No. 10 Shockers take seeding slight into NCAA tourney

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) A couple of years ago, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall trotted out the motto “Play Angry” to encourage and inspire his perpetually overlooked and undervalued team.

Might be time to resurrect it.

The Shockers were given the No. 10 seed in the South Region, which just might trump anybody getting left out as the biggest snub of the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State hasn’t lost since January and twice avenged that defeat, rolled through the Missouri Valley Tournament, and just about every advanced metric puts the Shockers among the best teams in the country.

The selection committee disagreed, putting the Shockers in a first-round game against seventh-seeded Dayton. The winner will likely face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the next round.

“I’m just glad they didn’t forget about,” Marshall said with only mild sarcasm. “I was starting to think they might forget about us and not put us in at all.”

The Shockers (30-4) are used to getting a raw deal in March.

They were a ninth seed four years ago when they rode the chip on their shoulder all the way to the school’s first Final Four in nearly five decades. They gave eventual national champion Louisville all it could handle, too, before falling 72-68. The following year, they became the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the dance unbeaten, only to face red-hot and under-seeded Kentucky in the second round. The eighth-seeded Wildcats won a nail-biter before advancing to the national title game.

Wichita State was the seventh seed the following year and promptly bumped Indiana and No. 2 seed Kansas from the field. Last year, the Shockers were relegated to a play-in game. They won, of course, and beat sixth-seeded Arizona before the grind of three games in three days caught up to them.

In other words, the selection committee has rarely been kind to Wichita State.

“It’s kind of par for the course,” said the Shockers’ Landry Shamet, adding that low expectations have followed this team all year following the graduation of stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.

“This whole year we’re supposed to have fallen off. The downfall of Wichita State. Armageddon, basically,” Shamet said. “Everybody here already has that chip. That’s the unique thing about these guys. Coach recruits those kinds of guys with that, and enhances that vibe when they get here.”

As for the No. 10 seed?

“We thought we were higher than that,” Shamet said, “so I guess that will add to that.”

It’s not just that Wichita State was given a low seed, Shamet said. It’s that the Shockers were also given a low seed in what is perhaps the toughest of the four regions.

North Carolina’s strong finish earned it the No. 1 seed in the South, while the Wildcats and their bevy of NBA prospects top the bottom half of the bracket. Third-seeded UCLA has potential No. 1 draft pick Lonzo Ball and March darling Butler is the No. 4 seed.

There is never an easy path to the Final Four, but that road is especially brutal.

“So many crazy things happen to a bracket,” Marshall said. “I remember the year we were a one-seed, our bracket had Kentucky and then we had Louisville, Michigan and Duke on our side. Now you’ve got North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. I think they said there’s 24 combined national championships between those three. If we win this year, that’ll be 25.

“If we have to go through them,” he added, “so be it.”

Asked to defend the seed, NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Mark Hollis pointed out the Shockers only have one win against anybody else in the field: Summit League champ South Dakota State.

That isn’t entirely their fault, though.

While mid-major powers such as Gonzaga have been able to schedule games against perennial powers, the Shockers have struggled to do likewise. Those big-name schools still think losing to the Shockers constitutes a bad loss, and many aren’t willing to take that chance. The Valley was also down this year with Illinois State getting left out of the dance.

Wichita State did squander two chances to earn a marquee win in the Battle 4 Atlantis, losing close games to Michigan State and Louisville. But those were played in November, and the Shockers are a far different team than they were four months ago.

“We’re going to be ready,” the Shockers’ Markis McDuffie said. “We’re very excited to play against high-major teams. You don’t always get many chances at that. I feel like all year, we’ve been preparing ourselves for this moment and I think now that time is here.”

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.