College Basketball Nation: Perry Jones III

1. UNLV coach Dave Rice said that heralded freshman Anthony Bennett isn’t eligible yet and won’t be in summer school. “He’s been admitted to UNLV, but the NCAA clearinghouse eligibility center is still evaluating him. It’s not unusual. But we’re very optimistic that he’ll be here in late August." The 6-foot-8 Bennett, a native of Ontario, finished his high school at Findlay College Prep in Las Vegas. Bennett is projected to be an impact player for the Mountain West Conference favorites. Bennett would play alongside Mike Moser and give the Rebels one of the top frontcourts in the West. Rice also said assistant coach Stacey Augmon has a standing offer to be an assistant under Mike Dunlap with the Charlotte Bobcats. But he said Augmon is on the road recruiting for UNLV this weekend and hasn’t made a decision.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t usually need too many advantages, but it’s hard not to see him gaining one in the recruitment of No. 1 2015 player Karl Towns Jr., after coaching him on the Dominican Republic national team. Towns plays at St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J., but he had a chance to play under three of the Kentucky staffers with Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland coaching alongside Calipari. Calipari went into the Dominican experience with the goal being to get to the Olympics and increase the basketball culture in the national program. But he might ultimately benefit most with one of the best players available in the coming years.

3. Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin is projected to be the replacement for Perry Jones III and the most impactful freshman in the Big 12 outside of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. The 7-foot center was a major get for Baylor coach Scott Drew, especially since he was from Arlington. Georgetown, Houston, Texas and Kentucky were all recruiting him. Drew has had a chance to work him out. “He’s really skilled, a really good pick-and-roll player,’’ said Drew. “His size is unbelievable. And he’s gotten stronger.’’ Austin will need to be more than PJ3. He needs to find his inner Quincy Acy and become a force inside.

NBA draft's biggest surprises

June, 29, 2012
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Andre DrummondJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with the No. 9 overall pick, mostly based on potential.
For college hoops/NBA nerds like me, the NBA draft is an event.

Chinese food. High-def TV. A comfortable chair. An iPad/laptop to follow Chad Ford’s “Matrix”-like draft coverage. (When I logged off, he was teasing his 2025 mock draft, which will likely feature the children of D-Wade and LeBron.)

I anticipated more trades. And I had no idea David Stern would take on the hostile crowd the way he did. Fascinating stuff.

And there were certainly some surprises with the various selections. Some good. Some bad. Some baffling.

The Good ...

Jared Cunningham to Dallas at No. 24: I think Cunningham is a major sleeper. It’s nice to see a guy get credit for defensive prowess. He’s a versatile guard. His defensive skills (2.5 spg) will make him a valuable player on Day 1. He’s big (6-foot-5), too. This pick may have turned a few heads, but Cunningham is legit. Nice sleeper.

Royce White to Houston at No. 16: I figured some team was hiding its interest in White, a high-level passer and ball handler trapped in a power forward’s body. Some called his anxiety disorder a red flag prior to the draft. But the concern was so over-the-top, I started to think that some NBA squad probably wanted that. Let everyone assume he’s not top-20 and then grab him. The Rockets did that. He has NBA strength right now. And the best part about White’s game is he’ll facilitate an offense and not worry about buckets. Just wants to win.

Austin Rivers to New Orleans at No. 10 : Some booed this pick. Rivers couldn’t escape the haters at Duke. He either did too much or too little. Here’s the thing. He played within an offense that didn’t have a true point guard. He had to run the offense and create shots. Now, he can focus on the latter. Rivers has an NBA game. He’s not going to face the zones and traps that teams needed to lock him up his freshmen season. He’ll have the freedom to roam. This is how he learned the game. The son of Boston Celtics and former NBA standout Doc Rivers will be a different player at the next level. Might not make sense right now. But give it a year.

The Bad ...

[+] EnlargeDion Waiters
Mark Konezny/US PresswireDion Waiters, a guard drafted by Cleveland, averaged 12.6 points per game at Syracuse last season.
Dion Waiters to Cleveland at No. 4: So NFL officials aren’t the only ones who fall for athletes after one or two workouts. Based on reports, Waiters had a few amazing auditions in Vegas and the Cavs fell in love with him. The former Syracuse star is a great athlete who attacks the rim. He’ll push the pace and get buckets in transition. But Harrison Barnes is more polished. Thomas Robinson, too. Big risk for the Cavs here. And Barnes and Robinson could have better careers.

Andre Drummond to Detroit at No. 9, Meyers Leonard to Portland at No. 11: Plenty of potential with both players. Drummond has the gift to form a potent frontcourt with Greg Monroe. In stretches, Leonard was a stud. One of his biggest challenges at Illinois was the limited touches he received. They didn’t feed him enough.

But I can’t justify taking these two over North Carolina’s duo of Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Henson blocked 2.9 shots per game last season with few fouls (1.6). So many knocks against his limited strength. How about the fact he’s a pure shot-blocker who plays the ball and not the body? Few possess that skill. Milwaukee should be happy with that pick. Zeller, who was traded to the Cavs, was the ACC’s player of the year. He averaged 16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. He’s 7 feet tall. Both Drummond and Leonard have had some motor issues. Can’t say that about Zeller and Henson. Drummond and Leonard were drafted on potential. Zeller and Henson produced. I just don’t get it.

Miles Plumlee to Indiana at No. 26: Over Draymond Green? Over Arnett Moultrie? Over Perry Jones III? At this point, you’re not necessarily drafting according to need. You just want a good player. Plumlee is big (7-foot), but he averaged just 6.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a senior at Duke. I just think Indiana had a chance to pick multiple players with more talent and higher ceilings.

More surprises ...

• Barnes fell to No. 7, but he might average 15.0 ppg for the next decade. Might not be a star, but he could have the most consistent career in the entire draft.

• I don’t know about Jared Sullinger’s back. But if he’s healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in this draft. He faced bigger, more athletic players in college. High school, too. Yet he keeps winning. That should count for something, too.

• Perry Jones III slipped all the way to 28th? Just ... wow. Read more of my take on this here.

• Not sure why so many teams passed on Draymond Green, who fell all the way to No. 35. He played point guard in the NCAA tournament. He’s a strong rebounder. Knows how to be a leader. Not the most athletic forward in the draft, but he’ll surprise people next season. The Warriors made the right move when they took him in the second round.

• Maurice Harkless is very athletic. Not to mention he was one of the best athletes in the draft. I’m just not sure what else he has to offer Philly right now. He might develop into a stud (15.3 ppg for St. John’s). But there’s a lot of work to do.

• I think the Grizzlies made a great pick at No. 25 when they grabbed Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg last season). The confines of college basketball were not suited for this guard’s strengths. He’s a free spirit on the floor. And the NBA’s flow will really enhance his game. He’ll be a different (better) player at the next level.

• This isn’t surprising, but it’s ironic. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Purdue’s Robbie Hummel at No. 58. Two years ago, Hummel tore his ACL for the first time during a matchup against the Gophers in Minneapolis. That was the beginning of a tough road for Hummel, who tore his ACL again about eight months later. I wouldn’t count him out. He could stick with the Wolves and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.
Harrison BarnesJerry Lai/US PresswireThanks to another season at UNC, Harrison Barnes' draft stock slipped a bit from a year ago.
Perry Jones III fidgeted as he waited for his name to be called. Jared Sullinger wasn’t even invited to Newark, N.J. Terrence Jones couldn’t crack the lottery. Harrison Barnes was picked seventh.

A year can change everything.

The 2012 NBA draft re-emphasized the risks talented freshmen (and talented players in general) take when they return. The four aforementioned players were projected lottery picks last season. Three of them weren’t even top-17 Thursday.

This season’s draft was unique. The NBA lockout definitely influenced both Joneses, Sullinger and Barnes. Without it, they’d probably be enjoying the offseason following their rookie seasons in the NBA.

Returning for another year cost them. The additional year of college basketball only subjected the elite sophomores to more scrutiny that ultimately impacted their draft status and affected the money attached to their first pro contracts. Plus, they were competing against a fleet of freshmen that hogged the lottery.

In my opinion, it’s always best to leave when you’re hot.

For two years, Sullinger was an All-America big man. He was dominant. And in Year 2, he improved. He developed more range. He added a few wrinkles to his post game. He lost weight, which enhanced his conditioning.

But he also suffered a mid-season back injury that plagued him in the draft. Pre-draft tests scared teams. And suddenly the most complete big man in college -- perhaps for the past two years -- didn’t have a game that would translate to the NBA. It wasn’t just the back issue.

He wasn’t athletic enough. He couldn’t shoot over the top of taller guys. The sprinkling of criticism quickly turned into a downpour. And Sullinger ended up being drafted by Boston at No. 21.

Perry Jones III had a chance to leave last year, too. Although he faced a short suspension for NCAA violations, Jones decided to return. And that didn’t help his cause.

A year ago, he was the "potential" guy. Could be Kevin Garnett. Could play three positions in the pros. A 6-11 forward who can handle the ball and roam in the half court? I’ll take him.

During the 2011-12 season, however, Jones was knocked for his inconsistent motor. All that talent. But he didn’t dominate the way we thought he would.

Concerns about his energy level and reports of a knee problem led to his fall all the way to No. 28.

I can’t feel sorry for a guy who ended up with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a squad that could win the title next year. (Although it’s difficult to find a niche on a team that’s developed that level of chemistry.)

But Jones wasn’t supposed to be available that late. He wouldn’t have lasted nearly that long in the 2011 NBA draft.

Terrence Jones won a title with Kentucky. So I’m sure he doesn’t regret his decision to return. But he’s another example of a guy who ended his freshman season as a lottery pick but entered the draft after his second year with a different status.

Jones played with three other first-rounders (Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). So it was difficult to emerge from the pack (although I thought he should have been top 12 in my opinion, based on his NCAA tourney performance).

Golden State took Harrison Barnes at No. 7. Unthinkable a year ago. He was a top-3 guy last season, but the pre-draft buzz cast doubt on his ability to shine at the next level.

I know we would have witnessed a different draft without last year’s lockout. But the same theory applied this year.

It’s usually best to leave when you’re a projected lottery pick unless you have a shot at the No. 1 slot.

I know college players have other goals. They want to win national titles. They want to enjoy the college lifestyle.

They have to consider a multitude of criteria as they make their decisions.

But based on draft status alone, it’s much easier to fall than it is to climb when they decide to come back for another season.

Thursday night’s draft was another example.

3-point shot: Coaches Newark-bound

June, 28, 2012
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1. Baylor coach Scott Drew said he is coming to Newark to witness history: three Baylor players taken in the NBA draft. All three -- Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy -- have a legitimate chance to be in the first round. Miller is on the bubble; Acy could yet climb into the back end of the first round. Acy is the best back-to-the-basket player among the three. What makes Drew’s appearance interesting is that none of the Baylor players were invited by the NBA. But Drew said late Wednesday that all three are going to go to Newark, sit in the stands and walk across the stage when their names are called.

2. New Kansas State and former Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he will also be in Newark, at the invitation of Meyers Leonard. This is a great gesture by Leonard, who stuck with Weber through a tough season in Champaign. Leonard had an enigmatic career at Illinois, but Weber was in his corner. Leonard has been complimentary of Weber and his time at Illinois during multiple interviews in Chicago and again Wednesday in New York.

3. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin is planning on being in Newark to witness Moe Harkless get selected somewhere in the first round. North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kentucky’s John Calipari will also be in the green room -- Williams has three players invited (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson), Calipari two (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Washington coach Lorenzo Romar is in Newark as well to support late add Terrence Ross, who isn't expected to get past No. 15 Thursday night. Two coaches who have had a history of not coming to the draft and allowing their players to have the moment to themselves are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Neither will be in Newark on Thursday.

3-point shot: NBA draft in sight

June, 27, 2012
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1. Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III all returned for their sophomore seasons to be top-five picks and compete for a national title. None was invited to the NBA draft green room Thursday night. But none of them should regret a thing. Terrence Jones won a national title at Kentucky and wasn’t ready emotionally after his freshman season to leave, let alone from a basketball perspective. Sullinger reached the Final Four with Ohio State. Perry Jones III got to the Elite Eight with Baylor. Neither of them was ready a year ago, either. Revisionist history isn’t appropriate here. All three should still land in decent situations Thursday.

2. Terrence Ross was a late addition to the draft. The Washington sophomore wing could be a legit pick for Milwaukee, Phoenix or Philadelphia at Nos. 12, 13 and 15, respectively. Had Ross played in the Big East or the ACC he would probably be a household name. Having played at UW doesn’t mean he'll go higher, since teams are well aware of players all over the country (see Weber State’s Damian Lillard), but recognition of Ross wouldn’t be a question Thursday night.

3. As the NBA heads into the final two days of pre-draft drama, there are a number of teams looking to make a move. Milwaukee and Houston want to move up. Sacramento is willing to move down. Cleveland would love to get to No. 2. Charlotte could easily move back, even after the latest trade to get Ben Gordon. Golden State has plenty of flexibility and can stay where it is or move.
Editor's note: It's the offseason edition of The Watercooler. Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf talk NBA draft decisions, the preseason's No. 1 team, UCLA's upside and more.

Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? Feels like we left New Orleans months ago. Not sure how I'm going to handle the upcoming months without games. Withdrawal is setting in. But, it's already time to look forward to next season. How about Indiana? Three Big Ten wins two seasons ago. The Hoosiers will enter next season as a top-three team for sure. Cody Zeller is coming back. Wow, huh?

[+] EnlargeCody Zeller & Tom Crean
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireCody Zeller and coach Tom Crean have helped revive the Hoosiers.
Eamonn Brennan: My buddy's little brother attends Indiana, and his mom brought back a shirt they're selling on campus that simply says "We're Back." Needless to say, IU fans would be loving this renaissance if they merely had a top-20 team. To go from where they were two and three years ago -- I mean, they were 12-20 in 2010-11; that literally just happened! -- to No. 1 in our very early preseason poll … well, it's remarkable, when you think about it. Such a dramatic turnaround.

MM: Very remarkable. And Zeller is back. I know I mentioned that earlier. But he's a lottery pick if he leaves. I know the NBA draft entry deadline was Sunday, and many storylines were connected to it. But Zeller's decision to stay away from the draft is bigger than any of them in my opinion.

EB: My reaction to Zeller coming back trends far more toward the "meh" side of things. It's not because he's not a great player, an immediate POY candidate and hugely important to the Hoosiers' chances, because obviously he is all those things. But I never thought there was any real threat Zeller would leave for the draft. Even as he jumped up to potential top-10 pick status, the way he's openly enjoyed his first season on campus, the patience his brother displayed at UNC, and the fact that Tyler will be a pro -- there's no rush, in other words -- made it clear that Zeller would be back as a sophomore. Some IU fans are hoping he'll stay all four years. That might be asking too much, but he's back for his sophomore season, and he has an awfully talented team around him.

Let's talk draft. Any decisions that really surprised you?

MM: A few. Maalik Wayns … OK. He's a junior who carried the load for a bad Villanova squad. But he's a projected late second-rounder, and will possibly be undrafted. His teammate, Dominic Cheek, drank the Kool-Aid, too. The whole 'If I jumped off a bridge, would you do it?' is sometimes true. But the biggest surprise is Quincy Miller. He made the right decision to return a few weeks ago. Then he changed his mind. He should be a first-rounder. But with another year, he could be top 10. He's a great example of a young player who would gain a lot by coming back for his sophomore season.

Who surprised you?

EB: Yeah, I thought Miller made the right call initially, because (a) without Perry Jones III there, he would have been the featured scorer on a good Baylor team, (b) he could take on college competition (and not fully grown men) while beefing up that lanky frame in the weight room, and (c) this draft already has how many talented tweener forwards set to go in the first round? Twenty? Thirty?

But when you're projected as a first-round pick, particularly when you're closer to the lottery end of things than the fringe, it never feels like a particularly bad decision to go.

That's kind of the deal with Moe Harkless. I thought Harkless could probably use another year in school for a St. John's team that really had time to congeal, but he looks like he could go in the first round. So you can't fault him for leaving now.

I thought Khris Middleton was one of the real surprises. He could have been a first-rounder last year but stayed. Then he got hurt all season and A&M struggled in its first year under Billy Kennedy. Now Middleton is in the draft, but isn't a likely first-round choice anymore. It will be interesting to see how he tests out and what scouts think if he can get healthy in pre-draft camps, because he's an awfully polished and athletic forward when he's at full speed. He could be a steal. (Which probably means the Spurs will draft him in the second round. Figures.)

MM: True. The Spurs would nurse Middleton back to 100 percent, then use him to fuel some epic playoff run next season. You have to look at the powerhouses, too. Kentucky lost everyone. And yet, Calipari inks a top-two class again. And Anthony Bennett is still available. North Carolina is in a different boat. Still a very talented team, but a major shift from the veteran core the Tar Heels employed last season. On Kentucky … and I know this is a tough thing to assess right now … but should the Wildcats be preseason No. 1 with the talented freshmen who are headed to Lexington next season?

Also, what's the over/under on me adopting the Nerlens Noel box cut?

EB: Oh, you should totally do it. I would put the odds at just slightly more favorable than a UK national title.

I am torn on the Indiana-Kentucky preseason No. 1 thing, because it's easy to forget the talent Indiana has arriving in Yogi Ferrell (a true athletic point guard who is exactly what they need) and even Hanner Perea, who comes with ready-made NBA athleticism (another thing the Hoosiers really need) at the 4 spot.

But Kentucky is reloading, no question, and if there's one thing we know about John Calipari, it's that he's the best in the country at getting new, young teams to come together as actual teams very early in the process. But this is not the 2012 Wildcats. Nerlens Noel is going to be a beast, but he's not Anthony Davis. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the heart and soul of that national title team, is nowhere to be found next season. I will be fascinated to see what this team looks like in November and December.

I have Louisville at No. 3 -- I think Chane Behanan is going to have a star-making breakout sophomore season.

My biggest preseason-ranking question revolves around the UCLA Bruins. Assuming Kyle Anderson's hand ligament injury is long since healed by the time the season starts, is that a top-five team?

MM: Oh man … I mean, I'm trying to erase memories of last season. That "talent." That preseason ranking … That collapse. But if we're going to give Kentucky No. 1 status (potential) based solely on the status of its recruiting class, I think you have to give UCLA the same consideration. Tony Parker helped the Bruins grab a No. 1 class ranking on ESPN.com. We know talented freshmen can win national titles.

So I say they're top 10. Can't go top five yet because the returning guys were so inconsistent. Since we're talking about teams that are hard to assess … Thoughts on Ohio State? Is that a top-five squad with Deshaun Thomas leading the way now?

EB: It's hard to know what to do with UCLA, because unlike Kentucky, we've yet to see Ben Howland take a star-studded recruiting class and turn it into a contender. In fact, last time he had a great class, things pretty much fell apart.

And yeah, I like Thomas as the star scorer. I think that's his perfect role. The question is whether he can be a leader on both ends of the floor, whether he'll devote himself to a total game, rather than being happy scoring a ton of points every night. Because he will shoot -- and score -- a lot.

[+] EnlargeAmir Williams
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes need a big season from Amir Williams.
The biggest question re: OSU is Amir Williams. I thought he was going to get a lot more run as a freshman, so Jared Sullinger could do his whole "hey, I'm a versatile, skinny power forward now, check out this 15-foot jumper!" routine in 2012. Instead, Sullinger gained all that weight back by the end of the season; he was basically playing the exact same position he played as a freshman, and Williams spent most of his time on the bench.

He has to take over in the middle right away, and Shannon Scott needs to have a big sophomore season as a combo 2-guard alongside Aaron Craft. If Craft and Scott can figure it out, I think that's OSU's most talented and dynamic lineup, and an awfully good one.

MM: The bottom line is that we have a lot to look forward to next season. Many question marks remain, but I like the intrigue. Plus, some talented players are back. C.J. Leslie could make NC State a top-10 team. Jeff Withey was the most dominant interior defender in the NCAA tourney. He's back. The Big Ten is stacked. The Pac-12 might matter again.

I know it's early, but I'm pumped about the 2012-13 campaign. Not sure how I'll last until November without it. Maybe I'll watch this LeBron guy in the NBA playoffs.

EB: My two-point is as follows:

1. Watch as much of the NBA playoffs as humanly possible (I love the NBA playoffs).
2. Watch the new Rihanna video as much as possible. No, RiRi, where have you been all my life?

MM: Rihanna and the NBA playoffs … the perfect elixir. Good times as always, Eamonn. Until next time … or the next big development.

EB: We'll talk that talk. Until then, Myron.
1. Baylor coach Scott Drew said an NBA draft early-entry decision from Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller will come at some point this week after he sits down and meets with the families. If both were to return then the Bears would be one of the favorites again in the Big 12 and possibly a Final Four.

2. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said Tony Wroten Jr., would likely make up his mind sometime this week, as well. The Huskies lost Terrence Ross to the NBA Sunday when he officially declared for the draft. The Huskies underachieved this season by failing to reach the NCAA tournament despite winning the Pac-12 regular-season title.

3. Mississippi State pulled a sleeper out of the coaching carousel when they hired Clemson associate head coach Rick Ray. This was a stunner. But it also shows how difficult a time it is for these schools to lure a high-major coach away from another significant gig, let alone a head coach who is comfortable at a conference outside the power six. Times have changed in coaching as more coaches are content to stay put if they’re winning, compensated well, and have a chance to make the NCAA tournament.

3-point shot: As Connecticut turns

March, 28, 2012
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1. UConn officials are waiting to see if they will win a waiver to be eligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament. But sophomore Jeremy Lamb and freshman Andre Drummond probably will make up their minds before a decision is rendered. Nothing is official, but a source with knowledge said the UConn coaching staff expects Lamb to declare and stay in the NBA draft since he’s a likely lottery pick. Drummond might not bolt, though. The source said the staff isn’t so sure Drummond will leave even if the Huskies can’t play in the NCAA tournament. The reason is that Drummond may see the need to continue to improve his game in college to be better prepared for the transition.

2. Meanwhile, UConn junior forward Alex Oriakhi, who was a major piece of the 2011 national-title team, is attracting a number of interested parties. Duke, Kentucky and Florida so far have sought Oriakhi; others will likely follow. Oriakhi is expected to win an appeal to play immediately if the Huskies can’t participate in the NCAA tournament. Oriakhi would be a major addition to any of these schools if they were able to land him.

3. Baylor coach Scott Drew said he is giving Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller a week to decompress before discussing whether or not they’ll declare for the NBA draft. Both players could bypass the April 10 NCAA deadline and just wait to see where they would land by the April 29 NBA early-entry deadline.

Kentucky skyrockets into Final Four

March, 25, 2012
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ATLANTA -- Anthony Davis finally left the game with 33 seconds remaining, and only because he had blood on his lip.

Kentucky was ahead of Baylor, 82-68, at the time.

Davis didn’t want to leave the court. And why would he? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something that must have been as enjoyable to play as it was to watch?

Davis had suffered a left knee contusion in a collision with Baylor’s Perry Jones III with 18:28 left in the second half and the Wildcats up 44-22. Davis was treated and sent back in, left again, then went back in because he couldn’t get enough of this game.

“The knee is doing fine,’’ said Davis after the Wildcats’ South Regional-clinching 82-70 victory over Baylor on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.

“I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, and it started hurting real bad. But I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn’t going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four, and all of us want to go to the Final Four. So I knew I needed to come in the game and help my team out, so I decided to come in.’’

Davis finished with 18 points, 6 blocks and 11 boards. And the consensus national player of the year was hardly alone in another stellar performance.

This effort by the Wildcats was their best this season -- and that’s quite a statement, considering they lost only one regular-season game to Indiana in December and one to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament championship.

If you watched the way Kentucky flipped a 10-5 deficit into a 20-point lead in a matter of minutes, then you know.

Baylor coach Scott Drew had no clue the Wildcats could turn it on like that in a flash.

“I had no idea they were this good,’’ Drew said as he walked out of the postgame news conference.

“We made one substitution, called a timeout and addressed within the team and said to each other, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do it with defense, we’ve got to guard and let’s put this thing away and be the aggressor and attack. Let’s go.’ It didn’t look good to start the game, did it?’’

Well, Baylor was the aggressor for a few possessions.

Then the Bears committed turnovers on successive possessions and it was on. Boy, was it on.

“I’d say we were just aggressive,’’ said Kentucky’s Terrence Jones. “I just think we got real aggressive on offense and defense and just mentally locked down on defense. It just led to fast breaks on offense.’’

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAnthony Davis slams home two of his 18 points over Baylor's Brady Heslip during Sunday's first half.
Kentucky had the UNLV look about it when it flipped toward a fast-break team. The efficiency from Marquis Teague at the point, the acrobatic nature of Davis in retrieving errant passes, even when he’s underneath the net, the way in which Michael Kidd-Gilchrist heads to the hoop without any fear of being hit, the unselfish play by Jones (6 assists) and the spot shooting from Doron Lamb and even Kyle Wiltjer off the bench makes this as complete a team as any John Calipari has had at UMass, Memphis or Kentucky.

“In that first half, we played flying up and down the court,’’ Calipari said. “If it’s not there, we run the offense. If you go zone, we’re driving that ball. We’re not settling.

“Defensively, we’re swarming and blocking shots,’’ Calipari said.

Kentucky did have some foul trouble, with Kidd-Gilchrist ultimately fouling out and Davis playing with four.

But who would quibble over officiating Sunday?

The unselfishness of this squad shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Kentucky’s two previous teams weren’t this giving with each other. And both of them reached the Elite Eight, with last season’s team losing in the national semifinal. This one should be able to take the next step.

“We’ve got seven players on this team that average 25 points a game in high school and all seven led us in scoring this year [at some point],’’ Calipari said. “Anthony Davis, would you say he’s pretty good? He’s our fifth-leading shot-taker. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is our fourth. When Kyle Wiltjer’s in the game, they love it and they throw him the ball. They’re fine with that. They’re excited when he makes it. They figured it out that as a young team they had to do it together and they would all benefit.’’

Calipari said he doesn’t make any promises in recruiting. He won’t say how many starts you’ll get or shots you’ll take.

“If you want to shoot 30 times a game, you’re not coming here,’’ Calipari said. “If you want to win a national title and the answer is, 'Yes I do,' then you can’t do it alone. There are a bunch of other guys like you on the team so you’ll have to share the ball.’’

Kentucky faces Louisville in the national semifinal Saturday in New Orleans. The Commonwealth will implode in delight.

Calipari has already toned down the rivalry with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, saying they don’t exchange cards but are friendly acquaintances. Calipari said if he had five players from Kentucky, he would be more worried about this being a big deal. He does not, so he’s not. And the players don’t seem too fazed by the Cardinals’ matchup, either.

The fans? Well, that’s another matter.

If Kentucky wasn’t the favorite to win the title before Sunday then it must be now. The Wildcats were the No. 1 overall seed and played like it Sunday. They head to face Louisville, with Kansas playing Ohio State in the other semifinal, so this is still Kentucky’s title to lose. The Wildcats can surely lose to Louisville or to KU or Ohio State. But they won’t be the overwhelming pick to do so.

“Has my team ever been the favorite? Let me think,’’ Calipari said. “At UMass, we were the No. 1 team but Kentucky had nine NBA players. And then the Memphis team, there was Kansas, North Carolina, we were a No. 1, but we weren’t the number-one No. 1. No one picked us to win. Last year, no one picked us to win.

“Yeah, it’s the first time. How about that. Are we the favorite?’’

Yes.

“Wow. That’s a good thing I guess.’’
Two down. Two more to go.

Ohio State and Louisville locked up their trips to the Final Four on Saturday. Now four more teams will look to secure the final two spots this afternoon.

Today’s matchups feature three traditional powerhouse programs that are quite familiar with this stage of the NCAA tournament. The fourth participant, Baylor, is in the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.

Baylor (3) vs. Kentucky (1), 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Baylor has the tools, talent and length to make this game interesting.

When the NCAA tournament field was announced, this potential matchup was as intriguing as any in the South Region because Baylor possesses the type of athletes and size to challenge the Wildcats.

Five players with 7-foot wingspans (or greater). A 1-3-1 zone that’s as unique -- with its athletes, talent and size -- as Syracuse’s.

Quincy Acy is more than a beard. The 6-foot-7 senior had 20 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s win over Xavier in the Sweet 16.

Brady Heslip is 15-for-25 (60 percent) from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. And even though he’s been inconsistent in the Big Dance, Perry Jones III (14 points, five rebounds against the Musketeers) is built for this matchup.

The Bears were overlooked and criticized as Missouri and Kansas fought for the Big 12 title, but they're solid on offense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and defense (39th in defensive efficiency).

But. But. But, they’re playing Kentucky.

Indiana scored 90 points against the Wildcats on Friday. The Hoosiers hit 52 percent of their shot attempts and only committed eight turnovers. Christian Watford (27 points) and Cody Zeller (20 points) led five double-figure scorers. And Kentucky's Anthony Davis played just 25 minutes after early foul trouble.

And still, the Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset.

Kentucky scored 102 points and only turned the ball over six times. The Wildcats always seem to have another gear, another level that their opponents can’t match.

Indiana would have advanced past every other remaining team with its effort Friday. But the Wildcats are different.

Baylor, however, could offer Kentucky its greatest matchup challenges since its nonconference game against North Carolina. The Wildcats, however, won that game, too.

Look for Baylor to go at Davis hard in the first half. They have the bodies and they’ll use them and try to lure Davis into early foul trouble. On defense, the Bears will try to use their length to force difficult shots in the lane. Look for Kentucky to challenge Baylor on both ends of the floor and exploit the Bears’ tendency to play timid early in physical games.

The journey: Baylor defeated South Dakota State, Colorado and Xavier to reach the Elite Eight. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky, Iowa State and Indiana to earn the opportunity to compete in the Final Four.

Monitor his progress: Perry Jones’ length, athleticism and talent make NBA scouts salivate. But the bulk of his career has been defined by potential, not production. This has to be the game in which Jones proves himself. He had just nine points combined in his team’s first two NCAA tournament games. The Bears will need him, however, against Kentucky. If he’s really a lottery pick, if he’s really worthy of that multimillion-dollar contract, then one would think that Jones has to showcase his abilities in this matchup.

Numbers to impress your friends: The Bears have reached the Elite Eight twice. But they didn’t beat a single-digit seed either time. In the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Bears beat Sam Houston State (14-seed), Old Dominion (11-seed) and Saint Mary’s (10-seed). This year, they beat South Dakota State (14-seed), Colorado (11-seed) and Xavier (10-seed). Davis has blocked five or more shots in 17 games this season.

Game’s most critical question: Will Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson’s shot selection disrupt Bears' offense?

The matchup: Acy versus Davis. Zeller drew quick fouls against Davis. Acy will attack Davis early, too.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Kentucky is playing. Seriously. The Wildcats have had a special season thus far. With that talent and swagger, they’re always entertaining. But a Baylor upset isn’t a ridiculous notion.

Kansas (2) vs. North Carolina (1), 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Nine years ago, Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.

And his stand against his former team in the Elite Eight is actually a secondary storyline in this matchup.

Ohio took North Carolina to overtime Friday in a fascinating Sweet 16 matchup. The Tar Heels didn’t look like the same team without starting point guard Kendall Marshall.

The sophomore suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of that game. And now, we’re all wondering if we’ll see a Willis Reed-like appearance on Sunday.

Marshall told reporters that he wouldn’t have played if the game had been held Saturday. But he did go through practice. Will he play?

Well, Marshall also told reporters that “I could be out there playing” when asked if the Kansas matchup is a possibility.

Instead of chatter about Williams facing Kansas, the main intrigue surrounds Marshall. He’s such a crucial player for the Tar Heels and that was evident as the Tar Heels struggled with Ohio.

The Jayhawks haven’t been flawless, either. They beat both Purdue in the round of 32 and NC State in the Sweet 16 by three points.

But they’re here. And they definitely have the talent to beat the Tar Heels, especially if Marshall can’t go.

Jeff Withey (10 blocks against the Wolfpack) and Thomas Robinson (18 points and 15 rebounds against NC State) have comprised one of the nation’s top frontcourts. Plus, the Jayhawks are fourth on Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings.

But the Tar Heels are still a potent force even without Marshall. Tyler Zeller recorded 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio. Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes could carry the Tar Heels to New Orleans. Reggie Bullock played a star role against Ohio with 17 points.

Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement, only scored two points but he played above-average defense.

With or without Marshall, this should be a great game. If he plays, it might be a classic.

Look for Tyshawn Taylor to challenge White early on both ends of the floor. Look for the Tar Heels to minimize White’s role and get the ball to Zeller and Henson early in the shot clock so they can attack and try to draw first-half fouls against Withey and Robinson. This is all assuming Marshall remains sidelined.

The journey: Kansas beat Detroit, Purdue and NC State to reach the Elite Eight. North Carolina defeated Vermont, Creighton and Ohio.

Monitor his progress: White doesn’t have to replace Marshall’s offensive production. He can’t. But his defense will be crucial again, especially with the explosive Taylor running the show for the Jayhawks.

Numbers to impress your friends: Taylor has committed 10 turnovers in the NCAA tournament (three games). Prior to playing 32 minutes against Ohio, White registered double-digit minutes just once during the regular season (11 minutes against Nicholls State Dec. 19).

Game’s most critical question: If Marshall plays, will he be healthy enough to make an impact?

The matchup: Withey versus Zeller. The tournament’s top interior defender (not named Davis) against one of the nation’s top big men.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Zeller has been a beast. Marshall might play. Withey nearly broke an NCAA tournament record for blocked shots against NC State. Robinson is a star. Need any more reasons?

South preview: Baylor vs. Kentucky

March, 24, 2012
3/24/12
8:39
PM ET


ATLANTA -- A look at Sunday's Elite Eight matchup between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 3 Baylor for the South Regional championship:

The marquee matchup

Anthony Davis vs. Perry Jones III: The last time Davis had to face a player with similar length, North Carolina was at Rupp Arena. Perry Jones III might not be strictly on Davis, but he’ll likely take a turn. The Bears also may use the brute strength of Quincy Acy to get under Davis’ skin at times.

“I always look forward to a challenge and I think Baylor brings a challenge,’’ Davis said. “They attack the rim. They’re very athletic and they can dunk the ball and finish above the rim. I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we will prevail.’’

Kentucky coach John Calipari interrupted Davis and said, “Without fouling. Just don’t foul.’’

“No fouling,’’ Davis said.

Jones didn’t take the bait when asked about an individual matchup.

“I’m looking forward to playing team basketball,’’ Jones said. “I don’t want to feed into that because we haven’t fed into that all year, and we’ve been successful. Last thing I want to do is feed into that, trying to go one-on-one the whole game and not play team basketball, because our team will lose.’’

The impressive stat

Kentucky: The Wildcats scored 102 points and had just six turnovers in their 12-point victory over Indiana in the Sweet 16. Calipari said he was extremely impressed with the Wildcats’ composure. And his trust in Marquis Teague to lead this team has increased daily.

Baylor: Kentucky made 35 of 37 free throws against Indiana. Baylor didn’t create as much contact against Xavier, but the Bears did make their free throws. Baylor was 12-of-14, and if you’re looking for an advantage for Kentucky, check elsewhere. Baylor can make the late-game free throws to win a close game.

The shooters

Brady Heslip, Baylor: Heslip made nine 3s in a win over Colorado. He made of only 1 of 3 in the win over Xavier, but he cannot be left alone. He has made 15 3s in three games so far. If he can make his NCAA tournament average of five, the Bears should be in this game throughout.

Doron Lamb, Kentucky: Lamb can be the difference-maker for the Wildcats. He made his only 3-point attempt against Indiana, but in the previous round against Iowa State, Lamb converted 5 of 7. Lamb has had the ability to break out with huge games throughout his brief career. Like Heslip, he cannot be left alone.

The heart and soul

[+] EnlargeQuincy Acy
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesQuincy Acy, right, has been a dunking machine for Baylor; Perry Jones II has been an enigma.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: No one plays harder for Kentucky. Kidd-Gilchrist continues to show he’s a must on the floor. Calipari loves coaching him and with good reason. He never has to get on him for effort. Kidd-Gilchrist will have a hard time against Baylor's length, and Quincy Miller or Anthony Jones could be guarding him at times. Still, he can power his way to the bucket and create contact and fouls.

Quincy Acy, Baylor: The Bears have tremendous length but don’t always use it to their advantage -- except for Acy. He has no problem getting on the low post and being a force. His dunks, especially off an inbounds against Xavier, were as impressive as you’ll see this season.

The playmakers

Kentucky's Teague vs. Baylor's Pierre Jackson: Both are playing their first year of Division I basketball, but Jackson is a junior college transfer and two years older.

Each runs a steady game and has the trust of his respective coach.

This should be an even matchup. Neither will take too many chances and both can easily create points off turnovers.

The glue guys

Kentucky's Darius Miller and Baylor's Quincy Miller: Darius Miller scored 19 points off the bench against Indiana. He has the most experience of any Kentucky player. He can get to the rim and make 3s. If Kentucky wins, it's probably because Miller had a solid outing. Quincy Miller has tremendous talent as well but doesn’t maximize it often. He can disappear at times and needs to be more assertive. He has a shot in this game to match up with someone like Darius Miller or possibly Terrence Jones and draw even more attention to himself and away from Perry Jones III or Acy.

The mystery

Kentucky's Terrence Jones vs. Baylor's Anthony Jones: Both players have loads of talent but must play within themselves. Kentucky’s Jones can get to the backboard but has to make intelligent decisions on offense. And he has of late. Baylor’s Jones has so much talent, can block shots and handle the ball. But he tends to shoot too much too soon. If he uses his length to his advantage, he can be a major factor in this game.

The coaches

Calipari: He was brought to Kentucky to get to Final Fours and win a title. His teams have advanced to the Elite Eight the past three years and in six of the past seven -- an achievement matched only by Mike Krzyzewski and the late John Wooden, according to Kentucky. The pressure is on Calipari to deliver another Final Four.

Scott Drew, Baylor: Drew has done wonders to resurrect this program and is in his second Elite Eight in three seasons. That alone is remarkable. He is playing with house money here. He has a Final Four team but is not expected to knock off Kentucky. A Final Four berth would certainly elevate Drew to another level among his peers.

ATLANTA -- Baylor had every right to be concerned this past offseason.

The Bears went from the Elite Eight to no postseason at all. After losing Perry Jones III for the Big 12 tournament, when he was deemed ineligible for extra benefits, Baylor didn't receive an NIT bid. Didn't even receive a CBI bid.

The Bears were shut out after an Elite Eight appearance. And it hurt.

“We were upset by the fact that we weren’t even invited to the NIT,’’ said Baylor senior forward Anthony Jones. “We didn’t want our season to end the way it did last year.’’

But if Baylor wanted to be taken seriously, the Bears had to follow through with a rebound season in 2011-12 or else there would be serious questions about if this program was a one-hit wonder.

“That was the beginning of this season,’’ said Baylor coach Scott Drew of the postseason shutout. “We were devastated and disappointed. At the same time, that motivated us to all come back and finish what we knew we were capable of.’’

Well, a year later, the Bears are back in the Elite Eight after a 75-70 victory over Xavier, placing them in rare company of programs that will play in a regional final in two of the past three years. BU joins North Carolina, and perhaps Kentucky and Kansas later tonight.

And, for the second time in three seasons, there’s a good chance the Bears could face the potential champion to get to the Final Four.

Two years ago, the Bears lost to eventual champion Duke in the Elite Eight in Houston. This season they’ll likely have to get past Kentucky to get to New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Quincy Acy
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesQuincy Acy scored 20 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had several impressive dunks against Xavier.
“Losing to Duke, and how close we were to winning a championship showed the team that we could compete for a national title,’’ Drew said. “The reality was that we weren’t that far from it.’’

This group is a much more experienced team than even the Elite Eight team in 2010, and certainly more so than last season.

The Bears didn’t have a point guard with as much playmaking and sturdiness as Pierre Jackson. They didn’t have a sharp shooter like Brady Heslip.

And they didn’t have a force like Quincy Acy. He was there, but he wasn’t even close to the player he is now.

Acy was a dominant presence in spurts against Xavier on Friday. The Bears raced out to a 14-2 start and whenever the Bears wanted to re-assert themselves, Acy was there with a ferocious flush.

“Last year was our motivation,’’ said Acy. “We worked harder than ever before in the preseason. We had high motivation. None of us wanted to go out like that. Perry didn’t have a postseason.’’

Jones III made the decision to come back despite having to sit the first five games of this season. Jones III has had his enigmatic moments, but he also has proven to be a tough matchup. A few lobs in the second half were difference-makers for the Bears.

“We started to get stops and threw a different defense at them,’’ Acy said. “We still need to do a better job of holding leads. We still need to work on that.’’

The Bears have the length and athleticism to beat Indiana and certainly to match up with Kentucky.

“This is crazy, to go from sophomore year to the Elite Eight, to junior year no postseason and then back to the Elite Eight with a chance to go to the Final Four, it’s indescribable,’’ Anthony Jones said. “Senior leadership is the difference. Talent-wise, we’re a much better team.

“A lot of people in the country want to see this matchup,’’ Jones said of playing Kentucky. “We can take it up another level.’’

Drew has often been criticized for his coaching, and some rival coaches love to make it seem like he pulled off a get-rich scheme to put Baylor on the map so soon after the scandal that rocked the university.

After another Elite Eight in such a brief period, Drew is starting to quiet all the dissenters.

Few coaches reach one Elite Eight. Now Drew has been to two.

“We’ve been blessed,’’ Drew said. “I’ll tell you how much after Sunday.’’

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 75, Xavier 70

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
9:41
PM ET


ATLANTA -- A quick look at Baylor's 75-70 win over Xavier in a Sweet 16 matchup at the Georgia Dome.

Overview: If you had turned off the television or left the Georgia Dome five minutes into the game, you would have thought Baylor should just cut down the nets in New Orleans. The Bears had one of the more impressive starts in the NCAA tournament, getting off to a 14-2 lead to begin the game.

Baylor can look incredibly impressive when it’s out in the open floor. Quincy Acy is a force when he can get to the basket, especially on a dunk. Pierre Jackson runs a fluid game, and Brady Heslip is one of the better complementary role players with his shooting in the field.

But the Bears don’t put teams away. Xavier fought back by going inside to Kenny Frease and was within two scores a number of times in the second half. The Musketeers couldn’t make enough 3s, and that ultimately might have been their undoing.

Baylor survived and advanced to the Elite Eight. Just think about that. Baylor is in its second Elite Eight in three seasons. Baylor. That should speak volumes about how far this program has come under Scott Drew.

Key player: Quincy Acy. The Bears desperately need a physical force. They have tremendous length, but they don’t always use that size and strength to their advantage. Acy was a man among boys at times Friday. His ferocious dunks should be made into freeze-frame posters to hand out at the Georgia Dome. Acy allowed the Bears to settle down when they got a little too wild, and finished with 15 rebounds and 20 points. If Acy continues to play this way, the Bears have a legitimate shot to hang with Kentucky and, perhaps, pull off an upset.

Key stat: The Musketeers’ 3-point shooting was a woeful 3-for-15. Justin Martin made two 3s in the game. If the Musketeers were going to come all the way back from a 14-2 deficit, they were going to need to make 3s. Xavier did a fine job of getting the ball inside to Frease during a 13-0 run late in the first half. But the scoring droughts from Tu Holloway in the second half didn’t help. The Musketeers did get the lead down to six with a little more than a minute left -- on that second 3-pointer by Martin. Holloway hit his first 3-pointer of the game with just less than 20 seconds left to cut Baylor’s lead to 71-68. Heslip then converted four free throws to help the Bears to a 75-70 final.

Turning point: Perry Jones III has been rather quiet throughout the NCAA tournament. But Jackson made sure he was assertive and helped snuff out a mini Xavier run that seemed to be turning momentum. Following an Anthony Jones 3-pointer, Jones III received two lobs -- the first from Jackson -- and hit a face-up jumper, pushing the Bears to a nine-point lead. The Musketeers didn’t go away quietly and had it down to five points. But Jones’ assertiveness definitely helped shift momentum back to the Bears at a critical time.

What’s next: No. 3-seeded Baylor will take on No. 1-seeded Kentucky on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. This will be Baylor’s second Elite Eight in three seasons. The Bears have Final Four potential. The problem is that they’re in Kentucky’s bracket. Put Baylor in the West bracket, and it’s not close which team would be the favorite.

South preview: Xavier vs. Baylor

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
10:30
PM ET


ATLANTA -- Perry Jones III doesn’t have to be dominant for Baylor to advance to the Elite Eight.

All he has to do is stay on the floor.

The 6-foot-11 Jones has been much-maligned this season. There are times when he looks like a top-10 NBA draft pick. There are other times when he’s just another lanky, athletic big from Baylor.

But his presence is enough to warrant plenty of attention -- and that can end up meaning buckets inside for Quincy Acy or Anthony Jones, and certainly open 3s for Brady Heslip.

If Jones were playing hockey, he’d get plenty of assists from his passes that lead to the pass for the score.

Jones hasn’t had a breakthrough scoring game since his 31 against Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament. The sophomore's numbers have dipped recently, and he has a combined nine points in the first two NCAA tournament games. But he did have 11 boards in a win over South Dakota State and four in the win over Colorado.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Richard Mackson/US PresswirePerry Jones III is showing that he doesn't have to score in bunches to be a factor for Baylor.
His offense wasn’t needed in either game. But he did make the opposing teams pay attention.

“Sometimes my shot is not falling,’’ Jones said Thursday in advance of Friday night’s game against Xavier in the Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome. “I shy away from keeping shooting the ball. Sometimes it’s not my night. I mean, it doesn’t bother me at all if we’re winning the game. I feel like I help my team in other ways.’’

Xavier will need to find Jones throughout the game Friday night.

“The best thing I can do is try to get the ball to whoever’s hot in the game,’’ Jones said. “If my shot’s not falling, I’d rather go 1-for-7 than 1-for-20-something and then we lose. I just try to do something, just try to rebound, maybe get offensive rebounds, do whatever I can to help my team.’’

Jones may have hurt his NBA draft stock a bit. But not much. You can’t take away his length and athleticism. He still oozes potential. The goal in Atlanta is to ensure he’s on the scouting report for the Musketeers.

And he will be.

“The best thing I can do is move forward and help our team break through for the next couple of games,’’ Jones said.

If Baylor gets a chance to face Kentucky, Jones will need to be a factor against Anthony Davis and friends.

“You’ve got to have balance and that’s the strength of our team,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We have unselfish players. Perry Jones wasn’t making some shots the last two games that he normally does, but to his credit, a lot of times because of the help-side defense, he was making the hockey assist out, which led to baskets.

“Statistically, it doesn’t show up, but at the end of the day, wins and losses are the most important thing. Without the front-line play, we definitely don’t get two wins.’’

Who to watch

Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, Xavier: The Xavier guards were the reason that some of us, notably me, picked the Musketeers to get to the Final Four in November.

The season has been a bit erratic, to say the least. But if this team advances, Holloway and Lyons will still be the reason. Holloway scored 21 points and made four 3s in the win over Lehigh in the third round. Lyons wasn’t as productive, but he still made his presence felt.

Holloway was even more dominant in the win over Notre Dame. He scored 25 points and made an efficient 10 of 15 shots.

Brady Heslip, Baylor: Heslip made nine 3s in the win over Colorado on Saturday. But the Musketeers are certainly going to defend him a bit tighter than the Buffs. Heslip still can deliver a dagger if he’s open. The key will be to not play off him at any point.

“Any guy that can score 27 points in the NCAA tournament without dribbling, he’s a really good player,’’ Holloway said. “He’s a great player. We have a lot of respect for not only him, but the Baylor team.’’

“We have to make him take tough shots, because if he gets open, it’s more than likely going to go down,’’ Lyons said. “You’ve got to be ready to chase him.’’

What to watch

Kenny Frease vs. the Baylor bigs: Frease will have his hands full Friday night. The Xavier center has to stay out of foul trouble. He’ll get some help from forward Andre Walker, but Frease must keep Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones off the offensive backboard.

If the Musketeers are going to have a chance to win, they must get second shots, too.

“We know the guards are going to be able to help us from the top, but we’ve got to take that responsibility on ourselves to try to contain [Jones] as much as possible,’’ Frease said. “He’ll pose a lot of problems for us, but it will depend on how we handle them.’’


Six bold Sweet 16 predictions

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
11:10
AM ET
Kentucky basketballChris Graythen/Getty ImagesAnthony Davis (No. 23) and the Wildcats haven't forgotten their regular-season loss to Indiana.
Let’s try this again.

My first set of “bold” predictions didn’t exactly last through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. But I’m not alone.

How many reconfigured their brackets after the Fab Melo news developed? Missouri losing to Norfolk State? I’d like to see a notarized “first” bracket as evidence that you picked that one.

Second time’s a charm though, right?

  1. Kentucky will beat Indiana by 15 or more -- Vengeance is coming. On Dec. 10, Indiana defeated the Wildcats on a Christian Watford buzzer-beater. The shot stamped Indiana’s revival as “official.” But the Hoosiers aren’t playing that Kentucky team this weekend. The Wildcats have evolved. I think Indiana has matured, too. But Kentucky will make a statement in this matchup. Think “Scarface.” These players have had to watch that game, that shot, all season. They’ve lost only twice, but they’re reminded of the defeat in Bloomington often. I think we’ll see the most impressive effort from the Wildcats that we’ve watched all season. They’re not going to beat the Hoosiers. They’re going to crush them. Indiana gets full credit for the December win over Kentucky, but you can’t overlook the fact that Anthony Davis picked up early fouls and the Hoosiers surged past the Wildcats when the freshman of the year was on the bench. That was one of the few games in which Davis suffered from foul trouble. Won’t happen again. And Davis will be a constant force. And the Wildcats will avenge that earlier defeat with a “someone throw in the towel” assault of the Hoosiers.
  2. Keith Appling will be the most valuable player for the Spartans in the Sweet 16 -- The sophomore guard scored 19 points and hit a crucial 3-pointer in the final minutes of Michigan State’s win over St. Louis. He’s a talented guard who will be called upon to navigate Louisville’s twisted zone (if the Cardinals use it) and help the Spartans fend off Florida’s 3-point attack or Marquette’s running game. The Spartans have never missed the Final Four as a No. 1 seed. This season won’t be any different. But Appling will emerge as Robin to Draymond Green’s Batman. Green will continue to excel, but he’ll face pressure on all sides. St. Louis stuffed the lane so well that Tom Izzo had to move Green to point. The Spartans need a Scottie Pippen right now to help them reach New Orleans. And after watching the Spartans in Columbus, I’m convinced Appling will enter New Orleans as a star.
  3. Jordan Taylor hits a big shot to beat Syracuse -- Hard to peg this one. Both teams like to dictate the tempo. Wisconsin will work the shot clock and try to slow the game down. Syracuse is one of the best transition teams in the country. The Orange force turnovers with that stubborn, lengthy zone and they run. It’s a great contrast in styles by two programs who’ve found ways to force teams to play at their preferred pace. This will be a tug-of-war. A battle for 40 minutes. And at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to crucial plays in the final minutes because I expect a tight game. Taylor struggled at the start of the season as he tried to adjust to life without Jon Leuer. But he’s certainly looked like an All-America candidate recently. Taylor will play hero again against the Orange with a game-winning shot. It was easy to forget how good he was last season during this year’s trials. But Taylor has regained that old swagger. Look for the big shot against the Orange.
  4. Thomas Robinson averages 28 points/12 rebounds against NC State/North Carolina -- I still have Kansas in New Orleans. The Jayhawks didn’t look great against Purdue in the round of 32, but going to St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome will feel like home with the numerous Kansas fans that will flood that facility. But environment alone can’t affect this outcome. The Jayhawks will need the best Robinson can give to get past NC State (a Sweet 16 sleeper that could pull off the upset) and North Carolina, even if the latter doesn’t have Kendall Marshall. And I believe Robinson will put together a string of performances that will define his career at Kansas. He’ll average 28.0 points and 12 rebounds. He recorded only 16/13 and 11/13 in wins over Detroit and Purdue. That won’t get the job done in the Sweet 16. Robinson will step up and take the Jayhawks to New Orleans with the kind of outings that are expected from national player of the year candidates in March.
  5. Xavier, not Baylor, will play Kentucky in the Elite Eight -- Baylor has the length and athleticism to cause matchup hell for Xavier. Perry Jones & Co. against Kenny Frease seems unfair. Brady Heslip is on fire from outside. But the Musketeers will do more than make this a game. They’ll be tougher than a Baylor Bears squad that’s failed to match more physical teams in multiple matchups this season. Jones has scored nine points combined in his team’s two NCAA tournament games. As impressive as Heslip was against Colorado (nine 3-pointers), it’s unlikely that he’ll match that output against Xavier. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons will pressure Baylor on the perimeter. The Cincinnati-Xavier brawl has not defined the season for either squad. This is one of those games in which the personnel certainly favors the Bears. But Xavier will push Baylor to the brink and ultimately score a 10/3 upset. The health of Dezmine Wells’ toe, however, will certainly play a major role in this prediction.
  6. Ohio won’t be represented in New Orleans -- One of the best storylines of the tournament unfolded over the weekend. Four Ohio schools (Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Ohio) reached the Sweet 16. But I don’t think we’ll see any of them in New Orleans. Even if Marshall can’t go, the Tar Heels have far too much athleticism and size for Ohio. I’m picking Cincinnati over Ohio State. I like the Yancy Gates-Jared Sullinger battle and the Bearcats’ athleticism on the perimeter. But I don’t think Cincy gets past Wisconsin, the team I’m picking to beat Syracuse. I think the Musketeers can defeat Baylor in the Sweet 16, but they’re not going to beat Kentucky. It’s a great accomplishment for one state to send four schools to the Sweet 16. But it won’t have any reps in New Orleans even though the numbers favor it right now. Sorry, Ohio.

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