Houston Cougars

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Houston lands Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes

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With a brand-new, high-dollar arena, back-to-back strong years and a big-money contract extension, it’s clear Kelvin Sampson is on his way to building something of an AAC behemoth at Houston.

He just landed a former five-star recruit to help him do it.

Quentin Grimes, who left Kansas after an underwhelming freshman campaign, has committed to Sampson and the Cougars, Grimes announced Thursday.

“For the city,” he tweeted with an illustration of himself in a Houston uniform.

Grimes is from Woodlands, Texas, which sits just 30 miles north of Houston.

The 6-foot-5 guard was one of the highest-rated prospects in the 2018 class and a one-done-done candidate, but announced his decision to return to school albeit not with the Jayhawks the night of the NBA Draft early entry deadline. He averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds per game.

Grimes never seemed to find his groove alongside fellow five-star freshman Devon Dotson in the Jayhawk backcourt, and a transfer looked like a likelier and likelier possibility as the season went on and Grimes’ draft status sunk further. Still, his freshman season was far from a debacle – just short of expectations for a Kansas team with huge expectations that weren’t even really tempered despite injuries and departures. That put even a bigger burden on its freshmen, which couldn’t deliver at a high enough level to extend Kansas’ Big 12 title streak to 15 as Texas Tech and Kansas State shared conference championship honors.

A change of scenery and a year away from the spotlight with the NCAA-mandated redshirt transfer season could be of significant use for Grimes, who has heaps of talent and now probably a chip on his shoulder.

Kentucky holds off Houston to move on to Elite Eight

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Kentucky used a late three-pointer from freshman Tyler Herro to get past No. 3 seed Houston with a 62-58 victory on Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight in the Midwest Region. The freshman’s go-ahead three-pointer with 25.8 seconds left gave Kentucky a two-point lead as Herro also made two free throws for the game’s deciding advantage. Kentucky closed the game on a 7-0 run to advance to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in head coach John Calipari’s 10 seasons as the team’s coach.

Kentucky (30-6) struggled with perimeter shooting (4-for-12) as they didn’t make a three-pointer in the second half until Herro’s late shot. Herro (19 points) was Kentucky’s main threat on the evening as he went 7-for-13 from the floor.

But the Wildcats don’t advance on Friday without a gutsy effort from All-American forward P.J. Washington.

After missing the tournament’s first weekend with his foot in a hard cast, Washington made his return to the Kentucky lineup in the Sweet 16 as he came off the bench to finish with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Washington wasn’t fully healthy, but his presence was huge for the Wildcats. The sophomore forward was a go-to player on offense while registering a key block that ignited the fast-break look for Herro’s go-ahead three. For Washington to play this well on a bum foot is a signature moment to an already memorable sophomore season.

With freshman Keldon Johnson (seven points, 3-for-12 shooting) having an off-day, Herro’s ability to create his own shot, and Washington’s stability on the inside, was all that Kentucky needed on offense as they grinded out this win against Houston’s strong defense.

This win wasn’t pretty for Kentucky, but they have to be pleased to advance on a night where only two players were clicking on offense. The Wildcats put forth a solid defensive outing against the Cougars, but they’re going to need more than Herro and Washington if they want to advance to another Final Four.

No. 2 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 5 seed Auburn in Sunday’s Elite Eight in Kansas City. The Tigers are riding an 11-game winning streak as they’re one of the hottest teams in the field. But the Wildcats knocked off the Tigers, 80-53, during a blowout home SEC win in Lexington in late February.

Since that February loss to Kentucky, Auburn hasn’t lost, as the Tigers’ offense continues to put up flurries of points behind a dangerous collection of three-point shooters. Although it’s looking like Auburn will be without versatile sophomore wing forward Chuma Okeke (knee) on Sunday, Auburn is still a very credible threat with the way they’re playing. Although we saw a blowout between these two teams in the regular season, a similar result in the Elite Eight would come as a surprise given how good the Tigers have looked in recent weeks.

Houston (33-4) had one of its most successful seasons in decades as they advanced to the second weekend for the first time since 1984. This loss is going to sting for the the AAC champions, however, as they came very close to knocking off one of the sport’s bluebloods until the final minute. The Cougars were led by Armoni Brooks as he buried five second-half three-pointers to pace Houston as he finished with 20 points. Guards Corey Davis Jr. (14 points) and Galen Robinson Jr. (10 points) also finished in double-figures for the Cougars.

With a chance to close out Kentucky in the final minutes, Houston went cold as Brooks couldn’t knock down a final dagger. With its big men battling foul trouble, Houston’s guards made a huge late push as the Cougars went on a 20-10 run to take a three-point lead. But Houston couldn’t close on either end of the floor as they let Herro take an open look and Washington get comfortable on the block during key defensive possessions.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson has re-built Houston into a nationally-respected program with back-to-back appearances in the Round of 32. The Cougars also had the opportunity to close out games during back-to-back tournaments where they ended up losing in the final minute.

Last season, Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three-pointer lifted Michigan past Houston when the Cougars were clinging to a late lead in the Round of 32. This year, Houston led 58-55 with 1:16 left before seeing its lead melt away during the final possessions in the Sweet 16. These seasons have certainly been memorable for the Cougars but some giant postseason “What Ifs?” loom as the main story.

If Sampson ends up leaving Houston for another job this offseason — either way, Sampson is going to get paid by someone for his recent string of success — then it’ll be fascinating to see how the Cougars maintain. It’s been fun having Houston basketball back in the national college basketball landscape these past few seasons. Sampson has helped develop some fun guards to watch with some teams that came very close to making deep runs in the tournament.

Kentucky’s PJ Washington’s status for Sweet 16 still uncertain

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PJ Washington is moving toward getting back on the floor, but if it’ll be in Kentucky’s Sweet 16 game against Houston remains to be seen.

“The doctor said pretty much some good things. So I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m just trying to get better,” Washington, who is dealing with a foot injury, told reporters Thursday in Kansas City, the site of the No. 2 Wildcats’ Friday matchup with the No. 3 Cougars. “I haven’t been practicing. I haven’t put any pressure on it yet. I’ll go out there (in practice) and see what I can do.”

Kentucky had its media availability before its practice Thursday, so Washington’s participation ahead of tomorrow night remains a bit mysterious.

“I kind of stay out of these decisions. Unless the doctor tells me he can hurt himself, then he wouldn’t have a decision to make,” Kentucky coach John Calipari Said. “If this one — you ask me how will I make a decision? Probably be him. If he goes in and he’s 80 percent, then I won’t play him. If he goes in, he plays well and he says “sub me,” I’ll sub him. I’m ready to go. I’ll put him back in.”

Washington, who played in the SEC tournament but has missed both of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament games with the injury, is likely looking at a simple pain-management issue against Houston.

“Greatest thing for him is the doc said that you can’t hurt yourself. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t let him play,” Calipari said. “Doc said, ‘You’re going to be in pain after the game if you do play, but you know how much pain can you deal with.’
“He wants to play. Now, it’s can he play? We don’t know. If anybody is guessing, you know, we just don’t know yet.”

Washington is averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

“Because he hadn’t played for a couple weeks, people may forget how good he is,” Calipari said. “He’s an All American.”

Mike Anderson out at Arkansas

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Three NCAA tournaments in the last five years was not enough to keep Mike Anderson at Arkansas.

The former Nolan Richardson assistant who has helmed the Razorbacks for the last eight years is out as head coach, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

Richardson had guided Arkansas to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2016-17 and 2017-18, while also getting there in 2015, but failed to reach the Big Dance this season as the Hogs slumped to 18-16. Overall, Richardson went 169-102.

Prior to returning to Fayetteville, Richardson led Missouri for five seasons, taking them to the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons there with an Elite Eight trip in 2009. He also coached at UAB for four seasons.

Despite a solid run of success, Richardson wasn’t able to get out of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend, topping out at the second round in both 2015 and 2017.

Arkansas will be sure to gauge the interest of Chris Beard, who led Arkansas-Little Rock to an NCAA tournament victory in his one season there in 2016, and perhaps Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who has led the Cougars to national prominence since taking over in 2014.

 

Kentucky unsure of PJ Washington’s status for Sweet 16

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Kentucky was able to get through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and into the Sweet 16 without PJ Washington. It’s unclear if the Wildcats will have to try to get out of the second weekend and into the Final Four without him as well.

Washington, who has been sidelined with a foot injury, is questionable for the No. 2 Wildcats’ game Friday against No. 3 Houston in Kansas City with an Elite Eight berth at stake.

“We don’t know if PJ is going to play this weekend yet,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said on his weekly radio show while adding that Washington will shed his cast Tuesday.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore played through the SEC tournament, but did not suit up for either of the Wildcats’ tournament games against Abilene Christian and Wofford. Fifth-year senior Reid Travis was instrumental in Kentucky’s second-round win against Wofford, going for 14 points and 11 rebounds, but without Washington the Wildcats will be devoid of the player that has become much of a focal point of the offense against a Houston team that opened the season 15-0.

For any fans concerned that Washington, Kentucky’s leading scorer and rebounder, might be exceedingly cautious in his return to preserve his NBA draft status – a borderline lottery pick – his father had some strong words Monday.

“Where were these same people when he played from January to March last year with a broken finger?” Paul Washington told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Where were these people saying he wasn’t tough? He laid his health on the line then.

” PJ will play when his body says he can play.”

2019 NCAA Tournament: Who will be the breakout star of this year’s tournament?

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What makes a breakout star is a subjective thing. Zion Williamson could average 50 and 25 as Duke cruises to a national title, but the only thing he’d be breaking is records.

Ja Morant plays for a mid-major, but he’s going to be a top-five pick come June’s draft.

So there’s a sweet spot of either being a role player thrust into prominence, an OK team who advances because of its best player or an unknown star for a mid-major.

That’s at least the criteria we’ll be looking at here.

LONGSHOTS

Amir Coffey, Minnesota

Coffey was a major prospect before an ACL tear in high school kept his recruitment a bit lower-key, and he ultimately stayed home to play for the Gophers. At 6-foot-8 with athleticism and guard skills, Coffey  is super talented and productive. He has the ability to absolutely go off, too, having scored 30-plus three times against Big Ten opponents. The trouble for him will be sticking around long enough to get noticed with Minnesota drawing the 10 seed in the east with No. 7 Louisville first and then potentially No. 2 Michigan State, which beat the Gophers by 24 in the teams’ only meeting this year.

Matt Mooney, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders, along with Kansas State, ended Kansas’ 14-year reign over the Big 12, and with Chris Beard the architect of their defense, there’s a real shot at a deep run here. Jarrett Culver draws the headlines and NBA scouts, but Mooney, a South Dakota transfer, is a decent bet to outperform expectations. He’s shooting 50 percent on 3s in the last month and if Texas Tech is going to be a true Final Four threat, they’ll need to give Culver some help offensively.

GETTING CLOSER

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

The Catamounts’ star is a high-scoring, rebound-grabbing, sweet-shooting and major-usage player in the form of the 6-foot-6 Rochester, N.Y native. Lamb averages 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. He shoots 37 percent from 3 and 52.1 percent overall. He shoots a ton – taking nearly 35 percent of his team’s attempts while he’s on the floor – and sometimes volume is the key to Big Dance stardom. The only way to make a bunch of shots is to take a bunch of shots. The draw is a little tough with Florida State in Round 1, but then a sinking Marquette team or good-but-not-daunting Murray State team between them and the Sweet 16.

Matt McQuaid, Michigan State

The 6-foot-5 senior is an absolute sharpshooter for one of the country’s best teams. Shooting from 3 at a 43.3 percent clip, McQuaid is going to be tasked with taking and making big shots for the Spartans, who are looking to get back to the Final Four after three-straight first-weekend flameouts. Cassius Winston is the Spartans’ star, no doubt, but here’s betting McQuaid finds himself in a situation or two where he can be a hero on a big stage.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Ponds is an electrifying guard that can take over a game – the NCAA tournament loves players like that – and he averaged 19.5 points per game for Chris Mullin and Co. He can really fill it up, and it’s fun to watch him cook when he’s at his best. The problem is, he can run hot and cold, plus there’s the issue of St. John’s being exiled to Dayton and the First Four. Ponds has the game and the role to breakthrough, but there’s plenty working against him, too.

ONE SHINING MOMENT HEROES

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

The Bearcat junior is a name hoop-heads know well, but isn’t on the radar of NBA draftniks or casual fans by virtue of playing in the AAC. Cincinnati is a basketball brand, though, and that could help Cumberland capture hearts and minds. The 6-foot-5 AAC player of the year averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His shooting percentage is ugly at 40.4 percent overall, but that’s because he struggles inside the arc, shooting just 41.3 percent on 2s. Outside the arc, it’s a strong 39.1. He’s another high-usage player, who if he gets hot will put up monster numbers. The path isn’t horrible either, with No. 10 Iowa in the opening round and then a Tennessee team that’s great but  also just took a 20-point L to Auburn.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Clarke shouldn’t be on this list. He plays for one of the best programs in the country and is having an absolutely astounding season. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. He wasn’t, however, names as a Naismith semifinalist or on the final watch list for the Karl Malone power forward award (or the Abdul-Jabbar for center if you see him as a five). So, apparently, he’s not getting the due he deserves, whether it’s because Gonzaga basically stops being part of the conversation for two months in the WCC, the discussion on Killian Tillie’s health sucked up the oxygen or playing next to Rui Hachimura just makes it hard to get noticed. The truth, though, is that Clarke is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, and one of it’s most versatile and productive defenders. Maybe March is the time for the public to learn all that.

Corey Davis Jr., Houston

The senior guard is the best player on the team we don’t talk about enough after they went 31-3 in the regular season. Davis averaged 16.7 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. With Georgia State in the first round and then either an inconsistent Iowa State team or a mediocre Ohio State awaiting them, Houston’s path to the Sweet 16 isn’t overly formidable. Then it’s an excellent-but-beatable Kentucky and then maybe the field’s weakest 1-seed in North Carolina away from the Final Four. If it happens, bet that Davis will be a big reason why.

THE PICK

Brandon Clarke

Given the stage he’ll be given provided the Bulldogs take care of business, Clarke is going to make it wildly apparent how good he is and how early we’ll hear his name from Adam Silver later this summer.