Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2018 NCAA Tournament: Big men that will break your bracket

Leave a comment

There’s a line of thinking that the NCAA tournament is a guard’s game, and there’s ample evidence of its veracity when we look back at runs by Kemba Walker’s UConn, Kris Jenkins and and Josh Hart’s Villanova and Russ Smith’s Louisville in recent years. Don’t, though, forget the big guys. Here’s a list of post presences that could help determine a national champion – and your bracket pool winner.

Marvin Bagley III, Duke: The Blue Devils freshman was the toast of the sport early in the season before being overshadowed by Trae Young, but he’s been consistently great. He’s great around the bucket, good enough from distance to keep defenses honest and rebounds at a high level. He may not be June’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, but he ain’t slipping past five, either.

Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic, Arizona: This is about as close to a throwback frontcourt as you’ll see – despite the fact that Ayton fits well enough in the modern game to be a potential No. 1 pick in June. It’s rare that a team can put two seven-footers on the floor and make it work, but Arizona’s pair can make it work. Still, it’s Ayton that fuels this pairing as he’s established himself as a dominant force inside and capable of keeping the Wildcats moving through the bracket.

Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri: Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon held down the fort inside all season long for the Tigers, but they’re now adding Michael Porter, Jr. to the mix – which could either make them fearsome up front or create a rocky fit. It’s one of the big bets of the NCAA tournament that coach Cuonzo Martin is making here. The upside is massive given Porter, Jr.’s talent.

Isaac Haas, Purdue: It’s pretty astounding that the Boilermakers lost Caleb Swanigan, one of the best big men the sport has seen in recent years, and somehow had a better season. Isaac Haas is a big reason why. The 7-foot-2 senior is on the floor more this year without Swanigan now that coach Matt Painer doesn’t have to juggle the two big men, and Haas has upped his production as a result. His size and skill bends the defense like few other players in the country.

Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward, Michigan State: Jackson is the darling of NBA scouts with his modern game while Ward is a more traditional big man – together they make up an incredibly dynamic and productive frontcourt for the Spartans. Ward is the country’s most prolific offensive rebounder and Jackson is one of the top shotblockers in the nation. And both shoot better than 60 percent from the floor.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye went from a nice story on last year’s national champion Tar Heels to one of the most productive players in the country this year. He’s averaging a double-double of 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as his role has exploded from bit player to star for coach Roy Williams.

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: With all the turnover off last year’s national runners-up, Tillie has seen his role and his production trend way up. He’s one of the most efficient scorers in the country with a true-shooting percentage of 68.2, which is top-10 nationally. He’s not as proficient as a shotblocker and rebounder, but he’s a major problem for defenses.

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks’ roster is incredibly dependent on Azubuike given the dearth of other options inside, making his health status one of the more important subplots of the NCAA tournament. The sophomore missed the Big 12 tournament due to a knee injury, but is expected to return to the court this week. His presence inside really facilitates Kansas’ guard-oriented and 3-point heavy approach.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 Jackrabbit may be the best mid-major player in the tournament. He’s a high-usage player with a 59.5 true shooting percentage and rebounds on the defensive end at a high rate. His athleticism isn’t going to wow anyone, but his ability to score at every level and in unique ways makes him an incredibly tough cover. If South Dakota State turns into this year’s Cinderella, it’ll be Daum who fit them with the glass slipper.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The 6-foot-10 senior is a double-double machine, averaging 13.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. His prowess on the glass is what separates him from the rest of the big man pack as he’s elite on both the offensive and defensive ends on the floor in that area. He’s not a prolific scorer, but he creates extra shots for the Pirates and limits those extra opportunities for their opponents.

Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, Texas A&M: Another super-sized frontcourt that harkens back to a different era of basketball. Both of these guys are great around the rim, but not threats from the 3-point arc. Williams is a fantastic shotblocker while Davis is a great offensive rebounder.

Mohamed Bamba, Texas: Bamba appears to have healed up from a sprained toe and will try to help the Longhorns escape the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. The 6-foot-11 freshman with an expansive wingspan is one of the most impactful defenders in the country as an elite shotblocker. His offensive game lags behind his defense, but he is capable of causing headaches for opponents on that end as well.

Medical clearance brings difficult decision for Michael Porter, Jr.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2 Comments

Michael Porter, Jr. came to an antiquated situation in a very modern way.

The 6-foot-11 phenom signed up to play for his father at his hometown university.

And Missouri really is more than just the hometown university for Porter — it’s home. His aunt has coached two of his sisters on the Tigers’ women’s team. His younger brother, one of his seven siblings, is also on the roster. After hitting rock-bottom in the Kim Anderson era, Missouri was getting its prodigal son and savior all in the same package.

Nevermind it came after his family moved to Seattle as his father was hired as an assistant by Lorenzo Romar in Washington, no doubt in part because of the long-standing relationship between the two men but also because Porter, Jr. is possibly a generational talent. And forget that his father’s next job came from Cuonzo Martin at Missouri.

In the end, Porter, Jr. began the season playing for his father and with his brother, a five-star center who reclassified in order to join the Tigers, undoubtedly envisioning a magical season alongside his family in his hometown in the pursuit of a national championship.

It’s not Hoosiers, but it ain’t far off.

The season hasn’t exactly worked out that way, and after Porter, Jr. found himself in a nostalgic role by following a contemporary path, in order to live out that he’ll have to turn his back on current-day — somewhat cynical — common sense logic to get one last chance at it.

After sitting out the whole season due to a back injury and with a week left in the regular season, Porter, Jr. has been cleared to return to basketball activities, seemingly setting up the decision on whether to give college basketball one last chance or simply sit out to preserve his best chance to make the most money in the NBA.

Essentially, it boils down to this: Is the added risk to the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars Porter, Jr. could make in the NBA worth the reward of an NCAA tournament run playing alongside his brother with his father on the bench at the university that in some ways has defined his family?

How much is that one chance of collegiate glory worth?

The simple answer for most in 2018 is not enough to justify playing.

Porter, Jr. probably can’t move the needle on his draft stock by playing. Could he possibly be good enough in just a couple weeks after months on the shelf to move ahead of Deandre Ayton? Luka Doncic? Mo Bamba or Marvin Bagley III? Maybe, but is going first or second that much of a difference than going fifth or sixth when the real money comes on his second and third contracts? Or his shoe deal?

Were he to injure himself — especially if it was an aggravation of the back injury or a foot issue — teams might have memories of Greg Oden flash before their eyes. Is there a team willing to risk a Joel Embiid-like injury profile in the first seven slots of a draft this strong?

On the other hand, Porter, Jr. is going to be drafted no matter what potentially happens after his potential return. I can’t imagine even in the most catastrophic of scenarios where he slips outside the top-half of the first round. He’ll make millions of dollars, and that’s the worst-case scenario. Playing, if he’s fully healthy, only adds some risk.

Is that added percent — or two or five or 15 — acceptable when weighed against the unique opportunity that generations of basketball players have dreamed of and never even been given chance to fulfill?

Charging headlong into a chance to win a title — and Missouri very well could be a title contender in a year like this year with a healthy Porter, Jr. — for your school, community and family has to be a tantalizingly tempting choice. Even if it doesn’t come with a paycheck.

It’s chasing a storybook ending over limiting future financial risk.

How to adjudicate those two choices is up to Porter, Jr.

It’s a choice he gets to make. Does he try to have it all or play it safe? Is the lure of shared family success stronger than that of financial security and better long-term viability?

Playing for free has a cost. Is Porter, Jr. willing to pay it?

Michael Porter, Jr. cleared to return to basketball activities

Missouri Athletics
Leave a comment

Missouri may be adding a lottery pick to its roster for the stretch run.

Michael Porter, Jr., who began the year projected as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has been medically cleared to return to basketball activities after missing the entire season with a back injury, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein was the first to report the news.

The 6-foot-11 freshman played the opening minutes of the Tigers’ opening game against Iowa State to start the year, but has been sidelined ever since. It is currently unclear if he’ll move from being cleared to play to actually hitting the floor for the Tigers.

It seemed unlikely that Porter would ever play college basketball because of the injury, but throughout the season he has never ruled out the possibility. Now that he has reportedly been cleared to play, the question undoubtedly will become should he?

Even without playing another second of college hoops, Porter will be a top pick in June’s draft. Some teams may even consider him for the top pick, if his health screenings check out, just based on workouts and the track record of his dominating play on the AAU circuit for years.

Still, if he’s healthy enough to play and wants to play, it’s unquestionable that it is a decision that is completely his. And it would make Missouri one heck of an interesting team.

The Tigers are 18-10 overall and 8-7 and appeared poised to make the NCAA tournament in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first year in Columbia. For their next game, they play – of course they do – Kentucky on Saturday. Talk about added intrigue for that game.

Michael Porter, Jr. missing Monday’s game to see “specialist”

Missouri Athletics
Leave a comment

The mysterious leg injury that has kept Michael Porter, Jr. off the floor to start his collegiate career took a potentially serious turn Monday.

The Missouri freshman will miss the Tigers’ game Monday against Emporia State in order to see a specialist regarding the injury, according to multiple reports.

Porter, Jr., one of the favorites to be the top pick in June’s NBA draft, has missed the last two Missouri games after playing just 2 minutes in the team’s opener against Iowa State. The 6-foot-10 wing did not watch the Tigers’ win last week over Wagner from the bench, opting instead to watching from the locker room. He did not travel with the team to Utah, who toppled the Tigers, 77-59.

The Tigers haven’t offered much clarity or specificity on what exactly the injury is or what the timetable Porter, Jr. may be facing.

Missouri heads to Orlando later this week for the AdvoCare Invitational, and it’s uncertain whether or not Porter, Jr. will make the trip. Given his draft potential, it’s probably safe to assume that Porter, Jr. will be abundantly cautious with his health in order to prevent whatever the injury is from worsening.

For the Tigers, it deprives them of one of the country’s – presumably – most dynamic players in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first season in Columbia. Missouri has other young talent, namely Porter, Jr.’s brother, Jontay, and Jeremiah Tilmon, but their ceiling will be lowered considerably if Porter, Jr. continues to be sidelined.

Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr to miss Monday’s game

David Banks/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The official collegiate debut for Missouri freshman phenom Michael Porter Jr. was a short one, as he played just two minutes in Friday’s 74-59 win over Iowa State after aggravating a leg injury during pregame warmups. Fans will have to wait a bit to see Porter return to the court, as it was reported by ESPN’s Sean Farnham that the freshman will miss Monday’s game against Wagner.

When Porter will make his return is unknown, as he’s considered to be day-to-day.

With Porter out of the lineup his likely replacement is junior Kevin Puryear, who made significant contributions off the bench in Missouri’s regular season opener. Puryear played 29 minutes Friday night, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and scoring 17 points while also grabbing eight rebounds.

Also performing well in the front court against Iowa State was freshman Jeremiah Tilmon, who finished his collegiate debut with 14 points (7-for-9 FG), seven rebounds and one blocked shot. Jontay Porter, Michael’s younger brother, added five points, four rebounds and three assists in his first collegiate game.

NEW FACES, NEW PLACES: Which college hoops hires are set up for success … and failure?

AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo
1 Comment

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

Making a coaching hire is more than just winning the press conference.

A jolt of energy and excitement into a program is nice, but ultimately fit between coach and program – from personality to style to recruiting footprint – will decide which programs flourish and which flounder.

Here are five coaches and programs that are set up to succeed with their new arraignment …

… and five that look destined for trouble.

TOP FIVE

1. ARCHIE MILLER, Indiana: Plenty of programs came calling for Archie Miller over the years as he piled up wins and NCAA tournament bids, but none could. Until Indiana came open, offering more than $3 million and the chance to take the reigns of one of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of college basketball. The Hoosiers and Miller are a match that seems destined to work.
The Hoosiers aren’t likely to contend atop the Big Ten this year as the roster just isn’t built for instant success, if it were, Tom Crean would likely still be installed in Bloomington, but this ranking is based on instant success. Indiana was only able to get Miller to leave Dayton because it offers one of college basketball’s best jobs, and Indiana only wanted Miller because he’s proven to be one of the sport’s best young coaches.

The only question is if Miller can recruit at a level commensurate to his new position, something he didn’t have to do in Dayton. Given his reputation and the resources available to him at Indiana, that seems like a sure bet.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

2. CHRIS HOLTMANN, Ohio State: Holtmann is in much the same situation as Miller, taking over at an accomplished program with a huge athletic department budget but a slump success recently. Holtmann took over the Butler program in 2014 amid difficult circumstances when Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence, and keep the program humming along, going to three-straight NCAA tournaments as a single-digit seed as the Bulldogs navigated their transition to the Big East.
Ohio State has missed back-to-back NCAA tournaments, but Thad Matta’s program has proven that winning at an elite level in Columbus can be done with regularity and over an extended period of time. The Buckeyes’ recruiting footprint has a plethora of talented players living within it, and it’s one Holtmann is well acquainted with having spent nearly his entire career in the midwest. This pairing is a natural fit, and one that should pay major dividends.

3. BRAD UNDERWOOD, Illinois: The third Big Ten coach on here, but Underwood is another proven winner with the chops to get it done. Underwood maxed out Oklahoma State in his lone season in Stillwater, getting Jawun Evans into the NBA draft and helping Jeffrey Carroll blossom into an all-Big 12 player. He’s shown he can develop players at a high level and has the Xs-and-Os acumen to accumulate a 109-27 in his four years as a head coach.

Underwood has already experienced the good and the bad of recruiting his new home state as the Illini pulled five-star point guard Ayo Dosunmo from Chicago, but that reportedly caused their recruitment of another Chicago kid, four-star wing Talen Horton-Tucker, to go sideways. Whatever the truth about what really happened, it illustrates the potential politics and landmines that exist when recruiting the Windy City. If Underwood can do that, and getting Dosunmu suggests that he and his staff can to at least some degree, Champaign could become a destination and Illinois could regain its place among Big Ten contenders. That is, of course, assuming that there’s no carryover to Underwood from his former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans’ arrest by the FBI last month.

4. MIKE RHOADES, VCU: VCU has proven itself to be one of the best jobs outside of a Power 5 conference over the last decade-plus. Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant had enough sucess to jump to a high-major job after four and three seasons, respectively, and Shaka Smart became one of the most sought-after coaches in the country after just a pair of seasons before jumping to resource-rich and expectation-light Texas after five-straight NCAA tournaments. Most recently, Will Wade turned VCU into LSU after just a pair of seasons.

Rhoades seems primed to take advantage of the situation, not in that he’ll look to make a jump from Richmond to a Power 5, but to use the foundation already in place to keep VCU atop the Atlantic 10 and relevant nationally. He’s a former Smart assistant that spent a decade coaching in the DIvision III ranks. Seemingly any coach VCU hires is set up for success, but Rhoades appears to be a seamless fit.

5. CUONZO MARTIN, Missouri: Missouri may have slid into mediocrity – and under Kim Anderson well past it – for much of the past decade, but the Tigers’ job is one with plenty of potential. And Martin looks poised to make the most of his fourth head coaching job in 10 years by taking the shortcut to success that was hiring Michael Porter, Sr., which landed him a potential No. 1 draft pick in Michael Porter, Jr. and five-star Center Jontay Porter. Plus Missouri landed Jeremiah Tilmon, an Illinois defection.

Landing the highly-talented sons of an assistant coach may not be the most sustainable way to success, but it’s a heck of a jump start. If you can get the two Porter brothers, you do it and figure out the future later. Nothing breeds success like success, and Martin’s strategy should bring some immediately to Columbia.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview | SEC Preview
Patrick Ewing (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

BOTTOM FIVE

1. MIKE BOYNTON, Oklahoma State: Brad Underwood bounced from Oklahoma State after feeling like the Sooners were skimping on him financially, declining to give him a significant raise from the below-market $1 million salary after taking the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament. In response…Oklahoma State apparently went the fiscally conservative route of simply elevating Boynton from assistant to the head job for a similar amount of money.

Whether or not Boynton is the man for the job is hard to say, but the perspective here is that Oklahoma State just went the cheap route, declining to invest in its hoops program. That’s a tough way to start a tenure, but making it even more difficult is that outside Jeff Carroll, there’s not a ton of talent in Stillwater. Oh, then there’s the small matter of an FBI investigation into corruption that has ensnared Oklahoma State and resulted in the firing of assistant Lamont Evans. Not ideal for anyone’s first head coaching gig.

2. WYKING JONES, California: Jones’ circumstances aren’t that far off from Boynton’s. They both succeeded coaches who found themselves on the better end of these two lists, and both are going to be making $1 million a year (a relatively small number by Power 5 standards) to try to improve a basketball situation that is less than ideal. Again, tough spot to start your head coaching career.

Jones’ roster is almost completely turning over, making this pretty much a full-scale rebuild. The Bears will need some serious recruiting wins in the next year or two for Jones to get things pointed in the right direction.

3. BRIAN DUTCHER, San Diego State: Dutcher was right by Steve Fisher’s side for all 18 years that Fisher was in southern California, turning the Aztecs into a relevant program. SDSU went to six-straight NCAA tournaments from 2010-15, including get a two-seed in 2011.

Fisher’s retirement, though, comes on the heels of back-to-back NCAA tournament misses in which the Aztecs fell from 28 wins to 19. Dutcher certainly has the resume that warrants getting this job, but it’s also fair to wonder if the program needs a breath of fresh air.

4. PATRICK EWING, Georgetown: Ewing is very respected in coaching circles after spending his post-playing career under some of the top NBA minds, but returning Georgetown back to prominence will take a lot more than being a bright basketball thinker. Ewing has never recruited, and that will be his biggest hurdle in trying to get the Hoyas in the mix both in the Big East.

There’s also the strangeness of the whole situation, which is really what makes this a tough spot more than anything. Ewing is succeeding John Thompson III, the son of the man, John Thompson II, who turned Georgetown into a national power and coached Ewing as a Hoya. That’s awkward. It’s even more awkward if Georgetown doesn’t win big relatively quickly. There’s reason for optimism (though pulling out of the PK-80 would suggest maybe not this year), but there’s a ton of expectation on an unproven head coach who has to navigate some tricky politics. It is D.C., after all.

5. BRIAN GREGORY, South Florida: Gregory turned a solid run at Dayton into a gig at Georgia Tech, where he missed the NCAA tournament each year and just twice was over .500. It’s difficult to see how he’ll have much better luck with the Bulls. The AAC got stronger this year with the inclusion of Wichita State while Houston and SMU continue to build their programs to compete with the historical powers like Memphis and UConn, who are both down now but seem unlikely to stay that way. South Florida hasn’t been above .500 since Stan Heath’s last year in 2012, and the program doesn’t appear set up to succeed any time soon.