Previewing Kansas-West Virginia and Virginia-Notre Dame

1 Comment

No. 2 Kansas at No. 18 West Virginia, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN): The big game of the night lost a little bit of its luster this week, as West Virginia not only dropped a home game to Oklahoma but followed that up with a loss at Kansas State.

The Mountaineers have the nation’s most disruptive press, but it hasn’t been all that effective in recent weeks. In their last three games, West Virginia has committed more turnovers than they have forced. That’s not a good sign for a team that relies on the easy baskets they can get in transition to avoid having to rely on playing half court basketball, where they struggle.

And here’s the thing about these Kansas Jayhawks: I’m not sure there is a worse matchup for West Virginia when they are struggling to get their pressure clicking. I’ve always believed there is a ceiling for teams playing the way that Press Virginia plays for one, simple reason: They rely on their opponents making mistakes to win. Good teams have good guards, and good guards are good because they don’t make mistakes.

Kansas?

They have the current favorite for National Player of the Year in Frank Mason III as well as Devonte’ Graham, a potential first round pick that, if he was allowed to play on the ball full time, could probably be an all-Big 12 point guard. And that’s before you consider that, these days, the Jayhawks are essentially playing a four-guard lineup, rotating through Josh Jackson, LaGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk.

  • PREDICTION: I like Kansas to win this game, even though I know that we are just two weeks removed from these same Mountaineers forcing 29 turnovers in a 21-point win over No. 1 Baylor, handing the Bears their only loss of the season. Kansas opened at (+6), but if you can still get them at (+3.5), I think you have to take it.

No. 12 Virginia at No. 14 Notre Dame, 8:00 p.m. (ACC Network): This is such a fascinating matchup of styles all around. Notre Dame is one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, and the way that Virginia defends – their Packline Defense – encourages opponents to try and shoot jumpers over the top of the defense.

But Virginia is also terrific at cutting off penetration into the lane, particularly when their opponents are running ball-screen actions, and Notre Dame’s offense is built around drive-and-kick threes that come off of high ball-screens involving Matt Farrell. And frankly, I don’t know if there are five teams in college basketball that have coaches that are better and drilling home game-plans and systems than Tony Bennett and Mike Brey.

All in all, this should be a fun, well-played basketball game, even if it isn’t as uptempo as you might like.

  • PREDICTION: Notre Dame is leading the ACC right now, yet they are an underdog at home to a Virginia team that isn’t the same Virginia team that we’ve seen in recent season? Give me the Irish (+1).

No. 1 Villanova at Marquette, 8:00 p.m. (FS1): Marquette has one of the nation’s best offenses and they are coming off of a win at Creighton where they put up 102 points on the Bluejays. That said, the Golden Eagles are not good defensively, and not only will the Wildcats be able to matchup with Marquette’s small-ball lineups, but they’ll be able to take advantage of that lack of defensive discipline on the other end of the floor.

  • PREDICTION: I like Villanova (-5), but I love the over (+/- 151.5).

No. 21 Purdue at Michigan State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): This is a huge game for Michigan State, who is much closer to the bubble than Spartan fans are used to being. But the Boilermakers have a distinct advantage in one spot: the paint. That’s because Caleb Swanigan, who has played at an all-american level this season, decommitted from Michigan State and went to Purdue. Watching him go up against Nick Ward should be entertaining for those that like seeing big, physical land warriors do battle on the block.

  • PREDICTION: I think Tom Izzo works his magic and Michigan State (+2) wins outright.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
2 Comments

Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

1 Comment

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

Chris Steppig/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
2 Comments

For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.