Can UConn rebound in the NCAA Tournament?

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One of the most intriguing story lines of the first weekend is the UConn Huskies.

Here we have the nation’s defending national champions. There are two lottery picks on the roster and a handful of players with the potential to play their way into the NBA Draft down the road. On paper, there may not be a team better suited towards knocking off Kentucky, the prohibitive favorite in this tournament, than the Huskies.

The problem is that the tournament isn’t played on paper, the same way that UConn’s season wasn’t played on paper.

UConn was one of, if not the most disappointing team during the regular season. They finished below .500 in the Big East and needed a pair of wins in the Big East Tournament just to ensure themselves an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Not exactly what you would expect from a team that was considered by many to be a legitimate National Title contender back in October.

The question that everyone is asking — and that Big Blue Nation seems to be a bit concerned about — is whether or not the Huskies have a real chance to get out of Louisville that first weekend without a loss.

And as a self-proclaimed expert on the subject, the answer is undoubtedly … maybe?

The million dollar question right now is whether or not the UConn team that went 3-1 since Jim Calhoun’s return to the sideline — with the one loss being a nail-biter to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament — has actually changed this team. On the surface it looks like it. They shook off a stretch where they lost nine of 12 to win three in a row when Calhoun returned. But those wins came against a Pitt team that is nowhere near what we expect out of that program, Big East cellar-dweller DePaul and a slumping West Virginia. UConn was also competitive with Syracuse in two games already this year.

What’s more is that this could be the last time that UConn looks like UConn for a while. Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are expected to declare for the draft. Alex Oriakhi, and a couple of other notable players, have rumors surrounding their future in a UConn uniform. Jim Calhoun’s health is deteriorating to the point that he may be forced to retire after the year. And all this is occurring with a potential postseason ban on the horizon for 2013.

This may be UConn’s last chance at a run for tournament glory.

But that will require the Huskies beating a good Iowa State team that is a matchup nightmare and then knocking off Kentucky in Louisville.

My advice: enjoy it while it lasts, Husky fans. It may not be for much longer.

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

West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate returns to school

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The nation’s most entertaining shot-blocker is back for another season.

Sagaba Konate, a 6-foot-9 center from Mali, will return to school for his junior season to anchor West Virginia’s defense for yet another season, according to ESPN.

Konate declared for the draft and went through the combine, and while his shot-blocking and intensity shined through there as it did throughout the season, he’s more of a mid-to-late second round pick than he is a first rounder at this point.

As a sophomore, Konate averaged 10.8 points, 7.6 boards and 3.2 blocks. He also shot 79 percent from the free throw line.

So let’s sit back and enjoy what we get to see for another year:

Luke Maye to return to North Carolina for senior season

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Luke Maye is returning to North Carolina for his senior season, meaning that the Tar Heels will have their preseason National Player of the Year candidate back in the fold.

Who saw that coming?

“I have had a great experience learning from the NBA process and growing as a basketball player during the past couple weeks,” Maye wrote on Instagram. “I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches and teammates for all of their support. Through this process, I have decided that I am going to comeback to school to improve as a player and finish my college career. I am looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face and there is no better group to do it with than my teammates and the Carolina family! Time to finish the right way with two of the best players and leaders that I know! Let’s finish our legacy the right way!”

Maye, who averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 boards as a junior, declared for the draft last month, but he did not get invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. The 6-foot-9 forward is a stretch four that will fit perfectly at the four for the Tar Heels this season, with Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams on the perimeter and a trio of sophomore bigs to handle the five.

Getting Maye back was key, but expected. UNC reaching their ceiling this season will depend on whether or not their point guard play is up to par. With Jalek Felton gone and Joel Berry II graduated, that is going to come down to whether or not Seventh Woods can handle the lead guard role or if Coby White can step in and start as a freshman.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

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.