Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2017 NCAA tournament: Here are nine big men that can carry their teams to a Final Four

Leave a comment

One of the great things about the 2017 NCAA Tournament is that there will be a number of great big men taking the floor all over the field.

There are one-and-done NBA Draft prospects, senior veterans, sophomore All-Americans, juniors coming off of career seasons. It’s a wide variety of players on this list, but they are all low post studs who you need to see during the next few weeks.

While many of these guys are playing on teams that expect to make deep tournament runs, there are other elite bigs who might only last for a round or two.

Make sure to catch these guys if you can.

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The man known as Biggie as much for his frame (6-9, 250 pounds) as his game (18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game), Swanigan might be the premier big man in the country. His production is immense and consistent as he’s registered 26 double-doubles on the season along with four 20-20 games. After spending last year as somewhat of an understudy to A.J. Hammonds, Swanigan this year has emerged as a national player of the year candidate as the numbers he’s put up are not only huge, but they’re also not a product of tempo inflation. The Boilermakers are in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, and Swanigan’s efficiency numbers are all strong, especially his 33.3 defensive rebounding percentage, which ranks third nationally.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ is much in the same mold as Swanigan, if not quite the voracious rebounder but certainly skilled, effective and a serious difference-maker on the defensive end. Happ is putting up 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 58.2 percent from the field. His offense extends beyond just scoring, however, has he’s an adept distributor and excellent on the offensive boards. Wisconsin may be entering the NCAA tournament having just fought off a late-season skid, but Happ is as good and reliable as they come.

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

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The latest in a long line of length, athletic big men at Baylor under Scott Drew, Motley has had a brilliant season that helped push the Bears to No. 1 in the country at one point and his draft stock into the first round. The 6-foot-10 junior is putting up 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game after averaging 11 and 5 a year ago. He’s one of the most relentless offensive rebounders in the country, and rarely does a game go by without a tip dunk from him. He and fellow Baylor big Jo Lual-Acuil anchor Baylor’s amoeba zone that will undoubtedly be difficult for teams unacquainted with it to crack this month.

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame:  Colson is a big by position only, as at 6-foot-5, he doesn’t fit the typical definition. His size, though, doesn’t preclude him from putting up big numbers in the post, as he’s averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He’s ultra-crafty and possesses basketball IQ in abundance. He’s more than capable of beating teams inside (54 percent shooting on 2s) and outside (40.7 percent on 3s) while also being a better rebounder and shot blocker than his size and limited athleticism would suggest possible.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: You may not know the name now, but after a Daum-inant performance against No. 1 Gonzaga in the first round, you’ll probably find yourself Daum-anding a Daum-onstration on why he’s so Daum-aging to a defense. He scored 51 points in a game earlier this year and went for 35 points and 12 boards in the Summit League title game. That should be worth some free Daum-inoes after the game.

Jock Landale, St. Mary’s: The Gaels have largely been overshadowed, not only nationally by in their own conference, by Gonzaga, and Landale’s fantastic season has been underappreciated. The 6-foot-11 junior is shooting 60.9 percent from the floor, averaging 16.8 points along with 9.3 rebounds per game. His is a name to know well this month.

Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: The man is a mountain. At 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, there are few college players that can counter Karnowski’s size, but that’s not the only way he’s able to be effective. He’s a 60.1 percent shooter, yes, but Karnowski’s true talent is his ability to pass. Given his girth, teams frequently send double-teams his way, but they are often proven ineffective and he’s able to first diagnose them and then able to beat them with his vision and deftness at moving the ball. His size and ability is one piece of what makes the Zags so seriously good.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Delgado is another double-double machine on this list, averaging 15.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per outing. He ranks in the top-12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage nationally, per KenPom, while playing major minutes for a big. He doesn’t offer the same level of rim protection as some of the other players on this list, but his rebounding eliminates opportunities for opponents while creating them for his team.

Lauri Markkanan, Arizona: The freshman 7-footer’s big season helped the Wildcats not only stay afloat by thrive early in the season with Alonzo Trier sidelined, and he’s established himself as quite the draft prospect. The most appealing aspect of his game is the 43.2 percent he shoots on the more than four 3-point attempts he averages per game. He’s no slouch on the boards, either, averaging 7.1 per game.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.