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Thursday’s Things To Know: Zion returns, bubble teams fall and West Virginia lives

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Myles Powell, Seton Hall and Zion Williamson, Duke

While Williamson’s return to action was the focus of many, the show that Powell put on in the first half of Seton Hall’s Big East quarterfinal win over Georgetown was a sight to behold. Powell scored 29 of his 31 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, a Big East tournament record for points in a half, outscoring the Hoyas by four with Seton Hall taking a 53-25 lead into the half in a game it would win 73-57.

Powell did get a bit banged up during the second half, so that’s something to keep an eye on as he and the Pirates face Marquette and Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (who lit up St. John’s for 30) in Friday’s second Big East semifinal matchup.

Now, back to Williamson. The freshman played 38 minutes in his first action since February 20, shooting 13-for-13 from the field and finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, two assists and one blocked shot in Duke’s 84-72 win over Syracuse. The only place where Williamson showed any sign of rust was at the foul line, where he shot just 2-for-7 on the night.

Next up for he and the Blue Devils is a matchup with North Carolina, which swept the regular season series. Williamson played a total of 33 seconds on those games due to the knee injury he suffered in the first meeting. Now he’s healthy, and has a stronger pair of shoes to play in as well.

THURSDAY’S BUBBLE BANTER

TEAM OF THE DAY: West Virginia

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that West Virginia’s 2018-19 season has been a disappointment, as Bob Huggins’ team entered the Big 12 tournament with a 12-19 record. But conference tournaments can give teams a shot at redemption, and the Mountaineers are now in the Big 12 semifinals after knocking off No. 7 Texas Tech Thursday night, 79-74.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. scored a career-high 28 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, with Jordan McCabe adding 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals. Next up for West Virginia is Kansas, and while the challenge will be a difficult one it would be foolish to rule out the Mountaineers. And their run is one that has the attention of bubble teams across the country, with those programs hoping that West Virginia does not end up being a “bid thief.”

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Terence Mann, Florida State

Of the four quarterfinals in the ACC only one went down to the wire, with 4-seed Florida State and 5-seed Virginia Tech needing five additional minutes to determine the winner. The Seminoles advanced, winning 65-63 with Terence Mann’s floater with 1.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Florida State advanced to face top-seed Virginia Friday night in the first ACC semifinal.

And an honorable mention goes to Long Beach State’s Jordan Roberts, whose jumper with three-tenths of a second remaining gave the 49ers the 68-66 win over Hawaii in a Big West quarterfinal matchup.

THURSDAY’S WINNERS

Ohio State: One of the biggest “bubble games” of the day was the Big Ten second round matchup between 8-seed Ohio State and 9-seed Indiana, with the winner getting a shot at top-seed Michigan State on Friday. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes got the job done, winning 79-75 with Keyshawn Woods (18 points, seven rebounds), Kaleb Wesson (17 points, 13 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (17 points, five rebounds and five assists) leading the way. Of the two teams the Buckeyes appeared to be in a better spot with regards to the NCAA tournament, and Thursday’s result does nothing to hurt Ohio State’s case for inclusion.

Xavier: The Musketeers were also locked in a bubble struggle of sorts, with Big East quarterfinal opponent Creighton also in need of a win. Travis Steele’s team beat the Bluejays by a 63-61 final score, with Zach Hankins’ tip-in with 27.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Xavier’s veteran transfers made big plays late, with Hankins’ basket being followed by a Kyle Castlin block of a Ty-Shon Alexander three-point attempt in the game’s final seconds. How close Xavier is to an NCAA tournament bid is up for debate, but they’ll have another opportunity to impress the selection committee with Big East champion Villanova being the opponent Friday night.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide helped their case for an NCAA tournament bid with a 62-57 win over Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in Nashville. Tevin Mack accounted for 21 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Donta Hall led a dominant effort on the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds. Alabama outscored Ole Miss 38-19 in the second half, and the reward is a matchup with 2-seed Kentucky on Friday. Avery Johnson’s team will see Kentucky’s full rotation, as Reid Travis (knee) has been cleared to play.

North Carolina: In the first quarterfinal of Thursday’s evening session at the ACC tournament, 2-seed North Carolina advanced with an 83-70 win over 7-seed Louisville. Luke Maye and Coby White scored 19 points apiece to lead the way, with the latter also dishing out six assists and committing just one turnover. While much has been made about the case for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament that Duke can make now that Zion Williamson is back, North Carolina can also strengthen its argument.

UNC won both meetings with Duke, but with Williamson playing 33 seconds total in those games some may look to attach an asterisk to the results as if it is North Carolina’s fault that he couldn’t play. Friday night North Carolina and Duke meet again, and a win for Roy Williams’ team would likely lock up a 1-seed regardless of what happens Saturday night.

Florida: The Gators have been inconsistent for much of this season, hence their being a bubble team in the eyes of many. Florida took care of business Thursday afternoon, eliminating Arkansas (66-50) to advance to the SEC quarterfinals. Mike White’s team, which was led by Keyontae Johnson (20 points, 12 rebounds) will face LSU for the third time this season Friday afternoon.

The Tigers, outright SEC regular season champions, don’t lack for talent but given everything that’s gone on around that program recently maybe they’re vulnerable. Florida don’t lack for talent, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. Friday would be a good time to change that.

The Pac-12 office: The Pac-12 has been an absolute mess this season, so it would have been fitting for either regular season champion Washington or runner-up Arizona State — the league’s best bets for an at-large bid — to get knocked off Thursday in Las Vegas. That didn’t happen, with the Huskies escaping USC’s upset bid in the first game of the day and the Sun Devils handling UCLA in the first game fo the evening session.

Joining those two teams in the semifinals are 5-seed Colorado and 6-seed Oregon, arguably the two hottest teams in the Pac-12. Last month there were serious conversations as to whether the Pac-12 would be a one-bid league. Should Colorado or Oregon win the automatic bid, there’s a chance that the conference winds up with three bids come Selection Sunday.

THURSDAY’S LOSERS

TCU: The good news for the Horned Frogs is that they avoided losing their Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday night. The bad news: Jamie Dixon’s team missed on its opportunity to (most likely) lock up an NCAA tournament bid, as TCU lost to top-seed Kansas State by a 70-61 final score. Not counting Thursday’s results TCU was ranked 48th in the NET, and the team is now 9-13 in games against Quadrant 1/2 opposition. Is TCU’s resume good enough as is? It may be given some of the other profiles up for debate, but the Horned Frogs would have slept much better had they pulled off the upset.

Texas: There were some who believed that a win over Kansas would be just what the Longhorns needed to seal a tournament bid. Shaka Smart’s team failed to do so, losing to the Jayhawks by a 65-57 final score to fall to 16-16 on the season. No .500 team has even received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so at this point the Longhorns will have to hope that its strength of schedule can sway the selection committee.

What makes matters even worse for Texas is the fact that freshman big man Jaxson Hayes suffered a left knee injury late in the second half of Thursday’s loss. Hayes’ health is obviously the most important thing here. But it also gives the committee another question to ponder, especially if the diagnosis isn’t a good one.

Indiana: As noted above the matchup between the Hoosiers and Ohio State was a big one, and with its loss Archie Miller’s team has to play the waiting game. Indiana has some good wins on its resume, including a sweep of Michigan State, but that 1-12 stretch earlier this season could be too much to overcome. The Hoosiers, ranked 51st in the NET, are 8-15 in Quadrant 1/2 games. Three of those wins were earned on the road: Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois. NCAA or NIT? We’ll find out Sunday. But until then Indiana can only sit at home and root for “chalk” in the conference tournaments that are still being played.

Creighton: The Bluejays will also have to endure the uncomfortable wait thanks to their Big East quarterfinal loss to Xavier. Ranked 54th in the NET, Greg McDermott’s team is now 9-14 in Quadrant 1/2 games with its best win being a 66-60 win at Marquette back on March 3. Creighton has as many Quadrant 1/2 wins as Ohio State, but the Bluejays won’t have the opportunity to add another to the ledger thanks to Thursday’s loss to Xavier.

St. John’s: Say this much for Indiana, which fought back to erase a 20-point deficit before losing, and Creighton: at least those teams competed. St. John’s, on the other hand, fell behind Marquette early and did not appear all that interested in fighting back as it lost by an 86-54 final score. And after the game Chris Mullin declined on the opportunity to politic on behalf of his team.

The Red Storm can point to home wins over Villanova and Marquette, but this is also a team that lost both regular season meetings to DePaul (they beat DePaul Wednesday night) and did not play the toughest of non-conference slates either. St. John’s will likely get into the field thanks to the wins over the Big East’s two best teams, but Shamorie Ponds and company may be headed to Dayton.

Maryland: Mark Turgeon’s team has struggled with two things for much of this season: slow starts and turnovers. It all went wrong Thursday, as Maryland was bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Nebraska, 69-61. Maryland is obviously headed to the NCAA tournament and will most likely wear its home uniforms for the opener. But the Terrapins may not be there too long based upon how they played in Chicago and the program’s recent history in postseason play. The last time Maryland wasn’t one and done in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournament: March 2016.

FINAL THOUGHT

With Duke’s Zion Williamson making his return to game action Thursday, the debate of whether or not he should be playing once again came up. Of course there are those who believe that Williamson should play, out of loyalty to his teammates and coaches. And there are those who were (and still are) of the opinion that he would be best served to sit in preparation for his likely being selected with the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft (if he decides to forego his final three years of eligibility).

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter, but only one truly holds any weight: Zion’s. Had Williamson decided that, in the aftermath of his injury, the risk was too much and he wanted to protect himself from a future earnings standpoint that would have been fine. Williamson’s decision to play because, as he stated in his postgame interview on ESPN, of his love for his teammates is perfectly fine as well.

The only “concern” should be whether or not Williamson — or any other athlete in a similar position — is able to make that decision on their own terms.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)