NCAA Tournament Day 3 recap

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pitt 70

This wasn’t only the game of the day. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games that I’ve seen in, well, ever. Butler and Pitt spent the first 39 minutes and change slugging this one out. Pitt kept trying to open up a lead, but Butler’s Shelvin Mack was playing one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points, hitting countless big jumpers, to keep the Bulldogs in it. As good as the game was, all anyone is going to talk about is the ending.

Pitt eventually took a 69-68 lead, but Butler had the ball with 7.1 seconds left in the game. They inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who drove and found Andrew Smith for a layup with 2.2 seconds left. Pitt didn’t have any timeouts left, so Ashton Gibbs led Gilbert Brown up the sideline when Mack fouled him with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first and missed the second, but Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard with 0.8 seconds left on the rebound. Howard hit one of two, and Butler took out the first No. 1 seed.

Player of the Day: Kemba Walker, UConn

UConn may very well be the hottest team in the country, having now won seven straight games in March. And Kemba Walker could very well be the hottest player in the country. He scored 130 points as UConn won five straight games in the Big East Tournament before he went for 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards in a first round win over Bucknell.

Kemba was just as hot against Cincinnati on Saturday night. He had 33 points, six boards, and five assists. More impressively, however, is that after struggling through the first 10 minutes of the second half — scoring two points as he battled what appeared to be a wrist injury — Walker scored 16 points to help hold off a scrappy Bearcat team.

Team of the Day: Wisconsin Badgers

I’ve said it numerous times in this space — Jordan Taylor is arguably the best point guard in the country and inarguably the most important player on the Wisconsin team. I’ve also said that Jacob Pullen is the guy that Kansas State needs to go off if they hope to make run in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday night, Pullen scored 38 points and showed off every reason he has cemented himself as a legend in Manhattan, Kan., while Jordan Taylor struggled his way to a 2-16 shooting performance.

But at the end of the game, it was Wisconsin — and Taylor — that made all of the big plays. The Badgers erased a six-point deficit late in the game, and after Taylor nearly blew a three-point lead by fouling Pullen on three point attempt (he missed the second), Taylor blocked a game-tying three point try from Pullen to seal the game. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Wisconsin had a chance to win this game if I told you that Pullen scored 38 points and Taylor went 2-16?

No. 2 San Diego 71, No. 7 Temple 64, 2OT: The Aztecs did everything they could to hand this game to Temple. They turned the ball over in the back court. They failed to win the game at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime. But when the final buzzer sounded, SDSU picked up a win in the exact manner that you would expect. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas combined for 45 points, 31 boards (10 offensive), seven assists, five steals, and five blocks.

No. 4 Kentucky 71, No. 5 West Virginia 63: Just two days after hitting the game-winning shot — his only field goal of the game — Brandon Knight scored 30 points in a win over West Virginia. He sparked an 11-0 run to open the second half and erase an eight point half time deficit and then hit six free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Of note — it was the first time in eight years that John Calipari was able to knock off Bob Huggins.

No. 2 Florida 73, No. 7 UCLA 65: Erving Walker was the hero against UCLA scoring 10 of the last 12 Gator points and hitting two huge shots down the stretch. Walker finished with 21 points on just eight field goals attempts. The other important note from this game is that Kenny Boynton rolled his ankle in the second half. He came back and tried to play, but he was limping badly and was completely immobile.

No. 3 BYU 89, No. 11 Gonzaga 67: After getting 24 points and six assists from Marquise Carter in an impressive win over St. John’s in the first round of the tournament, the Zags were trending upwards. Or some we thought. Carter was a no-show and BYU ran Gonzaga on the floor. Jimmer Fredette finished with 34 points and six assists and Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock combined for 29 points and six threes.

No. 12 Richmond 65, No. 13 Morehead State 48: Morehead State had no answer for Richmond’s Justin Harper, who finished with a game-high 19 points as the Spiders advanced to the Sweet 16. Kevin Anderson added 14 points. Kenneth Faried had 13 boards, seven on the offensive end, but only managed to score 11 points. Demonte Harper had just four points on 2-15 shooting.

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

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.