ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.
“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”
Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.
The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.
After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.
The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.
The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.
The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.
An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.
Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.
“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”
The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .
Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.
“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”
The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.
What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .
There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.
Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.
“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”
Beyond the fact that Beale Street is awesome and the ribs in the city are amazing, Memphis will be playing host to the three of the biggest brands in college basketball, three of the four best teams left in the tournament and what is, by a good margin, the best regional left.
Let’s take a deeper look at it.
No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA
How they can get to the Final Four: The most important thing for the Tar Heels is going to be making sure that Joel Berry II is healthy and playing well. It’s not a secret that this team goes as Berry goes, and he’s not been good through the first two games of the NCAA tournament. He was 1-for-8 from the floor against Texas Southern in the opener and went 2-for-13 from the field as the Tar Heels found themselves unexpectedly in a dogfight with Arkansas in the second round of the tournament.
Berry turned an ankle in UNC’s first round game, and that may have hampered him against the Razorbacks, so, in theory, he should be healthy and ready to for the Sweet 16. Whether or not he makes shots in a different story.
The other part of this, for UNC at least, is that they are going to need their front court to be dominant. The Tar Heels are going to have an advantage in the paint in just about every game they play the rest of the season. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are big, physical and skilled, and all three can score in the post and crash the glass extremely hard. There is a reason that this team leads the nation in offensive rebounding this season, and all three of the teams that join them in the South Region are significantly smaller on the front line. Kentucky plays either Derek Willis or Wenyen Gabriel at the four. UCLA plays T.J. Leaf and, at times, Lonzo Ball at the four. Andrew Chrabacsz is good, but he shouldn’t keep Isaiah Hicks from getting to the glass.
That’s where UNC has their advantage.
The one other note to make about UNC: Theo Pinson is a terrific defender. At 6-foot-6 and as athletic as he is, putting him on Kelan Martin, Lonzo Ball or Malik Monk should help keep those three from getting into the kind of rhythm they can get into.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four: Generally speaking, North Carolina doesn’t really have awful games. They have a floor that is higher than just about anyone’s floor in the country this season. That’s what tends to happen when you’re a team built around post touches and offensive rebounds.
But the ceiling for the Tar Heels isn’t as high as the ceiling for UCLA or the ceiling for Kentucky. To me, there isn’t a team in the country that can beat the Bruins when the Bruins play their best. And based on what happened back in December, it’s pretty clear that Kentucky’s best is better than North Carolina’s best; I’m not sure the Tar Heels could have played better than they did when Malik Monk scored 47 points in a 103-102 win over the Tar Heels.
The addition of Theo Pinson helps. I don’t think Monk gets 47 in that game if Pinson plays, and his presence should help keep the best players on all three potential opponents from going crazy. But the bottom line is this: there is a very realistic scenario in which North Carolina can play well and still find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline in the Elite 8.
No. 2 KENTUCKY
How they can get to the Final Four: The obvious answer here is Malik Monk, and yeah. That’s hard to disagree with. He’s proven time and again this season that, when he gets into a rhythm, he can carry Kentucky as far as he’s willing to take them. When he sees a couple shots go through the rim, it’s time for Kentucky to feed him until he burps.
But the ‘Oh, please let Malik Monk have a good game’ strategy is far from ideal because, quite simply, he’s not going to go crazy in four consecutive games against good teams with good defenders and good coaches. That’s a big ask, and that’s why the Wildcats are going to go as far as De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo take them. Adebayo has been awesome over the course of the last five or six weeks, as he’s finally seeming to come into his own as a punishing, overpowering low-post presence. He has five double-doubles in his last nine games, and two more games where he was one rebound short of a double-double.
He’s still turning the ball over a bit more than John Calipari would probably prefer, but his quickness and explosiveness are unquestionably back, and he looks as confident and capable, particularly in crunch time, as he did early in the season.
It’s not a coincidence that, as those two have come back into form, Kentucky now has the nation’s longest active win streak.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four: There are a lot of easy answers to give here. Maybe Malik Monk falls back in love with contested jumpers and goes 3-for-20 in a loss. Maybe Kentucky forgets to play through Bam Adebayo, or maybe De’Aaron Fox becomes a turnover machine.
That’s all possible.
But you know what?
It’s also very possible that Kentucky can play really, really well throughout the second weekend of the tournament and still find themselves on the wrong side of a score line. You can play well and lose to UCLA. You can play well and lose to North Carolina. Hell, Butler has two wins over Villanova and a win over Arizona this season. They’re in the toughest region in the Sweet 16, and only one of the four teams in Memphis can make it out.
No. 3 UCLA
How they can get to the Final Four: By shooting the grip off the ball.
The bottom line is this: When UCLA’s offense is firing on all cylinders, no one is slowing them down. Ask Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a top 15 defense nationally, and for 15 minutes in the second half on Sunday night, UCLA made them look like a CYO team.
And rest assured, UCLA can do that against anyone. They won a game in Rupp Arena when they gave up 92 points on a night where Lonzo Ball played like he was shaving points in the first ten minutes. They’ve hit 19 threes in a game. Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, T.J. Leaf and Aaron Holiday can all pop off for 25 minutes on a given night, and Ball is about as good as it gets when it comes to making big shots in big moments.
There really isn’t all that much else to add about the Bruins.
There are no secrets about what they’re going to do. The question is if your team has the ability to stop it.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four: The defensive side of the ball. It’s not a secret. We all know the facts here. UCLA is not always a good defensive team. Some of it is effort — it’s not exactly breaking news that they have a habit of not giving effort defensively when they don’t have to — and some of it is the simple fact that their key players are just not all that good defensively. Bryce Alford get’s targeted by opposing coaches. Isaac Hamilton isn’t a great defender, neither is T.J. Leaf.
In the Sweet 16 matchup, I’d expect Ball to spend most of his time on Fox while Holiday and Hamilton chase around Monk; I’m not sure Steve Alford wants to burn out Ball’s legs by having him run around nine screens every possession. But that then leaves Bryce Alford on Isaiah Briscoe, which is a matchup that Briscoe should be able to take full advantage of. In a potential Elite 8 game against North Carolina, the Bruins are going to have to trust Leaf to be able to keep one of Hicks or Meeks off of the offensive glass. That’s a tough ask.
No. 4 BUTLER
How they can get to the Final Four: The simple answer is finding a way to get stops. Butler is sitting in a region with three of the nation’s 13-best offenses, according to KenPom, and frankly, I think that the way that Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox are currently playing means that Kentucky’s spot as the nation’s 13th-most efficient offensive attack is probably underrated.
Seriously, think about this.
To get to the Final Four, Butler is going to have to find a way to beat a North Carolina team that leads the nation in offensive rebounding with three front court players bigger and better than their biggest and best, and that’s after they find a way to keep Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson front going off. Then and only then can we talk about what they’re going to do about Lonzo Ball and that high-octane UCLA offense or how they’re going to try and chase Malik Monk off of the three-point line.
There’s a very real argument to make that Butler is in a region with the three best teams left in the tournament. They’ve proven they’re good enough to get something like this done, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four: The simple fact of the matter here is that Butler is totally outclassed in terms of talent by the other three teams in this region. Kentucky and UCLA have future NBA first round picks up and down their roster. North Carolina has a couple, and they’re flanked by a half-dozen former four- and five-star prospects playing for a Hall of Fame head coach.
They feel like a Cinderella in this league, even through they are a No. 4 seed from the Big East that swept Villanova, beat Arizona and knocked off Xavier twice. I don’t think anyone is really expecting all that much out of Butler this weekend, and if you know anything about the history of that program, that’s usually when they’re at their most dangerous.
The East Region was completely blown up when No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 2 seed Duke lost in the second round as we have an unexpected Sweet 16 doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
While things have certainly changed in the East Region, it has also become completely wide open as we’re going to see some very unique matchups from some teams we didn’t expect to see.
Here’s a look at how things stand in the East Region.
No. 3 BAYLOR
How they can get to the Final Four: The Bears started this season 15-0 and looked like one of the best teams in the country before the Big 12 deflated expectations a little bit. Now that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have been eliminated from the East Region, Baylor is the top seed with a decent draw to make it to Glendale.
Scott Drew’s team is very sound on the offensive and defensive end this season (No. 26 and No. 3 in KenPom) and the key for the Bears is getting the ball inside and continuing to be effective scoring the ball. Among teams left in the 2017 NCAA tournament field, the Bears score the most points in the paint per game (45 per game) of anyone as All-American forward Johnathan Motley is one of the field’s best remaining players.
Offensive rebounding is another huge factor in the points-in-the-paint discussion for Baylor as they grab 40 percent of their misses, No. 3 in Division I this season.
Baylor shoots a respectable 35.6 percent from three-point range, but with their brutally slow tempo (No. 329) and lack of attempts, they need to be getting inside and finishing around the bucket.
Defensively, if the Bears stay out of foul trouble then they have the length and athleticism to give any team fits. Center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is one of the nation’s premier shot blockers and Baylor’s defense also has the length of Motley and the toughness of Ish Wainwright to help on the interior.
If Baylor guards like Manu Lecomte and Al Freeman are dialed in and hitting shots, then the Bears should have enough offense and a consistent enough defense to make it to Glendale.
Baylor happens to be facing a team that specializes in limiting points in the paint in No. 7 seed South Carolina in the Sweet 16 as that could make for a tough matchup if the red-hot Gamecocks continue to hit shots.
The Bears also need to prove that they can consistently hold onto the ball and limit turnovers. There have been times when the Baylor backcourt has looked shaky this season.
Baylor is 305th in the country in turnover percentage at 20.5 percent and in six of the Bears’ seven losses this season they’ve been higher than that.
Since Baylor likes to play such a slow-tempo game, stretches of turnovers and sloppy play for its offense can lead to prolonged periods of time without scoring.
If an opposing team gets even a little bit hot with a few three-pointers during that stretch then Baylor might be playing from behind towards the end of a game as a shaky perimeter shooting team.
No. 4 FLORIDA
How they can get to the Final Four
When you discuss the most impressive teams of the first weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Florida has to be in the discussion among the first few teams. The Gators have been impressive so far in running past East Tennessee State and Virginia for decisive double-digit wins as they are the better seed for their Sweet 16 matchup with No. 8 seed Wisconsin.
Florida’s defense is very strong as the Gators come in at No. 3 in KenPom. The Gators feature a lot of length and athleticism across multiple positions. Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen are both great athletes and Devin Robinson can cover a ton of ground at the four to make up for anything Canyon Barry can’t cover. Kevarrius Hayes is also a plus rim protector who is getting more minutes with John Egbunu out with injury.
That defense also turns over opponents 21.1 percent of the time as it can get Florida a lot of easy buckets.
Offensively, the Gators are balanced as nobody averages more than 13.5 points per game as Allen, Barry and Robinson are the team’s three best players. The play of Hill and Chris Chiozza could decide Florida’s fate. If those two are getting easy looks for others and finishing plays then Florida is in significantly better shape.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four
Florida just doesn’t have a go-to player who can go and get things done when the game is tight. While the Gators have a lot of guys who put up puts behind a balanced rotation, they also get a lot of inconsistent play from guys like Hill and Robinson.
The length and athleticism isn’t going away from Florida, so they should be able to keep defending at a high level, but they have an offense that is prone to poor stretches of play. The Gators are a very average No. 116 in effective field goal percentage this season and they can be a shaky team shooting the ball from the perimeter at 36.2 percent from three-point range.
With Egbunu missing, Florida just isn’t as strong as they were inside as they miss his depth and athleticism on the interior. Hayes has been a nice replacement who can still protect the rim but the Gators have had to play Keith Stone more minutes down the stretch.
Without a go-to presence and a shaky offense, Florida might have issues in tight games against so many strong defensive teams in the East Region.
No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA
How they can get to the Final Four
One of the NCAA Tournament’s most unique storylines is South Carolina’s Sweet 16 run. The Gamecocks winning their first NCAA tournament games since 1973 is cool, but more importantly, South Carolina’s offense is clicking at the right time.
Struggling to put up points for much of the season–South Carolina is 45.7 percent on two-point field goals this season, which is 301st in the country–the Gamecocks suddenly dropped 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke as South Carolina got hot over a few games.
Part of that is senior Sindarius Thornwell playing at a very high level but South Carolina also has a deep roster that comes at you in waves.
If South Carolina can even shoot remotely close to how they did in the first weekend then they can rely on its rugged and physical defense to force turnovers and also create more offense.
The Gamecocks have the No. 4 defense on KenPom and are No. 4 in defensive turnover percentage, so they can create issues in a hurry by turning other teams over to get back into games.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four
Teams that shoot 45.1 percent from two-point range tend to lose against the best teams in the country, so South Carolina’s woefully inconsistent offense is going to be the focus in New York.
We already know that South Carolina is going to be fine defensively while bringing a lot of intensity on the glass but their offense has to be good enough for them to get buckets at the end of close games.
Not only does South Carolina struggle to make shots from all over the floor but they have a turnover rate of 18.6 percent that is No. 185 in the country, so they can also be loose with the ball against strong defensive teams.
And getting consistent help for Thornwell is also going to be necessary. The talented senior has received double-digit scoring efforts from both Chris Silve and Duane Notice during both games of the tournament while P.J. Dozier had a big game against Marquette.
But can all four of those guys play at a high level to get past Baylor? That remains to be seen.
No. 8 WISCONSIN
How they can get to the Final Four
Already knocking off defending champion and No. 1 seed Villanova, Wisconsin has the reassurance of already beating the best team they would face in the East Region.
With an experienced and veteran group led by seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, the Badgers have made the Sweet 16 four consecutive years. Factoring in the two Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015, and this senior group has been apart of 17 NCAA Tournament games over the last four years.
That kind of experience matters and it doesn’t hurt that Madison Square Garden should be mostly red for a Wisconsin fanbase that travels incredibly well.
As for the on-the-court play, the Badgers will want to slow the game down, limit turnovers and pound the offensive glass as this team is bigger up front with Hayes, Brown and sophomore Ethan Happ, the team’s best player. Koenig and Showalter as the floor spacers and Hayes is a nifty passer for a big man.
If the Badgers control tempo and hit enough shots then they could be in good position to make another Final Four as No. 8 seed after doing so in 2000.
Why they won’t get to the Final Four:
The athleticism factor will be interesting to watch as Wisconsin advances through the East Region. With a game against Florida and a potential game against Baylor that means the Badgers would have to go against a lot of length and athleticism.
While the Gators want to play much faster than Wisconsin, Florida also had no issues playing slower and dismantling Virginia at a methodical pace. Florida has the No. 3 defense on KenPom and they have the type of athletes that could smother Wisconsin’s offense.
Not getting on the offensive glass, where the Badgers are 18th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, would also really hurt a Wisconsin offense that is so-so when it comes to shooting percentages.
No. 1 seed Tar Heels aiming to remain dominant on the boards
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams has made it clear to his players for years.
When that ball goes up, the Tar Heels had better put a body on someone to box out or work to get inside position and tap a missed shot back up on the glass. And those wing players, well, they need to run in and chase down rebounds or risk earning a seat alongside their Hall of Fame coach.
That relentless approach made the Tar Heels the nation’s best rebounding team and helped them earn a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament’s South Region. It’s a key reason why they’re still alive, too, after surviving a scare to reach the Sweet 16 and face Butler on Friday in Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s part of our job,” junior swingman Theo Pinson said. “It’s what we’re taught to do, and we need to do it.”
And no team has been this good at it in years.
North Carolina (29-7) leads the country in rebounding margin at plus-13.1, the highest average by a Division I team since Michigan State outrebounded opponents by more than 15 a game during a Final Four season in 2001. It touches everything the Tar Heels do, from snatching down a miss to secure a defensive stop, to the outlet pass that kickstarts their fast-paced offense and ultimately the work on the offensive boards that gives them extra chances around the rim.
“You’ve heard me say that a prospect came in one time and said, `I didn’t realize there was an 11th commandment: Thou shalt box out,”‘ Williams said in January. “But that’s the way I treat the game.”
This year’s Tar Heels lack the kind of dominant rebounder they had in Associated Press All-American Brice Johnson, who averaged 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds during the Tar Heels’ run to last year’s NCAA championship game.
Six-foot-10 senior Kennedy Meeks leads UNC at 9.1 rebounds per game, but UNC gets plenty of production through its lineup; 6-9 senior Isaiah Hicks (5.7) and 6-11 freshman Tony Bradley Jr. (5.3) work inside, while the team’s perimeter length shows up with the 6-6 Pinson (4.4) and 6-8 Justin Jackson (4.7).
“I told them, gave them (Louisville coach) Rick Pitino’s old line about `Those guys aren’t walking back in that door,”‘ Williams said of losing Johnson and four-year starter Marcus Paige.
“So we started emphasizing it the first day: we’ve got to get rebounding from five people on the defensive boards. You hear us on the bench if sit close enough, all the time we’re screaming: `You’ve got to get to the boards.”‘
UNC’s work on the offensive glass stands out in particular, with Pitino noting in February that it was “an offense unto itself” and was “probably just as potent as anything they do.”
Consider: the Tar Heels lead the country in KenPom.com’s offensive rebounding percentage – a measure of possible offensive rebounds collected – at 42.2 percent. And that means the Tar Heels get roughly seven more shots per game than their opponents.
The Tar Heels have frustrated Williams at times by repeatedly batting the ball around on the glass – “all those volleyball times,” he called it – but failing to convert around the rim as efficiently as he would like.
Still, the Tar Heels average 17.6 second-chance points per game, roughly nine more than opponents. That includes Sunday, when Meeks tipped in Joel Berry II’s final-minute heave onto the backboard during a 12-0 game-closing run to rally past Arkansas 72-65 after flirting with a stunningly early exit.
“It’s a little different shooting the ball and not really feeling like, `We’re not going to get an offensive rebound,”‘ Jackson said. “But shooting the ball and knowing, `OK, we might have a chance of getting another possession or whatever,’ it gives you a little more confidence whenever you shoot it.
“For us, we have to continue to get on the offensive glass and try to dominate as much as possible in that area.”
No one has to tell Butler coach Chris Holtmann about the importance of slowing the Tar Heels on the boards. His Bulldogs (25-8) were outrebounded in their last three games before the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to have to rebound better because they rebound so well,” Holtmann said. “I think they’re the best offensive rebounding team in 10 years.”
Dorsey living up to X-Factor reputation in the Big Dance
Tyler Dorsey provided a preview of his tournament success in early February when the Ducks hosted then-No. 5 Arizona.
The sophomore scored 23 points, including six 3-pointers, and the Ducks routed the Wildcats 85-58. Oregon’s 16 total 3-pointers in that game were its most since opening Matthew Knight Arena in 2011.
After the victory, Dillon Brooks summed up his teammate: “Tyler’s the X-factor on our team.”
Dorsey is solidifying his reputation in the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday, he had 27 points on 9-of-10 shooting as third-seeded Oregon rallied to beat No. 11 Rhode Island 75-72 in Sacramento, California.
Dorsey hit two clutch 3-pointers, including a contested go-ahead 3 from atop the arc with 38.4 seconds to play.
“I was joking with him, `Nine for 10, how the heck did you miss that one shot?”‘ coach Dana Altman said.
The victory sent the Ducks (31-5) through to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season and third time in the past five years. They’ll face seventh-seeded Michigan on Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Wolverines (26-11) rallied to knock out second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday to earn their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2014.
The team that emerges will face the winner of Thursday’s later game between top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue at the Sprint Center.
Dorsey has been building toward this moment. He’s averaged 23.6 points in the last five games, stringing together five straight 20-point games for the first time this season.
“It’s just my teammates. They’ve been finding me, and all I’ve been doing is spotting up and making the simple play and the right play, the right basketball play,” Dorsey said. “Like coach always says, keep my focus first on defense and rebounding and the offense, let it come. That’s all I’ve been doing these last couple games, and my teammates have been having confidence in me and I’ve been knocking down the shots.”
In Oregon’s opening game against No. 14 seed Iona, Dorsey scored 24 points to lead four players in double figures for a 93-77 victory. Fourteen of his points came in the opening half.
Last season, the Ducks won a school-record 31 games while claiming the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. They earned a first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2007.
Dorsey, who hails from Pasadena, California, averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 35 starts as a freshman. Overall this season, he’s averaging 14 points and 3.4 rebounds.
The Ducks earned a share the Pac-12 regular season title with Arizona this year, then lost by three points to the Wildcats in the conference tournament final. Oregon was stunned when senior big man Chris Boucher tore his left ACL in the semifinals.
Albeit in a different role, Dorsey has been able to pick up some of the slack.
“He’s a player. That scorer mentality I want him to have, but defense and rebounding, when he focuses on those two, he becomes a special player. He becomes really special,” Altman said. “I think that’s part of the reason why he’s exploded here lately, is that he’s been a complete player.”
Projected lottery pick Robert Williams to return for sophomore season
Robert Williams, a projected lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft announced on Tuesday that he will be returning to Texas A&M for his sophomore season.
“I love A&M and it was a great experience which helped me grow and get better as a player and a person,” Williams said in a statement. “Although I’ve grown, I still feel like I would benefit from another year of college. This will give me more time to mature and develop my game before moving on to the NBA.”
Williams is a 6-foot-9 forward from Louisiana. This past season he averaged 11.9 points, 8.2 boards and 2.5 blocks for the Aggies. A freak athlete with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Williams’ ability to affect the game on both ends with him mobility, length, athleticism and budding offensive repertoire piqued the interest of scouts.
His decision to return immediately makes Texas A&M a factor in the SEC. Assuming Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg both return, the Aggies will also add talented point guard J.J. Caldwell, who was ineligible to play this season. The lack of a point guard is what cost A&M this season.
“I’m thankful that Robert loves Texas A&M and his teammates,” head coach Billy Kennedy said. “I know this was a difficult decision for him and his family. He’s not only a special talent but a special young man. His desire to be the best and his trust in us is humbling. I can’t wait for next season.”