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March Madness Notebook: Boilers, Aggies contrast in roster building

Mar. 23—INDIANAPOLIS — Darius Brown II admits he had some reservations when he heard Dan Sprinkle was taking the head coaching job at Utah State.

With player movement more liberally allowed in college sports today, there was little standing in the way of Brown joining his coach in the shift from Montana State to the Aggies.

But potentially running afoul of the NCAA is far from the lone concern for a prospective transfer.

"There was a lot of anger at first," Brown admitted Saturday, a little more than 12 hours after Utah State won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 23 years. "No, it was more of just like — it was a process. I'll say that. It was a process, especially individually for me, as far as it's my last season. So I wanted to be in the best spot comfortable for me as far as playing-wise, opportunity and a place to win.

"Obviously felt that we had a really good, strong team coming back at Montana State, so it was obviously hard to see (Sprinkle leave). But going through the transfer portal and going through all the options, the best thing was for me to stay with not just Sprinkle but the whole staff. The whole staff came with him. So it ended up coming down to an easy decision, but it was a process."

Sunday's second-round battle between the eighth-seeded Aggies (28-6) and top-seeded Purdue (30-4) is a contrast in the extremes of modern roster building.

No Utah State player returned from the 2022-23 season. Every member of this year's team is a transfer or true freshman.

The Boilermakers, conversely, are a study in continuity, Guard Lance Jones came in from Southern Illinois — effectively replacing Brandon Newman, who transferred to Western Kentucky and also played in Indianapolis during Friday's opening round — but every other contributor was on the roster a year ago.

And, aside from the major loss of center Zach Edey to the NBA Draft, coach Matt Painter expects much the same next season.

"That's today's landscape," Painter said, noting the contrast. "I think that's going to continue unless some things change within our guidelines. Coaches that can do what Danny's been able to do are the ones that are going flourish because I think we can end up being an outlier, too, for how we operate because we don't operate any differently. Because we only play in the portal a little bit here or there. So I don't think we'll take anybody (from the portal) this year. We've taken two guys now, if you count the following year, in four years. So we've had the fewest amount of (transfers) of any high major school in the country in the last four years.

"So I think it does come and find us at some point because you can't control all of that, but I think you just have to have a pulse on your situation and a pulse on that particular year because you have to be able to do it both ways in my opinion. I don't think you can keep doing that (all new players) every single year. There has to be some growth from year to year. You just want that as a coach, right? You want experience, but you also want experience of being successful together."

LEGENDARY COMPARISON

Colorado fans on social media have taken to referring to sophomore guard KJ Simpson as Mr. Big Shot 2.o.

Buffaloes legend Chauncey Billups was the original Mr. Big Shot, averaging 18.5 points, 5,1 assists and 5.6 rebounds over two seasons in Boulder, Colorado. In 1997, he led Colorado to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 28 years.

Simpson's star grew brighter Friday after he sank a fadeaway jumper with two seconds remaining to beat Florida 102-100 in the first round. The Buffaloes also defeated Boise State in a play-in game Wednesday and will face No. 2 seed Marquette in the second round Sunday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Simpson is flattered by the comparisons to Billups, but he does not feel worthy.

"I can't take credit for his nickname," Simpson said. "That's all Chauncey. He worked for that. He earned that, and that's all him, and anytime you talk about Colorado, that will always be him.

"But I'm thankful to be even mentioned in the same sentence with him or people on Twitter saying those things. I'm just thankful that the recognition is there and just happy to be here with my teammates."

SWEET DREAMS

Since losing a 69-60 decision against Michigan State in the second round a year ago, Marquette's entire focus has been on returning to March Madness and finishing the job.

The second-seeded Golden Eagles again are one win away from a trip to the Sweet 16, and the focus has not changed.

"Our mentality is just to continue — same as what it was coming in, just stay in the moment, just enjoy the moment, have fun, just bring our energy and that will lead us to being our best us, in which we feel like our best us can give us a good shot to compete with and beat anybody," junior guard Stevie Mitchell said. "That's our main focus is focus on what we do best and the things we can control to put ourselves in the best position possible to win."