Ranking the Sweet 16 matchups


No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 North Carolina, Thu. 7:47 p.m.: The luster on this matchup will dull a bit if Kennedy Meeks is actually unable to play, but the Badgers should still get a test from a North Carolina team that still seems to be flying a bit under the radar. I’m high on UNC. We all know how good Marcus Paige is and how is is capable of taking a game over, but UNC is so much more than that this year. It starts with their front line, who can physically overwhelm opponents even if Meeks is unable to go. But with J.P. Tokoto, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry playing better of late, the Heels have gotten enough help on their perimeter to take quite a bit of pressure off of Paige.

The Badgers have not played their best basketball yet in this tournament, and if that continues on Thursday, the Heels will have a real chance to send them back to Madison.

No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia, Thu. 9:45 p.m.: Let me preface this by saying that I think Kentucky ends up winning this game. That said, I have a feeling that West Virginia is going to give the Wildcats a fight and will be within striking distance down the stretch. There’s three reasons why:

  • 1. The press. West Virginia’s pressure is different and more aggressive than anything Kentucky has faced this season. The Harrisons aren’t great ball-handlers, and Tyler Ulis is small enough that those traps may overwhelm him.
  • 2. No team coached by Bobby Huggins is ever going to be intimidated. By anyone. And when playing this Kentucky team, that’s half the battle.
  • 3. Huggins has a reputation, and very little of it has to do with his coaching acumen. But Huggs is one of the best at finding a way to put his players in a position to win. Remember the 2010 Elite 8, when a West Virginia team led by Da’Sean Butler beat Kentucky, who had John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson. Can he do it again?

The Mountaineers have the size, depth and athleticism to give Kentucky some trouble, and I think that they will.

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wichita State, Thu. 7:15 p.m.: The perimeter battle in this game will be unbelievable. Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson vs. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Yes, please. Let’s make some predictions on how they match up, shall we? I think it will be fairly straight forward for the Irish — Jackson on VanVleet, Grant on Baker, etc. — when they’re not in zone. But I think the Shockers mix it up, sliding Tekele Cotton onto Grant and using either Baker or VanVleet on Jackson. In my mind that makes Jackson the x-factor for the Shockers, as he may be the quickest player left in the NCAA tournament and should be able to beat either of the two Wichita State defenders off the bounce.

No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Michigan State, Fri. 10:07 p.m.: The way that Michigan State beat Virginia was to open things up in transition, beating the Cavaliers down the floor and scoring before they could set their vaunted Pack-Line defense. Oklahoma, like Virginia, is elite defensively, meaning that the Spartans will be looking to do the same thing again. That said, Oklahoma likes to get up and down the floor as well, so that could play right into their hands. This game has the most “thrill potential” of any in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah, Fri. 9:45 p.m.: I really like this Utah team, but I’m having trouble trying to figure out how they are going to deal with Jahlil Okafor inside. I’m not sure Jakob Poeltl is nearly strong enough to play any real defense against him in the post, and while Dallin Bachynski is probably a better option on that end, Poeltl’s effectiveness in the pick-and-roll will draw Okafor out defensively, where he struggles. If Utah is going to have a shot, Delon Wright is going to have to play like an all-american, which he hasn’t done yet this tournament.

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 6 Xavier, Thu. 10:17 p.m.: I feel bad for Sean Miller. He had to knock out Ohio State and, Thad Matta, one of his best friends in the business, in the Round of 32. Now he has to play Chris Mack, who was on his staff at Xavier and, obviously, succeeded him as Musketeer head coach.

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 UCLA, Fri. 7:15 p.m.: On paper, this seems like it should be close, as the Bruins are one of the most talented 11 seeds that you’ll see in the tournament. But this is the best team that Mark Few has ever had at Gonzaga. The biggest, too, so Tony Parker won’t be making light work of Gonzaga’s front line like he did to UAB. Bryce Alford vs. Kevin Pangos will be fun, but the key here is going to be Kyle Wiltjer vs. Kevon Looney. Whoever gets the best of that matchup wins.

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 N.C. State, Fri 7:37 p.m.: You know it’s a good Sweet 16 when a game like this is the “worst” matchup. Here’s what makes it intriguing to me: N.C. State is clearly the more talented team, and they might have been the more talented team even if the Cardinals still had Chris Jones on the roster. But the Wolfpack have been anything but consistent this season — hell, this tournament — and they’ll be going up against Rick Pitino, who will have five days to prepare for the game.

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.