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March Madness 2017: Pac-12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Pac-12 Player of the Year: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

The Pac-12 Player of the Year award had a bit of controversy to it, as Dillon Brooks received the honor from the league despite the fact that he was injured and played poorly during the early part of the season. My best guess: He got the nod over Ball because he was much better during conference play than he was during the season at-large, and the Pac-12 almost never gives their award to a freshman.

Which is silly to be, because I didn’t think that there was any doubt that Ball was the best player in the league this season. He led the nation in assists, he jump-started the most dangerous offense in the country and he turned UCLA into a title contender. He unselfishness permeated the roster. Numbers don’t show you that.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona

Miller was actually my pick for National Coach of the Year. He took a team that lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and, for 19 games, Allonzo Trier to a Pac-12 regular season co-championship while relying on three freshmen, including two — Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins — who are consistently inconsistent.

First-Team All-Pac-12:

  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA (POY)
  • Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks totally changes that Oregon team offensively, and he made three game-winners during the regular season.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Markkanen was the steadying for on the Arizona roster that needed it through some trying times in December and January.
  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was an unexpected gift for the Bruins this season, providing them an elite stretch four on a team that thrives playing uptempo small-ball.
  • Markelle Fultz, Washington: I normally don’t like giving first-team all-league honors to a guy from a bad team, but Fultz was just so good this year.

Second Team All-Pac-12:

  • Derrick White, Colorado
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Ivan Rabb, Cal

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-11

Where: Las Vegas

Final: March 11th, 8:00 p.m.

Favorite: Oregon Ducks

The Ducks caught a break getting the No. 1 seed — they held the tiebreaker over Arizona thanks to their win over the Wildcats — which means that they won’t have to play another one of the elite teams in the conference until the title game. If seeds hold, Arizona and UCLA will square off in the semifinals. Oregon also has the benefit of having Dillon Brooks on their roster. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the league I’d want taking a big shot more than him.

And if they lose?: UCLA Bruins

I actually think UCLA is the best team in the league. When they play their best basketball, I am not sure there is another team in the country that can beat them. Their best occurs when they actually are getting stops, and the Bruins have proven in recent games against Arizona and Oregon that they can get stops when they have to.

Dillon Brooks (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Arizona Wildcats: Sean Miller is the best coach in the league and he has as much talent on his roster as any team in the country. Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen will carry the Wildcats, but they are going to be at their best when Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins show up. That’s never a guarantee.

Sleeper: USC Trojans

The Trojans have a little UCLA in them. They play fast, they shoot a lot of threes and they have terrific point guard play. The Trojans are also going to be playing for their tournament lives. No matter the bracket you look at, USC ends up someone on the list of last four in or last eight in.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • USC: The Trojans have to win at least one game in the dance, and if they want to avoid sweating out championship week, they are probably going to want to beat not only Washington in the first round but UCLA in the quarterfinals as well.
  • Cal: The Bears need quality wins. I think that the lack of depth in the league means Cal needs to get to the Pac-12 final to be able to make up the ground to get an at-large bid.

Defining moment of the season: Dillon Brooks’ game winner against UCLA in Eugene was the sign that Oregon is back:

CBT Prediction: UCLA cuts down the nets in Las Vegas, beating Arizona and Oregon to get there.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

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.