The college hoops 2010s all-decade team

The 2010s were a wonderful time in college basketball that saw a variety of great teams and great players come through some great arenas and gyms in the country. There were can’t-miss one-and-dones as well as four-year players who developed over time. Some became big-time NBA stars, and others found their professional paths taking them elsewhere.

We will attempt to wade through all the great talent of the past decade and pick the players to fill our 13 allotted spots to form our All-Decade team. The list includes two No. 1 overall picks and eight Naismith Award winners. Enjoy! 1 of 13

Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson has the distinction of starting for two national championship teams. In 2016 he was more of a role player, as Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beater to beat North Carolina for the NCAA championship. He was a much larger part of the equation for a Villanova team that in 2017-2018 was ridiculously efficient and a lethal three-point shooting squad. The national Player of the Year was the perfect point guard for a team whose offense had some many diverse weapons but needed the right leader to bring it all together. He averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists for the 2018 national champions. 2 of 13

Anthony Davis, Kentucky

Davis may be the best player of the 2010s and certainly had the best freshman season of the decade. Davis averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game in 2011-2012, earning him national Freshman of the Year honors as well as numerous Player of the Year awards. His 188 blocks that season were more than what most Division I teams had all year. To top it all off, Davis led Kentucky to the 2012 national championship where he earned Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.  3 of 13

Jimmer Fredette, BYU

“Jimmer Mania” ushered us into this decade. As a senior in 2010-2011, Fredette led the nation in scoring (28.9 ppg) and was the consensus National Player of the Year. Despite playing at BYU, his games were of national interest and his scoring exploits were a regular feature on highlight shows…including a 47-point effort against over Utah where he hit a half-court shot to close out a 32-point first half. He set many school and Mountain West Conference records and became a folk hero of sorts for fans around the country who were craving a Steph Curry-like, long-range gunner. 

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Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Hield was a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year but it was his senior season that stands out as one of the best of the decade. In 2015-2016, Hield averaged 25.0 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 45.7 percent from three and winning the Wooden Award as the top player in the nation. This is how good Hield was: After scoring 46 points in a win over Kansas at “Phog” Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks fans gave him an ovation. He would lift the Sooners to the 2016 Final Four before a nine-point effort from Hield ended their season in a 44-point route by Villanova.  5 of 13

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Unlike many on this list, Kaminsky wasn’t a highly rated high school star nor was he the prototypical scorer one associates with an eventual national Player of the Year. He broke out during his junior season when he finally made it into the starting lineup and raised his scoring average from 4.2 to 13.9 ppg. As a senior, it increased to 18.8 points, which was quite a feat considering the Badgers played a deliberate style of offense. He was huge in Wisconsin’s win over undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four before losing to Duke in the NCAA championship game. Not only was Kaminsky tough to deal with in the post, but he also shot over 41 percent from three during that senior season.  6 of 13

Frank Mason III, Kansas

Mason was many different things during his four years at Kansas. He was a role player who was the tough-minded point guard then became an All-Defensive player as a junior. As a senior he shined, averaging 20.9 points and 5.2 assists, winning the Bob Cousy Award, and he became the national Player of the Year. It wasn’t just that he was a good player all year, but he also was at his best in the biggest games and one of the toughest guards of this decade. 

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Doug McDermott, Creighton

McDermott had arguably the best four-year career of anyone in the past decade. He was a three-time First Team All-American, a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and the 2013-2014 leading scorer and Wooden Award winner. When he finished his college career, he was fifth all time in scoring. He could put up points in a variety of ways as a post player and a shooter. (He made 49 percent of his threes as a junior.) He wasn’t just a great scorer though. As a senior he gave up his scholarship and became a walk-on to give a teammate a scholarship opportunity.  8 of 13

Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Okafor dominated the paint in Duke’s national championship season of 2014-2015. He was one of the more efficient big men whose combination of footwork and soft touch overwhelmed opponents who already had to deal with Duke’s other weapons. For the year, Okafor averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds while winning the ACC’s Player of the Year Award. That team had a major impact on Mike Krzyzewski’s recruiting philosophy of taking on more and more one-and-done players.  9 of 13

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

People tend to forget about how good Sullinger, a Columbus native, was for Ohio State. As a freshman, he averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds and helped lead the Buckeyes to a 34-3 record and the top overall seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He led them to the Final Four the following year, as his stats stayed around the same but he became a much better outside shooter. 

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Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Valentine was a do-everything offensive talent at Michigan State. In his senior season, he averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists for the Spartans and won several national Player of the Year Awards. In a win over Kansas, Valentine became just the fourth Spartan to record a triple-double, joining Magic Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell. His unique blend of size and athleticism mixed with being a 44 percent three-point shooter made him a matchup nightmare.  11 of 13

Kemba Walker, UConn

Walker’s run in March 2011 is legendary. The Huskies finished 9-9 in the Big East standings but used an epic five-wins-in-five-nights conference tournament run (which included a buzzer beater against Pittsburgh) to lock down an NCAA Tournament berth. Once in the Big Dance, Walker carried UConn on his back and led it to the program’s third national championship. In that junior season, he averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists and was a finalist for several Player of the Year Awards.  12 of 13

Zion Williamson, Duke

Have you heard of him? Williamson took college basketball by storm in 2018-2019, as it seemed as if every moment of his college career was dissected and debated. It was certainly covered by ESPN with a streaming series and wall-to-wall coverage of his exploits. (The network even had a camera devoted to him when he was injured.) His powerful yet graceful dunks filled highlight shows, but it was his motor and smile that made him a fan favorite. Sure the media overkill turned some fans away, but his impact on the sport was undeniable even if for just one season. 

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Trae Young, Oklahoma

Young led the nation in scoring in 2017-2018 with a 27.4 ppg average. He also led the country in assists that season (8.7), becoming the first player to ever head both categories. Seriously…how does that happen? He got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season before the Sooners cooled off a bit during conference play, as turnovers and his defense were criticized. Still there was no playmaker like Young all decade long. His 22 assists against Northwestern State tied the single-game record.

By: Shiloh Carder

Best team fits for players in NBA Draft

Yardbarker NBA draft analyst Brett Koremenos offers the best player-team fits in the June 20 draft. (Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and the Lakers, anyone?)

Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and Los Angeles Lakers

During the 2018-19 season, the Lakers ranked 29th in three-point field goal percentage. Garland may be one of the best shooters in the draft. Should major contributors Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kouzma and, of course, LeBron James be on the L.A. roster opening night, Garland will be in a perfect spot. There will be no pressure for him to start right away, a nice transition for a player who missed most of his only season at Vanderbilt because of a knee injury. If he were to land with the Lakers, Garland would play with a ball-dominant playmaker — either James or Ball — allowing Garland to do what he does best: shoot.

Texas’ Jaxson Hayes and Washington Wizards

When the aging Marcin Gortat was traded last year, Wizards franchise point guard John Wall lost arguably the best pick-and-roll partner he has had in D.C. Enter Hayes. Nothing would help a rookie center find his NBA footing like one of the league’s best passers. As for Wall, he’d find new life having a young, lob-catching big man to help him torture defenses.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Miami Heat

Ever since the Big Three left town, Miami has become the basketball version of the Island of Misfit Toys. From Josh Richardson to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, the Heat has taken players without a clearly defined position and found a way to make them work. For a hard-working but unrefined forward such as the 6-foot-8 Hachimura, Miami would be a godsend. Somehow Miami’s culture would likely find a way to ensure Hachimura becomes a valuable NBA contributor.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and Detroit Pistons

Detroit’s recent mediocrity mostly can be linked to sub-par wing play. Johnson’s game isn’t super-sexy, but he’s an energetic defender with a jump shot that should require respect from NBA three-point territory. 

Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Utah Jazz

With Donovan Mitchell emerging as the offensive star and Rudy Golbert anchoring the defense, the Jazz isn’t desperate for star power. Instead, the team needs role players capable of executing their savvy brand of basketball and hitting open shots. That sounds exactly like what the rugged but instinctive Williams should bring. Although the shooting isn’t quite a sure thing (yet), the Tennessee forward would carve out a rotation spot quickly in Utah.

Arizona State’s Lu Dort and Portland Trail Blazers

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Dort’s game is the decisions he makes with the ball in his hands. When you play for the Portland Trail Blazers, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard handle those situations. With the Blazers, Dort could emerge as the perfect defensive yin to Lillard and McCollum’s offensive yang. The strong and athletic guard could handle tough backcourt assignments, allowing Portland’s bucket-getting duo to focus solely on tormenting defenses.

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle and San Antonio Spurs

Over the past two decades, the Spurs have developed a reputation. San Antonio will take a raw wing player and, almost under the cover of night, develop him into a crucial cog in their playoff machine. Thybulle has made a name for himself as an athletic, disruptive 6-foot-5 defender oozing potential but lacking refinement. He spent time at Washington playing in a 2-3 zone and doesn’t have much in the way of offensive skills. If any team could unlock Thybulle’s potential and turn him into a two-way force, it’s the Spurs.

Georgia’s Nic Claxton and Brooklyn Nets

After making an appearance in this year’s playoffs, the Nets finally got a chance to show off their innovative offense. It was orchestrated by young players who benefited from the great developmental process in Brooklyn. If you squint hard enough, Claxton has the makings of a rangy, perimeter-savvy center with a respectable outside shot. But like unfinished sculpture, Claxton needs a team to chip away the rough edges. For a Nets offense that likes to have all its players capable of handling themselves behind the three-point line, Claxton would be a perfect addition

Full List

By: Brett Koremenos

Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter entering 2019 NBA Draft

For the second time today, a member of Virginia’s title-winning team has confirmed his intent to enter the 2019 NBA draft. Following Ty Jerome‘s announcement earlier in the day, sophomore wing De’Andre Hunter has made an announcement of his own, revealing in an Instagram post that he’s declaring for the draft and signing with an agent.

Hunter, who had 27 points to go along with nine rebounds in the NCAA championship game last Monday, had a big year for the Cavaliers, posting 15.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 2.0 APG with an impressive .520/.438/.783 shooting line.

A probable top-10 pick, Hunter considered entering the draft a year ago after his freshman season, but ultimately decided to stay with Virginia for another year, and that decision paid off in a big way. Besides winning a title in his sophomore year, the youngster is also a more promising NBA prospect now, having moved up from No. 18 on ESPN’s big board a year ago to No. 5 now.

In his scouting report on Hunter, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony praises the sophomore’s efficiency on offense and his versatility on defense, observing that the 21-year-old has “prototypical physical tools” for a modern NBA forward. Givony has Hunter going fifth overall to the Hawks in his latest mock draft, noting that Atlanta could use a big wing/combo forward alongside scorers such as Trae Young and Kevin Huerter.

By: Luke Adams

Original Article

Duke makes big mistake by not going to Zion on final possession in loss

Duke was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, losing 68-67 to Michigan State in their Elite Eight clash. While the game was close for nearly the entire second half and thrilling to watch, the Blue Devils made a baffling decision on their final possession.

Duke was down 68-66 with just under six seconds remaining. The Blue Devils were taking the ball out from the baseline after a review showed that Michigan State had knocked the ball out of bounds. I thought for sure the ball was going to Zion Williamson, but instead he drifted away from the passer, while the ball went into RJ Barrett, who was closer to the side where the inbounds pass was.

Barrett drove to the basket and went up in traffic for a shot and got fouled. Just a 66.5 percent free throw shooter, Barrett missed the first attempt. He tried to miss the second attempt, but it actually bounced in. Duke fouled Michigan State on the ensuing inbound and lost when the Spartans dribbled away with the ball.

Duke’s big mistake was not going to its best player, Williamson. He’s the guy who has carried the Blue Devils through their toughest moments and closest games. He delivered late against UCF. He’s the one you want with the ball with the game on the line.

After so many close calls at the end of Duke’s previous games, it’s not really surprising that the Blue Devils’ luck ran out. You can’t have so many games come down to the final play and expect each one to go your way. But you also have to give yourself the best chance to win, and by not going to Zion, Duke didn’t do that.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

16 teams that nearly lost in the tournament only to go on and win the whole thing

There are times in an NCAA Tournament when even the heavy favorite has a tough test, and its run for a championship nearly ends. Even though the team won, it may appear too flawed and not equipped to make a deep run. A little turbulence can happen on the way to paradise.

We just witnessed mighty Duke escape with a one-point win over UCF in the second round, but that doesn’t mean the Blue Devils won’t win the national championship. It just showed us that anything is possible in the Big Dance.

As we enter the Sweet 16, let’s look back at 16 national champions that had their own close calls. We’re not looking at nearly losing the actual championship game, but…with one exception…at nearly losing a game leading up to the Final Four.

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1957: North Carolina 74, Michigan State 70 (three OT)

When people look back at the 1957 Tar Heels, they usually talk about their triple-overtime win over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks. What is forgotten is that the day before, in the national semifinal against Michigan State, North Carolina went another three overtimes to beat the Spartans. The game couldn’t have been closer, as the two teams were tied at the half, at regulation and in each of the first two overtimes. In the first overtime, the Heels’ Pete Brennan rebounded a missed Spartans free throw and drove the length of the floor to tie the game at the buzzer. Center Lennie Rosenbluth took over in the third overtime and sent Carolina to the title game.


1966: Texas Western 81, Kansas 80 (2OT)

Texas Western’s historic win over Kentucky in the 1966 national championship nearly didn’t happen. In the West regional final, Kansas erased a late five-point deficit to send its game with Texas Western into overtime. In the first overtime, Kansas’ Jo Jo White hit a shot from the corner to win the game. The referees, however, ruled that White’s foot was out of bounds and the shot didn’t count. In the second overtime, the Miners took control and eked out the one-point win.

1971: UCLA 57, Long Beach State 55

UCLA’s amazing championship streak nearly ended at three (which is still amazing) when Long Beach State had the Bruins on the ropes. The 49ers, who were No. 3 in the polls and coached by Jerry Tarkanian, led the Bruins by seven points with about five minutes left when leading scorer Ed Ratleff fouled out and the bottom dropped. In a tie game late, Long Beach State’s Dwight Taylor missed a jumper that UCLA rebounded and took it down the other end and scored.

1977: Marquette 67, Kansas State 66

Marquette’s close win over Kansas State in the second round (which was the Sweet 16 then) became cause for a rule change going forward. K State was down three late when Darryl Winston was fouled while he tipped in a shot. At that time a tip wasn’t considered a controlled shot, so the made basket didn’t count because of the foul. So instead of Winston getting an and-one to tie the game, the basket was waved off and he had two foul shots (which he hit). Marquette would hold on to the one-point lead and go on to win the national championship a week later. The following year, the NCAA ruled that tips can be counted as continuation when they are fouled.

1983: NC State 69, Pepperdine 67 (2OT)

NC State’s miracle run to the 1983 national championship featured several close games including the first, a 69-67, double-overtime win over Pepperdine. The Wolfpack trailed Pepperdine by five with just 54 seconds remaining in the first overtime, but luck was on their side. The Waves would make just two of six free throws down the stretch, while NC State tied the game with stick backs. After winning this game in double overtime, the Wolfpack would have close wins over UNLV (71-70) and Virginia (63-62) prior to their improbable ending against Houston for the national championship.

All 16 Teams

By: Shiloh Carder



Biggest takeaways from Sunday’s NCAA Tournament games

Four days and two rounds are in the books, and the NCAA Tournament has left us with more questions than jaw-dropping moments.
The second round, especially Sunday, provided more close games, but not much outside the expected. The top seeds have survived to meet next week, making the next games we’ll see some of the best we could have asked for.
The top teams in the nation have stepped into the Sweet Sixteen. Sunday’s action can help us sort out what to expect in the second week. Here are eight takeaways from the second slate of second-round games:

1. Duke’s flaws exposed in narrow win

Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) runs back after making a shot during the second half against the UCF Knights in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone thinking Duke would strut to the Final Four untouched was proven wrong on the first weekend of tournament play, as UCF came within millimeters of upsetting the Blue Devils on Sunday. In the game’s final minute, Zion Williamson converted a tough basket, RJ Barrett took the lead with a putback and UCF’s two attempts to win the game both danced on the rim before falling back to Earth.
For UCF, it was a brutal missed opportunity. Senior center and giant human being Tacko Fall picked up his fifth foul on Williamson’s crucial late bucket. He was then not there to grab a game-sealing rebound nor help put back a game-winning bucket on the final possession.
For Duke, on the other hand, the game showcased the Blue Devils’ flaws. UCF focused its defensive efforts on Williamson, who still willed his way to 32 points. RJ Barrett, meanwhile, shot 6 for 15 from the field, struggling to find shots he could convert. Duke’s supporting cast was non-existent. Coach K used only seven players on the day, with just three points coming off the bench. UCF allowed Fall to essentially play a one-man zone defense, allowing poor shooters such as Tre Jones and Justin Goldwire any shot they wanted. Jones hit just one of eight deep balls.
Any future opponent saw a potential blueprint. Sell out to stop Williamson, with an eye on Barrett and Cam Reddish, but dare the other Blue Devils to score. If they don’t, Duke is very beatable.

2. The bracket sticks with mostly chalk

After two rounds of tournament play, we have not seen many surprises. Cinderella barely showed up for this year’s Big Dance.

The Sweet Sixteen includes 15 schools from power conferences, with top-seeded Gonzaga being the only “mid-major” moving on. That number counts Houston, out of the American Athletic Conference, as a power conference team, which is debatable. And yet, a school that has 5 Final Fours, a 3-seed this year and 44,000 students on campus isn’t quite the Cinderella darling we expect every March either.

All four of the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 seeds advanced this weekend and two of the No. 4 seeds joined them. The only double-digit seed to advance is Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon.

This March marks the only time other than 2009 that all of the top twelve teams advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985.

3. Tennessee almost let Iowa steal one

The first game of the day ended up being a great one, despite Tennessee jumping out to a 25-point first half lead. The Vols began to turn the ball over and went cold shooting the ball. Iowa took advantage, coming all the way back to force overtime.

The game will be best remembered for a late coaching decision by Rick Barnes. Admiral Schofield, who was hot early, dumping in 17 first-half points, got into foul trouble late in the game. Barnes was deathly cautious with Schofield’s late-game playing time. The Vols kept their leading scorer on the bench through most of crunch time, including their final offensive possessions, in a tie game with a chance to end the game in regulation.

Schofield then began overtime on the bench, staying there for the entire five minute extra period. Postgame, Barnes defended the decision by pinning it on Schofield. According to Barnes, Schofield urged him to stick with the lineup that was on the floor stretching the lead. There’s something to be said for a coach who listens to his players, and in this case, it worked. On the other hand, Barnes is paid millions of dollars to coach the Volunteers. If that means making a choice that one of his players doesn’t agree with, so be it.

Against Purdue in the next round or another contender down the road in this tournament, this kind of head-scratching decision could send the Vols back to Knoxville.

4. Top of the ACC shows its might

All five of the top teams in the ACC have advanced to the Sweet 16, the most of any conference. That was expected of the three teams from the conference that were awarded top seeds. North Carolina and Virginia both coasted relatively unharmed through the first weekend. Both trailed at the half in the first round before coasting through their next 60 strong minutes of basketball.

Duke faced the toughest test of any ACC club, barely sneaking past UCF. Even though the Blue Devils were one last-second bucket away from heading home early, they are still the favorites to cut down the nets at season’s end.

The other two ACC teams advancing have been among the most impressive in the tournament. Florida State held off a tough challenge from Vermont and routed a Murray State team that was clicking late in the season. Virginia Tech looked strong in two wins this weekend, with Justin Robinson back healthy in the lineup providing senior leadership and a scoring pop. These two 4 seeds will now have a crack at Gonzaga and Duke to earn a bid to the Elite Eight.

5. Texas Tech reminds the world how good it can be

Buffalo earned a lot of praise as a team that could defend at an elite level. In the Bulls’ second-round game, they saw what elite defense really looks like. Chris Beard has his Texas Tech team playing as well on the defensive end of the floor as any team in college basketball.

On Sunday, Buffalo’s high-speed offensive attack was absolutely smothered by the Red Raiders. The Bulls managed to record just three more made field goals than turnovers. Every trip down the floor was a slog against the activity of Tech’s defense. At one point, the Red Raiders went on a 27-3 run, leaving Buffalo with no answers.

6. Oregon is on a marvelous March run

The Ducks are pulling off something rarely seen in college basketball. When Bol Bol went down with an injury, many lost hope for this Oregon team. Even later in the season, things looked dire. On Feb. 23, Oregon lost to UCLA, for the second time this season, to fall to 15-12 on the year.

Since then, the Ducks haven’t lost. Oregon has now won 10 straight games and looks like a completely new team. Perhaps it took time to figure things out after Bol’s injury. Maybe a team full of transfers and young players needed time to mesh.

Whatever has changed, it has turned the Ducks into an entirely different team. Nothing about the Ducks that beat Wisconsin and UC Irvine looked like the Oregon team that struggled in Pac-12 play or lost to Texas Southern at home early in the season. Dana Altman has a talented team, with high-level recruits on the roster, and he is among the sharpest offensive coaches in America. These Ducks are not your usual 12 seed.

All Takeaways

By: Shane McNichol

Admiral Schofield benched himself late to help Tennessee defense

Admiral Schofield has been one of the Tennessee Volunteers’ best players all season long, but he was conspicuously missing late as the Iowa Hawkeyes took them to overtime Sunday.

Speculation was rampant as to why, but the truth was simpler and more impressive: Schofield essentially pulled himself from the game, telling coach Rick Barnes that he felt Kyle Alexander could defend the Hawkeyes better.

Schofield’s late-game disappearance was certainly a talking point. He had been playing with four fouls, and it appears that he felt he simply couldn’t defend as aggressively or capably as he hoped to with that hanging over his head. It was risky, but it worked out, as the Volunteers prevailed in overtime without Schofield playing at all in the extra period.

By: Grey Papke

Original Article

Eight takeaways from Thursday’s NCAA Tournament games

There’s always a ton of pressure during the first two days of tournament play. The years full of shocking upsets and buzzer-beaters have spoiled us. We expect that every year on the first Thursday and Friday of tournament play.

When a day like this Thursday comes along, you’ll hear some complaining the action didn’t quite reach chaotic levels. Even without the wildest surprise upsets or heroic game-winners, we saw 16 basketball games, all of which taught us something about this tournament and the teams in it.

We also saw a ton of close calls, one-possession games, and some mind-boggling performances. Here’s what we learned from the action.

Mar 21, 2019; Hartford, CT, USA; Murray State Racers guard Ja Morant (12) reacts after a score against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at XL Center. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ja Morant lives up to the billing

Until March, Ja Morant received more attention as an NBA Draft prospect than as a college star. He was ready for the spotlight Thursday, leading Murray State to a blowout over Marquette. Morant recorded the 17th triple-double in NCAA Tournament history and the first since Draymond Green in 2012.

Morant drew attention for a monster two-handed flush in the second half, but the real story was how well he played all over the floor against a strong high-major team. Morant finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists, playing great defense and essentially controlling the pace of the game. It was the best performance of the day.

2. Minnesota starts things off hot

The first game of Thursday’s action provided our first surprise as Minnesota beat Louisville handily. Richard Pitino had his team ready to play against the school that fired his father a year ago. Every Gopher in the starting lineup provided double-figure scoring and, as a team, Minnesota turned the ball over just five times.

The Golden Gophers had been stumbling toward the end of the Big Ten schedule, putting themselves directly on the bubble. They earned their bid to the tournament by beating Purdue twice in a 10-day span. In recent weeks, this team has look renewed. Now they’ll get a crack at Big Ten rival Michigan State, which Minnesota played once this season, an easy Spartans victory in East Lansing.

3. Long shots fall short in upset bids

The afternoon saw three low seeds give top dogs a real test before fading late. Bradley was the most notable, pushing second-seeded Michigan State to the brink. The Braves led with under seven minutes to play  before an 8-0 Spartans run changed the outlook of the game. Bradley benefited from hot shooting in the first half but simply didn’t have an answer for Cassius Winston or Michigan State’s size.

Vermont also fought late into the second half, courtesy of some sharp shooting, making 16 of 32 from beyond the arc against Florida State. Despite making enough long balls to stay competitive, the Catamounts could not contend with the Florida State frontline. America East Player of the Year Anthony Lamb was overmatched by the Seminoles size and shot just 4 of 13 from the field.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yale was able to handle the size and speed of a high-major opponent, yet forgot to pack their jump shooting on the flight out of New Haven. The Bulldogs, a strong outside shooting team this season, managed to shoot just 8 for 37 from outside the arc, with many of the makes coming too late to matter. Yale’s best player, Miye Oni, failed to score in double figures for just the second time this season, shooting a miserable 2 for 16 from the field. Oni made just one of his 10 long-range attempts as the Bulldogs failed to keep pace with LSU.

4. Belmont and New Mexico State hurt by bad decisions

Two of the day’s better opportunities for an upset were foiled by questionable decision-making down the stretch.

New Mexico State cut into an Auburn lead, giving itself a chance to tie the game late. The Aggies trailed by two in the final seconds. AJ Harris split through the defense in the paint but passed up a chance to finish at the rim for a wild hook pass out to the perimeter. Auburn bailed Harris out by fouling Terrell Brown as he attempted a 3-pointer. Although Brown missed two of three from the line, the Aggies had yet another chance as the third free throw bounced off of an Auburn player and out of bounds. The Aggies inbounded to Trevelin Queen, who air-balled the potential game-winner. New Mexico State had ample chances and time after time didn’t take advantage.

Belmont had a double-digit lead in the first half but saw that disappear late. The Bruins had possession, down by one point, with under 20 seconds to play. Inexplicably, Belmont chose to hold the ball for the final shot to win the game. The Bruins’ possession ended with a backdoor pass being stolen. By the time Belmont could foul, less than three seconds remain. With no timeouts, Belmont’s last gasp came from beyond half-court.

5. Kentucky and Gonzaga look great

Unlike Michigan State, other top seeds had no problem running away. Both Kentucky and Gonzaga dominated both ends of the floor in easy victories.

Kentucky held Abilene Christian to just 13 first-half points and 32 percent shooting for the game. Big Blue owned the glass, grabbing 44 rebounds to Abilene Christian’s 17. Keldon Johnson made up for the absence of PJ Washington by scoring 25 points.

Gonzaga was just as impressive, ripping off a 19-0 run before the half. The Zags recorded 22 assists on their 34 field goals, sharing the ball to find scoring chances. Gonzaga’s lead ballooned above 40 as Fairleigh Dickinson struggled to score against the Bulldog defense. The Knights shot just 15 for 50 from the field.

6. Kansas puts together strong showing

No team saw as much drama and adversity as Kansas did this year. Bill Self lost players to injuries, personal reasons and NCAA suspensions. The Jayhawks did not win the Big XII regular-season title for the first time in 14 years and were blown out in the Big XII Tournament final in front of a pro-Iowa State crowd in Kansas City. It was nearly impossible to calibrate tournament expectations for this team.

Kansas came out against a Northeastern team which could have presented problems and soundly defeated the Huskies. Northeastern fell behind early and was never able to keep pace with this rebuilt Kansas club. Dedric Lawson played like an All-American, and Devon Dotson has stepped to become a legitimate star.

If Kansas plays like it did on Thursday, the Jayhawks will be a tough out moving forward.

7. Florida bounces Nevada

In a matchup of two similarly skilled teams, the Florida Gators upended a talented Nevada team. The game pitted two teams with radically different paths to the tournament.

Florida needed to upset LSU in the SEC Tournament just to get off the bubble and into the field, with a record of 19-15 entering the Big Dance. The Gators were aided by their strength of schedule, making up for their raw number of losses.

Nevada was quite the opposite. The Wolf Pack had only four losses this season but only played three games against teams in the NCAA Tournament. The teams had also been moving in opposite directions, with Florida winning eight of 12 games and Nevada losing three times since Feb. 20.

On Thursday, Nevada’s isolation heavy offense simply stalled against Florida’s defense. The Wolf Pack were forced into contested jump shots throughout the game and shot just 5 for 24 from outside the arc. Even when the game was close late, Nevada couldn’t find the answers to make shots.

All 8 Takeaways

By: Shane McNichol

10 small-school players who could become March Madness heroes

Who doesn’t love a Cinderella? Every year, small schools play their way into March Madness, hoping to make their mark on the tournament. Oftentimes, these teams are powered by one special player — the kind you usually see at larger schools. Remember Steph Curry at Davidson? Or Damian Lillard at Weber State? Here are some players from small schools who could make some noise in March Madness this year.

Ja Morant, Murray State  

If you can keep your eye on only one player from a mid-major school, make it Morant. He’s the guy all the NBA scouts will be watching. Despite playing at Murray State, Morant is primed to be a top-five pick. He’s averaged 24.6 points per game, thanks in part to stellar dunks, and he knows how to thread a pass as well. If anybody is going to be the next Lillard in this class, it’s Morant.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

He may have the name of a comic strip character from the ‘30s, but Magee is leading a Wofford team that is entering the tournament ranked in the top 25. The senior has averaged 20.5 points per game, which is actually down from the 22.5 points he averaged last season. Magee has a smooth shot, and if he gets hot a big name team will go down.

Jordan Ford, St. Mary’s

The Gaels were on the bubble, but then they took down Gonzaga in the WCC finals. Ford took his game to a whole new level this season. His minutes jumped considerably and so did his points average, which went from 11.1 to 21.3 over the two campaigns. The junior has gone from a role player to a star, and if he can help take down the Zags then the sky is the limit.

CJ Massinburg, Buffalo

Rarely does a MAC team find itself ranked in the top 25, but the Buffalo Bulls have done just that for much of the season. They were once again led by the senior CJ Massinburg. He’s averaged a hearty 18.5 points per game, but he’s thrown in 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per contest to boot. Massinburg is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades — the kind of player who can do some of everything. That’s what mid-major teams like this need sometimes.

Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky

The Norse are in the tourney for the second time in their history, and McDonald has been a big part of why both times. The senior didn’t quite average a double-double, but he came close. McDonald has averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, but that’s with 19.1 points per contest. While Northern Kentucky will likely be seeded too low to pull off an upset, McDonald will get a chance to show he can get it done against a bigger school.

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

Remember UMBC, the team that captured our hearts last year by upsetting Virginia? They won’t be back this year because Lamb dropped 28 points on them in the America East title game. That’s business as usual for Lamb, as he’s averaged 21.1 points per game. Oh, and he’s averaged 7.8 boards and 2.0 blocks per contest to boot.

Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate

The 6-foot-10 junior was barely playing at Northwestern before transferring. Now he’s led Colgate to the Patriot League title and helped punch its ticket to the Big Dance. He’s averaged 16.5 points to lead the Red Raiders while adding 7.9 rebounds per game for good measure. This is Colgate’s second tourney appearance ever and first since 1996, and the team is certainly glad Ivanauskas decided to transfer.

Scottie James, Liberty

Liberty definitely seems like the kind of team that could actively pull off a first-round upset based on its seeding. James is leading the team in scoring, although he’s averaging only 13.1 points per game. However, that’s with a 67.6 shooting percentage, so you know the guy can get it done around the basket. The 8.8 rebounds per game he averages also bolster that point.

B.J. Stith, Old Dominion  

The Monarchs used to make the tournament often before changing conferences, but now they are representing Conference USA as its champs. Stith began his career at Virginia before transferring in state to Old Dominion. This year, he played a whopping 34.4 minutes per game, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Now he’s led ODU to its first tournament appearance since 2011.

Full 10

By: Chris Morgan

Ja Morant dominates Marquette, leads Murray State to upset

Ja Morant didn’t quite pull a Vince Carter, but he wasn’t far off.

Morant had a monster game in Murray State’s first-round matchup against Marquette in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, dominating across the board. His most emphatic play came when he dunked all over Joey Hauser early in the second half:

Morant recorded a triple-double in the game — the first in the NCAA Tournament since Draymond Green in 2012.

We knew he was a big-time player, but what’s impressive is that he showed up and did his best on the biggest stage.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown