Monday Overreactions: Josh Langford arrives, Gonzaga’s great, Virginia’s better?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Joshua Langford, Michigan State

It took a couple of years for us to get here, but we all finally saw what made Joshua Langford a five-star prospect coming out of high school.

The 6-foot-4 off-guard has developed a reputation for being underwhelming in East Lansing. He hasn’t taken over games since he arrived on campus even though the only played ranked higher than him in the loaded Class of 2016 that is still in college is Marques Bolden. He’s not quite athletic enough to get all the way to the rim. He settles for too many long twos, playing as a pull-up jump-shooter when he hasn’t been all that great at jump-shooting. He’s fine, I guess, which is how many view this Michigan State team as a whole.

The Spartans are considered by some to be overrated as a borderline top ten team. Who, they’ll ask you, are the good players on the Spartans? Who scares you if you’re an opposing coach? This is precisely the conversation I had with one scout in the press room at Barclays on Friday prior to the start of the Kansas-Tennessee game.

At that point, the score was Texas 25, Michigan State 6, and I don’t think it is too much of an overreaction to say that this was something of a crossroads in Michigan State’s season. They were getting run out of the gym by a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team, which is not a good sign when in-state rival Michigan is mowing down any and everyone in their path while the Big Ten continues to dominate during the non-conference.

And to their credit, Michigan State turned that thing around, and Langford played a pivotal role. He scored all 29 of his points in the final 29:35 of a 78-68 Michigan State win. He scored 22 of those 29 points in the second half, including 11 points in a 14-2 run to open the period. He buried a three to give Michigan State their first lead of the game at 50-49. He hit another jumper with 13 minutes left to push the lead to 55-51, and the Longhorns never again got within a single possession.

Langford is now Michigan State’s leading scorer and best three-point shooter on the season.

This is who we thought Langford was when he arrived on campus, and if this is who he continues to be, the ceiling for Michigan State’s preseason expectations are in reach.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Is there really another option?

Playing without Killian Tillie, Gonzaga headed to the Maui Invitational and showed the nation why they have been considered to be a peer of Duke and Kansas at the top of the polls since the preseason. The Zags survived a challenge from Illinois and Trent Frazier before outscoring Arizona by 30 points in the second half, which led them to the Maui title game where the Zags put to rest all of that premature talk about Duke’s 40-0 season.

Rui Hachimura was dominant. Brandon Clarke Was a defensive menace. Zach Norvell Jr. continued to show why he may have the biggest stones of any shooter in college basketball. Corey Kispert got the attention of everyone as one of college basketball’s best role players. And Josh Perkins, the guy we were all worried about heading into the season, settled some of those concerns. I’m not yet convinced he is the answer Gonzaga needs at the point, but it is quite evident that he is not going to torpedo this season.

There is a reason that the Zags are the new No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25, and — Are you ready for this scorching hot take? — now have a better chance to go 40-0 this season than Duke ever did. The Bulldogs should cruise through league play, where the WCC is easier than the ACC, which means that if they can get past Creighton, Washington, No. 5 Tennessee and No. 7 North Carolina, they could enter the NCAA tournament without a loss fairly easily.

(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)



Remember when we all thought that Virginia was going to be in for a down year?


The Wahoos have been as good as ever through the first two weeks of the season. Ty Jerome was playing at an all-american level before he came back down to earn in wins over Dayton and No. 25 Wisconsin. De’Andre Hunter, on the other hand, has looked every bit the part of a top ten pick, as he’s averaging 16.8 points while shooting 46.7 percent from three. Kihei Clark has proven to be an effective piece that gives Virginia backcourt depth and some lineup versatility; he’s a role player, but he is really effective in his role, pestering ball-handlers and operating as a point guard to give Ty Jerome some possessions off the ball.

All of this is happening as Kyle Guy is still working his way into a rhythm this season and Braxton Key is trying to find his role within this offense.

“The teams [with Malcolm Brogdon] were better overall defensively,” said a coach that has scouted Virginia in recent seasons, noting that the trade-off is that this group is harder to guard. “They’ve small-balled it more with Key and Hunter. They’re more versatile. Still tough and talented [defensively].”

I said it before the season and I’ll say it again now: Virginia is Villanova before the titles. If you remember back then, the narrative was that the Wildcats weren’t talented enough to do more than run through the new Big East, that a team that relies on the three-ball cannot win the national title.

Well, the narrative with Virginia is that they are not talented enough to win it all, and that a team that relies on their defense cannot win a national title.

This may be the year they finally buck that narrative.


Chris Beard is a freakin’ wizard.

Here we are just eight months removed from the Red Raiders losing their top two players and their most versatile defender from what seemed like a once-in-a-generation team for the Red Raiders, and they already appear to be back in the mix for a run at the top of the Big 12.

Jarrett Culver made the leap. Through six games, he is averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 boards and 4.3 assists — which includes the 44 points, 15 boards and seven assists he had in come-from-behind wins over USC and Nebraska last week — all while shooting 50 percent from three. He’s turned into a go-to scorer that is a threat from beyond the arc and can put it on the floor and create.

Throw in South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney and St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, and Beard has once again managed to fit a bunch of pieces together and make them into a force to be reckoned with.

Here’s to hoping he stays in Lubbock for a long, long time.

Jarrett Culver (Elsa/Getty Images)


The Big 12 once again looks like it is going to be a gauntlet.

We know about Kansas and Kansas State at this point, and while West Virginia hasn’t looked like the team we all thought they would be entering the season, they are really the only program in the conference that is underperforming right now. Texas Tech, as we mentioned, looks like they are back in the mix at the top of the league. Oklahoma just went 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, beating Florida and losing to No. 25 Wisconsin. Oklahoma State blew out Memphis and then beat No. 19 LSU by 13 points on Sunday; if it wasn’t for one of the worst calls in the history of college basketball, the Cowboys would have just a single loss on the season — to Villanova. Texas just beat No. 7 North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational, and this looks like it could be the best team that Shaka Smart has had in Austin.

And then there is Iowa State, who is currently sitting at 5-1 on the season with blowout wins over Missouri, Illinois and San Diego State despite the fact that they are playing without four key rotation pieces, including their most talented guard (Lindell Wigginton) and their best big man (Cameron Lard). Talen Horton-Tucker and Nick Weiler-Babb have proven that you can have a hyphen in your name and still dominate.

When the Cyclones get healthy, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with, especially if they continue to defend at this level. Even TCU, who has been the most disappointing team in the league, has reasons for their struggles: They are still waiting for a pair of starters — Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi — to get fully healthy.

Should I mention that Kansas is currently sitting at 5-0 with wins over Tennessee, Michigan State and Marquette, and they still don’t look like they are close to hitting their stride?

This league is going to get wild.


The Wildcats suffered back-to-back losses and dropped from No. 4 to outside the top 25 before proceeding to head down to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational where they ripped the heads off of Canisius, Oklahoma State and No. 14 Florida State.

Villanova is going to go through some growing pains, but they should probably come out of this just fine.  The main reason I say that is that on Sunday, they managed to beat a good Florida State team while shooting just 3-for-14 from three. They won a game based on their ability to be tough defensively and the fact that they decided to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim when their shots weren’t dropping. Collin Gillespie played very well, as did Dhamir Cosby-Rountree.

We’ll see how long this lasts, but this was a message to the rest of the Big East: “The league is still ours.”


There are a trio of teams that I did not expect all that much from this season that have proven to be better than expected: Minnesota, Maryland and Arizona State.

Just how good are they?

I’m not quite sure.

Arizona State knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State in impressive fashion in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational last week before trucking Utah State in the title game. Luguentz Dort was terrific — as he has been all season long — while Kimani Lawrence has provided a scoring boost as well. I’m going to hold off having a strong take until I see them against Nevada.

Minnesota is another team that had some buzz entering the season, and they’ve gone 5-0 to start the year, including wins over Utah, Texas &M and Washington. They’ll start Big Ten play next week with a trip to Ohio State and a home date with Nebraska. We’ll know then.

Maryland is 6-0. They play Virginia in College Park on Wednesday. Buena suerte.

Dream season ends for FAU in 72-71 Final Four loss to Aztecs

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HOUSTON (AP) FAU’s debut at the Final Four ended in the most excruciating manner imaginable.

The Owls led for the last 27 minutes, 25 seconds of Saturday night’s game against San Diego State, only to watch their dream of a title become a nightmare when Lamont Butler’s jumper went through the net at the buzzer to give the Aztecs a 72-71 victory.

The Owls made school history by getting here, only to walk off the court in shock as the Aztecs bounced around in celebration.

“I was in shock when the buzzer went off,” said FAU’s Nick Boyd.

Florida Atlantic’s players smiled and many danced on the bench during a second half in which it appeared they’d move within one win of a title no one could have seen coming.

Instead they ended up with a loss that nobody will ever forget.

Butler’s shot goes into the March Madness annals, alongside Jalen Suggs’ long-range buzzer-beater for Gonzaga two years ago in the national semifinal, and even something that happened on this very floor the last time the Final Four was Houston in 2016: Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater to win the title for Villanova.

Which means FAU will be remembered alongside UCLA and North Carolina as victims of some of the most crushing last-second losses this tournament has seen.

For so long, it didn’t look like it would go that way.

Jalen Gaffney made a 3-pointer to put the Owls ahead 26-24 with 7:25 left in the first half. FAU didn’t trail again until the buzzer.

The Owls were up by 9 with 11 minutes to go after testing San Diego State’s vaunted defense like no one had in this tournament before the Aztecs started chipping away at the lead.

The Aztecs got within 2 for the first time with about 10 minutes to go and tied it with 4 1/2 minutes left.

Giancarlo Rosado put the Owls back on top with a fadeaway jumper seconds later, but they didn’t make another field goal until Alijah Martin’s layup made it 71-68 with 45 seconds left.

Jaedon LeDee hit a jumper to cut FAU’s lead to 1 with 36 seconds left.

Johnell Davis missed a layup with nine seconds left that would have padded the lead.

Nathan Mensah grabbed a rebound before Butler’s jumper swished through the net at the buzzer to end this Cinderella’s dream season.

AP March Madness coverage: and bracket: and and

Clark, Iowa end perfect South Carolina season in Final Four

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – Caitlin Clark overwhelmed the reigning champions with another sensational game, scoring 41 points to help Iowa spoil South Carolina’s perfect season with a 77-73 victory on Friday night in the Final Four.

The spectacular junior guard set a record for the highest-scoring semifinal game and became the first women’s player to post back-to-back 40-point games in the NCAA Tournament. She now has the Hawkeyes in a spot they’ve never been in before – one victory away from a national championship.

They’ll have to beat another SEC team to do that as Iowa (31-6) will face LSU in the title game on Sunday afternoon. The Tigers beat Virginia Tech in the other national semifinal.

It’s the Tigers’ first appearance in the title game as Kim Mulkey became the second coach to take two different teams to the championship game.

Thanks to the spectacular play of Clark and the historic year by South Carolina, this was one of the most talked about and highly anticipated matchups in women’s Final Four history,

The game lived up to the hype surrounding it- the best player vs. the best team – much to the delight of the sellout crowd of over 19,000 fans.

Coach Dawn Staley and South Carolina (36-1) had won 42 in a row, including last year’s championship game.

This was Iowa’s first appearance in the Final Four in 30 years. The last time the Hawkeyes advanced this far was 1993 and C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of that team that lost to Ohio State in overtime.

Clark wowed the crowd that included Harper Stribe, a young fan of the team who has been battling cancer. She was featured in a surprise video that informed the Hawkeyes’ star that she was the AP Player of the Year.

Trailing 59-55 entering the fourth quarter, South Carolina scored the first five points to take the lead. Clark answered right back with two deep 3-pointers and an assist to Monika Czinano to give the Hawkeyes a 67-62 lead.

South Carolina got within 69-68 on Raven Johnson’s 3-pointer before Clark got a steal for a layup with 3:32 left. Neither team scored again until star Aliyah Boston was fouled with 1:37 left. She made the second of two free throws.

Clark then scored another layup on the other end out of a timeout to make it a four-point game. After a layup by Zia Cooke made it a two-point game with 58 seconds left, the Hawkeyes ran the clock down with McKenna Warnock grabbing a huge offensive rebound off a Clark miss with 18 seconds remaining.

Clark hit two free throws after South Carolina fouled her with 13.5 seconds left. They were her 38th and 39th point, moving her past Nneka Ogwumike for the most points scored in a Final Four semifinal game.

After a putback by Johnson with 9.9 seconds left got the Gamecocks within 75-73, Clark sealed the game with two more free throws.

As the final seconds went off the clock Clark threw the ball high in the air and galloped around the court.

The loss ended a spectacular season for the defending champion Gamecocks, who were trying to become the 10th team to go through a season unbeaten.

Cooke led the Gamecocks with 24 points. Slowed by foul trouble, Boston had just eight points and 10 rebounds as the Hawkeyes packed the paint, daring South Carolina to shoot from the outside.

The Gamecocks finished 4-for-20 from behind the 3-point line and couldn’t take advantage of their 49-25 advantage on the boards that included 26 offensive rebounds.

Mulkey, LSU women rally in Final Four, reach first title game

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is back in another national championship game, this time taking the flagship university from her home state there for the first time.

It took LSU only two seasons to get there with the feisty and flamboyantly dressed coach, and a big comeback in the national semifinal game that was quite an undercard Friday night.

Alexis Morris scored 27 points and had two of her misses in the fourth quarter turned into putback baskets by Angel Reese in a big run as LSU rallied to beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 in the first semifinal game.

“I’m never satisfied. I’m super-excited that we won, but I’m hungry,” said Morris, who jumped on a courtside table and fired up LSU fans after the game. “Like, I’m greedy. I want to win it all so I can complete the story.”

Reese finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (33-2), which will play in the national title game Sunday against the winner of the highly anticipated matchup between Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina or Iowa in the other semifinal.

“It’s like a dream. It still hasn’t hit me that I’m at the Final Four,” said Reese, the transfer from Maryland who carries the nickname, ”Bayou Barbie.” “I’m just not even believing this right now. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in one year.”

Mulkey – in a carnation pink top this time – won three national titles in four Final Four appearances over her 21 seasons at Baylor. She is only the second coach to take two different teams to the national championship game. The other is C. Vivian Stringer, who did it with Cheyney in the inaugural 1982 women’s tournament and Rutgers in 2007.

“I came home for lots of reasons,” Mulkey said. “One, to some day hang a championship banner in the PMAC (Pete Maravich Assembly Center). Never, ever do you think you’re going to do something like this in two years.”

LSU made five national semifinal games in a row from 2004-08 – the only times the Tigers had made it this far. They lost each of those years.

The Tigers had to dig deep for this one, with neither team backing down.

Trailing 59-50 after three quarters, LSU went ahead with a 15-0 run over a five-minute span. The Tigers led for the first time since late in the first half when Falu’jae Johnson had a steal and drove for a layup to make it 64-62.

Reese had six points in that game-turning spurt, including a basket after Morris’ attempted 3-pointer clanked off the front rim. Reese had a second-effort follow of her own miss after rebounding another shot by Morris.

Elizabeth Kitley, the 6-foot-6 senior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia Tech (31-5), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion that was in the Final Four for the first time. Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor each had 17 points, while Cayla King had 14.

Amoore set a record for the most 3-pointers in a single NCAA Tournament with 24, though she had a tough night shooting – 4 of 17 overall, including 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. She passed Kia Nurse’s record 22 set in the 2017 tourney for UConn, which lost in the national semifinals on the same court. Arizona’s Aari McDonald had 22 in six NCAA tourney games two years ago.

The big run for LSU came right after Amoore made her last 3-pointer with 7:52 left for a 62-57 lead. The Hokies didn’t make another basket until King’s 3 with 1:19 left.

“I think we had a few crucial turnovers as well as missed box-outs where they scored on second-chance opportunities,” Traylor said. “I think that’s just what it came down to really.”

Morris had opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for LSU, then had a driving layup before Reese had a layup after a steal by Johnson. That quick 7-0 run prompted a timeout by Hokies coach Kenny Brooks.

“They hit a couple of shots, gave them a little bit of momentum. They hit a 3 right off the bat … kind of changed the momentum,” Brooks said. “They were aggressive in the passing lanes. But they also were a little bit more aggressive down low.”

Virginia Tech had ended the first half with its own 11-0 run to lead for the first time, at 34-32 on Traylor’s driving layup with 53 seconds left.

But it was the Tigers who led for 17:55 of the first half with the Hokies getting off to a slow start shooting – they missed eight of their first nine shots – that an LSU cheerleader had an assist even before they officially had a shot.

King was charged with a turnover on a ball that hit the rim and bounced over the top of the backboard and got stuck there. With encouragement from officials and others at that end, a male cheerleader lifted up a female cheerleader, who knocked the ball down.

Gradey Dick to leave Kansas for NBA draft after one season

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas sharpshooter Gradey Dick is entering the NBA draft after one season with the Jayhawks.

The 6-foot-8 guard announced his decision in a social media post Friday.

Dick started all 36 games for the Jayhawks and averaged 14.1 points while shooting better than 40% from 3-point range. He made 83 3-pointers, a program record for a freshman.

Kansas lost to Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, with Dick scoring just seven points in his finale.

Marquette’s Shaka Smart voted men’s AP coach of the year

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Shaka Smart has packed an entire career’s worth of experiences into 14 years as a college head coach. He led VCU to an improbable Final Four as a 30-something wunderkind in 2011, guided mighty Texas to a Big 12 Tournament title during six otherwise tepid years in Austin, and now has turned Marquette into a Big East beast.

It’s sometimes easy to forget he’s still just 45 years old.

Yet his work with the Golden Eagles this season might have been his best: Picked ninth in the 11-team league by its coaches, they won the regular-season title going away, then beat Xavier to win their first Big East Tournament championship.

That earned Smart the AP coach of the year award Friday. He garnered 24 of 58 votes from a national media panel to edge Kansas State’s Jerome Tang, who received 13 votes before guiding the Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who earned 10 before taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16.

Voting opened after the regular season and closed at the start of the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 2 seed Golden Eagles were knocked out in the second round by Michigan State and Smart’s longtime mentor, Tom Izzo.

“I’m very grateful to win this award,” said Smart, the second Marquette coach to take it home after Hall of Famer Al McGuire in 1971, “but obviously it always comes back to the guys you have on your team.

“Early on,” Smart said, “we had a real sense the guys had genuine care and concern for one another, and we had a very good foundation for relationships that we could continue to build on. And over the course of seasons, you go through so many different experiences as a team. And those experiences either bring you closer together or further apart. Our guys did a great job, even through adverse experiences, even through challenges, becoming closer together.”

It’s hardly surprising such cohesion is what Smart would choose to remember most from a most memorable season.

The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who holds a master’s degree in social science from California University of Pennsylvania, long ago earned a reputation for building close bonds with players and a tight-knit camaraderie within his teams.

No matter how high or low the Golden Eagles were this season, those traits carried them through.

“Everything that we go through, whether it be the retreat that we went on before the season, all the workouts in the summer, he’s preaching his culture,” said Tyler Kolek, a third-team All-American. “And he’s showing his leadership every single day, and just trying to impart that on us, and kind of put it in our DNA. Because it’s definitely in his DNA.”

That’s reflected in the way Smart, who accepted the Marquette job two years ago after an often bumpy tenure at Texas, has rebuilt the Golden Eagles program after it had begun to languish under Steve Wojciechowski.

Sure, Smart landed his share of transfers – Kolek among them – in an era in which the portal has become so prevalent. But he largely built a team that finished 29-7 this season around high school recruits, eschewing a quick fix in the hopes of long-term stability. Among those prospects were Kam Jones, their leading scorer, and do-everything forward David Joplin.

“He teaches us lots of things about the importance of each other,” Joplin said. “He lets us know, time and time again, that we can’t do anything without each other, but together we can do anything.”

That sounds like a decidedly old-school approach to building a college basketball program.

One embraced by a still-youthful head coach.

“I think being a head coach has never been more complicated, never been more nuanced, and never more all-encompassing,” Smart told the AP in a wide-ranging interview last week. “Does that mean it’s harder? You could say that.

“What makes your job less hard,” Smart said, “is having a captive audience in your players, and guys that truly understand and own what goes into winning, and that’s what we had this past year. But those things just don’t happen. There are a lot of steps that have to occur on the part of a lot of people, not just the coach, to get to where you have a winning environment.”