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  • Gonzaga, Xavier both aim for first Final Four
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, March 24, 2017

    SAN JOSE, Calif. -- One team will make history in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional final Saturday.

    • Either top-seed Gonzaga or 11th-seeded Xavier will make its first Final Four.

      A one-time Cinderella, Gonzaga (35-1) ranked among the top tier of title contenders all season, as the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the AP poll for nearly two months while winning their first 29 games. They are big, quick, deep and talented.

      Arguably a 2017 Cinderella, Xavier (24-13) went through a six-game losing streak after star point guard Edmond Sumner sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 29, with only two of the losses to ranked teams. The Musketeers, however, regained their stride.

      Xavier, the lowest seed remaining in the NCAA field, advanced through the West by handling No. 6 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 2 seed Arizona.

      "Losing Ed was tough because he was a key part to our team," said guard Trevon Bluiett, who scored 25 points and had an assist on the winning basket when Xavier beat Arizona 73-71 Thursday.

      "You know, I feel like the 'click' was always there. We just had to learn how to play a full 40 minutes."

      Musketeers forward J.P. Macura had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Wildcats.

      "We're all tough guys," Macura said. "We stuck together, and we're not really backing down from anybody. If you have that mentality, you can beat an awful lot of teams."

      Gonzaga, whose only loss came to BYU on Feb. 25, got a go-ahead 3-pointer from Jordan Mathews in the final minute to beat West Virginia 61-58 in the West's other Sweet 16 match.

      The Bulldogs' 7-foot, 300-pound center, Przemek Karnowski, will be the biggest man on the floor Saturday and will be the toughest matchup for smaller Xavier. Both he and athletic 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams had 13 points against West Virginia.

      Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss leads Gonzaga with a 16.7 scoring average, one of four players in double figures. He was held to 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting and committed five turnovers against West Virginia.

      "Karnowski is a problem inside," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team lost to Gonzaga 69-62 on Dec. 3. "He can do it rebounding. He can do it in the post. He can do it by passing. And Gonzaga is very underrated defensively."

      The Bulldogs held the Mountaineers to 26.7 percent shooting (16 of 60).

      Gonzaga, long removed from being a college-basketball upstart, is playing in its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have made only two other appearances in the Elite Eight, losing to eventual champion Connecticut in 1999 and falling to eventual champion Duke in 2015.

      "All year we've been banking on our defense, our defense, our defense," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We're 40 minutes away from a Final Four, which was something we set our sights on at the start of the year."

      Xavier has made two previous Elite Eight appearances, the last coming in 2008, when Miller was the head coach and Chris Mack was one of his assistants. The Musketeers lost to a UCLA team led by Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.

  • Home fans will boost Kansas in battle with Oregon
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, March 24, 2017

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- En route to the Elite Eight, Kansas won its three NCAA Tournament games by an average of 30 points, averaging 96 points in that span.

    • Slowing down the top-seeded Jayhawks will be the task for third-seeded Oregon in the Midwest Regional final Saturday (8:49 p.m. EDT) at Sprint Center. To make it a little more of a challenge, the Ducks must do it in a hostile environment.

      Sprint Center is less than an hour's drive from Lawrence, Kan., the home of the Jayhawks, so the arena will be filled with Kansas fans.

      "We look forward to the challenge. It's an opportunity to play," Oregon coach Dana Altman said before Kansas easily dispatched Purdue 98-66. "Kansas is Kansas. Obviously look out there. There is a little green section and a dark blue section. Royal blue filled everything else. It will be a tough ballgame because it's a road game."

      Kansas' players know the advantage of having most of the 18,000-plus fans behind them.

      "Playing here in K.C. is great," Kansas guard Devonte' Graham said. "The crowd (is) behind us and they give us so much momentum and energy throughout the game. It's just great to be here."

      Oregon is a good matchup for Kansas because of similar styles. Kansas relies on four guards in their starting lineup, while Oregon plays small with the loss of 6-10 forward Chris Boucher to injury late in the season.

      "(I have a) ton of respect (for Oregon)," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "(They're) unbelievably athletic. They're like us, they're going to play small a lot of the time because they will play Dillon (Brooks) at the 4 like we play Josh and then play the best defender in the Pac-12, Defensive Player of the Year around the middle, kind of like we do Landen (Lucas). So I think it will be two teams that at least match up with each other pretty well."

      Kansas is led by national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III. He was averaging 20.8 points per game coming into the NCAA Tournament. He scored 26 points against Purdue. He can drive to the basket, shoot from the outside (he was 4-of-5 from 3-point range against the Boilermakers and shoots 47.2 percent on the season), and he loves to pass, averaging 5.2 assists per game.

      Oregon's go-to player is Brooks, who leads the Ducks with 16.4 points per game. He can bring the ball up court, though he plays the power-forward position for the Ducks with the absence of Boucher.

      Altman and Oregon are back in the Elite Eight for the second straight year. They lost to Big 12 opponent Oklahoma with a spot in last year's Final Four. If they accomplish their goal Saturday, it will be the Ducks' first Final Four since the very first NCAA Tournament in 1939, when the Ducks won their only title.

      "It's just an unbelievable feeling," Altman said. "I owe these guys (his players) so much, for putting us in this position. As a coach, you always dream of playing in the Final Four and winning a national title. I feel really fortunate to have really good players who have put us in that position."

  • NCAA Tournament roundup: Xavier stuns Arizona
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, March 24, 2017

    SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points and fed Sean O'Mara for the winning layup with 54 seconds remaining as 11th-seeded Xavier upset second-seeded Arizona 73-71 on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament West Region semifinals at SAP Center.

    • The Musketeers (24-13) scored the final nine points, including five by Malcolm Bernard and two by Bluiett, to earn an Elite Eight matchup with top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday. The winner advances to its first Final Four.

      The Wildcats' Allonzo Trier scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and Arizona took a 71-64 lead on Kadeem Allen's driving layup with 2:52 remaining. But the Wildcats (32-5) missed their last six field-goal attempts.

      Bernard scored 15 points and J.P Macura added 14 for Xavier, the lowest remaining seed in the tournament. Dusan Ristic scored 17 points for Arizona, which had won six in a row and 11 of 12.

      No. 1 Gonzaga 61, No. 4 West Virginia 58

      SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jordan Mathews scored 13 points and made three 3-pointers, the last with 57.3 seconds remaining to help the Bulldogs move one game away from their first Final Four.

      Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams also had 13 points for Gonzaga (35-1).

      The Mountaineers (28-9) missed two 3-point field goal attempts in the last 20 seconds and could not get off another as the buzzer sounded. West Virginia's Jevon Carter scored 21 points, but missed the two 3-pointers in the final moments.

      No. 3 Oregon 69, No. 7 Michigan 68

      KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Ducks held the Wolverines scoreless in the final 2:02, surviving Derrick Walton Jr.'s missed jumper at the buzzer to reach the Midwest Region Final.

      Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points for Oregon (32-5), which meets Kansas in Saturday's Region final. Jordan Bell had 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, Dillon Brooks had 12 points and Dylan Ennis scored 10.

      Walton led Michigan (26-12) with 20 points. He was joined in double figures by Zak Irvin with 19 points and D.J. Wilson with 12.

      No. 1 Kansas 98, No. 4 Purdue 66

      KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Jayhawks got 26 points apiece from Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham to rout Purdue in the Midwest Region semifinals at Sprint Center before 18,475 fans, mostly clad in Kansas' crimson and blue.

      Josh Jackson scored 15 points, Legerald Vick added 12 and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had 10 for the Jayhawks (31-4), who won their three NCAA Tournament games by 90 points.

      The Boilermakers (27-8) were led by Caleb Swanigan with 18 points. P.J. Thompson had 12 points and Isaac Haas 11.

  • College basketball notebook: Thompson out at Georgetown
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Georgetown coach John Thompson III was fired Thursday, university president John J. DeGioia announced.

    • The Hoyas were 14-18 this season, including 5-13 in Big East play, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

      DeGioia said a national search for a new coach will begin immediately.

      Georgetown reached the NCAA Tournament eight times during Thompson's reign, including a Final Four appearance in 2006-07 when the club went 30-7.

      --UMass hire decides not to take coaching job

      Massachusetts cancelled a press conference to introduce Pat Kelsey as coach after Kelsey backed out of the job earlier Thursday.

      The cancellation occurred only minutes before the scheduled 4 p.m. ET start time. UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said Kelsey asked to be released from his contact due to "very personal" reasons.

      Kelsey accepted the position on Tuesday after guiding Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament this season. Kelsey is 102-59 in five seasons at Winthrop.

      --Top overall recruit Michael Porter Jr. received a release from his letter of intent from Washington on Thursday, according to the school.

      The 6-foot-10 Porter sought his release after the Huskies fired coach Lorenzo Romar earlier this month. Porter, who was named Gatorade National Player of the Year on Wednesday, reportedly is considering a transfer to Missouri.

      He also confirmed that his father, Michael Porter Sr., has been offered an assistant coaching position by recently hired Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.

      --California sophomore forward Ivan Rabb has declared for the NBA draft, he said on the school's website.

      Rabb averaged 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shot per game this season. The 6-foot-11 Rabb was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

      Rabb is projected as the 21st overall pick in June's draft, according to nbadraft.net.

      --Duke center Chase Jeter is transferring after two seasons at the school, the university announced.

      Jeter said he plans to transfer to a school closer to his hometown of Las Vegas.

      Jeter appeared in just 16 games as a sophomore and didn't play after sustaining a herniated disk in his back in mid-January. He averaged 2.1 points and 2.7 rebounds this season. Jeter played in 48 games in two seasons and averaged 2.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots.

  • Kelsey backs out of UMass job
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Massachusetts cancelled a press conference to introduce Pat Kelsey as coach after Kelsey backed out of the job earlier Thursday.

    • The cancellation occurred only minutes before the scheduled 4 p.m. ET start time.

      UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said Kelsey asked to be released from his contact due to "very personal" reasons.

      Kelsey accepted the position on Tuesday after guiding Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament this season. He tweeted his joy over landing the job on Tuesday and made a reference to school legend Julius Erving.

      "So excited to be a part of the rich tradition of @UMassBasketball," Kelsey tweeted. "I may fall over when I meet Dr. J. Can't wait to get to Amherst! #GoUMass"

      Kelsey is 102-59 in five seasons at Winthrop. There was no immediate word on whether he would seek a return to the school or search for a different coaching position.

  • Cal sophomore Rabb opts for NBA draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    California sophomore forward Ivan Rabb has declared for the NBA draft, he said on the school's website on Thursday.

    • Rabb averaged 14 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shot per game this season. The 6-foot-11 Rabb was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

      "While this season didn't end the way we all had hoped, I have no regrets about returning for a second season this year," Rabb said in a letter to the "Cal Family." "Both of my years here at Cal were a learning experience. In my first year, I was the young guy learning the ropes and earning respect. As my sophomore year went on, I grew into my own and was challenged to find ways to perform at a high level every night.

      "The games were different, and they were more serious. My goal was to go out and play well while having fun and enjoying every moment. At the end of the day, I had fun with my brothers and continued to grow on and off the court, which leaves me feeling more prepared than ever to capitalize on the opportunities ahead of me to play at the highest level."

      Rabb is projected as the 21st overall pick in June's draft, according to nbadraft.net.

      Rabb averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman. He applied for the NBA draft after that season before later withdrawing his name.

  • No. 1 recruit Porter decommits from Washington
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Top overall recruit Michael Porter Jr. received a release from his letter of intent from Washington on Thursday, according to the school.

    • Porter sought his release after the Huskies fired coach Lorenzo Romar earlier this month.

      Porter, who was named Gatorade National Player of the Year on Wednesday, reportedly is considering a transfer to Missouri.

      He also confirmed that his father, Michael Porter Sr., has been offered an assistant coaching position by recently hired Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.

      Porter Sr. was hired as an assistant by Romar last year two months before Porter Jr. verbally committed to Washington.

      The Porters are from Missouri and Porter Sr. was a former assistant coach for Missouri's women's basketball program.

      The 6-foot-10 Porter Jr. addressed the situation on a conference call on Wednesday.

      "To be able to go back (to Missouri), I know those Mizzou fans are hungry -- and I've been shown a lot of love from Mizzou fans," Porter Jr. said. "It could be something real, real special just to come home and do my thing there, it would special."

      Washington hired former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins to replace Romar. Porter Jr. said he still will consider the Huskies but wants to start over and weigh which school is best for him.

      His brother, high school junior Jontay Porter, previously decommitted from Washington after the firing of Romar.

      Sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the Missouri women's team. Porter Sr. is married to the sister of Missouri women's coach Robin Pingeton.

      Porter Jr. is considered a one-and-done college player wherever he winds up. He is projected as the No. 1 overall draft choice in the 2018 NBA draft by nbadraft.net.

      He said he remains stunned by Romar's firing at Washington.

      "I was shocked," Porter Jr. said. "I thought we had something special coming to Washington."

  • Duke C Jeter to transfer to school closer to home
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Duke center Chase Jeter is transferring after two seasons at the school, the university announced on Thursday.

    • Jeter said he plans to transfer to a school closer to his hometown of Las Vegas.

      Jeter appeared in just 16 games as a sophomore and didn't play after sustaining a herniated disk in his back in mid-January. He averaged 2.1 points and 2.7 rebounds this season.

      Jeter played in 48 games for the Blue Devils and averaged 2.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots.

      "Chase has been an outstanding young man in our program for the last two years," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. "He has been one of our top academic performers since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he was held back this season due to injury.

      "We wish nothing but the absolute best for Chase and his family."

      Jeter said he weighed the situation before making his decision.

      "I have loved my time at Duke, getting a world-class education and competing alongside my brothers every day," Jeter said in a statement. "After careful consideration, I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school closer to home. I've made long-lasting relationships here and I want to thank my teammates and coaches for the support they've given me over the last two years."

      The Blue Devils went 28-9 this season and were eliminated by South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

  • Thompson III out as Georgetown coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Georgetown coach John Thompson III was fired on Thursday, according to university president John J. DeGioia.

    • The Hoyas were just 14-18 this season, including 5-13 in Big East play, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

      Thompson, the son of legendary Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr., went 278-151 in 13 seasons as coach.

      "It is with profound regret and deep appreciation that I informed John Thompson III this morning that the University will no longer be retaining his services as our head men's basketball coach," DeGioia said in a statement. "For 13 years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball.

      "His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.

      "Our tradition of excellence as a University will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family."

      DeGioia said a national search for a new coach will begin immediately.

      Georgetown reached the NCAA Tournament eight times during Thompson's reign, including a Final Four appearance in 2006-07 when the club went 30-7.

      The Hoyas posted winning records in each of Thompson's first 11 seasons but failed to do so in either of the past two seasons. His final team finished ninth in the 10-team Big East.

      "I am proud of what my players have accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown," Thompson said in a statement. "Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972, which makes this moment even more impactful but I look forward to my next chapter."

      Before his stint with Georgetown, Thompson went 68-42 in four seasons as Princeton's coach from 2000-04.

  • UCF, Cal State Bakersfield reach NIT semis
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    During his eight seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins twice directed the Cardinal to the NIT championship. Now his new school, Central Florida, is two steps away from the same accomplishment.

    • Backstopped by 7-foot-6 sophomore center Tacko Fall, who blocked three shots and influenced numerous airballs, UCF shut down Illinois' offense and earned a 68-58 victory in an NIT quarterfinal on Wednesday night at sold-out CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla.

      Fourth-seeded UCF (24-11) will face TCU (22-15), also a No. 4 seed, in semifinal action on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

      Sophomore point guard B.J. Taylor paced the Knights with 17 points. Senior guard Matt Williams and junior forward A.J. Davis added 16 points apiece, while Fall contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds.

      Senior swingman Malcolm Hill scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half for second-seeded Illinois (20-15), which held its only lead at 3-2.

      The Illini never solved UCF's defense, which entered the night as the nation's stingiest in field goal defense at 36.4 percent. Illinois shot 31 percent from the floor.

      The Illini shot 27 percent in the first half to fall behind 34-19 at the break and did not convert a two-point shot or a free throw until Hill's put-back with 2:05 left in the first half. By that point, UCF owned a 32-15 lead.

      Williams, who came into the game fifth nationally with an average of 3.5 3-pointers per game, set the tone by hitting three consecutive 3-pointers to give UCF an 11-3 lead just 3:49 into the game.

      Illinois pulled within 41-28 on sophomore forward Leron Black's 15-foot jumper with 15:56 left, but the Knights responded by feeding Fall for a drop into the bucket and finding Taylor for a 3-pointer that forced Illinois to call a timeout.

      This trend repeated itself the rest of the way. Illinois would string together a basket or two to suggest a rally and UCF would snuff it out.

      The Illini's last run came with four minutes to go when Hill drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 57-48. After a UCF timeout, Hill was fouled on a 3-point attempt and canned all three free throws. Illinois had another possession to get closer than six points, but senior guard Tracy Abrams and sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands rimmed 3-point tries.

      Cal State Bakersfield 80, Texas-Arlington 76

      The eighth-seeded Roadrunners completed their Cinderella run to Madison Square Garden, beating the sixth-seeded Mavericks to earn a trip to the semifinals in New York.

      Shon Briggs led Cal State Bakersfield (25-9) with 19 points, and Damiyne Durham added 18 points and eight rebounds. The Roadrunners will oppose sixth-seeded Georgia Tech (20-15) on Tuesday.

      Texas-Arlington (27-9) got 22 points from Erick Neal and 15 from Kevin Hervey.

  • Syracuse F Lydon entering NBA Draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon is entering the 2017 NBA Draft.

    • Lydon spent two seasons with the Orange and averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season. He announced his decision Wednesday night on Instagram.

      "It was a privilege to wear the Orange uniform alongside my teammates," Lydon wrote. "I was honored to battle with you all every night. I am very excited about this next step in my career!"

      Coach Jim Boeheim said Monday that Lydon had a season he considered "average" and suggested the door wasn't closed for the sophomore to return. Boeheim said Lydon could be a lottery pick in the draft if he came back to Syracuse.

      However, after meeting with his family Monday and Tuesday, Lydon decided it was time to go pro.

      Replacing Lydon, a 40 percent 3-point shooter and the team's leading rebounder this season, won't be easy. The top in-house candidate for the Orange is Taurean Thompson, who is not as gifted shooting from the perimeter.

  • Duke F Tatum opting for NBA
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Jayson Tatum's stay at Duke lasted all of one season as the freshman forward declared on Wednesday that he is entering the 2017 NBA Draft.

    • The school took to social media to initially deliver the news, tweeting a picture of Tatum with a quote from coach Mike Krzyzewski.

      "I absolutely loved coaching Jayson Tatum," Krzyzewski's quote read. "His skill set and work ethic will make him a star in the NBA."

      Tatum, who could be as high as a top-five pick in the June draft, feels he's ready for the bright lights of the NBA.

      "I'm excited to take the next step in pursuing my lifelong dream of playing basketball at the highest possible level," Tatum said Wednesday, according to the Charlotte Observer.

      Tatum averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 29 games with the Blue Devils. The 6-foot-8 St. Louis native missed the first eight contests of the campaign with a foot sprain, but rebounded to score in double figures in all but three of the remaining games.

      Tatum averaged 22 points during Duke's four-day run to the ACC tournament title. He had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the Blue Devils' NCAA Tournament-opening victory over Troy, but was limited to just 15 and three, respectively, in the ensuing loss to South Carolina.

  • Florida State G Bacon leaving early for NBA draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Florida State guard Dwayne Bacon announced Wednesday he is leaving school early and entering the 2017 NBA Draft.

    • The 6-foot-7, 221-pound sophomore led the Seminoles in scoring during the 2016-2017 season with 17.2 points per game. He also led the team in scoring during his freshman season when he averaged 15.8 points.

      Bacon thanked Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton, other coaches and fans in a statement released by the school.

      "After deep prayer and consultation with my parents, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft," Bacon said. "I am and forever will be a Seminole.

      "This organization has been instrumental in my path and as I look to embark on my professional career, I will carry the many lessons learned. We are truly family here and I'd like to thank Coach Ham, Coach C.Y., Coach Jones, Coach Gates and the entire faculty and coaching staff for a great two years. I am looking forward to the future.

      "Last year I made the decision to stay and set specific goals for myself personally to help our team get to the next level. Although the outcome was not as favorable as we had hoped, I am still proud and grateful to have achieved those goals alongside my teammates. Thank you!"

      Florida State finished the season with a 26-9 record during the season and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles won their first game in the tournament against 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast but fell to No. 11 seed Xavier 91-66 in the second round.

      Bacon, who averaged 22.5 points over the two tournament games, has been projected to be drafted from a late first-round to middle second-round pick.

  • Next level: 10 best NBA prospects still playing
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    More often than not, the team that wins the NCAA title has at least a couple of pros-in-waiting on their roster.

    • So it goes with this year's Sweet 16, which has its share of potentially ready-made NBA players, some of whom seem assured of stardom. There are also guys left in the field who appear to have 10-year role player written all over them, and there's nothing wrong with that, either.

      Here's our list of the top 10 NBA prospects from teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament:

      1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Some might be weary of his father's seemingly non-stop palaver, but it's hard to get tired of watching his son's game. Ball averages 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds per contest, turning the Bruins from a losing team into a potential national champion. Ball averages more than three assists for every turnover and his effective shooting percentage on 3-pointers is better than 64 percent. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Ball has the handle of a smaller man and the vision to make anyone a scoring threat. Buy his rookie card ASAP.

      2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: The 6-8 Jackson turned in a highlight-film play for the ages Sunday against Michigan State, appearing from out of nowhere to reject a TumTum Nairn layup early in the Jayhawks' 20-point win over the Spartans. Jackson hit for 16.6 points and hauled in 7.1 rebounds, helping Kansas win its 13th straight Big 12 regular-season title. He will need to improve his foul shooting (only 56 percent) and tends to be a bit loose with the ball. There's also off-court baggage to consider, but he's a guaranteed lottery pick.

      3. De'Aaron Fox, Kentucky: A classic point guard, the 6-4 Fox is at his best in the open floor, creating for himself or others. Fox tallied 16.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds as the Wildcats notched Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles. Fox shot almost 52 percent from the field, largely because few defenders could stay in front of him. At the next level, he'll have to improve his jumper, as he has converted only 23.4 percent of 3-point attempts this year. But he appears to be a top 10 pick in the lottery.

      4. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Fox's backcourt running mate is the perfect complement to him, as he's a true scorer. Monk averaged 20 points per game, displaying the ability to knock down 3-pointers at almost 40 percent while also creating highlights around the rim with his leaping ability. Foul him and you will see him convert at the line to the tune of 83 percent. Monk is billed as a combo guard at the next level, but might not be a good enough passer to act as a lead guard in the NBA. But he can sure score, and is a cinch lottery pick.

      5. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: You noticed a trend yet? Markkanen's the fifth straight freshman on this list. Here's what makes him the outlier here: Height. At 7-0, Markkanen plays more like a stretch four because of his shooting, canning 43.3 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Markkanen has put the Wildcats on his back at time this season, helping them win the Pac-12 Tournament. He might need to add weight in the NBA as he weighs only 225 pounds, but he'll likely go in the top 10.

      6. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: It seems like the Tar Heels have one guy every year that blossoms into a star. This was Jackson's year to do so, as he went from inconsistent role player into team leader, scoring 18.2 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. Jackson is an above-average shooter, canning 50 percent from the field and 38.6 percent on 3s. He's also a decent passer, registering nearly three assists per game, and is capable of playing good defense. He might not be a lottery pick, but he's a first-rounder.

      7. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Of all the statistics one can recite about this guy, one sticks out above all the rest -- his outrageous 7-3 1/2 wingspan that allows him to play bigger than 6-9 and 230 pounds. Motley led the Bears to the Sweet 16 by averaging 17.2 points and 9.9 rebounds while sinking 54 percent from the field. Motley attacks the offensive boards as though they were a buffet line, pulling in nearly four per game. While he tends to be loose with the ball, turning it over nearly three times per game, he has a bright future in the pro game.

      8. T.J. Leaf, UCLA: While the 6-10 Leaf obviously benefits from playing with Ball, he does enough other things well on his own that he has a shot at building a good pro career. Leaf sinks 64.5 percent from the field and is also a solid rebounder, averaging 8.2 per game. He tallied 16.2 points per contest and also proved to be a willing passer, doling out 2.5 assists per game. Like Markkanen, Leaf (220 pounds) will have to add heft to his body to succeed in the NBA. But there's no reason why he can't have a good career.

      9. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The likely Wooden Award winner isn't getting the love from the pro scouts, some of whom don't even have him as a first-rounder this summer. But Swanigan sure passes the eye test at 6-9 and 247 pounds with a 7-3 1/2 wingspan. What's more, he averages 18.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He's expanded his shooting range to the 3-point line, but will have to cut down on turnovers. Still, anyone who saw him take over the Iowa State game Saturday night must conclude there's an NBA future for him.

      10. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: He isn't a lottery pick yet and there's a decent chance the 6-10 sophomore might stay in school, but we're telling you right now he's going to be in the league for 10 years. Happ is extremely active on both ends of the floor, combining back-to-the-basket scoring with the effort and footwork to be a Big 10 leader in steals and blocked shots. Although his overall numbers are modest, one must remember that with a quicker pace, Happ would post more impressive stats. Regardless, he will play for pay for a long time.

  • Wisconsin looks to keep run going versus Florida
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Wisconsin owns more NCAA Tournament wins than any other school over the past four years.

    • The Badgers look to add to that total Friday after delivering the tourney's biggest upset by sending defending champion Villanova home.

      The eighth-seeded Badgers (27-9) are the only team to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past four tournaments, and they seek to reach the Elite Eight for the third time in four years when they face fourth-seeded Florida in the East Region semifinals at New York's Madison Square Garden.

      The Gators (26-8) easily handled Virginia in their second game, but even that convincing 65-39 victory doesn't rate with what Wisconsin accomplished in the second round.

      Top-seeded Villanova led by seven points with just over five minutes remaining Saturday and seemed intent on finishing off the Badgers. Instead, Wisconsin closed with a decisive 15-5 burst for a 65-62 victory. Suddenly, Badgers senior guard Bronson Koenig was envisioning reaching the Final Four for the third time in his career.

      "We talked about the legacy we want to leave," Koenig said. "Getting to the Final Four is one of the goals we talked about since the end of last season."

      The Badgers didn't appear like a team capable of going on a tourney run when they lost five of six games late in the regular season. But they have turned it around by winning five of their past six games, defeating Virginia Tech in the first round before the attention-getting upset of Villanova.

      Now they are looking for their 14th NCAA win over the last four years against a gritty Florida squad that won its first two tournament games by an average of 20.5 points.

      The upset of Villanova elevated the Badgers into the trendy pick to also knock off the Gators, and Florida coach Mike White is just fine with rounding up the information to use as excess ammunition.

      "I'd rather that than the alternative, I won't lie to you," White said. "I don't know how much of a factor it plays, but I said it the other day: If you have (something) to get you angry, might as well use it.

      "I understand why a lot of people would pick Wisconsin. Totally understand that. Our guys do too. Maybe it's motivation, maybe it's not."

      Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen is Florida's leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, but averaged 5.5 points on 3-of-21 shooting in the victories over East Tennessee State and Virginia.

      Senior swingman Canyon Barry (11.8) is the team's second-leading scorer but junior forward Devin Robinson (11.4) is serving as the difference-maker.

      Robinson set the tone by averaging 19 points (on 15-of-25 shooting) and nine rebounds in the tournament.

      "I think me getting an early start, it gets everybody going, and I'm not a selfish guy," Robinson said of his strong play. "So I'm fired up, and I'm giving my teammates the ball. When we're all sharing the ball, it's going to be a positive outcome."

      The Badgers are also known for sharing the ball behind a well-balanced attack.

      Koenig averages a team-best 14.5 points and made a school-record 100 3-pointers. Koenig also holds the school mark of 267 career 3-pointers and drained 31 in NCAA tourney play.

      Sophomore forward Ethan Happ averages 13.8 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds, and senior forward Nigel Hayes contributes 13.8 points and 6.6 boards.

      The extensive tournament experience of Koenig and Hayes gives the Badgers a comfortable feeling entering Friday's contest.

      "They understand it's one game at a time," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "You're working for 40-minute segments. If you don't play well enough in that 40 minutes in front of you, you don't have another one.

      "We have another 40-minute opportunity on Friday night. If we're good enough, we'll have another one."

      This is the fifth meeting between Wisconsin and Florida. The Badgers won the most recent encounter 59-53 early in the 2013-14 season when Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) and Billy Donovan (Gators) were the coaches.

  • Top-seeded UNC ready for challenge from Butler
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Now that North Carolina made it through a great escape, the Tar Heels are ready to see what's ahead in the NCAA Tournament.

    • Top-seeded North Carolina meets fourth-seeded Butler in Friday night's South Region semifinal at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn.

      The Tar Heels were challenged in Sunday's second round, scoring the final 12 points to pull out a 72-65 victory against Arkansas.

      "Sometimes you need games like that," North Carolina guard Joel Berry said. "We haven't had a game like that in a while Now we know we can win a game when we're down five with three minutes to go."

      The Tar Heels will try to avoid such a predicament against Butler.

      "I definitely think we feel blessed because of how hard we worked," Tar Heels senior forward Kennedy Meeks said.

      Butler's 74-65 victory against Middle Tennessee in the second round included some anxious moments, with a double-digit lead dipping to three points in the final four minutes. The Bulldogs, though, weren't in danger like the Tar Heels faced.

      "I love the fight they showed possession after possession," said Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. "And players win games."

      One of those players is fifth-year senior guard Tyler Lewis, a transfer from North Carolina State, so he has been in intense clashes with the Tar Heels in previous situations. He's Butler's assist leader with 133.

      Holtmann, who's in his third season, is the former coach at Gardner-Webb, which is located in Boiling Springs, N.C.

      Butler competes in the Big East Conference, but the Bulldogs still have to withstand suggestions that they're not viewed by some as a major-conference program.

      "A huge reason why I came here because of the Butler way and the Butler tradition of just being so good this time of year," Bulldogs senior forward Andrew Chrabascz.

      With North Carolina (29-7), the Bulldogs face the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference champion.

      An ACC team has knocked Butler out of the tournament the past two seasons (Notre Dame and Virginia) and in three of the last five years in which it has landed a spot in the tournament.

      North Carolina coach Roy Williams said there are elements from the way the game with Arkansas ended that the Tar Heels should savor for any upcoming games.

      "It gives you confidence, first," Williams said. "I think it always teaches you to play every single possession.

      Williams has coached a team to the Sweet 16 for the 18th time -- nine with Kansas and nine with North Carolina. This is the third season in a row for the Tar Heels advancing to the tournament's second week.

      Butler (25-8) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

      The Bulldogs hold opponents to 68.2 points per game. North Carolina would prefer a much faster pace.

      With a few days between games, it figures that Berry's ailing ankle should be in better condition. He shot 2-for-13 from the field in the Arkansas game two days after rolling the ankle in the romp past Texas Southern.

      The Tar Heels and Bulldogs have never played in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs hold a 3-2 all-time series lead.

      The winner advances to play Sunday against either second-seeded Kentucky or third-seeded UCLA. Those teams meet in Friday's nightcap.

      North Carolina played in the 2009 regional in Memphis on the way to the national championship.

      Meeks pulled in his 1,000th career rebound in the final minute against Arkansas. He's ninth in school history in rebounding, needing six more to reach the seventh spot.

  • College basketball notebook: VCU chooses Rhoades as coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Virginia Commonwealth took just one day to hire a replacement for Will Wade, announcing that Rice coach Mike Rhoades has been named the Rams' new head basketball coach.

    • Wade, who led the Rams to a 26-9 record and NCAA Tournament berth this season, was hired as the new coach at LSU on Monday.

      Like Wade, Rhoades served as an assistant coach at VCU under former Rams coach Shaka Smart for five years before becoming the head coach at Rice in 2014.

      In three seasons with the Owls, he compiled a 47-52 record. This season Rice was 23-12, including 11-7 in Conference USA.

      --Less than a week after taking Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, Pat Kelsey was hired as the new head basketball coach at Massachusetts.

      Kelsey replaces Derek Kellogg, who was fired by UMass two weeks ago after the Minutemen finished the season 15-18, including 4-14 in the Atlantic 10.

      Kelsey spent five years as the head coach at Winthrop, and went 102-59. His team shared the Big South regular-season title each of the last two seasons.

      --Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is entering the NBA Draft with the intention of staying in the draft, ESPN reported.

      Evans, 20, averaged a career-high 19.2 points, 6.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 32 games during the 2016-17 season. He ranks ninth in the country in assists per game.

      The Dallas native is the 59th-best rated prospect and the 14th-best point guard in the 2017 NBA Draft class according to CBS Sports.

      --Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams announced that he will return for his sophomore season after considering applying for the NBA draft.

      The 6-foot-9 Williams has been projected as a lottery pick but said he wants to further develop his game. He averaged 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman.

  • VCU chooses Rhoades as new coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Virginia Commonwealth took just one day to hire a replacement for Will Wade, announcing that Rice coach Mike Rhoades has been named the Rams' new head basketball coach.

    • VCU said in a statement that the 44-year-old Rhoades will be officially announced as the head coach on Wednesday.

      Wade, who led the Rams to a 26-9 record and NCAA Tournament berth this season, was hired as the new coach at LSU on Monday.

      Like Wade, Rhoades served as an assistant coach at VCU under former Rams coach Shaka Smart for five years before becoming the head coach at Rice in 2014.

      In three seasons with the Owls, he compiled a 47-52 record. This season Rice was 23-12, including 11-7 in Conference USA.

      Before joining Smart's staff at VCU, Rhoades spent a decade as the head coach at Randolph-Macon, a Division III program in southern Virginia.

  • UMass tabs Kelsey as new coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Less than a week after taking Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, Pat Kelsey was hired as the new head basketball coach at Massachusetts.

    • Kelsey replaces Derek Kellogg, who was fired by UMass two weeks ago after the Minutemen finished the season 15-18, including 4-14 in the Atlantic 10.

      Kelsey spent five years as the head coach at Winthrop, and went 102-59. His team shared the Big South regular-season title each of the last two seasons. Kelsey was the associate head coach at his alma mater, Xavier University, for two seasons before his stint at Winthrop.

      "(My wife) Lisa and I are thrilled to be joining the UMass family and the Amherst community," Kelsey said in a statement released by the school. "UMass is a national college basketball brand with a proud, powerful tradition. As a player in the A-10, I saw firsthand what the potential is there. I look forward to the challenge of making UMass a major factor on the national level once again."

      Masslive.com reported that UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said earlier this month that the school's next basketball coach would make between $800,000 and $900,000 annually.

      "Coach Kelsey has a detailed plan for every phase of our program and a passionate work ethic providing fuel to reach our goals of building a championship-caliber program," Bamford said in a statement.

  • Calipari hopes Kentucky can rebound against UCLA
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    The Sweet 16 round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament resumes this week with only one battle between top 10 teams -- No.5 Kentucky vs. No. 8 UCLA on Friday night in Memphis, Tenn.

    • Kentucky (31-5) is the No. 2 seed in the South Region and UCLA (31-4) is the No. 3 seed. However, the Bruins beat the Wildcats, 97-92, on Dec. 3 in Lexington, Ky.

      "There has to be so much emotion to these next games," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "This has been an unbelievably successful season, now go finish. We're not worried about the other teams, we have to worry about one team.

      " ... It shows a five-point game (against UCLA), but we were never in it. To do what they did, they physically manhandled us. You don't see that very often, especially in this building."

      UCLA coach Steve Alford is quick to dismiss that a win in December will have any impact on an NCAA Tournament game in March.

      "It's a very, very good basketball team and I think they're better now in March than they were when we played them in December, and I think we're better than what we were in December as well," Alford said. "At least we know them pretty well, as far as prep goes and they obviously know us. But it makes for a great match-up."

      In that December game, UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf made 7 of 12 shots and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. As became the norm for the Bruins, Leaf was one of six players scoring in double figures.

      Isaac Hamilton scored 19 points, while Thomas Welsh, Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford each had 14, and Aaron Holiday added 13.

      "What Leaf did, he basically dominated the game," Calipari said at the time. "He killed us."

      Upon further review for this week's rematch, Calipari discovered a flaw in his team.

      "I watched the tape and we didn't block out," Calipari said. "Hopefully, Derek Willis or Wenyen Gabriel are better rebounders than they were that game, because most of them were just shots they missed and we just stared at the ball.

      "The kid (Leaf) gets 10 or 11 rebounds but never really had to fight for a ball. Our kid is watching it and he just grabs it."

      Kentucky put five players in double figures that day, led by Malik Monk with 24 points. De'Aaron Fox added 20, Bam Adebayo collected 18 points and 13 rebounds, Isaiah Briscoe scored 12, and Willis had 11.

      Friday’' game also has the potential to be one of the most electrifying of the tournament.

      UCLA is the No. 1 scoring team in the nation at 90.2 points per game. Kentucky is No. 9 at 85.2. They are the two highest scoring teams left in the NCAA field.

      "I don't know of a more fun basketball team to watch when we're clicking and we've had a lot of games where we've been clicking," Alford said.

      "I think the difference is in the last seven weeks we've been better defensively. Now we can go to a different level offensively."

      Calipari knows he can't let the Bruins run free.

      "In the first game, we were really fast, but we were impatient," Calipari said. "They are a team that you've got to make play defense. You can't take quick, contested shots. They are really good. This is going to be a hard game."

      On that much, the coaches agree.

      "I think we're very well prepared for whatever is thrown at us," Alford said. "You get 31 wins at this level your guys have done a lot of good things. We'll prepare for them, do the best we can and we know we got a tall order ahead of us. We also know we're a very good basketball team."

  • Texas A&M star Williams returning for sophomore season
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams announced Tuesday that he will return for his sophomore season after considering applying for the NBA draft.

    • The 6-foot-9 Williams has been projected as a lottery pick but said he wants to further develop his game. He averaged 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman.

      "Although I've grown, I still feel like I would benefit from another year of college," Williams said in a statement. "This will give me more time to mature and develop my game before moving on to the NBA. With that being said I've decided I owe it to myself to stay another year at Texas A&M. Again, I would like to thank everyone for their support and I know next year will be even better."

      Williams certainly appears to be a finished product on the defensive end after blocking at least one shot in every game. His 77 blocked shots were the second-best single-season mark in Aggies' history.

      Williams recorded 11 double-doubles, second in the SEC behind Sebastian Saiz of Mississippi. He was a second-team All-SEC selection.

      Aggies coach Billy Kennedy was understandably thrilled with the decision.

      "I'm thankful that Robert loves Texas A&M and his teammates," Kennedy said in a statement. "I know this was a difficult decision for him and his family. He's not only a special talent but a special young man. His desire to be the best and his trust in us is humbling. I can't wait for next season!"

      Texas A&M struggled last season with a 16-15 record, including 8-10 in SEC play.

  • Oklahoma State PG Evans enters NBA draft
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is entering the NBA Draft with the intention of staying in the draft, ESPN reported on Tuesday.

    • Evans, 20, averaged a career-high 19.2 points, 6.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 32 games during the 2016-17 season. He ranks ninth in the country in assists per game.

      In the Cowboys' 92-91 loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Evans scored team-high totals of 23 points and 12 assists with seven rebounds.

      Evans averaged 12.9 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 boards in 22 games as a freshman. Through 54 career games, he has averages of 16.6 points, 5.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals.

      The Dallas native is the 59th-best rated prospect and the 14th-best point guard in the 2017 NBA Draft class according to CBS Sports.

  • LSU hires VCU's Wade as head coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Will Wade, who guided Virginia Commonwealth to the NCAA Tournament in each of his two years in charge of the Rams, was hired as LSU's new head basketball coach Monday.

    • The LSU program confirmed the move with a tweet that read, "Welcome head coach Will Wade. Sweet dreams Tigers fans. It's official!"

      Multiple media outlets reported that Wade's contract is for six years. The Times-Picayune reported that the total pay for the length of the deal will be approximately $12 million.

      Wade, 34, compiled a 51-20 record at VCU. The Rams tied for the Atlantic 10 Conference title in 2015-16, his first year on the job, before beating Oregon State and then falling to second-seeded Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.

      This season, VCU went 26-9, dropping its NCAA tourney opener to seventh-seeded Saint Mary's.

      Before taking over at VCU, Wade was the head coach of Chattanooga for two years, posting a 40-25 record.

      Wade attended Clemson, where he spent a season as a graduate assistant and then a season as director of basketball operations in 2006-07. He worked as an assistant coach at Harvard for two years and as an assistant under Shaka Smart with the Rams for four years. Wade returned to Richmond for the head job when Smart exited for the top job at Texas.

      In Baton Rouge, Wade replaced Johnny Jones, who was fired March 10 after a 10-21 season that included a 15-game losing streak. Jones went 90-72 in five years at LSU, with the Tigers' only NCAA Tournament appearance in that span being a first-round exit in 2014.

  • Gonzaga wary of West Virginia's pressing defense
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 20, 2017

    Gonzaga is bracing itself for the challenge West Virginia's defense presents after looking at the results of the Mountaineers' 83-71 win over Notre Dame in an NCAA Tournament second-round game last week.

    • The No. 1-seeded Bulldogs (33-1) play No. 4 West Virginia (28-8) in a West Regional semifinal game Thursday at San Jose, Calif. The winner advances to the Elite Eight to play the winner of Xavier-Arizona.

      The Fighting Irish commit only 9.5 turnovers a game, which ranks second nationally. They almost turned the ball over that many times in the first half Saturday. They finished with 14 against the "Press Virginia" defense.

      The turnovers are a cause for concern for Gonzaga, the top seed in the West Region, after the Bulldogs committed 13 turnovers in their 79-73 win over Northwestern in a second-round game. The Wildcats scored 17 points off turnovers in the second half to fuel a comeback.

      "We got a little challenged at the other end and started making bonehead passes and bonehead decisions, and needed to just settle down," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We were trying to make plays in small windows. And we're not very good when we do that."

      West Virginia (28-8) leads the nation in turnovers forced with 20.1 per game. Opponents turn the ball over on 28 percent of their possession, which also tops the nation.

      "That's what we do," West Virginia coach Bub Huggins said of the havoc his defense presents. "We try to make people play kind of the way we want them to play."

      Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss will be important against the Mountaineers' press. His ability to run the fast break or play at a steady pace should give the Bulldogs confidence.

      Williams-Goss has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 161 assists and 72 turnovers. Josh Perkins, the other significant ball-handler, has less favorable numbers with 113 assists and 68 turnovers.

      Williams-Goss said the Bulldogs know what it takes to handle the pressure West Virginia may present because their resiliency is shown with only one loss on the season.

      "We don't think of anything as pressure," Williams-Goss said. "We had pressure all year long. We were undefeated and we didn't feel any of that. This is what we live for, what we prepare for and we enjoy doing. We all enjoy competing at the highest level."

      West Virginia was only an overtime loss at Kansas away from sweeping the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks during the regular season.

      Because the Mountaineers use the entire length of the court, Huggins employs a deep rotation with 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes played per game. Leading scorer Jevon Carter (13 points per game) is the only Mountaineer to play at least 30 minutes per game (31.7).

      The Mountaineers are a team of athletes that lacks a center who matches up in size with Gonzaga's post player Przemek Karnowski, who is 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds.

      Carter and fellow guards Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip combined for 54 points on 17-of-29 shooting from the field with nine rebounds, eight assists and three turnovers in the win over Notre Dame. They shot 7 of 10 from 3-point range and 13 of 15 from the free-throw line.

      "All year we've been telling ourselves that we got the best group of guards in the country, and we truly believe that," Carter said. "So, when it's time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all. Sometimes it worked. But we're going to put forth 100 percent and we're going to live and die with it."

  • Arizona, Miller meet Xavier again in NCAA Tournament
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 20, 2017

    Arizona coach Sean Miller is taking on his former employer in the Sweet 16, which might be a big storyline ... if it hadn't already happened two years ago.

    • The Wildcats, seeded second in the West, have a Thursday date against No. 11 Xavier, the only double-digit seed left in the NCAA Tournament. The game is scheduled to tip off at about 10:09 p.m. ET after the Gonzaga-West Virginia game in San Jose, Calif.

      Arizona and Xavier met in the 2015 Sweet 16, with the Wildcats winning 68-60 in a hard-fought game in Los Angeles.

      There is not much to take from that, as only two current Arizona players -- point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and center Dusan Ristic -- appeared in that game for a total of nine minutes. Musketeers star guard Trevon Bluiett, then a freshman, scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting.

      This time around, the Wildcats (32-4) have superior size and two big-time scorers in sophomore guard Allonzo Trier and freshman 7-foot forward Lauri Markkanen.

      Xavier (22-13) has Bluiett, who is averaging 17.7 points per game, and a resiliency that led to opening-weekend upsets of No. 6 Maryland and No. 3 Florida State.

      Many counted out the Musketeers after guard Edmond Sumner sustained a season-ending knee injury in late January. That came on the heels of guard Myles Davis leaving the team after a brief return from a 15-game, season-opening suspension.

      Sumner averaged 15.0 points this season. Davis, who appeared in three games in January, averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 assists per game last season.

      "I told them out in the real world, life is going to hand you lemons, and you can pout about it and figure out how to make lemonade," Xavier coach Chris Mack said of his message to his players.

      "Our guys, despite all the adversity they've been hit with and the social media that tells them how bad they are and how poor they are, they stayed with it, and they believed in themselves and our coaching staff. It's a credit to them, and I'm just really proud of them."

      Miller, who was the head coach at Xavier for five seasons before joining Arizona in 2009, often cites his team's own resiliency as a key to this season's success.

      The Wildcats lost redshirt freshman forward Ray Smith in the preseason to a career-ending third torn ACL, was without Trier for 19 games (suspension), missed Jackson-Cartwright for a month (ankle) and had other assorted injuries.

      The team's only senior -- guard Kadeem Allen -- has been the leader. And as Arizona's top defender, Allen likely will be tasked with stopping Bluiett.

      "He's as hard a playing guy as I've seen," Miller said. "And he won't let his team lose to some degree."

      Xavier effectively played some zone against Florida State, which has been most opponents' strategy against Arizona.

      Arizona does have answers. Trier is averaging 17.1 points, scoring 14 in the second half of a second-round win over Saint Mary's. Markkanen, averaging 15.8 points, has 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field in two tournament games.

      Markkanen is shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range (68 of 157) but has taken his game more to the paint offensively and defensively late in the season.

      "I don't know if there's a freshman that's playing in the NCAA Tournament that's had a bigger impact on his team than Lauri has had on our team," Miller said. "And as good of a basketball player is, he's an even better kid."