One of college basketball’s most well-known and recognizable officials will be absent from the NCAA tournament.
Ted Valentine will not work the tournament this month, just a year after officiating the Final Four, for what he believes to be fallout from the incident in which he turned his back on North Carolina’s Joel Berry during a game, he told ESPN on Monday.
“This is not right, it’s just not fair,” Valentine told ESPN. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m being punished unjustly.”
Valentine said he was told of the decision Saturday by NCAA coordinator of officials J.D. Collins.
“We talked about the Joel Berry situation and how he had a discussion with the Big Ten. But I told him, ‘I fixed the situation,’” Valentine said.
During a game in January, Valentine turned his back while Berry lobbied him after a call.
“I screwed up,” Valentine said. “But I went back a week later and apologized, and he and I were joking and kidding. It was no big deal. I even pulled him out of a situation where he could have gotten a technical foul.”
Valentine certainly has a reputation – and the nickname TV Teddy – but a big constituency of coaches would be glad to have him on the whistle for a big game. His conduct with Berry was unbecoming, but shelving him during the NCAA tournament seems like a huge reaction.
Joel Berry to return to North Carolina for senior season
A little more than a day after North Carolina Joel Berry II — along with Tony Bradley and All-American Justin Jackson — announced they would enter the 2017 NBA Draft, Berry reversed course decided to forgo the draft process and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season.
“After speaking to my family I have decided to withdraw from the 2017 Draft and will return to Carolina next season,” Berry said in a statement released by the university on Tuesday evening. “I know I can continue to improve my game and be better prepared for the NBA after another year playing against the best college competition in the country. There’s no reason to rush leaving school. I love being a Tar Heel and love playing for Carolina and Coach Williams.
Berry, the Most Outstanding Player from this season’s Final Four, averaged 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds per game as a junior.
The 6-foot floor general will likely open next season as not only a preseason All-American but perhaps a favorite for national player of the year. Berry will join Theo Pinson as the returning starter for the Tar Heels. North Carolina was pegged as a top-5 team in an early preseason poll by NBC Sports. While Berry’s anticipated return is a big reason why, that ranking also hinges on the decision of Bradley, a 6-foot-10 forward who will be projected as a breakout player if he chooses to return for his sophomore season.
Prospects have until May 24 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.
No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight
North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, jumped out to a 20-point second half led. While the No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs would not go down quietly, the Tar Heels would keep the lead no less than 10 for the remainder of the evening, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 win on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
It was the bounce-back win the Tar Heels needed — following a near collapse against Arkansas in the second round — to assert themselves as serious contenders once again.
Joel Berry II, who had been hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the first round win against Texas Southern, had a game-high 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting. That’s coming a weekend after 3-of-21 shooting in first and second half wins. Justin Jackson followed with 24 points. Luke Maye had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, an offensive explosion that included a trio of 3-pointers.
“Well, at this stage of the year, if you don’t have good offensive games or good defensive games, you go home,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But we do need to be clicking a little bit on all cylinders. We’ve got one, two — we only had three guys in double figures today, one of them is 26 and the other 24, so that’s pretty good. But yes, we do need both of them making shots and doing some things for us.”
Williams is right. The Tar Heels do need to be clicking on a little bit on all cylinders. And on Friday night, they did a little more of that than they did in a second-round scare from the Razorbacks.
North Carolina’s offense didn’t have a lapse it did in the second half against Arkansas. When Butler cut the deficit to 10 with more than five minutes remaining, North Carolina countered with a 7-2 run. Part of the offensive efficiency should be attributed to the status of Berry’s ankle, which besides a few moments in the second half, didn’t plague him as much as it did in the previous contest. It also helped that Jackson avoided a 5-for-14 shooting performance and the Tar Heels cut down the turnovers from 17 to 10. They also held a good shooting team — one that needed to knock down shots from the outside if it wanted a chance to extend its season — to under 30 percent from beyond the arc.
The Tar Heels controlled the glass, and dominated the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 38-26 and scoring 42 points in the paint. That’s a good sign, as they should be expected to hold the advantage on the inside against either team they face in the Elite Eight.
Regardless of who prevails in the rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the top-seeded Tar Heels are in for an all-out war on Sunday in the Elite Eight. But Friday night was the bounce-back performance that showed the Tar Heels are capable of putting it all together to book another trip to the Final Four.
Player of the Week: Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, North Carolina
At this point, it’s almost too difficult to separate the contributions being made by Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.
Berry is the guy that makes everything easier for No. 11 North Carolina offensively. Jackson has turned into the sharpshooter and the closer that the Tar Heels have lacked the last two seasons. And the two of them have essentially taken turns making the big shots down the stretch for UNC this season.
On Wednesday, in a win at Wake Forest, it was Jackson burying a clutch three in a game where he led the Tar Heels with 19 points. On Saturday, it was Berry that had an answer for every Florida State run. He finished with 26 points against FSU. Jackson had 22, and he had a three in a late run that put the game away.
At this point, these two make up the best one-two punch in the ACC. They deserve to be in the same conversation with the likes of De’Aaron Fox-Malik Monk, Josh Hart-Jalen Brunson and Frank Mason III-Josh Jackson when it comes to the best one-two punches in the sport. Both have earned at least consideration for all-american teams.
They are the reason that UNC is very much a contender to get back to the Final Four and win that elusive national title.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss was the best player on the floor for the Zags on Saturday night as they handed Saint Mary’s their worst loss of the season, 79-56. It was quite the statement for Gonzaga, as Saint Mary’s was considered by many to be a real contender for the WCC title. Is it too early to start talking about Gonzaga’s undefeated season?
Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford put together one of the best shooting performances we’ve seen this season, hitting 9-for-14 from three in a 37-point outburst at Colorado. Alford also hit a huge three late in the second half of the Bruins’ win at Utah, only the fourth time in six years that a Pac-12 team has swept the Mountain schools on the road.
London Perrantes, Virginia: Virginia bounced back from a rough start to ACC play with a pair of wins this week, including a win at Clemson. Perrantes was fantastic in the two wins, averaging 24.5 points and hitting a number of critical shots late in the win at Clemson. He’s turning into the go-to guy that the Cavaliers lost in Malcolm Brogdon.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Beating an in-state rival like Arizona State is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a game is always awesome. Scoring 30 points in a blowout win over your in-state rival? Priceless. Or something like that, right? Regardless, Markkanen has more than lived up to the hype he had entering the season.
Vlad Brodziansky, TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 3-2 in the Big 12 this season with wins at Texas and over Iowa State at home, and Brodziansky was the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-11 Slovakian averaged 22 points, 10 boards and three blocks while shooting better than 70 percent form the floor.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Malik Monk climbs as top five is intact
1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is now averaging 20.1 points on the season after a 26-point outburst in Villanova’s win over Temple. The Wildcats likely won’t be challenged again until a New Year’s Eve trip to Omaha to take on Creighton, followed by a visit to Indianapolis for Butler four days later. That that means is that, barring a catastrophic injury, Hart is going to enter league play as the favorite to win National Player of the Year.
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason’s numbers this season are ridiculous: he’s averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 boards while shooting, as a point guard, 56 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from three. His two best games came in the two biggest games of the year for the Jayhawks. But what I think is the most remarkable about Mason’s season has been his consistency. He’s scored 18 points or handed out at least eight assists in every game this season. He’s finished with fewer than 18 points just once and fewer than five assists just twice. Only twice has he turned the ball over more than three times. After starting the season 2-for-10 from three, he’s shot 60.5 percent from beyond the arc in the last eight games.
In a year with arguably the best crop of point guards we’ve ever seen in college hoops, Mason has been the best of the bunch. Considering some of the other names on this list, that should tell you something.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball was just OK, by his standards, in two UCLA wins last week. He had 13 points, 10 boards and seven assists in a 40-point win over UCSB and eight points, nine boards and nine assists in a 13-point win over Ohio State. Imagine being so good that averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 boards and 8.0 assists in two games is considered “just OK”.
4. Luke Kennard, Duke: He did it again on Monday night. With the Blue Devils caught totally out of rhythm against Tennessee State, a game in which they trailed 36-34 midway through the second half, Kennard was the savior. He finished with a team-high 24 points. At one point in the second half, Kennard had 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting while his teammates, combined, had 23 points on 6-for-29 shooting.
5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky 6. Malik Monk, Kentucky: What can be said about the 47 point outburst that Malik Monk had over the weekend that hasn’t been said yet? For me, the most important part of that performance was that head coach John Calipari showed a willingness to run set plays specifically designed to get Monk shots, and Monk showed the ability to score when those plays were run for him. This is big because, as we’ve said many times before, the way to attack Kentucky is to try and force them to play a half court game. Monk looks like he could be the antidote to that ailment.
But while Monk is getting all the accolades after the outburst that he had in Kentucky’s win over North Carolina, but I would make the argument that De’Aaron Fox has been the better player this season. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 1.7 steals as the guy that ignites that Kentucky transition game and the point man for their defense that, with the exception of games against UCLA and UNC, has been overwhelming. Put another way, I think Kentucky would be able to survive Monk getting in foul trouble or spraining an ankle better than they would if Fox was dealing with the same injury.
That said, I think it’s clear that those two work in tandem and have quite clearly become the most dangerous 1-2 punch in college hoops. Think about this: Kentucky scored 103 points in that win over North Carolina. Monk and Fox, who finished with 71 points and 12 assists combined, were responsible for (at least*) 87 of those points.
*(That does not include free throws where Monk and Fox ‘assisted’ in creating the foul.)
7. Mo Watson, Creighton: Creighton flirted with disaster over the weekend, nearly losing to an Oral Roberts team that entered the game at 2-9 on the season and rated 274th on KenPom. I’m going to chalk that one up to the Bluejays overlooking an opponent during finals week. Moving on.
8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost a thriller to Kentucky on Saturday, a game that literally came down to the final possession. If it wasn’t for that eruption from Malik Monk – truthfully, if it wasn’t for a three he hit with 15 seconds left – we would have spent the last 72 hours talking about how we need to consider North Carolina as a potential ACC and national title contender.
Now think about that performance and what happened against Tennessee last Sunday. The difference in those two games? The presence of Joel Berry II on the floor for the Tar Heels. That should tell you all you need to know about how good he has been this season.
9. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson dropped a spot this week because there was no justification for keeping Malik Monk out of the top six. But if Monday’s debut from Harry Giles III showed us anything, it’s that the freshman that hasn’t played basketball in 14 months is going to need some time to get up to speed. Jefferson’s job anchoring that Duke front line isn’t over yet.
10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz is still doing ridiculous things on basketball courts. He came within two assists of posting Washington’s first-ever triple-double over the weekend and is now averaging 23.2 points, 7.0 boards and 6.5 assists this season while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. The raw numbers that Fultz is putting up are one thing – whoever the lead guard is in Lorenzo Romar’s system is always going to put up numbers – but what is more impressive is the efficiency with which Fultz is doing it.
Fultz is top 40 nationally in usage rate playing on a team that is top 15 in pace while playing 34 minutes a night for a program that is talent-deficient around him. And yet, he’s shooting 50 percent on twos and 50 percent on threes with a better-than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and an offensive rating of 121.2, an insanely good number given the circumstances.
It’s so disappointing that Fultz is doing this on a team where his relevancy didn’t even last until Christmas.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Player of the Year Power Rankings: There’s a new leader this week
1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart vaulted past Frank Mason III into the National Player of the Year lead after his dominating, 37-point performance in Villanova’s come-from-behind win to beat Notre Dame. It was as good of a performance as we’ve seen this season, and it’s worth noting that, in Villanova’s other great win this season – a Purdue – Hart was again the best player on the floor.
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: I had to drop Mason out of the top spot this week, although it’s through no fault of his own. He’s been sensational this season. Look at this stat line: 20.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 boards and 1.3 steals while shooting 58.7 percent from the floor and 54.8 percent from three. He made the game-winning jumper in Madison Square Garden to give Kansas the non-conference win they needed over Duke to cement themselves in the No. 1 overall seed discussion. He had 30 points and nine assists and was the sole reason Kansas was able to get their season-opening loss to Indiana to overtime.
The reason Hart is ahead of him? It’s simple: Hart led his team to a win over Notre Dame while Mason couldn’t quite get Kansas over the hump against Indiana. That’s how close the margins are.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: There’s not really much to say about Ball that we didn’t say last week. I will make this note, however: UCLA is on pace to become the best three-point shooting team since 1997, which is as far back as I can find data. They’re currently making 47.1 percent of their threes. The best season I found? Northern Colorado in 2011-12, who shot 45.1 percent from three while attempting eight fewer threes per game.
Ball is the facilitator for a lot of those open looks, there’s no question about that. But he’s also shooting 45.3 percent from three on more than five attempts per game. The knock on him entering the season was his shooting ability. His form is funky and may need to be tweaked at the next level, but it goes in, there’s no denying that.
4. Luke Kennard, Duke: As of today, Kennard is averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists for a consensus top five team that is currently ranked No. 1 in the NBC Sports Top 25. He’s been Duke’s best player in their four biggest games of the season, culminating in a dominating 29-point performance to lead Duke to a win over Florida in the Jimmy V Classic. He’s not Duke’s best draft prospect and, I’d argue, he’s not even one of the two best players currently playing for Duke.
And yet, he absolutely deserves to be a first-team all-american as of today. Impressive, that.
5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox dropped from fourth to fifth in our rankings this week for one simple reason: He hasn’t yet had a huge game in a big win for the Wildcats. In fact, I’d make the argument that Kentucky hasn’t yet had a big win, having lost the only real chance they’ve had so far this season. What the Wildcats do in the coming week – with games against North Carolina in Las Vegas and at Louisville – will tell us a lot about where this team is headed.
6. Mo Watson, Creighton: Watson is now leading the country in assists, averaging 9.1 per game, just sneaking in front of UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. The Bluejays have one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses – they’re second nationally in three-point shooting and effective field goal percentage (to UCLA) – and Watson is the engine. Here’s a nice little graphic on where those 91 assists have gone this season:
Maurice Watson's now the Division I assists leader. 91 total (9.1 per game). Where those passes have gone… pic.twitter.com/pj0Q3dOR9y
7. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry’s numbers alone are impressive. He’s averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 41.9 percent from three, an important number for a team that doesn’t have a ton of perimeter scorers this season. He’s had his best games in UNC’s biggest wins, lighting up Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in Maui. But the thing about Berry is that we didn’t truly see his importance to Carolina until this week, when he was forced to miss two games due to an ankle injury. Davidson kept things closer with the Heels than they probably should have while Tennessee pulled off the near-upset. Things just run smoother for the Tar Heels when Berry is on the floor.
8. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson is a newcomer to this list, and he unquestionably deserves to be there. Let’s go beyond the fact that he’s averaging 15.1 points, 10.5 boards, 2.2 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals: His presence is what’s keeping Marques Bolden, a potential lottery pick, glued to the bench even though he’s now healthy. Jefferson Isn’t the biggest player in the country, but he’s developed into a terrific low-post scorer – he’s got what you might describe as old-man game – and he’s the maestro of that defense. Always in the right position, always directing traffic, always clearing the defensive glass. He’s turned into a terrific basketball player.
9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: There’s not much to add on Evans here, as he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup against Tulsa.
10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: The numbers that Fultz is putting up this season are ridiculous. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.1 boards this season in addition to 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks. As I wrote in this space last week, what Fultz is doing has not happened since 1993, and it may never have happened before; the statistical database I have access to only has data dating back to ’93.