3/7 – College Hoops Week in Review: March Madness cometh

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Game of the Week: West Virginia 72, Louisville 70

This is the kind of loss where you feel terrible for Preston Knowles. The senior point guard for the Cardinals shook off a poor shooting afternoon to score seven straight points and give the ‘Ville a 67-61 lead with two minutes left. But after one Casey Mitchell three and a missed free throw by Peyton Siva, Knowles got hung up on a screen and allowed Mitchell to get open for a deep, game-tying three with eight seconds left. Knowles pushed the ball in transition, but he missed a pull-up three and then proceeded to do about the dumbest thing he could in that situation:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJckq0EIrpg]

March Madness Game Winners!!!

Lafayette 73, American 71 2OT: Jim Mower hit a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to lead Lafayette over American 73-71 in double-OT in the Patriot League semifinals. Trailing by two with seven seconds remaining, Tony Johnson drove the length of the floor before kicking it to Mower for the game-winning basket. Ryan Willen hit a 3-pointer with ten seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game, and Mower hit 1 of 2 free throws under ten seconds left in the first OT to force a second over time. Vlad Moldoveanu led all scorers with 26 points, but it was not enough, as Lafayette upset the No. 2-seed Eagles on their home floor. The No. 6-seed Leopards will face top-seeded Bucknell in the Patriot League finals.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JSy_SDhQnE]

Missouri State 58, Southern Illinois 56: The Bears almost didn’t make it out of their first round matchup in the MVC Tournament. Down by nine with two minutes left, Missouri State hit three straight three to tie the game up at 56 before Kyle Weems bailed them out with this shot:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wg4aQNvNF2g]

Robert Morris 64, Quinnipiac 62: Junior guard Velton Jones dribbled off of a ball screen and drove down the lane, hitting a tough floater over two defenders to knock off the Bobcats. Its the second straight season that Quinnipiac has had their season ended by Bobby Mo:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNDLGmRgEG8]

VCU 62, Drexel 60: Chris Fouch buried a three to tie the game with 10 seconds left in the CAA quarterfinals, but Jamie Skeen answered with a gorgeous, baby hook at the buzzer:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDYPdt76SlM]

Player of the Week: Jon Diebler, Ohio State

You want to talk about a player being on fire? On Wednesday, Diebler drilled 10/12 threes against Penn State, finishing with 30 points, three boards, and five assists while setting the school record and tying the Big Ten record for threes in a game. He wans’t done, either, as Diebler had 27 points in Sunday’s 28 point win over Wisconsin. Diebler was 7-8 from deep, putting him at 17-20 for the week.

In the two games this week, Diebler averaged 28.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 4.5 apg. Not only was he 17-20 from three, he shot 18-22 from the floor. He raised his three point percentage — in the last week of the regular season — from 47.7% to 51.1%. I think its safe to say Diebler was feeling it this week.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Brandyn Curry, Harvard: The Crimson clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title with wins over Penn and Princeton on Saturday. Curry was tremendous, averaging 11.5 ppg, 12.0 apg, 2.5 spg and just six turnovers on the weekend.
  • G: Tim Hardaway, Jr, Michigan: The Wolverines had a couple of huge wins to keep themselves in the bubble picture, and Hardaway was the star, averaging 21.0 ppg.
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia: West Virginia clinched the six seed in the Big East Tournament with wins over UConn and Louisville, and Jones was the biggest reason why. He averaged 20.0 ppg and 13.0 rpg, including a 25 point, 16 rebound (11 offensive) performance in the win over the Cardinals.
  • F: Lavoy Allen, Temple: Allen has been terrific the past five games, averaging 17.6 ppg, 14.0 rpg, and 2.0 bpg.
  • C: Tristan Thompson, Texas: Thompson is doing his best to pull Texas out of this slump. While the Longhorns went just 1-1 this week, Thompson had 26 points and 10 boards in a loss to K-State before notching 19 points and 13 boards (nine offensive) in a win over Baylor.
  • Bench: Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall (26.0 ppg, 3.5 spg), Kendall Marshall, UNC (11.0 ppg, 9.5 apg)

Team of the Week: North Carolina Tar Heels

Believe it or not, but the UNC Tar Heels are now your outright ACC champions after knocking off Duke it what amounted to the ACC regular season title game. The game wasn’t all that close, either, as Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes and company jumped out to a big lead early and held on down the stretch.

Plenty of words have already been written on how much better this Tar Heel team is without Larry Drew and with Marshall running the show. The same can be said about Harrison Barnes’ recent play, as he is living up to those all-american expectations. But not much has been said about the play of John Henson and Tyler Zeller. They were the knock on Carolina early in the season, but both have developed into a big-time presence on the glass and in the paint.

If this team wins the ACC Tournament, there is still an outside chance that they can earn themselves a No. 1 seed on Sunday.

Teams deserving a shout out:

Kentucky: The Wildcats finally notched a key victory on the road, going into Tennessee and knocking off the Volunteers. It was a come-from-behind win, as the Wildcats played awful in the first half. But Brandon Knight made the plays late in the game, giving UK their first close, road victory of the season. That came just days after Kentucky knocked off Vanderbilt at home. UK earned themselves the second seed in the SEC Tournament and a first round bye.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had a big week this week, as they beat both UConn and Louisville in Morgantown to take the sixth seed in the Big East Tournament. That means they will be playing the winner of Marquette-Providence on Wednesday.

Notre Dame: The Irish are making a serious case for themselves as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They finished in sole possession of second place in the Big East standings. Perhaps most important this week was that the Irish were able to stave off a UConn run and comeback on the road despite having their star and potential Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough out of the game with five fouls.

Florida: Florida won the outright SEC regular season title by crushing Alabama at home and following that up with a solid win at Vanderbilt on Saturday. There is a lot not too like about Florida this season, but they just keep on winning basketball games. They are getting post production, their guard play has been more consistent, and Chandler Parsons is turning into a star.

Michigan: If the Wolverines end up missing the NCAA Tournament, you can’t say it wasn’t for a lack of effort. After starting league play 1-6, Michigan rallied to end the year tied for fourth at 9-9, including wins at Minnesota and over Michigan State this week. The Wolverines still have some work to do, but the fact that they are in this conversation is impressive.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats aren’t just going to back into the NCAA Tournament. They deserve to be their. After losing at home to UConn, Mick Cronin’s club bounced back with wins against Marquette and Georgetown, the latter coming by 22 points.

Fordham: Congratulations to Fordham as they avoided a winless regular season by knocking off UMass on Saturday.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.