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No. 3 Kansas lands epic, comeback win over No. 9 West Virginia

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Kansas set a world record for the loudest indoor arena before Monday night’s tip-off, and with just under three minutes left in the game, the fans that set that record were heading for the exits.

It’s too bad, because that record may have been broken down the stretch, as No. 3 Kansas erased a late, 14-point deficit in a come-from-behind win No. 9 West Virginia to win 84-80 and maintain a two-game lead atop the Big 12 regular season standings.

The Jayhawks comeback was led by Frank Mason III, who finished with 24 points and five assists despite having an off-night, and Landen Lucas, as the duo ran point on a Jayhawk press that gave the Mountaineers a taste of their own medicine. As the old saying goes, teams that press don’t like to be pressed, and a series of sloppy turnovers in the final two minutes gifted away West Virginia’s chance to land the first conference sweep of a Bill Self coached team since he was at Tulsa in 1999-2000.

The regulation-closing run was 21-7 over the final 2:45, a stretch where the Jayhawks forced turnovers and hit three threes after missing their previous 12 shots from beyond the arc. Mason forced overtime with a pair of free throws, and West Virginia’s Tarik Phillip missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it.

The Jayhawks jumped out to a quick lead in the extra frame thanks to a pair of threes from Devonte’ Graham, his third and fourth in the span of five minutes of game time, and a layup from Jackson off of a turnover. All told, Kansas outscored West Virginia 29-7 over six minutes of game time, a stretch where West Virginia turned the ball over seven times. Graham had 12 of his 18 points in those six minutes, while Josh Jackson had 14 points and five steals.

Esa Ahmad had 20 points and seven boards to lead the Mountaineers while Phillip added 18 points. Phillip also had two turnovers in the final two minutes and missed the game-winning three after he settled instead of driving to the rim.

Here are three things to take away from this result:

1. The lack of depth for the Jayhawks was painfully obvious: Not to be the Debbie Downer here, but I don’t think the flaws in this Kansas roster could have been more apparent than they were on Monday night. The biggest one? They have, essentially, one functional big man in Landen Lucas, and he was as good as he always in against the Mountaineers. He blocked a couple shots, he changed a handful more, he grabbed 13 boards and he was terrific at the point of the Kansas press while avoiding picking up his fifth foul.

But once you get past Lucas it isn’t pretty. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t ready to play in a game at that level yet. Dwight Coleby is still battling his way back from a torn ACL he suffered late in 2015. And Carlton Bragg Jr., as talented as he can be offensively, just is not a guy that can handle being asked to provide any kind of physical presence. That’s not his game. He’s a 6-foot-8, 220-pound face-up four. He was manhandled on Monday, and looked like he was devoid of confidence.

The Jayhawks are always a couple of ticky-tack fouls on Lucas away from being in real trouble.

And that’s not the only place where Kansas lacks depth. Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson almost never come off the floor. Returning home from Lubbock on Saturday and turning around and playing just 48 hours takes its toll, and I’d guess that had as much to do with Kansas’ inability to make layups and open jumpers for the first 38 minutes of the game as anything.

This is a problem because the NCAA tournament is played on this same schedule. Can Kansas win two games in three days for three straight weeks?

2. The Big 12 race could come to an end Saturday: That’s when Kansas makes their return trip to Waco to take on No. 6 Baylor. The Bears lost on Monday night, falling in Lubbock to the same Red Raiders that came a potentially-illegal screen away from picking off Kansas in that same building over the weekend. That means that, as of today, Kansas holds a two-game lead over Baylor and a three-game lead over West Virginia with just five games left in league play. If they win at Baylor on Saturday, it’s time to start celebrating their 13th straight Big 12 title. Even with a loss, Kansas is in a position where it seems very unlikely that they’ll cough up the outright league title to Scott Drew.

3. Phog Magic: Two weeks ago, Kansas had gone three years without losing at home. If West Virginia hadn’t collapsed, this would have been the second straight loss that the Jayhawks had taken at home, and that hasn’t happened since 1988. It also would have been the second loss that Kansas has taken against West Virginia this season, having fallen by 16 points in Morgantown earlier this year. That would have been the first time that Bill Self has been swept in a home-and-home by a conference foe since he was coaching at Tulsa during the 1999-2000 season.

Maybe the term should be Self Magic.

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!”