Final Four Primer: Are we headed for an SEC title game rematch?

3 Comments

That was fun, wasn’t it?

The tournament’s thrilling first weekend led to an exhilarating, heart-wrenching, I-have-no-more-fingernails-left second weekend which has given us a Final Four that includes a No. 7 seed and a No. 8 seed, even though those two team just so happen to have won two of the last three national titles.

We’ll be churning out preview and review content all week long, but for now, here is our Final Four primer:

SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE:

  • 6:09 p.m. ET: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn (TBS)
  • 8:49 p.m. ET: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky (TBS)

FOUR STORY LINES TO FOLLOW:

1. Kentucky has now reached the Final Four for the third time in the past four years. And while the last two times they made it this far the Wildcats relied on veterans just as much as they did freshmen, this group starts five players that were in high school a season ago. That’s a story in and of itself, before you even touch on the fact that the Wildcats didn’t start playing like a title contender until the start of this tournament.

2. Kemba Walker quickly became one of the most popular UConn Huskies in the history of the program when he led them to the national title in 2011. Shabazz Napier, who started along side Kemba during that tournament run, is looking to do the same for the Huskies this season, a year after the program was more or less left for dead.

MORE: Kevin Ollie’s revival of UConn | Michigan State’s trying season ends | Aaron Harrison tho

3. Billy Donovan has won two national titles in his career. He’s two wins away from his third.

4. Bo Ryan and his father, Butch, were incredibly tight. They made an annual tradition of going to the Final Four as fans because Bo had never gotten there as a coach. He made his first Final Four this season. His father passed away in August.

WHO WERE NBCSPORTS.COM’S REGIONAL MVPS?

  • 1. Shabazz Napier (East Region): 23.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.0 spg, 14-31 3’s, 25-27 FTs
  • 2. Aaron Harrison (Midwest Region): 16.0 ppg, game-winners in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.
  • 3. Frank Kaminsky (West Region): 19.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 66 points in his last three games
  • 4. Scottie Wilbekin (South Region): 16.8 ppg, 3.0 apg, 9-24 3’s

FINAL FOUR POWER RANKINGS:

1. Florida: The Gators entered the tournament as the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 1 overall seed, and they’ve rolled through their first four games without really being tested. They can lock up defensively and they have Scottie Wilbekin for crunch time. They have to be considered the favorite until they lose.

2. Kentucky: To be frank, I toyed with the idea of putting Kentucky at No. 1 on this list. That’s how well they’re playing right now, and there isn’t even an assurance that Willie Cauley-Stein will be available. There is a reason that we all had this team at No. 1 in the country in the preseason, and they’re finally playing like it.

RELATED: All of our coverage from the NCAA tournament’s second weekend

3. Wisconsin: We didn’t think that the Badgers would be able to get past Arizona, but they did thanks almost entirely to the play of Frank Kaminsky, who now holds the title of the most difficult matchup left in the tournament. Will the Wildcats find a way to slow him down?

4. UConn: The run that the Huskies have made to the national title game just doesn’t make all that much sense when you think about it. Shabazz Napier has been outstanding all season long, but Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels were pillars of inconsistency. The last two weeks, however, they’ve been terrific.

AND WHO WILL BE CUTTING DOWN THE NETS IN NORTH TEXAS?: Florida. Right about now I’m really regretting ignoring the fact that they have been the best team in the country for the past two months.

Three LSU players accused of shooting paintballs at pedestrian

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three LSU basketball players were issued a summons earlier this month for allegedly shooting paintballs at a pedestrian, according to a report from the Daily Reveille.

The incident involving the three players, Galen Alexander, Wayde Sims and Mayan Kiir, occurred on June 16.

“I’m aware of the situation and we are dealing with the matter internally,” first-year Tigers coach Will Wade said in a statement, according to The Advocate. “I’m extremely disappointed in these players and the poor judgement they used. This is no way to represent LSU or our basketball program. They have a clear understanding of what our expectations are as a program both on and off the court.”

Alexander and Kiir are both freshmen while Sims is a sophomore who averaged 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game last season.

Grayson Allen is…funny?

Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images
1 Comment

The last year led to a lot of people having opinions on Grayson Allen. The Duke star invited most of them thanks to his tripping and his outbursts, as well as the simple fact he plays for the Blue Devils, who always seem to attract plenty of hate from the masses.

While Allen is one of college basketball’s best players, he’s also one of its most ridiculed. More people than not probably have a poor opinion about the guy due to his bizarre tripping habit and the bench meltdown from last season. He’s an easy target that brought a lot of criticism on himself with his actions.

This summer, though, Allen has started to show another side to his personality through social media. It turns out he might actually be funny.

The world is full of surprises.

Here’s an example from today, with Allen not only some comedy chops, but some self-deprecation and self-awareness – two important traits for someone who might need some reputation rehab – as he pokes fun of the Internet’s suggestion that he’s a dead ringer for Texas senator Ted Cruz, as well as Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, apparently.

That was just the most recent example, though. Earlier this month, he ribbed maybe the Internet’s only more favorite villain, LaVar Ball.

And before that, he had some fun with the fact that he’ll almost assuredly be tabbed to our Perry Ellis All-Stars team for his final collegiate season this fall.

So, yeah, Grayson Allen’s rep took a bunch of hits last year for some bad behavior. Maybe there’s more there, though.

IUPUI to become Horizon League’s 10th member

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Horizon League officially announced this week that IUPUI will be replacing Valparaiso as the league’s 10th member. Valpo left to replace Wichita State in the Missouri Valley.

“We are excited to welcome IUPUI to the Horizon League family,” Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “The Jaguars bring us tremendous competitive potential, particularly in men’s basketball, along with an engaged and energized city. Their addition solidifies our broad community partnerships in Indianapolis and is the right school at the right time.”

IUPUI — which stands for Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis — has been a member of the Summit League, which will be left with eight teams now that the Jaguars have departed. They’ve made it to one NCAA tournament, back in 2003, and have been a full-fledged member of Division I for 19 years. That was the year before NBA point guard George Hill enrolled. Current head coach Jason Gardner has been there for three years but has yet to record a winning season; IUPUI has not been over .500 since 2011, when Ron Hunter was still the head coach.

“We are excited about engaging with the other Horizon League member institutions to enhance the overall competitiveness of the league,” said IUPUI Director of Athletics Dr. Roderick Perry. “As an institution and athletics department, our mission, vision, and core values align closely with the Horizon League. This is an important step forward in the life of our athletics department.”

Former Louisville standout Chris Jones shot in Memphis

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

Former Louisville point guard Chris Jones was shot while playing basketball in his native Memphis on Tuesday night.

According to a report from FOX 13 in Memphis, shortly after 11 p.m. shots rang out on in Halle Park after an altercation on the court. Two people were taken to the hospital, one with a head injury stemming from a fight. The other was Jones, who was shot in the leg twice, according to the Courier-Journal. His injuries are not life-threatening and he has already been released from the hospital, according to Steve Forbes, his former Junior College coach.

Jones played at Melrose High in Memphis before spending two years at Northwest Florida Junior College and two more seasons at Louisville.

This past year, he spent time playing professionally in Greece and in France, although he played just a grand total of three games in the two leagues.

Perhaps the craziest part about this story is that Jones was shot on a court that is next to a police station. This is a screengrab from FOX 13’s live shot from the basketball courts, and you can see the police cars in the station’s parking lot in the back ground:

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

AP Photo/Athens Banner-Herald, AJ Reynolds
2 Comments

Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”