Sweet 16 since 1995 (Sports Illustrated)
After earning first team All-ACC honors as a junior, Virginia guard Joe Harris could have looked to continue to put up prolific numbers in his senior season. But the options around him dictated something different for Harris, and his selfless nature is one reason why the Cavaliers are ACC champions and making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1995.

McConnell’s No. 1 fan watching him in Anaheim (Arizona Daily Star)
Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell has been a difference-maker for the Wildcats this season, with his steady influence being exactly what the top seed in the West Region needed. And with the Wildcats one win away from their first Final Four appearance in 13 years McConnell’s biggest fan, his father Tim, is in attendance in Anaheim. With the family living in western Pennsylvania, this trip is a special one since they’ve only been able to see a handful of T.J.’s games in person this year.

Michigan sees key as containing Tennessee’s Stokes (Detroit Free Press)
No. 2 Michigan may be favored to return to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, but the Wolverines are well aware of the challenge that No. 11 Tennessee represents. Chief among Michigan’s concerns is how they’ll go about containing Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, whose play has been a key for the Volunteers during their run to the Sweet 16.

Matchup to watch: Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane vs. UConn’s Shabazz Napier (Des Moines Register)
Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between No. 3 Iowa State and No. 7 UConn features two of the best point guards in the country, with Iowa State being led by DeAndre Kane and Shabazz Napier leading the way for UConn. While both teams have other talented contributors, how this matchup goes will have a major impact on the outcome.

Donovan preaches personal growth as Gators head to Elite Eight (New York Post)
After beating No. 4 UCLA Thursday night, No. 1 Florida will make its fourth straight Elite Eight appearance. And with a senior class that has yet to reach the Final Four, Florida head coach Billy Donovan continues to discuss the importance of personal growth with his team in advance of Saturday’s game against No. 11 Dayton.

Pitino-Calipari a frosty friendship (Louisville Courier-Journal)
With No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Kentucky meeting in the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last three years, one of the best rivalries in sports once again takes center stage in March. And with that comes the question of just how well the two head coaches, Rick Pitino and John Calipari, actually get along at this point in their respective careers.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.