Big 12 Conference Catchup: Can Texas end the reign of Kansas?

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The Big 12 may not have been the best conference during the 2013-2014 season, but it certainly was the most competitive and the most thrilling.

As of late February, there were eight teams in the ten team conference that had a shot to make the NCAA tournament. Seven of them did, including Baylor and Oklahoma State. Baylor lost eight of ten to start league play. Oklahoma State lost seven straight games at one point.

The top of the league wasn’t great — Baylor and Iowa State were the only teams to reach the Sweet 16 and they both lost there — but it was the balance that made it so entertaining. Anyone could beat anyone on any given night.

I’m not sure that will be as true this season.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Once again, Kansas looks like the favorite to win the conference. They lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the draft but they replace them with Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, a combo that should be able to match their production, if not their potential. The Jayhawks also traded out Naadir Tharpe for Devonte Graham, meaning that their season will, once again, hinge on the point guard play.

Texas will be the second-best team in the league after they beat out Kansas for top ten recruit Myles Turner. With Cameron Ridley, Johnathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix all returning as well, the Longhorns will be loaded and the biggest challenger to the Jayhawks’ streak of regular season titles.

Oklahoma loses Cameron Clark but will still have plenty of talent returning. The same can be said for Iowa State, who lose Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. Kansas State brings back Marcus Foster, making them a likely NCAA tournament team. Beyond that, we’re looking at some rebuilds. Baylor should make the tournament despite their personnel losses, but it seems unlikely that Oklahoma State will.

THREE UP

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Texas: My, what a difference a year makes. At this time last year, we were wondering if it was even possible for Rick Barnes, who had been unable to tap into the talent-rich Texas high school ranks of late and who was jettisoning players from his program, to make it to May 15th with his job at Texas intact. Today, we’re talking about how the Longhorns might be the favorite to end Kansas’ streak as Big 12 regular season champ. After a third-place finish last season, the ‘Horns returned essentially everyone of importance while adding top ten recruit Myles Turner to the mix. They’ll enter the season in the top ten.

Kansas State: The Wildcats were a huge surprise a season ago, making the NCAA tournament despite entering the season without much expectation. The biggest reason for that run? Marcus Foster, the overlooked freshman that led the team in scoring. Foster won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season, but he should end up being one of the best off-guards in the conference while leading KSU back to the tournament.

Monte Morris: Morris put together quite an impressive season for a freshman point guard in 2013-2014, but since he was playing behind all-american DeAndre Kane, his numbers went largely unnoticed. That will changed next season, when Morris takes over the role of starting point guard. He’ll have some talent surrounding him — namely Georges Niang and Bryce Dejean-Jones — but don’t be surprised to see Morris develop into one of the better point guards in the league.

THREE DOWN

Oklahoma State: Marcus Smart went pro. Markel Brown graduated. Stevie Clark has been kicked out of the program, Jared Terrell got out of his letter of intent, and Kamari Murphy transferred. That basically leaves Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte and their cast of characters at Travis Ford’s disposal. And with the massive buyout that Travis Ford has in his contract, things may not get easier anytime soon.

Baylor: The Bears lose Isaiah Austin to the draft and Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip to graduation. Those are gaping holes for Scott Drew to fill. He’ll have some pieces — Kenny Chery is one of the nation’s most underrated point guards and Drew does have talent stored on his bench — but replacing a pair of double-doubles machines and one of the nation’s most lethal shooters is not an easy task.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers were sneaky-good a season ago, but with Eron Harris departing, West Virginia will be relying heavily on the shoulders of Juwan Staten to carry them. With Harris, WVU might have had the best back court in the conference.

FIVE NEW FACES

Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre: Kansas loses Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, which will hurt quite a bit. But their replacements should do just fine. Oubre is not the defender that Wiggins was, but he should be able to provide the same scoring pop on the perimeter. Alexander isn’t the same force around the rim that Embiid was, but he’s as aggressive and athletic of a big man as you’ll find. Throw in Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, and the Jayhawks are once again a top five team. The key? The point guard spot, and possibly another freshman, Devonte Graham.

Myles Turner: Turner is a top ten recruit in the Class of 2014, a shot-blocker with three-point range on his jump shot. He’s going to have some competition for minutes in the Texas front court, but his presence should help make the Longhorns a legitimate Final Four contender. The Texas native is as bright as they come and should be an instant fan favorite in Austin.

Bryce Dejean-Jones: Iowa State landed themselves yet another high-profile cast-off. Dejean-Jones is one of the more talented scorers in the country, but this will be the third school that he has played at. He’s a gunner, the kind of wing that never saw a shot he didn’t think he can make. He’ll be the key to the Cyclones this season. If he can buy into what Fred Hoiberg is running, Iowa State is a top 15-caliber team. If not, they could end up going the way of UNLV the last couple of seasons.

Jordan Woodard: Jordan Woodard isn’t a new face — he was a freshman last season — but I think that he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the Big 12. There’s a reason that Je’lon Hornbeak transferred out of the program, and with Cameron Clark gone, Woodard has a chance to really break out this year.

Jeff Newberry: Newberry is going to be a key for Oklahoma State. A highly-regarded JuCo guard, Newberry is going to be asked to be a primary ball-handler and a key cog for the Cowboys offensively right off the bat, and with some of the personnel losses the Pokes will suffer, his role will be vital.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Kansas
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. Iowa State
5. Kansas State
6. Baylor
7. Oklahoma State
8. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
10. TCU

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”