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Kansas State on to Elite Eight after beating Kentucky

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Out are Cincinnati and Tennessee. Virginia and Arizona are long gone.

And after Kansas State defeated Kentucky, 61-58, on Thursday, all that remains of the South Region is Bruce Weber’s 9th-seeded Wildcats and No. 11 Loyola.

The South is in shambles. The brackets have gone wild. March has gone mad.

Kansas State – which lost to Tulsa, got beat by West Virginia by 38 points and took a 19-point home L to Texas Tech – is not only just one win away from the Final Four. The only thing that stands between them and San Antonio is a double-digit seed. A double-digit seed with a glass slipper and a 98-year-old nun in its corner, but a double-digit seed nonetheless.

Even for an event known for its unpredictability, hailed for its chaos and beloved for its ridiculousness, this year’s South Region is a little nutty.

It’s see the first-ever one-seed – what’s up, Virginia? – go down to a 16, Arizona’s wild and weird season upended, and both Cincy and Tennessee got got by mid-majors. One region packed a ton of entertainment into just 13 games.

Kansas State’s journey to the Elite Eight hasn’t been a glorious march to the Promised Land. It’s been a testament to survive and advance. They toppled No. 8 Creighton in the opener, ruined UMBC’s story in a nasty 50-43 affair and then proved to have just a little bit more than a critically flawed Kentucky team. And they did most of it without one of their best players, junior forward Dean Wade, who continues to battle a foot injury.

Against Kentucky, Kansas State shot just 35.2 percent from the floor, committed 30 fouls and put UK on the line 37 times. Three of their players fouled out. Wade didn’t play in the second half. Kentucky shot 52.6 percent in the second half.

Still, Kansas State is in the Elite Eight, and Kentucky isn’t.

It’s a stunning result, powered by 22 points from Xavier Sneed, 15 Kentucky turnovers and a non-existent transition offense from John Calipari’s team. Barry Brown’s 13 points – including two critical ones in the final seconds – did plenty to help, too.

For Kentucky, it’s a disappointing end to a frustrating season. The South Region had unfurled a red carpet to San Antonio for them. A 12, 13, 9 and 11 were all that stood in their way. And the nine got ‘em.

Kentucky teased at being able to come together into a team commensurate with its individual talent in the three weeks as it won the SEC tournament and blasted Buffalo in the second round, but the flaws that forced them into four-straight losses in February never went away. They remained, and they were enough to keep Kentucky from a rock fight against a so-so Kansas State squad.

So now Bruce Weber is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since taking Illinois to the title game in 2005. It’s been a bumpy ride for him in Manhattan since splitting a Big 12 title in his first season in west Kansas in 2013. There were plenty of forceful voices who wanted him out not only after back-to-back NCAA tournament misses, but after last year’s First Four team.

Now, if he can beat Loyola, it’s a second Final Four appearance.

That may seem bananas, but it’s the South Region. Bonkers is business as usual.

Five-star 2017 power forward trims list to eight

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One of the top prospects in the Class of 2017 announced on Monday that he’s trimmed his list down to eight schools. 6-foot-10 power forward Wendell Carter Jr., a native of Atlanta, revealed his final list Monday afternoon on Twitter with some of the nation’s best programs making the cut.

The final eight schools in the running for Carter’s commitment are Arizona, California, Duke, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Kentucky and North Carolina.

The power forward position in the Class of 2017 is loaded, with Carter joining the likes of DeAndre Ayton and Mohamed Bamba at the head of the class. Seeing perennial powers on Carter’s list comes as no surprise given his skill level, with both in-state power conference programs still in the mix as well. The inclusion of Harvard may surprise some, but Carter’s performance in the classroom has opened that door for him should he choose to go that route.

Something else to keep in mind when it comes to Carter’s recruitment: how guard Gary Trent Jr. approaches his recruitment. It’s been reported in the past that the two friends are hoping to attend the same school. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, as recruiting tends to be a fluid situation, but it is something to consider as Carter, Trent and the rest of this class makes its decisions as to where they’ll attend college.

Kentucky, ACC lead the way for NBA Draft selections

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Something that tends to grab attention every year in the aftermath of the NBA Draft is the count on how many schools were represented amongst the draftees and which schools racked up the most selections. At the end of the 2016 NBA Draft Kentucky sat at the top of the list, as three former Wildcats heard their names called Thursday night.

Jamal Murray went in the lottery, with the Denver Nuggets taking him seventh overall, and Skal Labissiere (28th overall) and Tyler Ulis (34th overall) were both picked by the Phoenix Suns.

Kentucky was followed by 11 different schools with two draft picks apiece, including Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Deyonta Davis), North Carolina (Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige), Oklahoma (Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins), Providence (Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil) and Vanderbilt (Wade Baldwin IV, Damian Jones). In total 30 college programs had players picked, accounting for 44 of the 60 players selected.

Villanova, which did not have anyone picked in the draft, became the first national champion since Duke in 2010 to not have a player selected in the first round of the following NBA Draft.

Half of the 16 players who didn’t play college basketball last season went in the first round, led by Croatian forward Dragan Bender who was taken by Phoenix with the fourth overall pick.

From a conference standpoint the SEC had the most first round selections, with five players being selected led by LSU’s Ben Simmons. In total six SEC players were selected, tied for second with the Big 12 behind the ACC.

The ACC had a draft-high nine picks, beginning with Duke’s Brandon Ingram at second overall. Amongst the top ten no conference had more selections than the Pac-12, which had three players (Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss and Jakob Poeltl) choses during that portion of the draft.

Rick Pitino responds to Calipari’s comments on NCAA investigations

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Last week Kentucky head coach John Calipari raised some eyebrows with his comments on a podcast hosted by Mike Lupica. During his appearance on the show Calipari alluded to the NCAA investigations at Louisville and North Carolina, stating that “if it happens on your campus, and it happens with your assistants and those people, you probably have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.”

Now Calipari didn’t refer to either Louisville’s Rick Pitino or North Carolina’s Roy Williams directly, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out the cases he was referring to in his comments. He also remarked on the NCAA’s enforcement of its rules, and the idea that some believe the governing body practices selective enforcement with the more powerful programs getting away with more.

Monday afternoon Pitino issued his reply to Calipari’s comments during his media availability at Louisville.

“Whether it’s Duke last month or us this month, these type of comments – we’re here to build up the image of college basketball, not tear people down,” Pitino said, making a reference to Calipari’s recruiting manifesto that many believed was a shot at Duke and its recruiting tactics.

“I don’t live in a glass house, and I don’t throw stones.”

Throughout the still ongoing NCAA investigation into the Katina Powell scandal that led to Louisville self-imposing a postseason ban, Pitino has stated that he personally knew nothing about the events that took place. Some may believe that while others remain skeptical

Per the Louisville Courier-Journal, Pitino also stated that he would look to see what Calipari meant by his comments should the two see each other at some point this summer. And with the two programs recruiting many of the nation’s top prospects, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which they don’t cross paths when recruiting reopens next month.

Kentucky’s Briscoe looks to improve shooting, draft stock

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe was told he needs to work on his game to be a first-round NBA draft pick, and that’s fine with him.

Sure, his dream is playing in the NBA. But there are worst things than helping the Wildcats chase a national championship with another loaded roster.

“I never had a problem coming back to Kentucky,” Briscoe said Wednesday.

The 6-foot-3 sophomore returns as the Wildcats’ leading scorer after averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds last season. He’s coming off a spring of working out for NBA teams under the new rule that allowed underclassmen to submit their names and participate in the combine and separate tryouts but return to school as long as they don’t sign with an agent.

Unlike former Wildcat teammates Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Skal Labissiere – whose names are expected to be called on June 23 in Brooklyn, New York – Briscoe’s pro prospects weren’t as promising. He wasn’t invited to last month’s combine and wasn’t projected as a selection, still he waited until the May 25 deadline to announce his return for a second season.

“In a way it was kind of hard because I was doing so well in the workouts,” Briscoe said of his decision after talking with coach John Calipari and assistant Kenny Payne. “But I think the conversation me and K.P. had brought everything to light and it was best for me to come back to school.”

NBA scouts offered Briscoe feedback to ponder as well.

“Shooting is important,” he said with a laugh.

Briscoe struggled with consistency last season, particularly from long range. He averaged 44 percent from the field but made just 5 of 37 attempts (14 percent) from behind the arc and shot just 46 percent from the foul line.

Briscoe said NBA personnel told him they like his shot but suggest he work on consistency. That’s been his priority since the combine, a facet Calipari mentioned last month.

“With Isaiah, the whole thing comes back to just shooting the ball,” he said. “They know the other skills he has translates, including physically, defensively and rebounding. … So, he’s just got to be a more consistent shooter.”

Though highly touted De’Aaron Fox joins Kentucky’s backcourt next season, Briscoe is preparing for the point guard role after playing as a wing last season. There he expects the “real Isaiah” will emerge, one he hopes will get him on some NBA teams’ radars next spring.

“I don’t think the NBA is going anywhere,” he said, “and coming back to Kentucky for another year to develop as a person on and off the court will only help me.”

Top 2018 prospect trims college list to six

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As one of the top players in high school basketball regardless of class, 2018 forward Marvin Bagley III doesn’t lack for attention on the recruiting front. But even with many high-major programs looking to land his commitment, and there’s being two years before he’ll set foot on a college campus, Bagley has decided to narrow the focus on his recruitment down to six schools.

Thursday evening the Sierra Canyon (California) HS student announced via Twitter that Arizona, Arizona State, Duke, Kentucky, Oregon and UCLA are the six programs that remain in contention for his commitment.

The 6-foot-10 forward is currently ranked tops in the Class of 2018 by Rivals.com, and this has remained the case despite the fact that California transfer rules kept him off the court at Sierra Canyon this school year. In early January Bagley made the move to Sierra Canyon from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, only to be declared ineligible to compete this season by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF).

Bagley played his freshman season at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, Arizona, leading the program to a 34-1 record and a Division I state title in 2014-15.

Bagley’s performed well on the Nike EYBL circuit for the Phoenix Phamily program, and obviously his status during the high school season did nothing to deter the college programs looking to sign him. There’s still a long way to go in Bagley’s recruitment, but his announcement Thursday provides a little more clarity to the situation.

Video credit: Rivals.com