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Seven key story lines during Championship Week

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1. Will there be a No. 1 seed from Pac-12?: The battle for the top seed coming out of the Pac-12 is going to be fascinating.

For starters, all three of the favorites — No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 Arizona and No. 3 UCLA — have similar enough résumés that the results of the Pac-12 tournament will likely determine which of those three is going to get the top seed coming out of the conference. That’s significant because all three of them are locks to be top four seeds, but the way that the bracketing rules are written, there can only be one team per league in the top four seeds of a specific region. That means only one of these four teams will be given the right to be in the West Region, where they will play in Sacramento the first weekend, San Jose the second weekend and, if they make it that far, Phoenix for the Final Four.

They would never have to leave the Pacific time zone, and they’d end up with Gonzaga as the other top two seed in their region.

That’s a much better than flying back East to face off with Villanova in New York or Kansas in the Midwest.

But there’s more to it than that. Because if, say, UCLA or Arizona wins the title, and they do it while picking off the other top three teams on the way, there’s a chance that the Pac-12 champ could end up being the No. 1 seed out West, particularly if Gonzaga finds a way to lose to Saint Mary’s on Tuesday night.

No one at the top of any league has more on the line this week than the teams at the top of the Pac-12.

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2. So what do we do with the Big East’s bubble teams?: There are four of them right now, and surprisingly enough, Xavier may be the most interesting case. It’s been more than a month since the Musketeers beat anyone other than DePaul. They’ve lost six of their last seven games, they are playing without star point guard Edmond Sumner and their 19-12 record puts them in a position where they aren’t a lock.

That said, three of those six losses came without Trevon Bluiett, and he’s back on the floor and healthy now. How the committee evaluates Xavier will be almost as fascinating as how the committee evaluates the three Big East teams that feasted on the Musketeers, and Creighton, after those two former Big East title contenders lost their star point guards. Marquette beefed up their résumé with four wins against those two teams post-injuries. Seton Hall won two, and also owns a win over South Carolina, which came without USC’s best player on the floor. Providence beat both Creighton and Xavier after the injuries.

Those wins — well, those injuries — are what put seven Big East teams in a position to get into the Big Dance. Does the committee consider that at all?

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3. Can De’Aaron Fox get it going again?: To me, that’s the most important part of the SEC tournament for Kentucky. Sure, it would be nice if they can bring home a trophy, but their ceiling as an NCAA tournament title contender is limited as long as Fox is playing the way that he’s been playing the last month. He’s dealt with some ankle and some knee issues, and he got sick last month. While his raw numbers haven’t taken a massive hit, anyone that’s watch the Wildcats play knows that he hasn’t been the same guy that he was earlier in the year.

Kentucky needs Fox to get back to being the guy that was playing like a first-team all-american for the first half of the season, because Malik Monk isn’t going to be able to carry this team for four, or five, or six games all by himself.

4. Does anyone make a job-saving run through their league tournament?: The way I see it, there are probably three coaches that are more or less coaching for their jobs this week: Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, Clemson’s Brad Brownell and Illinois’ John Groce. To say nothing of how dumb it is to determine how you’ll invest millions of dollars in the future of your basketball program based on one week of hoops at the end of a five-year tenure, those are three men that entered this season with their seats hot, needing a tournament trip to potentially save their job.

Those aren’t the only potential openings that will be interesting for some of the best and brightest mid-major coaches to track. Tom Crean and Indiana have a love-hate relationship that dates back years, and it’s never a surprise when his name shows up on lists like this. Tim Miles hasn’t gotten Nebraska back to the tournament in a few years, and while he has a promising young team and packs Nebraska’s home gym every single night, there seems to be some pressure on him this spring as well. And then there is Georgetown, where the fanbase has already turned on John Thompson III, who essentially has a lifetime

5. Might the Big 12 only get five teams in?: For all the talk about how good and how deep the conference is, there’s a chance that the conference could only end up getting five teams into the tournament. Six seems like the max, considering just how far off the bubble TCU and Texas Tech currently are. Even Kansas State, who appears to be one of the first four teams out as of now, has some work to do before they can be considered a lock.

The talk all season long was about how the Big 12 is the best conference in the country because of the depth and the balance, but can it really be the best league if half the field gets in when, say, the Big East and the ACC are sending better than two-thirds of their league teams to the dance?

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6. Will the ACC get to 11 bids?: That would tie the record set by the old Big East for the most tournament bids ever for a single conference, and there’s a chance that the ACC can get there. It would require both Syracuse and Wake Forest to win a game or two in Brooklyn this week, but that’s mostly as a precaution; neither team can really afford another bad loss to their name.

Georgia Tech is the more interesting case. The Yellow Jackets have some good wins this year, but they’ve amassed quite a few losses and haven’t done much damage away from home. If they are going to get to the NCAA tournament, my guess is they need three wins: beat Pitt in the opener, get past Virginia in the second round and then pick off Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.

7. Does any Big Ten team emerge as a threat this month?: The Big Ten is such a weird league this year. The bottom isn’t as weak as it has been in past seasons, and, depending on what Illinois and Iowa do this week, they could end up sending as many as nine teams to the Big Dance.

But is anyone in the league actually good enough to get to the final weekend of the college basketball season?

The conference has been defined by mediocrity this year. Wisconsin has lost five of their last six games and struggled to put bad teams away before that. Michigan State is you, obliterated by injuries and lacking size. Maryland has Melo Trimble, but their youth shines through too often. Ohio State and Indiana are in down years. Michigan and Minnesota look dangerous, but they look more like Sweet 16 threats than Final Four contenders.

The saving grace may end up being Purdue, but the Boilermakers hardly seemed dominant in the league this year.

Will anyone step up this week?

VIDEOS: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges puts on another show at local summer Pro-Am

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Watching Michigan State’s Miles Bridges throw down high-level dunks in local summer pro-ams has been a good way to pass the time the last few weeks.

The 6-foot-7 Bridges has been annihilating rims all summer as he had more ridiculous dunks on Tuesday night. Playing with former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine and some of his current Spartans teammates, Bridges had more crowd-pleasing plays to add to his summer reel.

Lansing State Journal reporter James Edwards III has been on the scene for Bridges’ games all summer as he has more dunks from the future lottery pick.

Minnesota keeps in-state three-star 2018 guard Gabe Kalscheur at home

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Minnesota is keeping a big-time shooter at home as Class of 2018 shooting guard Gabe Kalscheur pledged to the Golden Gophers on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4 Kalscheur is the third in-state prospect to pledge to head coach Richard Pitino in the Class of 2018 as he joins three-star forward Jarvis Thomas and four-star big man Daniel Oturu. The three-star Kalscheur gives Minnesota a valuable floor spacer and a winner as he’s a three-time state champion at DeLaSalle. All three of these commitments also played together with Howard Pulley in the Nike EYBL.

During this spring and summer in the Nike EYBL, Kalscheur averaged 14.9 points and shot 39 percent from three-point range as he made 61 treys in 21 games.

Pitino has certainly done a nice job of keeping local players home as he’s hoping that trend continues with upcoming in-state five-star prospects like 2018 point guard Tre Jones and 2019 forward Matthew Hurt. The Golden Gophers will have to win national recruiting battles to keep those guys home, but they’ve done a nice job of getting the other guys that they need to keep home.

North Carolina and NCAA set August hearing

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North Carolina and the NCAA have released additional responses and set the dates for a future hearing on Tuesday amid an investigation into paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department.

The NCAA’s allegations center around UNC’s athletes — most notably members of football, men’s and women’s basketball teams — allegedly being guided to the fake classes in order to keep GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The fake classes typically had a high number of athletes enrolled each semester.

While North Carolina argued in May that this should be a school matter and not an NCAA matter, the NCAA responded to the matter in its belief that it has the right to investigate the classes. North Carolina is facing five top-level charges in the case with lack of institutional control among the charges.

A two-day hearing will be held with the NCAA in Nashville on August 16-17.

“The hearing is the next step in bringing closure to this longstanding issue by allowing us the opportunity to address the Committee on Infractions and present the facts,” said Joel Curran, vice chancellor of University communications. “The NCAA has requested certain individuals from the University attend the proceedings. It is standard practice for the current head coaches of programs referenced in a notice of allegations to attend. Therefore, Coaches Larry Fedora (football), Sylvia Hatchell (women’s basketball) and Roy Williams (men’s basketball) will accompany University representatives to the hearing.”

Potential top ten pick Robert Williams discusses decision to return to Texas A&M

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PHILADELPHIA — Robert Williams knew that his family could use the money that would come with being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He also knew that he wasn’t ready — mentally, emotionally, skill-wise — to make the leap to the NBA, which is why all it took was one question from his mother, Tundra, to convince the 6-foot-9 19-year old to return to Texas A&M for his sophomore season.

“We haven’t been rich for 19 years,” Williams recalls Tundra, whom he describes as a “middle school cafeteria lady”, telling him. “What’s one more year?”

“That sealed the deal. If she’s good, I’m good,” Williams told NBC Sports as he nursed shin splints at the Under Armour All-American camp in Philadelphia last week. “My mom just wants to see me happy. I could quit basketball and go work at Burger King. If I’m happy, she’s happy.”


“Oil City made me, Vivian raised me.”


Williams may not be a household name the way that fellow members of his high school class — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, etc. — were, but he was certainly a known quantity on basketball circles. Williams was a potential top 10 pick in last year’s draft, a 6-foot-9 big man with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and the kind of athleticism most of us can only dream about. He has elite physical tools, even by NBA standards, and his ability to protect the rim along with his versatility defensively and budding post-game makes him a tantalizing long-term project.

Casual college basketball fans aren’t going to be familiar with bigs averaging 11.9 points on a team that didn’t even get a trip to the NIT, but NBA front office personnel were well-versed in his ability.

Just a borderline top 50 prospect coming out of high school, Williams’ ranking had as much to do with where he’s from as what he can do. He was born in Oil City, Louisiana, a town of roughly a 1,000 people tucked in the Northwest corner of Louisiana, five miles from the Texas on the west side of town and 18 miles from Arkansas to the north. “There’s just really nothing there,” Williams said. Oil City was small enough that he had to move to Vivian, a town of 3,600 people nine miles away, in order to attend high school.

Glen Johnson, Texas A&M Athletics

He spent four years playing for North Caddo High, a 2A public school in Louisiana, which isn’t exactly the best high school basketball in the country, and his role on the Houston Hoops team he played with in the summer after his junior year was somewhat limited, to say the least; he was teammates with De’Aaron Fox, Jarred Vanderbilt (a top 15 player in the Class of 2017) and Carsen Edwards, who started at the point for Purdue as a freshman. Combine that with the 25 pounds of muscle that he added to his frame, and what you have is a player that went from being a pogo stick that got pushed around on a team full of studs to a grown man that did the pushing and proved himself capable of playing a role that has value in the NBA.

“I went to Nike Camp, but I wasn’t that high of a recruit,” Williams said. “I was like No. 60 I think. It’s weird because I’ve never had this much ‘fame’, I guess is the word.”

“People knew who I was [in Vivian], but just because I was a people person. I was also always bigger than everyone.”

There weren’t many that expected Williams to have the season that he had as a freshman, averaging 11.9 points, 8.2 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 25 minutes a night. Even fewer expected him to return to Texas A&M once he caught the eye of NBA scouts, but head coach Billy Kennedy wasn’t one of them.

“Only because he told us,” Kennedy said with a chuckle, as if he knew just how lucky he and his staff are to be getting a second season with a talent like this. “We felt that during the year. But you never know until the end. We wanted to see him go through the whole process, but the cool thing is the kid made a decision and he did what was best for him.”


“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”


For Williams, the decision to return was two-fold. He knew that he wasn’t yet the player that he wants to be, and getting drafted as a dunker, a shot-blocker and an athlete can get a player pigeon-holed. “In the NBA,” Williams reasoned, “once you get there, what you are is what you are. I don’t want to be stuck in that jumping, that dunking position. I’m not necessarily saying I want to be able to play the two or the three, but I want to expand and show that I can sometimes push it and make a jump shot.”

“Rebounding, jumping, dunking. That’s been my game. That’s gets you paid well. But I know I have more. I want to be able to knock down a corner three. I’m not saying that I need to be coming off of screens and pulling, but I want to be able to knock down that shot and prove I’m able to get a rebound and start a fast break.”

He knew that it would take a lot of hard work and time in the gym this offseason to get to that point, and that’s where the second part of this comes into the equation. Williams knew that he wasn’t ready to be a professional yet, that he wanted to be able to enjoy life and basketball as a college kid for another year.

“People don’t understand that once you get to that level, it’s a job. It’s a business,” Williams said. “It’s not high school, it’s not even college, you’re competing for your job every time you go play.”

“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”

Thomas Campbell, Texas A&M Athletics

That didn’t necessarily sit well with everyone in Williams’ circle — specifically, Williams says his father wanted him to go to the NBA — because they all know the risk. Blake Griffin, who went from being a projected top ten pick as a freshman to the No. 1 overall pick as a sophomore, is the outlier. The likes of Ivan Rabb, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger tend to be the norm. When a player doesn’t take a step forward in his second season in college, the flaws are nitpicked instead of the potential being touted, and that’s to say nothing of the potential for devastating injury. For a player like Williams, who thrives on his athleticism, a torn ACL or a ruptured Achilles’ this season could be devastating to his earning power.

He knows all of that, and, Williams says, once he made his choice, the people closest to him rallied around him. There was some negativity, people calling his dumb for passing up on the guaranteed millions that come with being a first round pick, but for the most part, the feedback he heard was reassuring.

“You gotta grind now.”

“You made your decision, you made your bed, now you have to lay in it.”

“You know what you got to do.”

And that’s part of where being ready for the NBA comes into play.

Ask Williams what he needs to do to be successful at the next level, to prove that he can be more than just an athlete, and he’ll tell you that it’s developing his perimeter skills. Making corner threes and trail threes. Improving his handle and his footwork to the point that he is a threat as a face-up four. But if you ask Kennedy what the next step for Williams is, this is his answer: “Just getting to where he’s working out more, learning how to work at a higher level, and that’s something that he’s gotten better at.”

Williams didn’t need to work all that hard to dominate in high school, not with his physical gifts and not with the level of competition that he was facing. The same can mostly be said his his time as a freshman in the SEC. As Mike Schmitz, a scout working for Draft Express and ESPN, put it, Williams “is very much living off his elite physical tools.”

As the saying goes, you don’t know what hard work is until you see someone working harder than you, and there is no better role model for Williams than junior center Tyler Davis, who has streamlined what was once a 300 pound frame into a chiseled, 260-pound rock. He has “the best work ethic I’ve ever seen,” Williams says, and that’s rubbing off on him. Williams says he’s working out two or three times a day, doing conditioning with the team at 6 am before heading off to the gym at 8 am to work on his stroke — form-shooting, making 25 shots from each spot out to the foul line; step-in mid-range jumpers; trail threes — and closing the day with pickup or more skill-work in the afternoon.

The way he sees it, he can’t control injuries — although he has taken out an insurance policy on the off-chance he does something catastrophic — but he can control the work he puts in. Put another way, he is the one that will determine where he ends up. “My mindset,” Williams said, “is as long as you put in the work, results will come.”

And maybe those results will get him some notoriety on campus at a football school.

“Some people recognize me on campus, but it’s all football at A&M,” he said. “They say hi, ask for a picture, but people actually think I’m a mean guy. They don’t understand, I’m a people person! I like people!”

So say hi to Williams if you see him this year.

You won’t have a chance to do so much longer.

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VIDEO: Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval get in on #DriveByDunkChallenge

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Trevon Duval, the point guard that will finally replace Tyus Jones at Duke, and Grayson Allen added their flare on the #DriveByDunkChallenge, as Allen throws a picture perfect alley-oop through the sun-roof of the car Duval is driving:

This is solid work, but I still think Scott Cross has the best #DriveByDunkChallenge performance in the collegiate ranks. John Calipari’s effort is solid, but pretty awkward. He shouldn’t be running or jumping.