Kevin Pangos (AP Photo)

Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, eyeing a Final Four, on last season: ‘It just wasn’t fun, I was in pain the whole time’

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UNION, N.J. — Gonzaga’s basketball team is held up as the bastion of mid-major hoops, proof positive that the limits created by conference affiliation, television revenue and a football program that neither Jim Delany nor Mike Slive give a damn about cannot keep a hoops team from playing high-major basketball.

And forget about calling the Zags a mid-major program. Gonzaga recruits nationally and internationally. They battle it out with programs from the traditional power conferences for top 50 and top 100 recruits. Josh Perkins, a top 75 point guard in the Class of 2014, picked the Zags over UCLA and Minnesota, among others. Kyle Wiltjer, a former McDonald’s all-american, transferred to Gonzaga from Kentucky.

Gonzaga is a high-major program, one of the top 25 basketball schools in the country.

They have been since Dan Monson, Matt Santangelo and company took them to within one possession of knocking off eventual national champs UConn in the Elite 8 back in 1999.

But the Zags haven’t made it back to the Elite 8 in 15 years. They’ve been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament just twice since 2001: In 2006, when an Adam Morrison-led team blew a 17-point lead to UCLA, and in 2009, when they beat a No. 13 and No. 12 seed to get through the weekend. Five times in the last 13 NCAA tournaments, the Zags have been upset by a lower-seeded team. Only once in that time frame — back in 2011, when they beat St. John’s as a No. 11 seed — have they pulled off a real upset.

Once known as giant-killers, the cinderella you always pick in your bracket, Gonzaga’s developed a new reputation: overrated and perennially overhyped. It came to a head back in the 2013 NCAA tournament, when Kelly Olynyk and company were given the No. 1 overall seed, a fairly-controversial decision, only to lose in the Round of 32 to Wichita State, who eventually made the Final Four.

And you better believe that Gonzaga players have picked up on that rep.

“I definitely notice,” Kevin Pangos told NBCSports.com at the Point Guard Skills Academy last week. “I don’t listen to what people say so much because sometimes we do play great teams and lose. Sometimes it’s a tough situation like that.”

Pangos would know as well as anyone.

He’s been the face of Gonzaga basketball for the better part of three years, ever since he exploded on the scene by scoring 33 points and hitting nine threes in a blowout win over Washington State during ESPN’s 24-hour college hoops marathon. It was his first nationally-televised game as a freshman, but it may have been the last time that Pangos was truly a major part of college basketball’s national conversation. As a sophomore, Pangos was overshadowed as the Zags rode front court work horses Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to the No. 1 overall seed. And this past season, Pangos was a shell of himself as he battled turf toe on one foot and a sprained ankle on the other.

“I was playing at 60%,” Pangos said. “It was so frustrating. I was just trying to help the team win and not make myself any worse. I was taped up and braced up, trying to stitch myself together.”

The issue, Pangos said, wasn’t just that those injuries cut down on his already limited explosiveness and lateral mobility. It killed his balance, making running off of screens and sprinting into open jumpers — his bread and butter — a painful endeavor.

“It just wasn’t fun,” he said. “I was in pain the whole time, because it was both feet. It wasn’t just one, both were hurt.”

The injuries were so bad that Pangos spent nearly three months after the season ended rehabbing, trying to get back to 100%. He would shoot, he said, but he wasn’t doing much running and didn’t even play live, 5-on-5 basketball until about a week before he left for the Point Guard Skills Academy.

“I’m better, but not quite 100%,” he said.

The health of their senior point guard will be key for the Zags next season, but Pangos won’t be forced to carry the entire load as the Zags will field a team that could find themselves in the top ten heading into the 2014-2015 season. Sam Dower graduates, as does David Stockton, but Mark Few has added more than enough pieces to reload. Four-star point guard Josh Perkins joins the program, as does Domantas Sabonis, a seven-foot Lithuanian that is the son of the great Arvydas Sabonis and would be a five-star recruit had he played his high school ball state-side. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer will be eligible to play, as will USC transfer Byron Wesley and Vanderbilt castoff Eric McClellan.

Throw in returnees Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Dranginis and Angel Nunez, and what you get is a team with plenty of size, shooting, lineup versatility and depth.

The only thing that they’ll be short on next season is expectations.

“I want to peak at the right time,” Pangos said. “We’ve had good seasons, but we haven’t had any great years. Even when we were ranked No. 1, we didn’t end the year strong. So I want to have an all-around, strong year from start to finish. We might lose a few games here or there. But no matter what, I want us to have a full year. I need to get somewhere I’ve never been before: the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.”

“But I want to make it as far as we can, to a Final Four,” he added. “To get that experience in my last year. I don’t want to say that if we don’t make it, it will be a failure, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I don’t want to miss out on.”

Video: Wildcats make it the “Blue And White House”

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Villanova’s title last month gave the Wildcats the opportunity to visit with the President of the United States on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It is the Blue and White House today,” President Barack Obama said, “because we’re giving it up for the 2016 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats.”

The Wildcats were customarily honored by the President on Tuesday for their 77-74 title game win over North Carolina that featured Kris Jenkins’ now-legendary 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It might be maybe the best title game of all-time,” Obama said. “Just the last few seconds could be a documentary.”

The President mentioned Marcus Paige’s circus shot that tied the game shot seconds before Jenkins’ game-winner.

“A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken,” Obama said. “The wildcats, they took control. They responded.”

That response was Jenkins’ 3 as time expired to place himself in the game’s lore with perhaps the best finish ever for an NCAA championship game.

“That was a good shot,” Obama deadpanned. “It was like a Christian Laettner shot, it was like a Jimmy V(alvano) running up and down the court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which he doesn’t do very often these days.”

Villanova also presented the 44th President with a No. 44 jersey that the team used on Dec. 7, 2015, at Pearl Harbor against Oklahoma.

“This is a great day for Villanova University,” coach Jay Wright said.

Wright didn’t get out of the day without a goodnatured needling from the President.

“Best-dressed man in college basketball,” Obama said. “The George Clooney of coaches.”

The President also noted that Vice President Joe Biden picked ‘Nova to win it all before the tournament.

“This team possessed something that the coaches preached since day one,” Obama said, “and that’s attitude.”

 

TCU’s leading scorer leaving school

Jamie Dixon
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TCU’s leading scorer is leaving the school and college basketball behind.

Chauncey Collins, who had two years of eligibility remaining, will pursue a start to his professional career, the school announced Tuesday night. The Horned Frogs also announced the departure of little-used freshman guard Lyrik Shreiner.

“We would like to thank Chauncey and Lyrik for their contributions to TCU,” coach Jamie Dixon said in the school’s press release.  “We wish Chauncey the best as he looks to begin his professional career to provide for his family and will support Lyrik as he continues his college career at another university.”

Collins started 24 games and averaged 12.3 points on 38.7 percent shooting while dishing out 2.0 assists and grabbing 3.0 rebounds in 31.0 minutes per game. His professional career would presumably begin overseas or in the D-League.

His departure paves the way for incoming recruit Jaylen Fisher to take the reigns at point guard immediately in Dixon’s first year coaching at his alma mater. Fisher is a consensus top-50 recruit who pledged to TCU following decommitting from UNLV.

Shreiner appeared in 22 games last year, averaging 5.4 minutes per appearance.

Cal’s Mathews to transfer

Reed McConnell, Jordan Mathews
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The graduate transfer pool just got a considerable addition.

Cal guard Jordan Mathews intends to graduate this summer and transfer to another school, where he would be immediately eligible, he announced Tuesday evening.

“This decision was not easy, but I am incredibly thankful for this experience,” Mathews wrote on social media. “The relationships I have developed will last a lifetime.

“I will always be a CAl Bear and I will forever cherish my time in Berkeley.”

Mathews’ decision now puts three years’ experience plus last year’s stats of 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists on the market just hours before the calendar flips to April. He will certainly not lack for suitors, and it would appear Gonzaga has already emerged as the favorite, per multiple reports. Also of note is his brother, four-star guard Jonah, will be a freshman at USC.

The loss is a significant one for the Golden Bears as the 6-foot-3 Mathews was set to help anchor the perimeter for another season along with Jabari Bird. Coach Cuonzo Martin, though, does have incoming point guard commit Charlie Moore plus getting Ivan Rabb back makes for a solid enough core, especially if Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who is visiting this week, decides to pledge. Even if things do break its way there, losing Mathews heading into his senior season is a setback Cal would have otherwise like to have avoided.

Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Pac-12 all-star team to tour Australia in July

Oregon State's Stephen Thompson Jr., center, celebrates with fans after he made free throws with no time left on the clock to give Oregon State a 71-69 win over Utah in an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez
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While the majority of summer tours in college basketball consist of teams making the trek overseas (or to Canada) together, there are all all-star teams put together to represent a conference or some other entity. The Pac-12 has put together an all-star team of sorts in recent years, and on Tuesday they announced the 12-member squad that will visit Australia to play three games in early July.

Two of those games will be played against the Australian men’s national team, which will be preparing for the Summer Olympics to be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.

The coaching staff will be led by Mike Montgomery, who led the programs at both Stanford and California before retiring in 2014, with former Stanford head coach Trent Johnson and former Stanford players Casey Jacobsen and Brevin Knight serving as his assistants. Ten of the conference’s 12 teams will be represented on the roster, with Oregon (which has some players hoping to reach the Olympics for other countries) and UCLA being the teams without a player making the trip.

Also of note for Oregon is the fact that they’ll be taking a summer trip to Spain in August, so their players are already set up for a busy summer.

Arizona and Oregon State will each have two players on the roster, with Kadeem Allen and Chance Comanche making the trip representing Sean Miller’s program and Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson Jr. doing so for Wayne Tinkle’s program. Of the 12 players two earned honorable mention all-conference honors (USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson), and Colorado’s Wesley Gordon was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.

Below is the full roster, and the team is scheduled to depart for Australia from Los Angeles July 7.

G Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
C Chance Comanche (Arizona)
G Tra Holder (Arizona State)
G Stephen Domingo (California)
F Wesley Gordon (Colorado)
F Drew Eubanks (Oregon State)
F Stephen Thompson Jr. (Oregon State)
G/F Dorian Pickens (Stanford)
G Jordan McLaughlin (USC)
G Lorenzo Bonam (Utah)
F Matisse Thybulle (Washington)
F Josh Hawkinson (Washington State)