Best Bets: Final Four sleepers you need to know about

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On Wednesday, we took a look at the six teams that can legitimately be called national title contenders as well as the three teams that are a small tweak or two away from joining them.

Those nine teams should be the consensus best in college hoops.

Yesterday, we took look at the rest of the teams around the country and found eight that are seriously flawed but dangerous enough to win six games come March

Today, we’re diving into Final Four sleepers, teams that are currently off of your radar but that have the horses to make a run come tournament time.



THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: It is damn near impossible to score on Kansas State. They rank fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and as you might expect, they are near the top of every relevant defensive statistic — top 40 in defensive effective field goal percentage, top 25 in defensive turnover rate, third nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

It all starts with Barry Brown Jr., who is one of the nation’s premier on-ball defenders and deserves to be in the same conversation with the likes of Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans and Zavier Simpson when it comes to the player most capable of wreaking havoc on opposing ball-handlers. His tenacity permeates the rest of the roster, which is made of dudes that are built to compete on that end of the floor. They’re tough, they’re old, they’re physical and they know they need to get stops to win. Last year, this style got them to within one game of the Final Four playing with this same team but without their best player, Dean Wade. It can work again.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: There are times where it is literally impossible for Kansas State to get a good shot offensively. Prior to this recent five-game winning streak, the Wildcats ranked outside of the top 200 in adjusted offensive efficiency. This is totally anecdotal, but I can not remember a single good team ever ranking that low.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on here, either. The Wildcats don’t have shooters, which allows teams to clog the paint and, since they have a roster full of guards, they don’t exactly have the horses to finish through all those bodies. They are just #NotGood on that end of the floor.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: It already has changed: Dean Wade made his return to the lineup. Kansas State started off the season 6-0, but they lost Wade — who was already recovering from a foot injury that cost him last year’s tournament run — to another foot injury. He missed six games, but his return to the lineup and coincided with Kansas State’s return to form. His importance is two-fold:

  1. He is far and away the best three-point shooter on the roster, and since he’s 6-foot-10 and has to be run off the three-point line, his presence on the floor helps pull defenses away from the rim. He has gravity. No one else on Kansas State does.
  2. He’s also the best passer on the team, and while that doesn’t mean he’s going to lead the program in assists on a nightly basis, it does mean the ball moves better. Better ball movement means a defense that’s moving which means more driving lines and space for Kansas State’s slashers to create.

Bruce Weber’s teams doesn’t turn into the 2018 Villanova Wildcats with Wade on the floor, but they go from arguably the worst high-major offense in the sport to being a team that just might be good enough.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LSU (+10000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: The talent that Will Wade has amassed around Tremont Waters has been as good as advertised. We knew what Waters was going to be entering the season, and frankly, he has been somewhat underwhelming as a sophomore, at least early in the season.

But Naz Reid has looked the part of a future first round pick while Skylar Mays and Ja’vonte Smart have been able to chip in with scoring and creating shots. Throw in the production that Wade is getting from Emmitt Williams, Kavel Bigby-Williams and Marlon Taylor, and this LSU team is going to be a tough out.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: They don’t get stops. The biggest issue is on the defensive glass, where the Tigers allow opponents to grab more than 30 percent of their offensive rebounds, which ranks 267th nationally. Considering the size and athleticism along that frontline, that’s not something that should be happening. The Tigers have also had issues running people off the three-point line, and while they create a lot of turnovers, they don’t force you into many bad shots.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: The Tigers will hit their ceiling when Waters hits top gear. He might already be there. During this current eight-game winning streak, Waters is averaging 17.9 points, 7.1 assists and 4.0 steals while shooting 38.5 percent from three. He is their engine, and while the rest of that roster is talented, if he’s not playing like an all-american, LSU is not going to be a threat to make a run in March.

Well, over the course fo the last six weeks, he has been playing like an all-american.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

PURDUE (+4000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: This team has turned out to be more than just the Carsen Edwards.

And to be clear, this is still the Carsen Edwards Show. C-Boogie has been as good as advertised this season, averaging a shade under 25 points while posting impressive efficiency numbers considering just how much of a load he carries in this offense.

The point is it’s not just the Carsen Edwards Show. Ryan Cline has grown into being a dangerous three-point shooter. Matt Haarms, Evan Boudreaux and, most recently, freshman Trevion Williams have taken turns being productive in the paint. Grady Eifert has developed into a solid role player that spaces the floor. The issue for this group isn’t on the offensive end the floor, where they are sixth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Where they struggle is on the defensive end, and the biggest issue is that they aren’t running opponents off the three point line. Purdue is allowing 36.9 percent shooting from deep (291st nationally) while neatly 39 percent of the points scored against them come via the three-ball. This isn’t exactly unexpected, given that Purdue does not have all that much length or athleticism on their perimeter, but in an era that is dominated by three-point shooting, this is the kind of thing that can tank a season.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Honestly, not much.

They just need to start winning close games. To date, the Boilermakers are eighth in KenPom’s rankings largely due to the fact that they have only lose two games by double digits (at Michigan and at Michigan State) and that all six of their losses have come away from home. This is a good basketball team that hasn’t had many breaks go their way.

(Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

MARYLAND (+8000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: You probably don’t realize just how talented this team actually is.

The name that everyone has been on recently is Bruno Fernando, an athletic, 6-foot-10 monster that has been overpowering defenders in the post and grabbing seemingly every rebound within reach. He’s improved his draft stock as much as anyone this year, going from being a likely second rounder to a borderline lottery pick.

And he wasn’t even supposed to be the lottery big man on this roster, Jalen Smith was.

And neither of them are Maryland’s best player. Anthony Cowan is. There is a lot to like about this group.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Maryland has an issue at the point guard spot. One of the things that Mark Turgeon has done this season is move Anthony Cowan off the ball in the same way that he moved Melo Trimble off the ball later in his career. This made sense with Trimble because Cowan was on the roster, but I’m not sure that this makes sense right now. Cowan might be Maryland’s best scorer, but putting the ball in Eric Ayala’s hands full time has not been all that successful — Ayala has a higher turnover rate than assist rate — and the Terps currently sit 206th nationally in turnover rate.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: Ayala is a freshman, and as he gets more experience under his belt the turnovers should be less of an issue. The same can be said about Jalen Smith, another freshman, or Aaron Wiggins. In fact, the Terps are one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball, with just one senior (who rarely plays) and one junior (Cowan) in the rotation. This is the kind of team that only gets better as they get more reps, and they are already 16-4 on the year and 7-2 in the Big Ten.

(AP Photo/Andy Manis)

WISCONSIN (+10000)

THEY CAN WIN IT ALL BECAUSE: Ethan Happ is the most unique player in the country that is not named Zion Williamson. He’s 6-foot-11 and the best post scorer in the country. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 10.3 boards and 4.8 assists on the season, which is a stat line that has only been put up once since 1992.

By Ben Simmons.

And like Ben Simmons, Happ is essentially a point guard that hit a growth spurt late. He’s a terrific ball-handler that often grabs a defense rebound, handles the ball and dribbles into a post-up, which he is as good as anyone at passing out of. All you need to do is watch the performance he had in Saturday’s win over Michigan (26 points, 10 boards, seven assists) to understand just how dominant he can be.

BUT THEY’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE: Happ cannot shoot. He is 1-for-15 from three in his collegiate career. He shot 64.3 percent from the foul line as a freshman and has not cracked 55 percent in a season since then. He’s because such a liability at the line that teams have gone to a Hack-a-Happ strategy late in games. That hasn’t always been successful, but it is never a comforting thing for a coach when you are hesitant to put the ball in your best player’s hands late in a close game for fear of him getting sent to the foul line intentionally.

WHAT NEEDS CHANGING?: While I’m sure Badger fans would love to see Frank Kaminsky’s jumper transplanted into Happ (which, frankly, would make him a top five pick in this year’s draft, don’t @ me) the truth is that Wisconsin really just needs some consistency out of their supporting cast to be able to hit their ceiling. D’Mitrik Trice was lights-out for the first six weeks of the season, but it’s not a coincidence that Wisconsin struggled to score as defenses were able to key in on him. Brad Davison is a really good role player and fits the Wisconsin brand perfectly, but he’s not exactly a guy that you want to rely on to be your second-best weapon offensively. That’s just not his skillset.

I’d love to see Nate Reuvers be a little more consistent and aggressive, but he’s produced in his minutes. The answer, in my mind, is finding a way to get Kobe King, Aleem Ford and Brevin Pritzl going. When they do, I doubt that you’ll see Wisconsin put up anymore 14 point halves.

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

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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

kansas mccullar
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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

clemson pj hall
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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.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.