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The Secondary Break: Monday’s Links

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UConn spurred into title game by Daniels, doubt (NBC Sports)
While both finalists can point to outsiders doubting their chances of reaching Monday’s title game, only one can do so after losing its regular season finale by 33 points. That’s No. 7 UConn, and the Huskies are rolling thanks in part to the improved play of DeAndre Daniels. With Daniels playing his best basketball of the season, Kevin Ollie’s program is hoping to win a fourth national title.

Calipari limping into Final Four (Louisville Courier-Journal)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has been running his program at less than full strength for much of this season, thanks to a bad hip that will likely need to be replaced after the season ends. The hope now is to take a second national title into the offseason, as he works to get back into good physical condition.

Polarizing Wildcats find their way together (New York Times)
A key aspect of Kentucky’s late-season turnaround has been the improved play of twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Aaron’s received the majority of the praise given his making of big shots in wins over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, but Andrew’s improvement at the point has helped as well.

Title run giving paralyzed Kentucky fan feelings of happiness (CBS Sports)
There’s no doubt that sports can serve as a source of inspiration, with a person’s favorite player or team providing an example of what can happen with hard work and a little bit of luck. That’s been the case for Kentucky fan Dick Gregory, who has been a longtime supporter of the Wildcats. Gregory’s been paralyzed since falling at Rupp Arena on November 1, and head coach John Calipari and his players have taken time to lift his spirits throughout the season.

After weeks of ridicule, Kentucky’s “ink prophet” is now one win from vindication (Yahoo Sports)
When it was learned that 22-year old Tyler Austin Black had essentially guaranteed that Kentucky would win a ninth national title by getting a tattoo stating that on March 13, he became the butt of many jokes nationally. The Wildcats looked nothing like a title contender at the time, so the artwork represented wasted money in the eyes of many. However Black may have been onto something, and should the Wildcats complete their run Monday night he’ll have the last laugh.

Even as a kid at the Roxbury Y, Shabazz was something special (Hartford Courant)
UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier’s path to prominence has been well-documented, with his going from the Roxbury, Mass. to within a win of his second national title. And according to those who knew him when he was growing up, the point guard has always been something special.

UConn men’s bond extends well beyond court (Connecticut Post)
Given the struggles they endured at certain points in the season, neither UConn nor Kentucky would be in Monday’s title game if they did not remain close. For UConn, that means seven players living in the same apartment complex and the freshmen making a seamless transition into the program. And the relationships have made this season a special one for Kevin Ollie’s Huskies.

Indiana roster dealing with handful of injuries as practice begins

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 20:  A general view of  the SMU Mustangs game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on November 20, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Indiana has been hit with the injury buy a bit during the start of practice and it doesn’t only involved the recent announcement of knee surgery for senior Collin Hartman.

According to a report from the Indiana Daily Student the Hoosiers are also dealing with a knee injury for junior college transfer forward Freddie McSwain and sophomore Juwan Morgan hasn’t been cleared for practice yet after offseason shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-6 McSwain had a knee injury flare up when he came to Indiana and had surgery to clean it up. Crean told the Indiana Daily Student that McSwain was still a few weeks from returning.

That means Indiana has to find early practice minutes to replace Hartman, Morgan and McSwain up front which gives more reps to players like O.G. Anunoby and freshman big man De’Ron Davis.

Since Anunoby and Davis both dealt with some offseason injuries and guard Robert Johnson was recently cleared to return, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean is remaining cautious during the early part of practice this season. Crean also has to monitor the return of starting guard James Blackmon Jr. after he missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

“We would have already practiced this morning and they would be ready to go tonight, if this were a year ago,” Crean said in the report. “We have to tailor make this thing. We can’t be in too much of a rush with these guys.”

Obviously, the frontcourt injuries are something to keep an eye on for Indiana during the early part of the season. None of the three injuries seem severe, but Hartman’s timetable to return hasn’t been listed and McSwain and Morgan are missing valuable early time in practice.

It’ll be interesting to see if this helps younger players like Anunoby and Davis get more acquainted with the first team early on since both could have an impact this season.

Texas lands four-star Class of 2017 guard Jase Febres

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Texas and head coach Shaka Smart continue to recruit at a high level, especially in the state of Texas, as the Longhorns landed a commitment from Class of 2017 four-star guard Jase Febres on Friday night.

The 6-foot-5 Febres is considered the No. 63 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings as he burst on the national radar this summer with some strong shooting performances. Febres shot over 40 percent from three-point range during the month of July after battling through injury during the spring. Besides owning good size for a wing shooter, Febres also takes pride in defending and he can rebound a bit from the wing as well.

Febres is going to have to improve his overall offensive package if a defense plays him off the three-point line, but he has upside as a three-and-D guy with the Longhorns.

The Class of 2017 is starting to round into shape for Texas as Febres joins four-star power forward Jericho Sims and four-star forward Royce Hamm. Since taking over the Texas job, Smart has done a great job of keeping local talent home as he now has five four- and five-star prospects from the state in the last two classes.

 

VIDEO: Kentucky fans get married in the ticket line for Big Blue Madness

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Kentucky fans have unique ways of making their annual Big Blue Madness event the most chaotic tip-off event of the season. While Big Blue Nation is waiting in line for tickets to this year’s festivities in Tent City, one couple decided to go the extra mile.

After securing the first spot in line for tickets, Ray Branham and Vicki Harvey opted to get married. According to a post from Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio, the couple had already been talking about tying the knot, but decided to make the move once they had the top spot in line. As you can see by the wedding video, it was a very Kentucky-themed ceremony as the duo got married in front of friends and other Kentucky fans.

I can’t say I’m surprised two Kentucky fans decided to get married in line for something like Big Blue Madness and this (unplanned) wedding gives this year’s event something unique that we will always remember.

Penn State loses freshman on day practice starts

Patrick Chambers
AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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On the day that college basketball practice is to start, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers announced that his roster would be changing.

Joe Hampton, a 6-foot-8, 290 pound power forward from Maryland, will be leaving the program.

“Joe has made the decision to leave the program based on personal reasons,” Chambers said. “We wish him the best of luck with his future endeavors.”

Hampton was a three-star prospect that missed his senior season at Oak Hill Academy with torn ACL, but he reportedly enrolled at Penn State in May, before the rest of the Nittany Lion recruit class.

Michigan State lands second Class of 2017 commitment

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Tom Izzo landed his second commitment in the Class of 2017 as big man Xavier Tillman announced that he will be attending Michigan State.

A 6-foot-7, 235 pound power forward, Tillman is a physical-if-undersized player that is rated as a three-star prospect. He’s not a one-and-done player, but he’s should be a good program guy for the Spartans.

“Tillman is another big and strong interior presence for Michigan State,” said NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips. “What separates Tillman from a lot of big men his size is his passing ability. Tillman is an intelligent player on the offensive end and he rebounds his area well.”

Tillman joins Jaren Jackson, his AAU teammate for Speice Indy Heat, in Michigan State’s recruiting class.

He picked Michigan State over Purdue and Marquette.