Early Draft Declarations Create Uncertainty at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2016

Although Kansas fell short of expectations in failing to reach this weekend’s Final Four, the Jayhawks enjoyed another hugely successful season. They won the Maui Invitational, took home their 12th straight Big 12 title, broke a three-year Big 12 Tournament championship drought and earned the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. When a team typically has that kind of year, it has at least a couple players talented enough to enter the NBA Draft. Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene have their warts as prospects, but they remain skilled players in the eyes of talent evaluators, and for that reason (among others, in Greene’s case), neither will be returning to Kansas next season. Their decisions could mean that Bill Self‘s method of addressing the openings created by his two departing wings could come to define his team’s offseason.

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

Will the allure of playing time created by roster defections be enough to keep Svi Mykhailiuk in Lawrence? (AP)

The Jayhawks’ tremendous depth this season means the team may be able to shoulder the losses of Selden and Greene with an in-house solution. Svi Mykhailiuk is a dynamic rising junior who can blow games open with his shooting — in a similar fashion to Greene — while possessing the ball-handling skills and court vision Greene lacked and Selden didn’t need. Of course, those attributes, in addition to Mykhailiuk’s young age (he doesn’t turn 19 until this June), make him a candidate for early entry as well. However, with Selden and Greene already officially gone from Kansas’ roster, the sophomore might see the situation as an opportunity to hone his skills for 20-plus minutes a night next season.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (32-4). Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. Kansas did nothing over the weekend to diminish its stature as the #1 overall seed and clear Final Four favorite out of the South Region, dropping 105 points on Austin Peay on Thursday before handing Kevin Ollie his first NCAA Tournament loss two days later. In that contest, a 73-61 victory over #9 seed Connecticut, the final margin didn’t even do the Jayhawks justice; Bill Self’s bunch led by 20 points at the half and limited the Huskies to just 27.5 percent two-point shooting for the game. The defense has been sharp, focus doesn’t seem to be an issue and Perry Ellis is playing Most Outstanding Player-level basketball (21.0 PPG, 15-of-21 FG). Even with Maryland and (possibly) Villanova looming next weekend, it would be silly to consider anyone else as the favorite to reach Houston out of this region.

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Miami (27-7). Can we really designate a #3 seed as a dark horse? In this case, yes – the Hurricanes were actually underdogs against #11 seed Wichita State on Saturday, and their hopes seemed grim after coughing away a big first half lead. But Miami (FL), led by point guard Angel Rodriguez, came up with enough big shots to hold off the MVC champs, and now stands just two wins away from its first Final Four appearance in program history. Despite finishing tied for second in the ACC this season, Jim Larranaga’s experienced group was not the subject of much pre-NCAA Tournament chatter. That will change if the Hurricanes take down Villanova on Thursday.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 73, #9 Connecticut 61

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn's March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn’s March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas was excellent in the first half. The Jayhawks started tonight’s game with a considerable surge. Offensively, Bill Self’s group shot 55.6 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from beyond the arc en route to scoring 44 first half points. In building a 20-point halftime lead, Kansas also had to be fantastic on the other end of the court. The aggressive Jayhawks’ defense forced Connecticut into shooting an anemic 25.8 percent from the field in the opening stanza. Kansas is fortunate it did turn in such a dominant first half, because the Jayhawks were a bit sloppy in the second half and allowed Connecticut to hang around longer than they should have.
  2. Landen Lucas’ emergence has solidified the Kansas frontline. National pundits have been in agreement all season that this Kansas team does not have a “star.” It has many “good” players, but no star. While that may be true, Kansas guard Wayne Selden and forward Perry Ellis have both shown on many occasions that they are capable of delivering their team a marquee performance. One member of the Jayhawks who has quietly turned in several tremendous performances during the back half of the season is junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas is never going to be a guy who is going to dominate a game offensively, but his rugged defense and knack for making things happen on the glass have been crucial in Kansas’ emergence as national title favorites. It was a quintessential Lucas effort tonight: six points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots.
  3. Kevin Ollie is no longer undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. A national title run in 2014 and a victory over Colorado in the first round had Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s NCAA Tournament record at 7-0. That hot start came to a screeching halt tonight. Ollie figures to have a great opportunity to get back on the winning track next March, as the Huskies return dynamic guards Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, and Jalen Adams. The future remains bright for Connecticut. Tonight’s loss should just be seen as a small bump in the road.

Player of the Game. Perry Ellis, Kansas. The senior big man was the portrait of efficiency tonight, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds and played great interior defense all evening. When Connecticut cut the lead to nine at the 9:32 mark of the second half, it was Ellis who made a couple of key baskets to keep the Huskies from making a substantial comeback.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 105, #16 Austin Peay 79

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bill Self's Crew Keeping On (USA Today Images)

Bill Self’s Crew Keeping On (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas had an overwhelming talent advantage. There is always a pretty substantial talent mismatch in games between #1 and #16 seeds, but the talent differential between Kansas and Austin Peay was even greater than usual. The Jayhawks are known for having great depth and Bill Self’s team used that to their advantage all afternoon. Starters Wayne Selden and Devonte’ Graham battled foul trouble for much of the game, but that was no issue as Svi Mykhailiuk turned in a career-best performance, and seldom used freshman Legerald Vick also gave his team some very productive minutes. While Kansas was able to mine its bench for reinforcements, Austin Peay’s troops looked exhausted for much of the afternoon and Governors coach Dave Loos did not have the luxury of quality depth.
  2. Svi Mykhailiuk and Jamari Traylor were great off the bench. Great teams often get strong performances from their bench, and Kansas received that and more in the victory today. Sophomore swingman Svi Mykhailiuk turned in a career-best performance that displayed why NBA scouts are so enamored with his long-term potential. The sophomore finished with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from three) and looked to be the best player on the court for most of the afternoon. Traylor, a rugged veteran, provided the Jayhawks with some much-needed first half energy that helped get over an early lull. Though he  finished the afternoon scoreless, Traylor finished with nine rebounds (four offensive), two blocks and two steals. If Kansas can continue to get Mykhailiuk and Traylor to perform in spot duty from the bench, the sky is the limit for this talented squad.
  3. Austin Peay deserves credit for making it this far. It needs to be stressed that Austin Peay was not even supposed to be in this game. The Governors were the #8 seed in the Ohio Valley Tournament and needed to string together consecutive victories over the #5 seed, #4 seed, #1 seed and #2 seed to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Governors were a hard-playing, gritty unit, headlined by the herculean efforts of senior big man Chris Horton in the post and on the glass. Austin Peay may have been out of its league this afternoon, but it must be remembered what it did to even get here at all.

Player of the Game. Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas. The talented sophomore was easily the best player on the floor this afternoon. The Ukrainian swingman finished with a team-high (and personal career-best) 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from three) and made some awe-inspiring defensive plays to assist with the winning effort. Mykhailiuk’s minutes have been a bit inconsistent this season, but performances like today show he cannot be taken lightly.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 70, Baylor 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three key takeaways.

  1. Kansas extends its run of success against Baylor. Kansas has had Baylor’s number in recent years, having won eight of the last nine meetings heading into Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal. Although they had to withstand a frantic last-minute rally, the Jayhawks extended their domination of the Bears with a 70-66 win. Bill Self’s offense didn’t execute at the level to which it has gotten accustomed, but they proved once again who the kings of the Big 12 are.
  2. Baylor fails to cash in on opportunities. Bill Self, who espouses the importance of toughness at every opportunity, wasn’t pleased with his team’s rebounding effort in its last meeting with the Bears. Self clearly got through to his team, as Baylor, which entered Friday’s contest with the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding rate, pulled down just two of its 14 misses in the first half and finished with a season-worst 20.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. The Bears also shot themselves in the foot by failing to capitalize at the free throw line (56%), reducing their margin for error in the other facets of the game. By failing to build on Thursday’s inspired offensive effort against Texas, Baylor showed that scoring will remain a huge question mark for them entering the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason continue to give Kansas a two-headed monster at the point. Self said earlier this week that he would continue to approach recruiting with the goal of playing two point guards at the same time, and the play of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham has been a big reason behind that attitude. Though the Jayhawks scored just 21 first-half points, Graham was seemingly everywhere on the floor. The Jayhawks made only nine baskets before halftime, but the junior scored or assisted on seven of those and finished the game with a versatile stat line of 14 points, eight assists and five steals. While Mason wasn’t Kansas’ best player Friday night, he continued to be an asset, finishing with nine points and hauling in six rebounds despite a huge disparity in size. Having to account for Mason and Graham’s respective playmaking abilities will be one of the biggest challenges for any team facing Kansas from here on out.

Star Of The GameDevonte’ Graham. Without Graham’s steady play, Baylor’s furious second-half run may have been enough to send the Jayhawks home without the Big 12 Tournament title for the third straight year. He was the only Kansas player to have a solid first half, and though he finished with four turnovers, his positive contributions far outweighed his miscues.

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What’s Trending: A Month Away from March!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 4th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The midseason SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place last weekend, giving teams from both conferences a chance to prove themselves in a high-profile event. The highlight of the weekend was surely Oklahoma’s surge to beat LSU in overtime, as senior Buddy Hield poured in 32 points and pushed still closer to legendary 50-50-90 Club (50% 3FG, 50% FG, 90% FT). While Hield’s late flourish stole the show, it may have been Texas A&M that proved the most. Behind 20 points from guard Danuel House, the Aggies, lacking a signature win, cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the nation with a 10-point win over Iowa State. Overall, the Big 12 took the bragging rights with a 7-3 victory, and the event was a resounding success.

More Tragedy Strikes

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Freeze Frame: Big 12 Stars vs. SEC Defenses

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 3rd, 2016

LSU and Kentucky each came into the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend in very different spots. LSU’s NCAA Tournament resume was already on thin ice, with only a home win over those Wildcats on which to hang its hat. A win over top-ranked Oklahoma would certainly change that. Kentucky found itself in the rare position of needing to prove that it can win on the road in a game where virtually nobody thought it could (at Allen Fieldhouse). After a pair of close-but-no-cigar losses, both teams can hold their heads high about their performances, but it was the Big 12 stars who we are still talking about this week. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Kansas’ Wayne Selden had outstanding individual performances that propelled their teams to victory. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we focus on how LSU allowed Hield to get loose and how Kentucky lost contact with Selden.

Jamal Murray is great with the ball in his hands, but he struggled defending Wayne Selden in Lawrence on Saturday (photo credit: Mark Zerof, USA Today).

Jamal Murray is great with the ball in his hands, but he struggled defending Wayne Selden in Lawrence on Saturday (photo credit: Mark Zerof, USA Today).

ESPN branded the matchup between LSU and Oklahoma as a battle between Ben Simmons and Hield, and neither like All-American disappointed. It was Hield, however, who proved once again that he is college basketball’s brightest star, waiting to explode after his team had fallen behind by 14 points in Baton Rouge. Seven of Hield’s eight three-pointers came in the second half on his way to 32 points, eventually leading the Sooners to a big-time comeback win over the Tigers.

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Big 12 M5: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Saturday’s headliner between Kansas and Kentucky lived up to its considerable hype, with the Jayhawks eventually outlasting the Wildcats in overtime, 90-84. After the game, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called for the two blue-blood programs to meet every year. College basketball took a big step forward when the Champions Classic began in 2011, ensuring a steady stream of high-profile matchups between Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State. As memorable as those games have been, however, the neutral atmosphere has sterilized them to a certain degree. Norlander’s suggestion of rotating games between Rupp Arena and Allen Fieldhouse in the seasons when Kentucky and Kansas don’t meet in the Champions Classic is something both schools should explore. Given each program’s tendency to schedule aggressively, such an agreement wouldn’t be nearly as far-fetched as it sounds at first blush.
  2. The story from the game itself was Wayne Selden‘s 33-point explosion, as the junior wing finally looked like the aggressive player who led Kansas (er, Team USA) to a gold medal in the World University Games last summer. After Selden’s hot start to this season regressed, it was nice to see him step up with a huge performance on a big stage. Of course, the issue throughout his career has always been one of consistency rather than talent; with the Jayhawks set to take on a pair of weaker opponents in Kansas State and TCU this week, perhaps Selden can gather some confidence and momentum for the Big 12 home stretch.
  3. The undercard game was a fun matchup, too, with Oklahoma surviving against LSU in Baton Rouge behind yet another 30-point game from All-America guard Buddy Hield. Isaiah Cousins deserves plenty of credit as well for contributing 18 points of his own, including the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining. While the Tigers are a borderline NCAA Tournament team, the drawing power alone of superstar freshman Ben Simmons allowed plenty of casual fans to tune in and watch the front-runner for National Player of the Year steal the show.
  4. It’s tough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when two of your three best players are hobbled and the third hasn’t been able to catch a breather. That was the reality for Iowa State on Saturday, as the Cyclones fell to the best Texas A&M team since Billy Gillispie roamed the sidelines and Acie Law IV was burying threes. Jameel McKay put forth a gutsy effort, playing through knee trouble to finish with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Georges Niang — despite 15 points and six rebounds — was limited by a bruised hip and foul trouble. Lastly, the Aggies’ backcourt did a nice job in defending Monte’ Morris, who registered his third 40-minute effort in the last four games. Morris likely won’t get much rest in the Cyclones’ next game either, as Iowa State plays host to the physical, fast-paced pressure of West Virginia on Tuesday.
  5. Texas took another step toward an NCAA Tournament appearance with a decisive 72-58 win over a Vanderbilt team that is among the most disappointing teams in the nation. Prince Ibeh continued to look comfortable in filling in for Cameron Ridley, as he finished with his second straight double-double. Meanwhile, freshmen Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis have really come on as of late. The two paired up to score 28 points off the bench on Saturday and have now averaged a combined 23.3 points per game over the Longhorns’ last three contests. Texas may not have much of a ceiling this season, but it’s not hard to see Roach, Davis and a senior Isaiah Taylor as the Big 12’s most lethal backcourt in 2017. Of course, they’ll need inside help, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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What Happened To Kansas’ Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 27th, 2016

When Kansas was regularly discussed among a handful of national title contenders early on in the season, one aspect of the Jayhawks’ roster stuck out more than anything else: its depth. Even head coach Bill Self acknowledged the fact that his talent pool contained 10 or 11 potential rotation players. Given that wealth of talent, a reasonable roster development plan would have looked something like this: Freshman Cheick Diallo receives clearance from the NCAA and becomes the Jayhawks’ motor, a rim protector and rebounding machine that would fill Kansas’s biggest hole in the front court. Fellow freshman Carlton Bragg grows into an offensive threat that could help spread the floor as a sort of Diet Perry Ellis off the bench. Together, Bragg and Diallo would displace many of the minutes devoted to the Jayhawks’ other solid, but unexciting front line options – guys like Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas. Meanwhile, guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk would begin to fulfill some of his potential as a possible NBA lottery pick by turning into a dangerous scoring option off the Kansas bench.

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Self and the Jayhawks. Last Friday, Self met with his four co-captains to help sort out the team’s rotation going forward. The results have been hard to miss. Over the Jayhawks’ past two games, Self has shrunk his rotation down to basically seven players–Ellis, Lucas, and Traylor in the front court along with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Brannen Greene. The trio of youngsters expected to help Kansas reach its peak have combined to play just 16 of the 400 available minutes in those two contests. Bragg is the only one of the three to see the floor in both games.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: This League Is (Still) Off Its Rocker Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 22nd, 2016

We’re almost four weeks into league play, which typically means a select group of contenders have asserted themselves and are heading for the summit they call “Conference Champion Mountain.” It’s a grueling hike to the top, but totally worth it once you get up there. You get to look out at the rest of your conference mates with the knowledge that your better was better than their better. You think about that banner you get to hang in your arena’s rafters that will forever stamp just how good your regular season was. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that you’re up really high. You struggle to breathe. Now, you can’t breathe AT ALL. After fighting for breath, you fall off the mountain, not because of the altitude. No. You fall off the mountain because a scrappy No. 14 seed has ended your quest for a national championship before you had a chance to get out of the Tournament’s first weekend.

Or, at least that’s usually how it goes in the Big 12. This season, though, has brought a special kind of craziness – one none of us could have imagined even a few short weeks ago.

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

This is where we are now, so expect a wild and crazy edition of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Here we go.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Sooners have two losses in Big 12 play, but both of them came on the road against upper echelon competition. Buddy Hield is continuing to play like a National Player of the Year and he has Oklahoma in position to be KenPom’s favorite in the Big 12.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Defensive struggles were at the heart of Tuesday’s upset at the hands of Oklahoma State, but the Jayhawks have been in a bit of a rut offensively, too, averaging only an even 1.00 point per possession over their last four games. One of the biggest factors has been the regression of Wayne Selden, who is scoring just 9.5 points per contest on 37.8% shooting since opening conference play with 24 and 21-point outbursts. The Jayhawk’s depth, along with Bill Self‘s coaching ability, is strong enough that I trust Kansas to get back on track sooner rather than later.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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West Virginia Crashes the Big 12 Contender Party

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2016

At Big 12 Media Day last October, the usual suspects sat at the top of the pecking order. Kansas was tabbed to once again lead the pack while veteran-laden squads at Oklahoma and Iowa State loomed as the Jayhawks’ primary challengers. West Virginia‘s revamped style and fourth-place finish in 2014-15 was a nice story, but the league’s coaches didn’t exactly bank on Bob Huggins pulling it off again, as the Mountaineers were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s annual preseason poll. After last night’s start-to-finish 73-64 win over Kansas, West Virginia has showed that it too should be viewed as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.

Press Virginia is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

“Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

While last night’s game in Morgantown never reached blowout status, the Mountaineers’ vaunted press generated 22 Kansas turnovers and they were in control for most of the night. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, whose ball-handling skills have played a key role in the Jayhawks’ offensive success this season, were shellshocked by West Virginia’s defense. Wayne Selden looked good early, but six crippling turnovers reflected his status as a liability for the remainder of the game. Perry Ellis turned in another strong performance with 21 points and seven rebounds, but he could only do so much, especially after West Virginia started doubling on him. West Virginia sophomore Jaysean Paige enjoyed a career night for the Mountaineers with 26 points and some fantastic on-ball defense, while Devin Williams played a great all-around game, chipping in 12 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Late three-pointers by Mason, Carlton Bragg and LaGerald Vick made the score more respectable than it otherwise would have been, but this was no close finish.

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Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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