2017 NCAA Tournament: These are the guards that can carry a team to a national title

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One of the great things about the 2017 NCAA Tournament is that there will be a ton of premier guards taking the floor all over the field.

There are one-and-done NBA Draft prospects, senior veterans, sophomore All-Americans, juniors coming off of transfer seasons. It’s a wide variety of players on this list, but they are all perimeter-oriented players 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 guards who might only last for a round or two.

Make sure to catch these guys if you can.

Players to Know

Dwayne Bacon, Florida State — If the Seminoles are to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament it will be because this 6-foot-7 sophomore is scoring at a high level. Putting up 16.9 points per game, Bacon has always been electric going to the rim but he’s now improved his perimeter shooting to the point where he has to be defended all over the floor. With Florida State having a lot of weapons, Bacon can get rolling and put up points in a hurry if a defense isn’t careful.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA — You’ve probably read the headlines and have some feelings towards Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar. Don’t worry about the words of a sports dad and just watch Lonzo play. With an exceptional feel for the game, Ball has elite floor vision and throws a lot of passes that other players wouldn’t dream of attempting. Although his jumper looks unorthodox with a low and side release, Ball can knock down NBA-range threes and also catch alley-oops. He’s the heart of one of perhaps the best offense in the field.

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

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Josh Hart, Villanova — The defending champion returned for his senior season after participating in the NBA Draft combine and getting feedback on his shaky jumper. Don’t worry about the jumper anymore with Hart. He shot 40 percent from three this season as he put up 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In close games that are coming down to the wire, Hart is the guy you want with the ball in his hands going towards the basket. He has a knack for making clutch plays.

Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, Duke — America’s most hated player, Grayson Allen, is back for another potential title run as he played better in the ACC Tournament after an up-and-down season. Let’s hope nothing stupid happens on the sport’s biggest stage. Kennard, on the other hand, deserves praise for his outstanding sophomore season as he carried Duke through a lot of turbulent times this season. Not afraid to take big shots, Kennard is crafty navigating screens and he’s a polished scorer from all three levels of the floor. Kennard averaged 20.1 points per game and shot 44 percent from three-point range this season. He can get hot and go for 25 in a half.

Frank Mason, Kansas — The NBCSports.com National Player of the Year, Mason was a huge reason why the Jayhawks are a No. 1 seed. Putting up 20.8 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and three-point range, Mason put up huge numbers across the board while being brutally efficient. Much like Josh Hart, Mason seems to elevate his play during most clutch situations and he’s the type of player who makes sound decisions most of the time.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky — These two Kentucky freshmen have the highest ceiling of any backcourt in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Monk has already showcased himself as one of college basketball’s elite scorers. Putting up 47 points on North Carolina and 30 points in a half against Florida shows that Monk can take over a game–even against top competition.

Fox is just as important for the Wildcats. He’s elevated his play lately and been more aggressive as a scorer as Fox is getting in the lane at will and making plays. One of the fastest end-to-end players in the country, Fox is also a good on-the-ball defender who can make plays on both ends of the floor.

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

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Monte Morris, Iowa State — You should know this senior by now since he’s come up with so many big plays over the last four years for the Cyclones. One of the nation’s most reliable floor leaders, (6.1 assists to 1.1 turnovers per game this season!!) Morris runs Iowa State’s very good offense that features three senior weapons around him in Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton. Coming off of the Big 12 Tournament title, Morris and his teammates are playing with a lot of confidence as the point guard is another player on this list who is capable to taking and making big shots.

Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State) vs. Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan) — There’s a good possibility that neither of these teams or players advance to the second weekend, but you are not going to want to miss this Friday first-round matchup in Indianapolis. Evans is coming off of an All-American season as he runs one of nation’s premier offenses at Oklahoma State. Averaging 26.6 points over his last three outings, Evans is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Walton is playing just as well, if not better, for Michigan. The senior was a huge reason why the Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament as Walton put up a career-high 29 points to go with nine assists in the Minnesota win. He also had 22 on Wisconsin in the title game. Watching these two go head-to-head is going to be a treat.

And the winner of that matchup likely faces…

Donovan Mitchell, Louisville — The Cardinals have to face either Evans or Walton Jr. in the second round and they’ll rely on sophomore Donovan Mitchell as a counter. With an ability to play with or without the ball, Mitchell is Louisville’s most important playmaker. A ridiculous athlete who can crush finishes around the rim, Mitchell can be inconsistent at times as Louisville needs him to be a reliable, double-figure scorer. Mitchell playing at a high level gives the Cardinals a great chance at making a deep tournament run.

Allonzo Trier (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Allonzo Trier, Arizona — Once Arizona got Trier back into the lineup in late January they became a legitimate national title contender as they enter this week as a dangerous No. 2 seed. The sophomore has been one of the nation’s elite scorers lately as Trier has at least 19 points or more in his last seven games. The Wildcats beating UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament was a big step for this team and Trier is a big reason why Arizona could be playing close to home in the Final Four.

Melo Trimble, Maryland — Closers are always tough to come by but Maryland has a go-to guy in the clutch with this junior guard. Trimble is one of college basketball’s premier players in close games as he knocks down big shots, handles the ball and isn’t afraid of free throws. Even though he has four new starters around him from last season’s Sweet 16 team, Trimble is back in the NCAA Tournament with another new group of starters.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga — After transferring from Washington and sitting out a transfer season, this former McDonald’s All-American was one of the best guards in the nation this season. Williams-Goss averaged 16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game while he also shoots 91 percent from the field. If the Zags are to finally break through and make a Final Four run, it will be because Williams-Goss is playing at a high level.

Oregon sued by former recruit who tore ACL during official visit

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The University of Oregon and members of the men’s basketball staff, including head coach Dana Altman, are being sued by a former recruit who tore his ACL during an official visit to campus.

Crisshawn Clark, a junior guard at Portland, suffered his injury during an official visit to the Ducks which began on Oct. 16, 2015. At the time, Clark was a junior college recruit at Canada College and he suffered the injury as Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga ran him through a basketball workout during the visit. Clark was treated by an Oregon trainer, and after the injury was believed to be serious, an MRI confirmed a torn ACL.

Clark eventually committed to Pitt and sat out last season rehabbing his knee before ending up at Portland.

Even though Clark had a bad knee injury that required surgery, he is not seeking money for medical expenses. Clark’s lawsuit said that his medical expenses were paid for by Oregon. But Clark is suing for compensation for pain and suffering along with damages for the loss of future income. Clark estimates it will be over $100,000. And he might have a case.

That’s because the lawsuit alleges that Oregon violated an NCAA rule that prohibits on-campus evaluations of prospective student-athletes who are playing at a junior college. Oregon self-reported this violation in Oct. 2015, according to a report from Jack Pitcher of the Daily Emerald, citing athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton. The NCAA classified this as a level 3 violation.

If Clark was put through an illegal workout by Oregon — who admitted to violating a rule by self-reporting — then he might have a case. Along with Altman and Mennenga, Oregon assistant coaches Kevin Mckenna and Tony Stubblefield are also named in the lawsuit along with Oregon director of basketball operations Josh Jamieson.

Clark is sitting out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules as he is hoping for two years of eligibility after. Due to his torn ACL, Clark and Portland can apply for an extra year of eligibility for the 2019-20 season.

(H/t: Jack Pitcher, Daily Emerald)

Rick Pitino received subpoena in FBI’s college basketball probe

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has received a subpoena in the FBI’s college basketball bribery scandal, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday.

Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, confirmed the subpoena as Pitino joins Miami head coach Jim Larranaga as coaches to receive a subpoena this week in the FBI’s probe. Those two head coaches join Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC as the six known subpoenas, so far, in the case.

“We’ve already acknowledged that the coach has a subpoena and he’s gathering documents for the … U.S. attorney,” Pence said of Pitino to the Courier-Journal.

While it was known that Pitino had voluntarily spoken with the FBI thanks to an affidavit submitted to the University of Louisville Athletic Association in a packet from Pitino’s lawyers earlier this week, the subpoena was not mentioned, according to the Courier-Journal. The packet also included results of a lie detector test and copies of text messages.

The subpoena for Pitino doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but coupled with the report of Larranaga’s subpoena, it sounds like the FBI is taking the next steps in its case.

Report: Miami coach Jim Larranaga receives grand jury subpoena for FBI’s college basketball investigation

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Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has received a grand jury subpoena as the FBI continues its investigation into corruption in college basketball. According to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Larranaga received a subpoena for texts, emails and other items.

Larranaga’s attorneys told Fenno that the veteran head coach has done nothing wrong. “There’s nothing there,” Larranaga’s attorney said to Fenno. “We’re trying to get them to admit they made a mistake and move on.”

While Larranaga and Miami have previously cooperated with the FBI in turning over phone records and documents in a report from Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel on Oct. 3, the news of a subpoena makes things far more serious.

FBI documents about the scandal don’t specifically mention Larranaga or Miami by name but the school was identified as one of the universities referenced with Adidas allegedly paying players. Miami confirmed the FBI investigation on Sept. 27, stating, “We have confirmed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, at this time, it is investigating a potential tie to one member of our coaching staff and a student recruit.”

One wiretapped conversation, according to the FBI’s investigation, included a discussion into how much money it would take for a top recruit — believed to be North Carolina 2018 commit Nassir Little — to play at Miami as part of a bidding war.

Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @PL_MBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Colgate
4. Navy
5. Boston University
6. Loyola (MD)
7. Lafayette
8. Army West Point
9. American
10. Holy Cross

College Hoops Contender Series: Can Sean Miller overcome scandal to (finally) get Arizona to the Final Four?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

We’ve gone through Kentucky and Kansas already this week. Today, we’ll take a look at Arizona.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Allonzo Trier (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

There are two ways to answer this question.

The first is relatively simple. Arizona has three things that, alone, would make them relevant in the Pac-12 title and Final Four discussion:

  1. They have a junior that will be a Preseason All-American, in the mix for National Player of the Year and could end up leading all of high-major basketball in scoring this season. His name is Allonzo Trier.
  2. They have the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and his name is not Allonzo Trier. It’s Deandre Ayton, who has a shot at earning those same accolades that Trier will be in the mix for.
  3. Those two will be coached by Sean Miller, who is the best coach in the country to never reach a Final Four and may be the best coach in the country, period.

But, and this may actually be more important than any of those three things individually, Arizona also has the perfect blend of ridiculous incoming freshmen talent and talented returning veterans that can provide the kind of leadership and experience that you don’t see from 18 and 19-year olds.

The Wildcats will likely start just one freshmen this season. Three of their starters — Trier, a junior, and seniors Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Carterwright — are upper-classmen. Sophomore Rawle Alkins should also slide into the starting lineup.

The best teams during the one-and-done era — Kentucky’s title-winning team in 2012, Duke’s title-winning team in 2015, Kentucky’s Final Four team in 2015 — have all had that blend.

It’s why Arizona will be in the top three of every preseason top 25 you see coming out this month.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 PreviewMountain West Preview

Deandre Ayton (Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

Before we get into the off-the-court stuff, let’s talk on-the-court.

The way that I see it, there are four things to be worried about with this Arizona team. Let’s walk through each one of them, in order of the most concerning to the least concerning:

1. Point guard play: There are two point guards on Arizona’s roster as of today. One of them is a freshman named Alex Barcello, a borderline top 100 prospect that, in an ideal world, won’t be playing major minutes for a national title-contending team, at least not as a freshman. The other is Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a senior and former four-star recruit that has spent his entire Arizona career has the second option at the point.

The last two years, he played behind Kadeem Allen, a converted scoring guard and tenacious defender that turned himself into the kind of a player that piqued the interest of the Boston Celtics in last year’s NBA Draft. He was a physically imposing, 6-foot-3 menace that also happened to be a 43 percent three-point shooter. Before that, Jackson-Cartwright slotted in behind T.J. McConnell, another savvy, defensive menace that has carved out an NBA career for himself.

That is not the kind of point guard that Jackson-Cartwright is. He has some of the same skills offensively that McConnell had, and his ability to facilitate at the point without needing shots to be happy will be valuable on a roster that has enough guys that want to score, but can he have an impact defensively? Is he a leader the way that past Arizona point guards have been? The answer to both of those questions may be ‘yes’, but if they are ‘no’, will some combination of Barcello, Allonzo Trier and Emmanuel Akot rotating through those lead guard minutes be enough for Arizona to win a title?

We’ve seen what happens when title favorites — ahem, Duke — have question marks at the point, and until Jackson-Cartwright proves otherwise, he falls into that category.

2. Which Deandre Ayton are we going to see this year?: There has never been a question about the amount of talent that Ayton has. He’s 7-foot with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. He’s athletic, he’s fluid, he’s mobile and he has a back to the basket game and three-point range. He, quite literally, is the prototype for a big man in this modern era of basketball.

But he doesn’t always play like it.

The knock on him has always been his motor. When he decides to show up, like he did at Peach Jam during the summer of 2016, he dominates anyone that gets in his way — Wendell Carter, Mitchell Robinson, Marvin Bagley III — but we’ve yet to see Ayton consistently churn out those kind of performances. His detractors will say it is because he is lazy, or he isn’t competitive, or he doesn’t love basketball; you know the clichés. Others will tell you that it is because he was never challenged at the high school level and that when he was, he showed up to play. That idea is supported by the reports coming out of Tucson, that Ayton has been terrific to date.

The truth is that we won’t know which Ayton we are going to see until we actually see him. He might end up being the best player in college hoops. He also might end up being Perry Jones.

3. Are there enough shots to go around?: Allonzo Trier is going to be Arizona’s go-to guy. He may end up being the best scorer in college basketball this season. He’s going to get his shots. Then there’s Rawle Alkins, a former five-star prospect that averaged double-figures as a freshman and opted to return to school to try and boost his NBA stock. He’s going to need shots, too. Ayton is going to need shots. Dusan Ristic is going to need post touches.

The bottom line is this: the hardest thing to do at this level of college basketball is to convince players to buy into a role. John Calipari is the best at it, but he doesn’t even have a perfect track record. In a perfect world, the No. 1 pick might end up being Arizona’s third option offensively this season. Is everyone going to be OK with that?

4. Who plays the four?: Like the point guard spot, the four is going to be something of a question mark for Arizona this season.

Ayton will likely end up starting there, because Ristic is a senior and because he is much more skilled on the perimeter than the 7-foot Serbian. But I still think that Ayton’s best position at the college level is as a small-ball five, and if he is playing at the five, who does Miller line up at the four? Keanu Pinder might be the answer, but he’s a JuCo transfer that played all of 12 minutes per game last season. It might be Ira Lee, but an all-freshmen front court isn’t always the easiest answer. Maybe Miller plays Akot there and fully dives into the small-ball era?

I don’t know.

And frankly, I’m less concerned about this than I am intrigued. I think Arizona has enough talent and enough different pieces that it should be fine however Miller decides it will come together.

Assuming the season goes as planned, which brings us to …

5. … Arizona’s involvement with the FBI investigation: Arizona is all over the FBI complaints that came down last month. Book Richardson, an assistant coach that had been with Sean Miller for 11 years, was arrested. Richardson allegedly took bribes to influence where players on the roster would invest their money and accepted a $15,000 payment that was earmarked for a Class of 2018 prospect named Jahvon Quinerly. Two players currently on the Arizona roster were mentioned by Richardson during the commission of the alleged crimes, although the FBI did not release their names, and another assistant coach, who was with the program as of last spring, was also involved in a dinner with the uncle of one of Arizona’s top recruits.

And we don’t know if that’s all that the FBI has. All we know is what they have released.

Are there going to be more Arizona players or coaches involved in this scandal? Will Arizona get wind of any potential arrests or players that may be deemed ineligible? Is this a situation where the Wildcats will try to fall on their own sword?

Only time will tell.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

Rawle Alkins (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Barring some kind of craziness – and craziness enveloping this Arizona season certainly has a greater-than-zero possibility – Arizona is going to end up winning the Pac-12 regular season title. That became a safe bet after the Pac-12 decided that the Wildcats will only be playing UCLA and USC once, and that both of those games will be played in Tucson.

But Arizona fans probably don’t care all that much about Pac-12 titles at this point.

They’ve been there.

What they want is a Final Four, which is more or less the only thing that Sean Miller doesn’t have on his coaching résumé at this point. The 48-year old currently holds the title of ‘best coach to never make a Final Four,’ something he inherited from Mark Few, who inherited it from Bill Self, who inherited it from Jim Calhoun.

Point being, sooner or later, Miller is going to make that run to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

And with the amount of talent, depth, experience and versatility he has with this group, I fully expect that this will be the year he gets it done.

If, you know, nothing crazy happens.