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Arkansas grabs Cal transfer big man Connor Vanover

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Arkansas has picked up a future big man on the transfer market as Cal transfer Connor Vanover pledged to the Razorbacks on Wednesday.

The 7-foot-3 Vanover is one of college basketball’s more unique talents thanks to his massive size and floor-spacing ability (35 percent from three as a freshman). During his freshman season at Cal, Vanover put up 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in only 17.5 minutes per contest as he was an effective player in limited minutes.

A native of Little Rock, Vanover will be moving much closer to home with this transfer as he’ll have to sit out the 2019-2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Vanover will have three seasons of eligibility remaining once he’s able to take the floor for Arkansas.

Although Vanover still needs to add more strength to compete down low, not many players in college basketball can be a natural rim protector and a three-point shooter at the same time as Vanover has intriguing long-term upside. Late in the season, Vanover started to figure some things out, including a 24-point performance against Stanford and 18 points against an NCAA tournament team in Washington.

Report: Will Wade, LSU finally scheduled to meet

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LSU and suspended head coach Will Wade are finally scheduled to meet to discuss Wade’s status with the school.

According to a report from Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, Wade and the school will meet on Friday as a potential reinstatement will be a topic of discussion.

Suspended since March 8, Wade missed LSU’s regular-season finale and postseason run to the Sweet 16 as assistant coach Tony Benford took over the team. LSU made the move to suspend Wade after his alleged involvement with runner and convicted felon Christian Dawkins as the two are allegedly caught on a wiretapped conversation discussing a potential offer to a recruit believed to be Tigers freshman guard Javonte Smart.

Wade’s swift suspension was met with some criticism within the LSU fanbase as the Tigers were in the midst of a special season that included an SEC regular-season title and run into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. After a stalemate the past month, the two sides meeting represents progress during a tense situation in which there has been little movement over the past few weeks.

It’s hard to say what this meeting will entail, as just last Friday, federal prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to prevent Wade from testifying in one of the upcoming bribery trials in the FBI’s investigation.

Report: FBI agents visited with LSU coach Will Wade

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The ongoing saga involving LSU head coach Will Wade took another turn this week as FBI agents were reportedly in Baton Rouge to investigate the suspended coach’s recruiting tactics.

According to a report from Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde and Pete Thamel the FBI agents made it a point to conduct in-person work regarding Wade after his March 8th suspension. Yahoo also reports that the FBI’s increased attention into Wade’s recruiting tactics “could signal an expansion in the federal basketball corruption case.”

Wade has been suspended indefinitely by LSU after he was reportedly captured on wiretaps with convicted felon and runner Christian Dawkins. Already facing a subpoena, Wade’s been suspended by LSU for his refusal to meet with the school regarding the wiretapped conversations.

Without Wade on the bench, LSU still advanced to the Sweet 16 this season after winning the SEC regular-season title.

Final Four is set after memorable Elite Eight

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The 2019 Final Four is set for next weekend in Minneapolis as the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was a memorable one.

After four memorable Elite Eight games, No. 1 seed Virginia will face No. 5 seed Auburn in one national semifinal with No. 2 seed Michigan State battling No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the other Final Four game on Saturday.

Falling in last season’s NCAA tournament to No. 16 seed UMBC, the Cavaliers figured things out to make the Final Four with a memorable overtime win in the South Region over No. 3 seed Purdue. Despite 42 points from Boilermaker junior guard Carsen Edwards, Virginia outlasted his 10 three-pointers with a flurry of their own from Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. And with the team needing a buzzer-beating bucket just to force overtime, big man Mamadi Diakite came through.

Virginia’s win will go down as one of the better Elite Eight games of the decade as Edwards became a March hero while the Cavaliers finally overcame some NCAA tournament demons.

Also winning an overtime game in the Midwest Region was No. 5 seed Auburn as they outlasted SEC rival Kentucky. Playing without Sweet 16 star Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL on Friday, the Tigers rallied in the second half to beat the Wildcats behind Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to make their first Final Four in school history. The Wildcats’ great season ends behind a strong game from P.J. Washington as he overcame a foot injury last week to end a memorable sophomore season with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Texas Tech advanced to its first Final Four in school history as well with a win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday. In a close Elite Eight matchup in the West Region, the Red Raiders held off the Bulldogs with shot-making from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney while Gonzaga was held to 7-for-26 three-point shooting. Rui Hachimura (22 points) and Brandon Clarke (18 points) both had strong games while Josh Perkins (16 points) committed a late out-of-bounds foul that sealed the game for the Red Raiders.

The final Elite Eight thriller saw No. 2 seed Michigan State outlast No. 1 seed Duke in the East Region. Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) and Xavier Tillman (19 points, nine rebounds) both had big games for the Spartans as they limited turnovers to shock the No. 1 overall seed. The loss likely ends the college career of freshmen Zion Williamson (24 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, three steals) and R.J. Barrett (21 points, six assists) as the Blue Devils fall short of the Final Four when many considered them a title favorite.

Between the four great games, two overtime thrillers, a buzzer-beater to force overtime and some big star performances, this makes a strong case for the best Elite Eight ever. We had a jaw-dropping Edwards performance in a losing effort, two blueblood programs (Duke and Kentucky) getting upset in close games and the final college game of the sport’s biggest star of the decade (Zion).

And that doesn’t even include Auburn and Texas Tech making the first Final Four in school history, Izzo’s finest coaching job and Winston’s heroics and Goins’ big shot. Virginia overcoming a shaky reputation and the Tigers overcoming the loss of Okeke to injury.

The first weekend might have been mostly chalk. The second weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament was a great one as it culminated in memorable Elite Eight games and stars coming through in the clutch. It’s led to some unexpected Final Four matchups, but at least college hoops fans have plenty to talk about this week after some ridiculous games.

Injured Auburn forward Chuma Okeke returns to cheer for Tigers during Elite Eight win

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Auburn advanced to the Final Four without starting forward Chuma Okeke on Sunday but the Tigers still had the sophomore on the sidelines despite his recent knee injury.

Suffering a torn ACL in the win over North Carolina in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, Okeke was wheeled into the arena for the second half as he watched Auburn close out SEC-rival Kentucky to advance to the Final Four for the first time.

After the Tigers and head coach Bruce Pearl secured the win to advance to Minneapolis, Okeke also added the Auburn name to the next part of the bracket — something he also did on Friday after the win over the Tar Heels.

Okeke is out for the rest of the NCAA tournament, as he’s scheduled to have surgery early this week. It’s hard to say if Okeke will be in Minneapolis if he’s scheduled for an operation, but the Tigers have used the injured forward to give them an emotional lift.

Auburn advances to first Final Four with overtime win over Kentucky

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Auburn advanced to the first Final Four in program history with a 77-71 overtime win over No. 2 seed Kentucky on Sunday afternoon in the Midwest Region.

Trailing by five at halftime, the Tigers started the second half on a 12-2 run to take their first lead of the game before a back-and-forth battle ensued the rest of the way. Bryce Brown got hot to keep Auburn in the game with a flurry of second-half points as he almost single-handedly led the Tigers back in the game with 24 points. After going scoreless the first eight minutes, Brown and junior guard Jared Harper (26 points) took over as they combined to score 50 points. Both guards got going after the slow start as Auburn won thanks to the potent duo taking over. After a flurry of three-pointers to score 97 points to beat No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday, the Wildcats held Auburn to only 7-for-23 three-point shooting on Sunday.

Playing without starting forward Chuma Okeke (torn ACL suffered in Friday’s win), an emotional Auburn was led by its potent perimeter with other players chipping in on both ends. Brown got whatever look he wanted with step-back elbow jumpers while Harper did significant damage going to the rim late in regulation and overtime. Anfernee McLemore also chipped in eight points and five rebounds for the Tigers.

A No. 5 seed, Auburn advances to face No. 1 seed Virginia in next Saturday’s Final Four in Minneapolis. Although the Tigers (30-9) are missing Okeke at this point in the season, they are still a very dangerous team thanks to their balance and potent scoring from the perimeter.

Even though Auburn was a top-ten team earlier this season, nobody expected the Tigers to be playing in next weekend’s Final Four. Struggling early in SEC play, last season’s co-SEC champions looked sluggish at times against average competition. Things changed in the final weeks of the season. Auburn showed flashes of brilliance with four wins in four days at the SEC tournament in Nashville as they maintained the hot streak into the NCAA tournament.

Surviving a first-round comeback scare against No. 12 seed New Mexico State after blowing a double-digit second-half lead, the Tigers have dispatched Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in three straight games — three of the winningest programs in men’s college hoops.

During a season in which Auburn was dealing with issues with the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, the Tigers have ignored off-the-court issues and late-season losses to players like Okeke to make an unlikely Final Four run. Having head coach Bruce Pearl in the Final Four should make things fun as Auburn can stay with any team left in the field if they continue to force turnovers and get perimeter scoring.

Losing twice to Kentucky during the regular season, Auburn got revenge with a win in the third matchup to reach the sport’s final weekend. On Feb. 23, the Tigers lost 80-53 in Lexington as they were an unranked team trying to figure things out. Since then, Auburn hasn’t lost a game, as they’ve won 12 straight games and enter the Final Four as the hottest team left in the field.

Kentucky (30-7) jumped out to an early 17-7 lead before Auburn fought back to close within two points right before halftime. The Wildcats had chances to push ahead but cold three-point shooting (5-for-21 threes) and shaky free-throw shooting (12-for-21) prevented Kentucky from pulling away.

After not playing in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament with a hard cast on his foot, sophomore P.J. Washington continued a heroic weekend as he finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds against the Tigers.

Washington scored 15 first-half points to carry Kentucky early as he looked unstoppable. After a sluggish start to the second half, Washington became the team’s go-to player in the final minutes. Washington just didn’t have enough consistent offensive help to get to the Final Four from his teammates.

Freshmen guards Keldon Johnson (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Ashton Hagans (10 points) both finished in double-figures, but freshman wing Tyler Herro (seven points, 3-for-11 shooting) struggled to get going after a good game on Friday. Hagans also had seven turnovers as the Wildcats had 14 for the game.

With the Midwest Region losing the No. 1 seed in North Carolina, it looked like a path opened up for Kentucky to make another Final Four run after beating Auburn twice during the season. But as was the case last season, the Wildcats were knocked out by a lower seed before the Final Four, as this loss to Auburn will undoubtedly feel like a major disappointment to close the season.

As is the case in most offseasons, Kentucky will reload with (at least) three more five-star freshmen as Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks and wing Kahlil Whitney come in for the Wildcats. Some key pieces like Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and E.J. Montgomery could also return for Kentucky. But facing the loss of players like Washington, Herro and Johnson (along with Reid Travis) could make it tough for the Wildcats to reach this spot again next season. It’ll be interesting to see who else Kentucky will add before we get to fall practice.