WEEKLY AWARDS: Creighton’s Maurice Watson shines, Kansas has huge week

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maurice Watson, Creighton

Creighton entered this week on the bubble of the bubble, meaning that, despite sitting in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings, the Bluejays had a big hole to climb if they wanted to make it back to the NCAA tournament.

And thanks to Mo Watson, Creighton started that climb.

Watson, who stands a shade up 6-foot, totally dominated No. 5 Xavier in a blowout win over the Musketeers, finishing with 32 points, seven boards and five assists. He followed that up with 18 points and 10 assists as Creighton landed a top 100 road win against Marquette.

All told, in the most important week of the season for the bluejays, Waston averaged 25.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 boards and 2.0 steals while shooting 54.5 percent from the floor and 81.3 percent from the line. That’s a good week, but Creighton is going to need quite a few more nights like that if they’re going to pull off an at-large bid.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Vitto Brown, Wisconsin: Brown scored a career-high 18 points in a win over Nebraska in the middle of the week, and followed that up with a new career-high of 21 points as the Badgers went into College Park and knocked off No. 2 Maryland by 13 points.
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram went for 18 points, 10 boards and four assists in a win over Louisville, but his most impressive performance of the week was the 25 points that he put on Virginia. That included a stretch where Ingram scored 18 straight points. Not bad, right?
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: After going for 17 points in a win at Clemson, Jackson followed that up with 27 points and five assists as the Fighting Irish picked up a come-from-behind win to knock off No. 13 Louisville.
  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: Ulis finished with a modest 14 points and eight assists in a blowout win over Georgia before going for 27 points and 12 assists in a dominating performance in a 27 point win at South Carolina in a game that John Calipari was thrown out of 2:26 in. Not a bad day.
  • Jabari Bird, Cal: Did Bird bust out of a season-long slump this weekend? He averaged 23.5 points in wins over Oregon and Oregon State, shooting 18-for-28 from the floor and 9-for-16 from three. He set a season-high on back-to-back nights; he hadn’t scored more than 17 points this season.
  • Nick Emery, BYU: In two wins for the Cougars, Emery averaged 34 points this week, including a 37 point outburst on Thursday when he hit 10 threes.
Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) shoots between Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins, left, forward Ryan Spangler, center, and forward Khadeem Lattin, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

If Kansas does end up extending their Big 12 regular season title streak to 12, this may very well be the week that got it done.

On Tuesday, they handled No. 10 West Virginia fairly easily in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. On Saturday, they followed that up by going into Norman and knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma. Those two wins put the Jayhawks in a tie for first place in the Big 12 standings — with West Virginia, a game in front of Oklahoma, who still have to play at West Virginia this season. The race is far from over, but there was a real chance that we could have been sitting here today talking about how Kansas was three game out of first in the league.

So the wins alone were huge.

But how they got those wins might have been more important.

Kansas won at Oklahoma on a night where their two “stars”, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, shot 6-for-21 from the floor. They won because Devonte’ Graham scored 27 points and hit two critical threes in the final three minutes. Kansas picked up one of the best wins of the college basketball season, and they did so when they were carried by someone we thought was a role player.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Texas Tech: Before this week, the Red Raiders lost eight of their last ten games. Then they went out and beat Iowa State in overtime, following that up by pounding Baylor in Waco. Suddenly, it looks like Tubby Smith has an outside shot of coaching in the NCAA tournament.
  • Duke: The Blue Devils are back on the map as a potential second weekend team after landing wins over Louisville and Virginia in Cameron Indoor Stadium this week. If they win at UNC and Louisville next week, we might be able to call them a potential Final Four team again.
  • Wisconsin: The Badgers capped their seven-game winning streak on Saturday with a 70-57 win at No. 2 Maryland. They’re back in the mix as a potential bubble team, and are one elite win (at Michigan State, at Iowa, at Purdue) away from dancing.
  • Cal: Not only did the Bears get Tyrone Wallace back, but Jabari Bird found his shooting stroke, Jaylen Brown continued his excellent play and Cal landed wins over Oregon and Oregon State. Now let’s see what they could do on the road?
  • Michigan: The Wolverines won at Minnesota last week and following that up with a win over Purdue, which is good for any team in any week. The bigger news? Caris LeVert returned to action. He only played a half — a scoreless 11 minutes, actually — but he’s back. That’s what matters.
  • Alabama: So I guess we have to start paying attention to Alabama now. After wins over Texas A&M and Florida on the road, Avery Johnson’s club is within striking range of the NCAA tournament. Who saw that coming?

SET YOUR DVR

No. 10 West Virginia at No. 24 Texas, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at No. 21 Baylor, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
Duke at No. 9 North Carolina, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
No. 12 Miami at No. 9 North Carolina, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 10 West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 18 Purdue at Indiana, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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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

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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.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.