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Sweet 16 Breakdowns: How the Midwest will be won

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The Midwest arguably has the most coaching prowess left in the tournament.

Bill Self is a lock to be a Hall of Famer eventually. John Beilein may one day join him there. Dana Altman is widely regarded as one of the best offensive coaches in the sport, and Matt Painter is pretty good for the fourth-best coach left in the Sweet 16.

How will those four men guide their teams through the second weekend of the tournament?

No. 1 KANSAS

How they can get to the Final Four: The biggest thing for the Jayhawks is going to be staying out of foul trouble, particularly in their Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue. The Boilermakers have the biggest, most physical front line in college basketball with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, and when you throw in Vincent Edwards, who has been playing the four for the Boilermakers when they go to a smaller lineup, the three front court pieces for Purdue draw a combined 17.8 fouls per 40 minutes. If they advance, it won’t be any easier to deal with a potential matchup with Michigan, whose bigs are just as dangerous.

Kansas? They have one big man that has consistently proven to be able to handle the paint against quality competition, and that is Landen Lucas. Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby, Mitch Lightfoot: those guys have been good for fouls and sparing Lucas a few minutes here and there, but Bill Self doesn’t want to be in a position where he has to rely on those guys for major minutes.

Beyond that, the key for Kansas is going to be taking advantage of Josh Jackson’s ability to play the four in college. As good as Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are in the back court, Jackson is probably the most indispensable piece on the roster. He’s a potential No. 1 overall pick as a two-guard, but he averages 7.2 boards, he can block shots and he’s tough enough that he isn’t going to get bullied by college fours. He’s the perfect small-ball piece, and he’s what makes the Jayhawks hard to guard while remaining respectable on the defensive end of the floor.

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

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Why they won’t get to the Final Four: This is not your typical Kansas team on the defensive end of the floor. Part of that is they essentially play four guards, which hurts them on the defensive glass and limits them in the post. Part of it is because Lucas has to be diplomatic when it comes to what shots he decides he’s going to try and block at the rim. Part of it is because Mason and Graham, who are both terrific defenders in a vacuum, have to pace themselves when they are playing close to 40 minutes a night.

The Jayhawks have made a habit of taking total control of a game in the final eight minutes, and a big reason for that is because they don’t kick things into high-gear until the stretch run. That’s why you see them involved in so many close games. But when they lose, that comes back to bite them. Indiana scored 103 points and hit 15 threes when they beat Kansas. Iowa State had 85 points and 18 threes in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. West Virginia and TCU, neither of whom are known as offensive juggernauts, both put up 85 points as well.

The Jayhawks margin of error isn’t as big as it is for other teams, and if they get caught on a night where, say, Purdue’s guards are hitting threes or Tyler Dorsey or Derrick Walton are going crazy from deep, they could be in trouble.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

No. 3 OREGON

How they can get to the Final Four: Oregon is such a difficult team to guard when they have Dillon Brooks at the four, and that is how they have to play now that Chris Boucher is done for the year with a torn ACL. Brooks is big enough and strong enough that he can hold his own on the defensive end of the floor against most fours, and he’s such a talented scorer on the perimeter that the mismatches are typically a net positive for the Ducks.

The other reason Oregon can get to a Final Four?

Tyler Dorsey is playing out of his mind.

Oregon has played five postseason games, and he’s scored at least 21 points in all five of them, averaging 23.6 points while shooting 64.6 percent from the floor and 53.6 percent from three. He had 27 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the second round win over Rhode Island, and that included a game-winning 23-footer with 36 seconds left in the game. When Dorsey is playing like that, the Ducks more or less have two guys on their roster than can get a bucket any time they want. Throw in a coach as talented as Dana Altman is, and that is a dangerous combination.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: Losing Boucher took away some of Oregon’s defensive ability. What made him so effective was that he let Oregon play big defensively and add rim protection without losing any of their floor-spacing thanks to his ability to shoot threes.

This becomes a real concern against a Michigan team that has two 6-foot-10 forwards with three-point range and the ability to score in the post, particularly when D.J. Wilson just may be athletic enough to stick with Brooks on the perimeter. The Ducks could use Bigby-Williams in that situation, but again, that takes away so much of what they want to do on the offensive end of the floor.

Once Oregon gets past Michigan, things won’t get any easier for them. They’ll either have to deal with that massive Purdue front line or they’ll have Josh Jackson, one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball, chasing around Brooks.

Frankly, I think Oregon has the toughest matchups of any team left in the Midwest Region.

It’s a good thing Brooks, Dorsey and Altman don’t need good matchups to get wins.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

No. 4 PURDUE

How they can get to the Final Four: His name is Caleb Swanigan.

It really is that simple.

Swanigan is the most dominant force in college basketball this season. He simply overpowers defenders, in the post, and when you send help, he’s able to pass out of it to one of Purdue’s multitude of shooters. The Boilermakers are sixth nationally in three-point percentage.

And here’s the best part about that: Everyone in the Midwest Region has issues with their front court. Kansas has basically one big man that can be trusted to guard Swanigan in Landen Lucas. Oregon has two, and as good as Jordan Bell is, this is where losing Chris Boucher and his ability to block shots and hit threes is going to hurt. Kavell Bigby-Williams is good, but he’s can’t do the same things as Boucher. Michigan’s bigs are not as physical as Swanigan, although the Wolverines have won both of the matchups between those two teams this season.

Swanigan’s presence opens things up for everyone else on Purdue’s roster.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: There are three things that the Boilermakers struggle with on the defensive end of the floor. One of them is a quick and athletic back court that can put pressure on them with penetration, and that’s precisely what Kansas has at their disposal. To that same end, Purdue also has issues with ball-screening actions, as Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are not exactly know for their defensive prowess. Along those same lines, the Boilermakers can struggle when they play against teams with mobile big men. In each those two games, one of D.J. Wilson or Mo Wagner went for at least 24 points.

All three of the teams left in the Midwest do some variety of the things that Purdue struggles against.

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

No. 7 MICHIGAN

How they can get to the Final Four: The Wolverines have become such a lethal offensive attack that when they are playing their best, they can beat anyone. Think about how hard this lineup is to guard:

  • Derrick Walton Jr. has been playing like one of the best point guards in college basketball over the course of the last six weeks. He’s reached Trey Burke circa 2013 territory.
  • Duncan Robinson (42.5 percent), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (39.3 percent) and Zak Irvin (34.1 percent) are all lethal shooters from the perimeter, dangerous enough that you cannot comfortable help off of them.
  • D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner play the majority of the minutes together in the Michigan front court. Both are mobile and 6-foot-10, both can score in the post and both are very good three-point shooters, making a combined 82 threes on the season at a 38.7 percent clip.

The Wolverines spread the floor as well as anyone, and they do it with a dominant point guard and a pair of bigs that can overpower smaller defenders in the post and take bigger defenders to the perimeter. Both Oregon, their Sweet 16 opponent, and Kansas like to play with a small-ball four, and Dillon Brooks and Josh Jackson, respectively, are going to have a tough time dealing with those big men.

In other words, Michigan makes you play big even though you know you can’t guard them when you play big. Vintage John Beilein.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four: The Wolverines are the worst defensive team left in the tournament this side of UCLA. They currently rank 73rd in KenPom in defensive efficiency, and in the KenPom era — which dates back to 2002 — there have only been three teams to rank outside the top 70 in defensive efficiency while making a Final Four. Butler and VCU were both outside the top 70 in 2011 in that Final Four where there wasn’t a top two seed. Dwyane Wade’s Marquette team in 2003 was the third.

That’s a bad sign.

A good sign?

In 2013, the last time Michigan and John Beilein got to a Final Four, the Wolverines were 66th in defensive efficiency.

Ball State forward Zach Hollywood found dead in off-campus apartment

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Zach Hollywood, a redshirt freshman on the Ball State basketball team, has died, the university confirmed to multiple local news outlets Tuesday.

He was 19 years old.

Hollywood redshirted last season at Ball State after averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a senior at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in Bradley, Ill.

Muncie police are investigating the death at Hollywood’s off-campus apartment, according to WTHR-TV.

“On behalf of Ball State University, it is with profound sadness that we learned today of the passing of Zachary “Zach” Hollywood, a student from Bradley, Illinois,” the school said in a statement. “Zach has been a part of our family for the past year. During his time on campus, he was a member of men’s basketball team and made many positive impressions throughout campus.

“This is a tragedy. Our heartfelt condolences are with his family, friends and teammates. “For members of our Ball State family who need support during this difficult time, we encourage them to take advantage of the numerous resources available on- and off-campus.”

Hollywood’s death is a tragic turn in an already devastating story for his family, which lost Zach’s mother, Susan, suddenly just over one year ago.

3-on-3 at the Final Four for $100,000? It’s happening

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The Final Four just got more exciting.

On Tuesday, Intersport announced a 3-on-3 tournament that they will be hosting at the Final Four with a $100,000 payout for the winners. The participants must be seniors that have exhausted their collegiate eligibility, the teams will be created based on conference and the rules will be standard, international 3-on-3 rules: one-point for a bucket inside the arc, two points for a bucket outside the arc, 12-second shot clocks and games played to 21 points, or whoever has the highest score after 10 minutes. Each all-star team will feature four players, including one sub.

And, well, this is awesome.

I cannot express enough how much I love this idea.

One potential pothole here is that teams that are playing in the Final Four will, quite clearly, not have players eligible to participate.

It also should be noted that since “three-pointers” are now worth two points and “two-pointers” are now worth one, the value of long-range shooting is increased even more.

With all that in mind, why don’t we make a quick power ranking of the teams that can be created from the nine biggest conferences in college hoops:

  1. ACC: Grayson Allen (Duke), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Joel Berry II (North Carolina), Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)
  2. Big East: Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Marcus Foster (Creighton)
  3. Big 12: Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Jeffery Carroll (Oklahoma State), Zach Smith (Texas Tech)
  4. AAC: Rob Gray (Houston), B.J. Taylor (UCF), Gary Clark (Cincinnati), Obi Enechionya (Temple)
  5. Pac-12: Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart (USC), George King (Colorado), Thomas Welsh (UCLA)
  6. Big Ten: Nate Mason (Minnesota), Scottie Lindsay (Northwestern), Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas (Purdue)
  7. Atlantic 10: E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell (Rhode Island), Peyton Aldridge (Davidson), Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
  8. SEC: Yante Maten (Georgia), Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss), Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford (Arkansas)
  9. WCC: Jock Landale and Emmett Naar (Saint Mary’s), Jonathan Williams III (Gonzaga), Silas Melson (Gonzaga)

I had way too much fun putting this together.

What did I miss?

Harsh Reality: Indiana did not do Grant Gelon wrong, getting cut is part of sports

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What happened to Grant Gelon sucks, and I’m not sure anyone in their right mind would try to argue otherwise.

A 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Crown Point, Indiana, Gelon accepted a scholarship offer from then-Indiana head coach Tom Crean as a member of the Class of 2016. His commitment was something of a surprise at the time; Gelon was a two-star prospect, according to Rivals, and ranked 402nd in the class, according to 247 Sports. At the time, Gelon reportedly had seven scholarship offers: Central Michigan, UIC, Toledo, Iona, Youngstown State, IUPUI and Western Carolina.

It was a reach for Crean, but it was also a dream come true for an Indiana kid getting a chance to don the cream and crimson.

Which is what made what happened this spring particularly painful.

Crean was fired on March 16th. Indiana hired Archie Miller to replace him on March 27th. Five weeks later, after a handful of workouts with the new coaching staff, Miller called Gelon into his office — the date, according to the Northwest Indiana Times, was May 3rd — and told him that he was being cut. There was not going to be minutes available, the staff said, for a sophomore that played in just 12 games last season, and that finding a place to transfer would be Gelon’s best option.

“I told them I wanted to stay,” Gelon told the Indy Star. “I told them, I’m making my mind up, I’m gonna push hard, show them what I can do, I’m here for a reason. When I said that, it was like, ‘Whoa, slow down.’ They were kind of making that sound like it wasn’t an option.”

That’s because it wasn’t.

Miller was cutting Gelon.

He was not cutting his scholarship, mind you. The Indiana student-athlete bill of rights protects players from losing their tuition due to poor performance on the court or the field. Gelon would still be getting his education paid for if he opted to remain at Indiana, he just wouldn’t be playing for the Hoosiers. Gelon’s departure opened up a scholarship for the Hoosiers that eventually went to Race Thompson, a four-star power forward that reclassified into the Class of 2017 in order to enroll at Indiana this year.

“Coach Miller believes honesty in evaluating talent, while often difficult, is the appropriate measure to take at all times and in the best interest of each player,” a statement released by the Indiana athletic department read. “Grant was made aware that our staff believed his abilities were not of the caliber that would allow him to receive playing time of any kind in the future for the IU program.”

I feel for Gelon here. I really do. Getting cut sucks, and everyone reading this now has probably gone through it at some point in their life. It happens all the time, in every sport, at every age group. Once you get to a level in athletics where you’re playing in more than your hometown rec league, it gets competitive. If you’re not good enough, you don’t make the team. That is how this works. Gelon found that out the hard way.

And frankly, what Miller did is not uncommon. It’s called running a player off, and it happens all the time at every program. Gelon had a bad enough season as a freshman that there is no guarantee that he would have kept his spot on the team had Crean kept his job. Simply put, he is not a Big Ten basketball player. I’d wager that two out of every five transfers at the Division I level are the result of a player transferring out of a school — either because he was forced or because the writing was on the wall — to a lower level, one more in line with his skill-set.

That’s what happened with Gelon. He’s now at State Fair Community College in Missouri, where he’ll spend a year before looking to climb his way back into the Division I ranks, most likely at the low-major level.

And no matter how many interviews that he or his family gives, you won’t find me saying that Indiana handled this the wrong way.

Was Miller callous?

That wouldn’t surprise me. He’s not the type of guy to mince words, and there really is not a good way to sugar-coat, ‘You are not good enough for us.’

But Gelon was not having his scholarship taken away. Indiana was living up to their promise of paying for his education. They did not do him wrong. The staff gave him more than a month to prove himself as a player and, eventually, made the decision he would not be in their plans moving forward.

So he was cut. That opening allowed a four-star power forward to enroll this year.

That’s the harsh reality of life in the Big Ten.

And there’s nothing wrong with the coach of a basketball team doing what Miller and Indiana did.

VIDEO: UConn’s Kwintin Williams would win the NBA dunk contest

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Think that’s too strong?

Look at this dunk:

Light

A post shared by Kwintin Williams (@jumpmanebig) on

He also did this over the summer:

Williams is a 6-foot-7, 215 pound JuCo transfer that should provide UConn with some minutes in the frontcourt this season.

LSU officially announces addition of Kavell Bigby-Williams

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LSU has announced the addition of Oregon transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6-foot-11 junior that was the National Junior College Player of the Year as a sophomore.

Bigby-Williams, who is a native of London, averaged 3.0 points and 2.8 boards last season as the Ducks reached the Final Four, but he played the majority of the season while under investigation for an alleged sexual assault that occurred while he was at Gillette College in Wyoming.

The local County Attorney declined to charge Bigby-Williams with a crime, and Gillette College police consider the case closed.

“The university conducted a responsible and comprehensive review before approving the transfer,” a release posted on LSU’s Athletics site read, “including close coordination with Title IX officials, multiple discussions with Gillette and Oregon officials and a thorough examination of available public records.”

LSU head coach Will Wade was quoted in that release as well: “This is an issue we all take seriously and we made absolutely sure we did our due diligence before considering moving forward. Kavell understands that and has made clear to me that he’s going to repay our confidence by representing LSU with his very best on and off the court.”