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2017 NCAA Tournament: Darkhorse Final Four Threats in your bracket

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For the most part, I think that we all mostly wants the same thing to happen in the NCAA tournament: The first weekend should be rife with upsets, Cinderellas and little guys sticking it to the big guys.

The second weekend, however, should be very different.

Once we get past the madness of the first two days of the dance, you should be rooting for the chalk, because that means that in the biggest games of the year we have the best teams in the country facing off. It’s fun to see FGCU or Middle Tennessee State win a game, but in the Elite 8, I want to see Duke playing Virginia, or Kentucky playing North Carolina, or Arizona taking on Gonzaga. I want a Final Four chock full of blue bloods and lottery picks and the best teams in the country.

The best Final Four I ever covered was in 2015, when 38-0 Kentucky advanced with Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. The worst? When No. 3 seed UConn won it all in a final weekend that included No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU.

I want the former. Here are the teams that could make the latter happen:

No. 6 seed SMU: The Mustangs are probably the best team in the country that you have yet to see play. They aren’t all that deep, but their top six can matchup with just about any. Semi Ojeleye is the name to know, a muscular 6-foot-7 athlete that plays a small-ball four role for Tim Jankovich. He and point guard Shake Milton are both likely to get drafted, while Sterling Moore has a shot of sticking in the NBA and Ben Moore and Jarrey Foster are really good role players at this level. They defend, they are balanced and they are really well-coached. It’s not a fluke that SMU won the AAC regular season and tournament title this season.

The question with this team is whether or not they can knock off the elite teams in the country. We haven’t really seen them get the chance yet. I think they matchup very well with Baylor in the second round, and any potential matchups with Duke and Villanova are favorable because they can trot out a lineup that can matchup with the smaller looks those two give. Running through the east is going to be a nightmare, but I do think the Mustangs have the horses to make it happen.

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

No. 5 seed Notre Dame or No. 4 seed West Virginia: The winner of a potential second round game between the Fighting Irish and the Mountaineers seems like a pretty good bet to get to the Final Four this season. For starters, I think both of these teams matchup well with Gonzaga. The Irish spread the floor with shooters and have a point guard that thrives in ball-screen actions, which is one of the best ways to beat the Zags and their slow-footed, 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and a power forward in Bonzie Colson that thrives on the block.

And once the Irish get to the Elite 8, anything can happen. Notre Dame has terrific point guard play, they are lethal from beyond the arc and they are very well coached. They don’t have the same level of talent as Florida State or Arizona at the bottom of the bracket, but that hasn’t stopped this Irish program from reaching back-to-back Elite 8s.

West Virginia, like Notre Dame, is a team that I think can get past Gonzaga for the same reason I think the Irish can: the matchup. As good as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins are, they aren’t the most athletic pair of guards. The concern with them is what happens when they go up against a back court that’s tough, physical and athletic and pressures them for 94 feet. That’s what West Virginia does, and if they Mountaineers can get past the Zags, they will be facing a team that had to play just 48 hours earlier and had one day to prepare for a style that is totally different from the style that most teams play.

No. 10 seed Wichita State: Is Wichita State good enough to get to the Final Four? In a vacuum, yes. Of course they are. They rank in the top ten on KenPom, meaning that the metric that most believe is the most accurate in determining who the best teams in the country are, and they’ve been obliterating teams since the holidays. The biggest concern with Wichita State making a run to the Final Four? They may have to beat Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina to get there, to say nothing of having to dispatch a good Dayton team in the first round just to advance. I wouldn’t put it past Gregg Marshall to get there. He’s that good and his team is that good. But it’ll be one of the greatest NCAA tournament runs in history if it happens.

BRACKETS: Cinderellas | Upset Watch | CBT Podcast | Unsung Heroes

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No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s: The Gaels, like SMU and Wichita State, are probably better than their seeding. SMC is an elite offensive team that doesn’t make mistakes, has shooters all over the floor and lines up with a center in Jock Landale that is as good as anyone at scoring on the block. I think they can get past VCU, which would give them a shot at Arizona in the second round. Do you think the Gaels would just at the chance to gets a fourth shot at Gonzaga in the Elite 8?

No. 5 seed Iowa State: Is there a hotter team in college basketball right now than the Cyclones? Ever since they moved Solomon Young into the starting lineup, they’ve been running through everyone. Monte’ Morris is playing great, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas are on fire and Deonte Burton looks like Draymond Green. They finished tied for second in the loaded Big 12, they won the Big 12 tournament and they are the only team since 2013 to win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. A potential Sweet 16 date with the Jayhawks looms on the horizon, but the rest of that region seems awfully beatable.

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.

Texas A&M Athletics

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.