Legendary former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight endorsed Donald Trump for president in a characteristically fiery, pugnacious speech on Wednesday night.
• On Trump's qualifications: “They talk in a negative way when they want to about Donald, and say he isn’t presidential. I don’t know what the hell that means. To me I think of Harry Truman, they said Harry Truman wasn’t presidential. And damn he went on to be one of the three best presidents in U.S. history. [Trump] will at some point be one of those also.”
• On Trump's managerial touch: "He does a great job of finding good people and teaching good people. And even as important, he's really good at getting rid of people."
• On the value of Trump's supporters: "They're going to take all you people and put you next to our founding fathers and George Washington. That's what the hell they're going to do with you people."
• On military service: "I want all you Navy people to please raise your hands. And I want you to know that I spent eight years teaching soldiers at the United States Military Academy. And we played Navy eight straight years, folks, and we beat your ass every year we played you."
• On Trump's status as candidate: "I again thank you for the opportunity to coach basketball in this state, and now I give you the very best choice that's ever been made to take over as a president, I give you Donald Trump."
Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight says Donald Trump could be one of the best presidents everhttps://t.co/YczehcXaMg— FOX & Friends (@foxandfriends) April 28, 2016
• On the similarities between himself and Trump, on Fox News: "If we're involved in something where we want to win, particularly something necessary, if there's something out there we want to win, we're going to try and beat your ass every time."
• On Trump's preparation: "There has never been a presidential candidate prepared to the length that this man is. I’m not here to represent the Republican Party or any organization that deals with politics. I think the most important thing in the world is that we vote for the best man for the job, and you’ve already met him."
Indiana voters will make thier choice for a Republican nominee next Tuesday. If Trump wins a majority of the state's delegates, he will be well on the path to the party's nomination. However, Indiana is heavily contested territory; polls generally favor Trump, but FiveThirtyEight posits a 53 percent chance the state could go for Republican rival Ted Cruz.
The selection of Knight as an endorser could cut either way for Trump. Knight won three national championships during his years at Indiana, but was fired in 2000 after violating the university's zero-tolerance stance on bad behavior when he lectured at, and grabbed the arm of, a student he perceived as disrespectful. Knight has since refused to associate himself with the university in any way, despite the efforts of later coaches and administrators to bring him back into the fold.
A South Sudanese man who was arrested in Canada last week for allegedly posing as a teenager in order to gain entry to the country and play high school basketball admitted in a immigration and refugee board hearing he is not a teenager but claimed he does not know his true age.
Canadian border officers arrested Jonathan Nicola on April 15 after receiving confirmation from the United States that Nicola’s fingerprints matched those of a man who had applied for a visa to the U.S. from Syria using a birth date in 1986. Nicola is believed to be 29.
He had been in Canada attending Catholic Central high school in Windsor and playing basketball for the school on scholarship since November 2015. His situation came to the attention of authorities when the coach at the school helped Nicola submit paperwork to allow him to travel with the team to the U.S. to play in games here.
During the hearing, Nicola told the officiant of the Canadian Immigration Division that he is ‘not a liar person’ but does not know his true age because his mother never told him his true birthday because she could not remember it. Nicola also said a man who originally processed his paperwork in South Sudan went forward with it despite Nicola never being able to provide an accurate age.
“I really do not know what is my real age, I cannot tell you what is my real age,” he said during the hearing, according to an official transcript provided to Yahoo Sports. “But over there my mom always keep telling us different age, I do not remember what specific age, I always keep her asking like what is the specific age that I was born, and she has told me that she could not remember.”
The officiant, Valerie Currie, eventually ruled that Nicola be detained because he was a flight risk. She also said she did not believe that Nicola was being honest in saying that he didn’t know his true age.
“You have misrepresented yourself and you have been untruthful in order to achieve your goals and that shows considerable disrespect for the laws of Canada, specifically the immigration laws of Canada,” Currie said. “Those circumstances suggests to me that you are a person who cannot be trusted to comply with the laws of Canada.”
An Immigration Refugee Board has since determined that Nicola should remain in detention until a May 24 hearing. During his first hearing, Nicola said he has had suicidal thoughts while under arrest and would like to return to South Sudan to be reunited with his mother.
Nicola is 6-foot-9 and helped the Catholic Central team advance to the second round of the Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Association playoffs this season.
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When the NCAA dragged its feet for months in sending North Carolina an amended Notice of Allegations, many wondered whether the lengthy delay suggested that investigators had found new evidence that might lead to additional charges.
That doesn't appear to be the case.
The amended Notice of Allegations that North Carolina received on Monday isn't strikingly different from the original one the university received last May. North Carolina still faces five top-level violations, but the gentler wording suggests there's less reason to believe the Tar Heels will be hammered with severe sanctions by the committee on infractions later this year.
The biggest change is to the first of the five major rules violations the NCAA discovered while investigating academic fraud in African Studies classes that benefited Tar Heels athletes in disproportionate numbers. Whereas that allegation in the first NOA was very broad and left the committee on infractions ample options for how it could choose to punish North Carolina, this one seems to be more narrowly focused on women's basketball.
In the original Notice of Allegations, the NCAA stated that North Carolina athletes received impermissible benefits unavailable to the rest of the student body when their academic counselors obtained special assistance and privileges for them. In the amended Notice of Allegations, former women's hoops academic counselor Jan Boxill is the only person specifically accused of knowingly providing extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements.
There's no specific mention of either North Carolina football or men's basketball in the 13-page Notice of Allegations even though athletes from both programs were enrolled African Studies classes throughout the period in which the NCAA investigated. The Raleigh News & Observer has previously reported that North Carolina' men's basketball players were enrolled in fake classes in heavy numbers during the 2004-05 season that ended in Roy Williams' first national championship.
While the wording of the amended Notice of Allegations suggests that women's basketball will be the sport hit hardest by committee on infractions, it doesn't guarantee that football, men's basketball and the rest of the athletic department will get away with just a wrist slap.
The fourth allegation states that from 2005-2011, North Carolina failed to sufficiently monitor its academic support program for student-athletes and the African Studies department. The fifth charges North Carolina with a lack of institutional control and asserts the athletic department cast a blind eye as to why so many athletes were enrolled in African Studies courses.
The remaining two allegations target African American Studies department officials Deborah Crowder and Dr. Julius Nyang’oro for their failure to cooperate in the NCAA's investigation. Those are worded almost exactly as they were in the initial NOA.
North Carolina now has another 90 days to respond to the amended NOA, though the university may not require that full time period. The NCAA will then set a date for North Carolina to appear before the NCAA committee on the infractions.
What that means is that it could take until late 2016 or early 2017 for the Committee on Infractions to reveal the penalties and sanctions North Carolina could face.
The NCAA had to send North Carolina an amended NOA because school officials uncovered new evidence only days before they were due to respond to the original NOA.
Last October, North Carolina notified the NCAA that it has found "additional examples of possible instances of improper academic assistance provided to a few former women’s basketball players." The Tar Heels also discovered "potential recruiting violations in the men’s soccer program that allegedly occurred over the past two years."
Given the similarities between the original NOA and the new one, one lingering question is why it took the NCAA eight months to send North Carolina the revised version.
The uncertainty will make it difficult for Williams to recruit, but with the way the new NOA is worded, he'll have an easier time persuading prospects they can come to North Carolina without fear of heavy sanctions or a postseason ban.
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In a year in which virtually every other potential first-round pick at least declared for the draft to get a better idea of his NBA stock, Cal's Ivan Rabb is the rare exception.
The 6-foot-11 freshman announced he will return to the Bears next season soon after the deadline to enter the draft passed on Sunday night.
Rabb is probably the most decorated NBA prospect who will definitely return to college next season. Had he chosen to enter the draft, he likely would have been selected in the first round and perhaps would have gone in the top 15 or 20.
"Ivan is an tremendous person and student-athlete to have on our team," Cal coach Cuonzo Martin said in a statement. "He and his family have put a lot of thought into making a decision that was right for him. He is a talented basketball player with a very bright future, and we are excited to have Ivan continue as a member of our Cal basketball program."
Rabb played in all 34 games this past season, shot 61.5 percent from the field and averaged 12.5 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. He could have a monster sophomore season and perhaps improve his draft stock if he adds muscle and develops into a dominant player at both ends.
Cal will need Rabb to be exceptional to finish in the upper third of a Pac-12 that could be very good next season.
Oregon could return the core of an Elite Eight team if Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks return. Arizona and UCLA will be loaded with young talent. USC could be Top 25 good even without Julian Jacobs and even better than that if he does come back.
With two starters returning besides Rabb, Cal should be in the next tier along with Utah, Colorado, Oregon State and Washington. Point guard Sam Singer and wings Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews form a solid perimeter unit, but the Bears will miss the ability of Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown to create off the dribble for themselves and others.
Still, Rabb's return will go a long way toward hiding that. The Bears should now have one of the top non-freshmen in the nation next season to anchor their frontcourt.
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One morning last spring, Gregory Dole received a call from a friend with whom he'd played high school basketball in Tanzania nearly two decades ago.
Deng D'Awol asked Dole for help finding a school in Canada that would be interested in a 16-year-old basketball phenom he'd discovered in war-weary South Sudan.
"Deng told me, 'There's this amazing kid I want to help get a scholarship,'" Dole told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. "He told me this kid is the best player he's seen in Eastern Africa. He told me this kid reminds him of a young Kevin Durant.' When someone says that, your ears tend to perk up."
Such sky-high praise typically would have inspired skepticism in basketball circles, but Dole trusted his friend's assessment. After all, Deng is a 7-foot-1 center who set shot-blocking records at NAIA Wayland Baptist University, played professionally in the American Basketball Association and overseas and now helps coach and train kids in his native South Sudan.
Dole reached out to a longtime high school coach in Windsor. Catholic Central coach Pete Cusumano agreed to not only take the 6-foot-9 center on his team but also house him for the remainder of his high school career. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until Dole and Cusumano learned that Jonathon Nicola may only be posing as a teenager.
Nicola was arrested last Friday by Canadian border officers for allegedly misrepresenting his age on his application for a study permit for Canada, the Windsor Star first reported Wednesday night. Yahoo Sports confirmed on Thursday that Canadian authorities have evidence Nicola may actually be 12 years older than he purported to be.
When Nicola arrived in Canada last November, his passport indicated his date of birth was Nov. 25, 1998, as did his application for a Canadian study abroad permit. The Canada Border Service Agency flagged Nicola when he tried to enter Michigan last Friday because a fingerprint match revealed he was the same person who had previously applied to visit the U.S. using a date of birth of Nov. 1, 1986.
"Mr. Nicola‘s date of birth was determined to be November 1, 1986 following his application for a U.S. visitor visa," said Anna Pape of Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board. Pape added that Nicola is being detained until his next admissibility hearing on Tuesday "on the grounds that he presents a flight risk."
While the notion of a 29-year-old man posing as a high school junior has to be terrifying to everyone at Catholic Central, school officials thus far are staying tight-lipped. Cusumano told Yahoo Sports on Thursday that he is "not allowed to comment," citing a directive from the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.
School board spokesman Stephen Fields told Yahoo Sports he would not comment specifically on Nicola's arrest because the case is ongoing. Speaking in general terms, Fields cited the "rigorous system" the school board has in place requiring international students to present valid government documentation — passports and study permits — before they can be enrolled.
Among the few at Catholic Central to address the saga publicly was Richie Akinsanya, a senior point guard on the school's basketball team. Akinsanya tweeted in support of Nicola on Wednesday night, writing "If you were in a war torn country and were given an opportunity to get out, you'd take it in a heartbeat too."
The prospect of a fresh start in a new country had to be very appealing to Nicola. Residents of conflict-stricken South Sudan face ongoing civil war, frequent food shortages and unfathomable poverty.
When D'Awol first saw Nicola play last spring at a tournament in South Sudan's capital city of Juba, he asked to speak with Nicola's mother about the possibility of helping her son find a scholarship opportunity overseas. The scene D'Awol found at Nicola's house was tragic yet typical for South Sudan.
D'Awol estimated that Nicola and as many as 30 relatives lived in one house with just four or five bedrooms. One of the few members of the family with a full-time job was Nicola's father, a petroleum engineer who works primarily in the Middle East and sends home as much money as he can.
"He comes from a poor family," D'Awol told Yahoo Sports. "They all stay in one house including uncles, aunts, their children and their children's children. And the whole household is supported by an individual or two. That's basically the reality for about 85 percent of people in South Sudan."
Before last spring, D'Awol had no prior relationship with Nicola because he comes from a different tribe and he had traveled for several years with his father. Among the first things D'Awol says he asked Nicola was his age and whether he had documentation. Nicola told him he was a few months shy of his 17th birthday and then produced a passport that appeared to verify that.
"I had no questions whatsoever about his age," D'Awol said. "I saw the documentation. There was no reason for me to doubt him."
Convinced that Nicola was a Division I-caliber talent at minimum, D'Awol agreed to help him find a way to further his education abroad through basketball, something he says he has done previously for a handful of other promising African prospects. D'Awol admits he accepted "a couple hundred dollars" from the family for his services yet insists his primary motivation was to give Nicola the chance to use basketball to better himself the same way he once he did.
"Out of my own pocket I spent a lot more than the money that they gave me," D'Awol said. "From what they gave me and what I spent, I didn't gain anything."
When Nicola arrived at Catholic Central in late November after finally obtaining his study permit, his towering height, size 16 shoes and 7-foot-4 wingspan instantly attracted attention. Cusumano cautioned that Nicola had scarcely played any organized basketball in South Sudan yet even he couldn't help gushing about his new center's potential.
“I think this kid will have a chance at the NBA,” Cusumano told the Windsor Star in January. “I have never said that about any kid from Windsor.”
Despite his edge in size and strength, Nicola was far from dominant this past season. He protected the rim on defense and scored on dunks, put-backs and an occasional low-post move on offense for a Catholic Central team that won 26 games but only advanced one round in the Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Association playoffs.
When Massey coach Keith McShan first caught a glimpse of Nicola before his team's Dec. 3 matchup with Catholic Central, he likened the massive center to former Ohio State star Greg Oden, a 7-footer who always looked older than his actual age. McShan insists that he harbors no grudge against Catholic Central for using a potentially ineligible player even though his Massey team lost twice to the Comets during the regular season.
"There's no bitterness," McShan told Yahoo Sports. "At first I was shocked, but now I just feel sorry for the man. He had to fake being 17 to leave his war-torn country and come to Canada. I felt sorry for him that he had to go to that extent."
Nicola's case is certainly not the first example of an athlete lying about his age.
Just six years ago, 21-year-old Haitian immigrant Guerdwich Montimere claimed to be 17-year-old Jerry Joseph in order to be eligible to compete in basketball for Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. The practice has also been common among Venezuelan and Dominican baseball prospects, who lie to scouts about their age to make it seem like they had more upside than they actually did.
One of the lingering questions in the Nicola case is whether anyone involved besides him knew that he was merely masquerading as a teenager.
It seems difficult to believe Cusumano would knowingly risk tarnishing a successful coaching career one year before retirement by playing a 29-year-old. Dole says he too was shocked by this week's revelation. D'Awol is still having a hard time believing Nicola isn't 17 and is hopeful the Canadian authorities have somehow made a mistake.
"There's a lot of people that have put a lot of time and energy into helping Jonathon," D'Awol said. "I've spent a lot of time with Jonathon and to be honest he is a great person. But if this information about him being 29 years old is true, then I'm very disappointed."
While both Dole and D'Awol have full-time jobs unrelated to basketball, both say they dabble in helping prospects from basketball-bereft regions find opportunities overseas.
Dole is well connected in international basketball circles thanks to his travels in Africa, Brazil and elsewhere. Nearly a decade ago, he helped Brazilian-born NBA guard Leandro Barbosa come to the U.S. and showcase his talents for NBA scouts.
D'Awol's primary region of expertise is Africa, especially his native South Sudan. He says there are so many men 7-foot or taller there that it's the only place in the world his height doesn't make him an anomaly.
Before Nicola's arrest, D'Awol says he'd have helped any kid he believed had the talent and work ethic to succeed in basketball. Now he may limit himself to only those kids who he has known since birth and whose age he can verify.
"I haven't slept well for the last two days trying to understand how this could have happened," D'Awol said. "How could no one know that he's not 17? How can he do all these things with documentation and everything without anyone questioning it or trying to stop it from happening?"
Half the world away in Windsor, Ontario, lots of people are asking the same questions.
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Just eight days ago, Dedric Lawson announced he was returning to Memphis for his sophomore season. Then on Wednesday afternoon, ESPN.com reported the freshman forward is planning to test the waters again.
It's possible Lawson is merely experiencing some indecision. It seems more likely this sudden flip flop is more calculated than that.
Keelon Lawson, the father of Dedric and fellow Memphis freshman K.J. Lawson, was an assistant coach on Josh Pastner's staff for the past two seasons. Keelon was all but certain to retain that job for a third season until Pastner left for Georgia Tech on April 8 and Memphis hired Tubby Smith as his replacement nearly a week later.
Smith has yet to announce who he will hire as his assistant coaches, but he has a history of loyalty to guys who have been on his staff before. CBSSports.com reported Sunday that Alvin "Pooh" Williamson will follow Smith from Texas Tech to Memphis. Joe Esposito's presence at a University of Memphis baseball game on Tuesday suggests he'll likely do the same.
That theoretically leaves one remaining spot on Smith's staff, which could be earmarked for Keelon Lawson or any other potential candidate including one of Smith's sons. Saul Smith was an assistant under his dad at Minnesota before a 2012 DUI and a video coordinator under his dad at Texas Tech the past three years.
Given his father's tenuous job status, Dedric's newfound interest in exploring his draft options might be a leverage ploy. Some reporters who are very well connected in Memphis view it as Keelon's way of putting pressure on Smith to either retain him as an assistant coach or risk losing his best player.
You don't withdraw from the draft only to put your name back in eight days later for no reason. Pretty plain to see what's happening.— John Martin (@JohnMartin929) April 20, 2016
(Of course, this could just be code for, “Tubby, you’d better keep my dad on staff or else I’m leaving for sure.”)— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) April 20, 2016
Dedric just completed one of the best freshman campaigns in Memphis history, averaging 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. The skilled 6-foot-9 18-year-old has first-round potential if he returns to school and solidifies some of his weak spots, but he'd be more likely to fall to the second round if he were to come out this spring.
Dedric appeared excited about returning to Memphis in his public comments both before and after Smith's hiring. In an April 12 statement, he explained that taking his name out of consideration for the NBA draft would enable him to play another year with K.J. and give him time to improve his draft stock.
There's more at stake for Smith here too than simply losing Dedric to the NBA draft and K.J. to a potential transfer. Chandler Lawson, a highly touted Class of 2019 prospect, has the potential to be even better than his two older brothers.
To anyone naive enough to think Keelon wouldn't be cynical enough to use his son to help him retain his job, consider how he got the job in the first place.
Keelon was a successful high school coach in Memphis with no coaching experience in college basketball. He landed a spot on Pastner's bench by making it well known that he'd deliver all three of his sons to a head coach who hired him.
"If you hire me, I'm automatically bringing you top-20 players in the country," Keelon told CBSSports.com in 2014. "Automatically. There are coaches sitting on benches right now who can't do that."
The arrangement Keelon and Pastner made two years ago was legal under NCAA rules and nowhere near as egregious as previous package deals.
John Calipari hired DaJuan Wagner's father at Memphis to help him land the heralded guard. Herb Sendek brought along James Harden's high school coach to help him nab the future NBA all-star. Larry Brown once hired Danny Manning's father at Kansas even though he had limited previous coaching experience.
The ideal scenario for Smith would be to create a lucrative non-coaching position for Keelon and then make it financially worthwhile for him to accept that demotion, however, it appears that's no longer permissible. A recent rule change by the NCAA prohibits schools from hiring anybody associated with a basketball recruit to a non-coaching role for a two-year period before or after the athlete enrolls.
Assuming Memphis can't find a loophole, Smith has two options. He can either call Keelon's bluff, opt not to retain him and risk losing his sons. Or he can retain Smith as an assistant coach for at least one year and likely keep Dedric and K.J. in the fold. Under the second scenario, he could potentially have one of his guys from Texas Tech come aboard in a non-coaching role with the promise he'd replace Keelon as an assistant as soon as next spring.
That latter option is probably the best-case scenario for the short-term future of Memphis basketball if Smith can stomach it.
Pastner left him a mess at Memphis. This is Smith's first big decision as he determines how to rebuild.
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Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, one of the most beloved basketball players in Syracuse history, died Wednesday at age 52, the school announced.
The heralded point guard was diagnosed with a brain tumor last summer and underwent surgery and various other treatments since the tumor was detected.
Washington became a legend at Syracuse during a three-year college career in which he earned first-team all-Big East honors three times. He averaged 15.7 points and 2.3 steals and still ranks third all-time in school history in assists despite turning pro after his junior year in 1986.
While Washington's stats alone are impressive, it was the flair and pizazz with which he played that made him a fan favorite. He had a handle so tight he could practically dribble through a crowded subway and a crossover dribble so lethal it often sent hapless defenders sprawling.
Washington also had a knack for coming up big at the biggest moments. His most memorable shot was a half-court buzzer beater during his freshman season that toppled 16th-ranked Boston College and helped a previously unranked Syracuse team gain national relevance.
In Washington's final season at Syracuse, he led the Orange to a share of the Big East title and saved his best moments for the conference tournament. He had 21 points and 11 assists in a semifinal victory over Georgetown and 20 points and 14 assists in a one-point title game loss to St. John's, earning tournament MVP honors even though Syracuse finished as runner-ups.
There was no better guy and there’s nobody who has meant more to our basketball program than Dwayne Washington.#CuseFamily— Jim Boeheim (@therealboeheim) April 20, 2016
You will forever be in our hearts. We love you.— Jim Boeheim (@therealboeheim) April 20, 2016
Washington developed his crowd-pleasing style on the blacktops of New York City. The Brooklyn native was already a playground phenomenon before he arrived at Syracuse, earning the nickname "Pearl" as a tribute to NBA great Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.
Washington became one of the most coveted recruits in the nation at Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School, where he routinely scored as many as 50 or 60 points in a single game. He chose Syracuse during an interview with Al McGuire at halftime of a nationally televised game between St. John's and DePaul.
The timing of Washington's arrival was fortuitous for both Syracuse and the fledgling Big East conference.
He helped Syracuse evolve from a regional power to a national brand. He teamed with early Big East stars Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing to transform the Big East into college basketball's glamour conference. And he inspired future guards such as Tim Hardaway and Allen Iverson with his shake-and-bake crossovers and deadly leaning jumpers.
While Washington lasted only three seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets and expansion Miami Heat, that never diminished his stature at Syracuse. In March 1996, Washington's jersey was retired in a ceremony at the Carrier Dome.
Washington was a frequent visitor at the Carrier Dome before falling ill. This past season, Syracuse honored Washington by wearing warmup shirts with "Pearl" and "31" inscribed on them.
Highlights from Washington's Syracuse career:
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Though Ben Simmons and Tim Quarterman have both already turned pro this spring, LSU will at least get one of its stars back next season.
Freshman Antonio Blakeney will return to the Tigers, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.
Blakeney originally declared for the NBA draft without hiring an agent earlier this month, leaving open the possibility of a return to school. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard decided to return without even waiting to see if he'd receive an invite to next month's NBA draft combine.
"After consulting with my coaches and with my family, I have decided to return to LSU for my sophomore season," Blakeney said in a statement. "I believe I can further improve my skill set in different areas to become even more effective for my team in the future.
"Although I finished the year strong and posted a solid season, I think it is in my best interest to return and continue to improve as I strive and prepare to be the best I can be. This will also allow me to continue with my schoolwork and continue to move forward on my college degree."
A McDonald's All-American best known for his perimeter scoring prowess, Blakeney improved over the course of his freshman season. The Florida native averaged 18.6 points during LSU's last 11 games of the season, showcasing an ability to score off the dribble, to get to the foul line and to knock down enough outside shots to prevent defenders from sagging off him.
For Blakeney to evolve from a potential second-round draft pick to a surefire first-rounder, he'll need to become a more consistent outside shooter and a better all-around prospect. It also wouldn't hurt if he led LSU to the type of team success that was elusive this past season when the underachieving Tigers failed to reach the NCAA tournament despite the presence of Simmons and a talent-laden supporting cast.
"His return will automatically give us another prolific scorer and the experience factor that is needed as we continue moving forward for next season," LSU coach Johnny Jones said in a statement. "We will work diligently to help him continue to improve this offseason as he strives to be the best."
Blakeney and interior standout Craig Victor will be LSU's one-two punch next season. They'll likely be joined in LSU's starting lineup by rising junior guard Jalyn Patterson and rising sophomore Brandon Sampson.
That's nowhere near the talent LSU boasted this past season, but with better chemistry and a stronger commitment to defense, perhaps the Tigers can still achieve more.
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One day after new UNLV coach Chris Beard bolted for Texas Tech, Rebels athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy moved quickly to identify a replacement.
She hired the coach Beard initially beat out for the job less than three weeks ago.
New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies will be UNLV's next coach pending approval of the Nevada Board of Regents next week. Menzies worked as an assistant under Steve Fisher, former UNLV coach Lon Kruger and Rick Pitino before becoming head coach of the Aggies nine years ago.
In his past five years at New Mexico State, Menzies has presided over the Aggies' most successful era since their heyday in the early 90s. He has won 23 or more games each season, captured a pair of WAC regular season titles and made the NCAA tournament four times.
The one hole in Menzies' resume is a lack of signature victories. New Mexico State did not win an NCAA tournament game during his tenure, nor did the Aggies defeat a power-conference opponent. They did have a pair of near-misses in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, however, against both Michigan State and San Diego State.
It had to be awkward for UNLV to come back to Menzies after passing on him during the initial search, but the Rebels had little choice but to act quickly. Transfers, defections and early departures for the NBA draft gutted their roster and incoming recruiting class and both the spring signing period and spring evaluation period started already this week.
The first priority for Menzies will undoubtedly be trying to entice back Patrick McKaw, Ben Carter and some of the incoming recruits who have sought a release from their letter of intents. He'll also need to hire a staff as soon as possible so they can get out on the recruiting trail.
When Kunzer-Murphy spoke at Beard's introductory news conference last week, she declared that he was the right coach to bring the Rebels back to prominence after three straight seasons without an NCAA tournament bid.
Now she can only hope Menzies is capable of the same.
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At his introductory news conference at UNLV seven days ago, Chris Beard described coaching the Rebels as "the opportunity of a lifetime."
The 43-year-old coach surely sincerely believed that at the time after working his way from the junior college ranks, to Division II, to a low-major Division I job before finally breaking through.
Everything changed for Beard on Wednesday, however, when Memphis began its whirlwind pursuit of Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith. By Thursday morning, Smith accepted the Memphis job. By Thursday afternoon, Texas Tech officials were en route to Las Vegas to meet with Beard. And by nightfall, Beard had less than 24 hours to decide whether to stay at UNLV or take a job he coveted more than almost any other.
Beard accepted an offer to become Texas Tech's next coach on Friday, a decision that certainly has not endeared him to the school he is jilting. Many UNLV fans are furious that Beard is leaving less than three weeks after he accepted the job, especially since they hold him partially responsible for gutting the roster, running off last year's assistants and leaving the next coach with a total rebuild.
UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy fanned the flames on Friday afternoon with a statement calling Beard's move "unprecedented" and "extremely disappointing." Kunzer-Murphy added that UNLV will look to hire someone "who really wants to be here and who will honor his commitments."
There's no doubt Beard is putting UNLV in a tough spot having to endure a second coaching search with the spring signing period already underway, but is it really fair to blame him for leaving? How many of us would make a similar move if presented with an opportunity to earn more money, to snag a job that's a better fit and most importantly to move closer to our family?
Beard's interest in the Texas Tech job stems from his longstanding ties to the program. He grew up in Texas, spent 10 years as an assistant coach with the Red Raiders from 2001-2011 and has three daughters who all live nearby. If any coach in America could call a largely tradition-bereft basketball program in Lubbock his dream job, it's Beard.
The Texas Tech job is especially appealing right now because of the team Smith is leaving behind. The Red Raiders could return all but two key players from a largely starless team that reached the NCAA tournament last month.
Beard's decision surely couldn't have been easy because while Texas Tech plays in a better conference and has the better team next year, UNLV is the superior job in the long run.
With its rich tradition, sparkling new practice facility and location minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, UNLV has natural advantages Texas Tech can't offer. At worst, it's one of the two best jobs in the Mountain West and perhaps a Top 25 job nationally.
The right coach can annually land top recruits and make frequent NCAA tournament runs at UNLV. That's not as easy at Texas Tech with Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and a handful of other programs of higher stature in front of you in the Big 12 pecking order.
For a coach to choose Texas Tech over UNLV would typically be a mild surprise. For a coach to choose the Red Raiders over the Rebels even though he knows he'll be damaging his reputation by doing so? That's proof the Texas Tech program means a lot to him.
Although Texas Tech will pay UNLV a $1 million buyout for taking Beard, that will be little consolation to a Rebels program already in turmoil. Transfers and early draft declarations could leave UNLV with as many as 11 vacant scholarships for next season, a daunting prospect that could force the Rebels to move quickly to replace Beard.
One option for UNLV could be to offer the job to New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, a finalist for the position who withdrew from consideration just before Beard was hired. Or Kunzer-Murphy could reopen the search entirely.
USA Today is reporting that fired Sacramento Kings coach George Karl has interest in the position. CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb, former UNLV assistants Ryan Miller and Stacey Augmon and Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy were among those believed to be interested during the initial search.
Whoever UNLV hires, it will be the Rebels' fourth coach since January, the culmination of a nightmare stretch in which the program has missed three straight NCAA tournaments, fallen from national relevance and become synonymous with dysfunction and underachievement. Kunzer-Murphy began her coaching search with delusional visions of luring Rick Pitino to Las Vegas and now shes' been jilted by the former Arkansas-Little Rock coach.
Beard makes a convenient scapegoat, but blaming him for leaving isn't entirely fair.
Yes, his timing is horrible. Yes, he's leaving UNLV in an unenviable position. But ultimately he's going to Texas Tech because he believes that's best for him and his family. He's leaving a better job for one that's a better fit.
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Soon after their 4-year-old son Blaise was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer two months ago, Annie and Andrew Davis asked for a favor from a family friend.
The Pennsylvania residents wanted him to remodel their unfinished basement so that Blaise would have a play room.
Contractor Tim Moore readily agreed to tackle the project with one stipulation. The Davis family was forbidden from coming downstairs to check out their new basement until the project was done.
When Annie, Andrew, Blaise and 2-year-old Lucy finally got to see the finished product Wednesday evening, they found more than the new bathroom and fresh paint and carpet they were expecting. Tucked against the back wall was a newly built playhouse with a pair of surprise visitors from Villanova's national championship basketball team inside.
"It was unbelievable," Andrew Davis told Yahoo Sports. "We're big basketball fans in this house and my wife and my father-in-law have been very big Villanova fans since they were kids. Blaise had followed Villanova during the season and he was very much aware of who the players were and how important they were."
Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu learned about Blaise thanks to Moore. The contractor managed to get in touch with Temple coach Fran Dunphy's wife Ree, who reached out to Villanova assistant Ashley Howard on Moore's behalf.
When Ree Dunphy told Moore to expect two Villanova players on Wednesday night, he never thought it would be Arcidiacono and Ochefu. Arcidiacono is a four-year starter at point guard and a former Big East player of the year, while Ochefu is the Wildcats' starting center and another of the stalwarts of their unexpected national title run.
"Tim told us he was expecting the 10th or 11th guy, which would have been fantastic in its own right," Davis said. "Then out of the car step those two."
Arcidiacono and Ochefu introduced themselves to Blaise, invited him into the playhouse and made him feel comfortable instantly. Later they gave him a handful of gifts, from a Villanova cap and shirt, to a Wildcats-themed cake, to a basketball signed by every Big 5 basketball coach.
For Andrew and Annie, the best gift of all was seeing their son happy and being able to forget about his cancer for a couple hours. Since doctors diagnosed him with Ewing's Sarcoma, Blaise has undergone chemotherapy and frequent testing and he will have to have invasive surgery on his femur later this year.
"It was everything you hope to experience as a parent," Davis said. "As a parent, there are many a night that we've sat up and talked about what this means for our son. The doctors have assured us he doesn't think like that. He just knows when he has a bad day and knows when he has a good day. This was one of those times when he was just Blaise and we weren't thinking about the MRI he had this morning. We were thinking about this wonderful experience he was getting to have."
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Thon Maker just revealed a loophole that NBA and NCAA officials probably would have preferred remained closed.
The skilled 7-footer found a way to bypass the one-and-done rule and go straight from prep school to the NBA.
Under the current NBA collective bargaining agreement, draft-eligible prospects not defined as international players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft and at least one year removed from graduating high school. With the exception of Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay and a handful of other prospects who have spent a pre-draft season playing professionally overseas or in the D-League, most elite high school players opt to play a year or more of college basketball.
Maker opened another potential avenue on Thursday when the NBA ruled him eligible for this June's draft, a league spokesman confirmed to Yahoo Sports. Maker, 19, completed the requisite coursework to graduate from high school last spring, spent a post-graduate year in prep school and declared for the draft two weeks ago.
Part of the appeal that approach for Maker was potential eligibility issues that would have jeopardized his chances of playing in college had he tried to go that route. The other advantage is that the projected late first-round draft pick didn't have to risk exposing himself against college competition and damaging his stock in the process.
Spending time in college basketball is typically beneficial to prospects because of the quality of competition and coaching as well as the life skills gained, however, there are always guys each year who cost themselves boatloads of cash because their draft stock plummets. Last year, Kansas' Cliff Alexander struggled and went from surefire first-round pick to undrafted. This year, Kentucky's Skal Labissiere and Kansas' Cheick Diallo saw their stature take a hit after underwhelming freshman seasons.
If Maker were to perform well at the combine or in workouts or Labissiere or Diallo fall further than expected in the upcoming draft, you could see future prospects and their advisers take notice. A player who is already a projected first-round pick by the time he graduates high school might prefer to spend a post-graduate year "hiding" at an off-the-radar prep school rather than risk being exposed against college competition.
That's not a trend that would be beneficial for basketball either at the college or NBA level.
Prospects who skip college are more difficult for NBA scouts to assess because there are fewer chances to see them in meaningful games against top competition. It's also harder for those prospects to adjust to the NBA not only socially but also because the schemes more complex than high school basketball and the players are so much stronger and faster.
There was a time many thought that more prospects would follow in the footsteps of Jennings and choose to spend a year making money overseas rather than playing in college. Thus far Mudiay is the only other high-profile player to do that, and potential eligibility issues at SMU played a role in that decision.
Perhaps Maker will be viewed as an outlier in the future. Or maybe he'll turn out to be more of a trendsetter. Either way, it's a meaningful draft story that is worth watching moving forward.
The Vertical breaks down Thon Maker's strengths:
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For years, Memphis fans have complained that Josh Pastner's teams took quick, ill-advised shots, played disorganized defense and typically didn't win at the level their talent level suggested they should.
That should no longer be a problem given who the school tabbed as Pastner's replacement on Thursday morning.
Memphis has hired Texas Tech's Tubby Smith, an accomplished coach who's basically the complete opposite of his youthful predecessor. He's 64 years old, he hasn't always recruited at an elite level but he is well respected among his peers for being excellent tactically and strong in player development.
Smith won't be universally embraced right away by Memphis fans who convinced themselves they had a chance to nab a flashier candidate. School officials decided quickly that they could not afford Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall or Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams, that they could not pry Archie Miller away from Dayton and that they sought someone with more coaching experience than beloved alum Penny Hardaway.
But while Smith isn't as splashy a choice as those coaches would have been, he's still a solid second-tier hire. This is a coach who won a national championship at Kentucky, who led Minnesota to three NCAA bids in six seasons and who rebuilt Texas Tech into an NCAA tournament team in a mere three years. If Smith takes Memphis to the NCAA tournament, he would be the only Division I coach ever to accomplish that at six different schools.
One concern some have about Smith is his age, but that's overblown in a sport in which coaches in their late 60s and early 70s routinely make the Final Four or win national championships. At 64 and seemingly in good health, Smith could potentially coach at Memphis longer than the seven years Pastner lasted.
Another concern some have about Smith is that his career is in a state of decline, but that's hardly fair either. While Smith did get fired at Minnesota in 2013, the context there matters. The athletic director that canned him was the man who hired Shaka Smart at VCU and the founder of a program designed to introduce young assistant coaches to athletic directors who may later be in the market to hire a head coach. Norwood Teague wanted the chance to duplicate the Smart hire at Minnesota, which is why he handed that job to 30-year-old Richard Pitino.
What's more, Smith has proven himself quickly at Texas Tech. Not only did he take the Red Raiders to their first NCAA tournament bid in nine years last month, enough of those players were returning that Texas Tech was also poised to remain on an upward trajectory the next two seasons had Smith not bolted for a better job.
The one concern about Smith that's valid is whether he can recruit to the level at which Memphis has become accustomed.
Smith's inability to land Kentucky-caliber recruits is what ultimately cost him his job with the Wildcats a decade ago. He hasn't waded back into the cesspool that is elite recruiting very often since then, though part of that is certainly the difficulty in luring top 50 prospects to off-the-radar programs like Minnesota and Texas Tech.
At Memphis, it's different. Your city is a recruiting hotbed, and you have to retain a high percentage of top local prospects in order to succeed. For all his faults, that was the one thing Pastner did exceptionally well. Many of the eight Rivals top 50 prospects Pastner signed in his first four recruiting classes hailed from Memphis.
For Smith to achieve anywhere near the same recruiting success, he'll have to hire a staff familiar with the recruiting landscape in Memphis and capable of helping him mine the city for talent. Hardaway would be an ideal choice given his ties to the Team Penny AAU program and his stature locally, however, it's unclear whether he'd be willing to return to his alma mater as an assistant rather than the head coach.
So yes, hiring a strong staff will be crucial to Smith. And no, he's not a surefire home run hire like Marshall would have been. But before Georgia Tech came out of nowhere to hire Pastner last week, Memphis was looking at another year with a lame-duck coach it no longer wanted but couldn't afford to fire.
By comparison, year one of the Tubby Smith era is a massive improvement over that.
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When standout wing Allonzo Trier announced his decision to return to Arizona this month, the lone downside appeared to be the potential for his presence to dissuade other shooting guards the Wildcats were pursuing from coming.
Turns out that didn't happen.
Arizona landed one of the Class of 2016's top wings on Wednesday night when 6-foot-6 Terrance Ferguson announced on Twitter that he had committed. Ferguson, Rivals.com's No. 12 prospect, is an elite shooter who is also an outstanding perimeter defender and one of the best dunkers in his class.
The relationship between Ferguson and Arizona stems from his stint last summer playing for Sean Miller on USA Basketball's U-19 team. When Ferguson backed out of his initial commitment to Alabama on March 1, Arizona instantly became one of the leading contenders to land him along with fellow suitors Baylor, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina and NC State.
Ferguson's commitment leaves Miller with a problem other coaches would kill to have. Arizona has so many talented perimeter players on next year's roster that it will be tough to find playing time for all of them.
The only certain starter is Trier, a 6-foot-4 wing who averaged 14.8 points per game as a freshman and also improved defensively throughout the season. Also returning are rising junior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, rising senior combo guard Kadeem Allen and small forward Ray Smith, Arizona's most heralded recruit in the 2015 class before a torn ACL sidelined him all of this past season.
The quality of Arizona's incoming class makes it uncertain whether Smith will start right away or whether Allen and Jackson-Cartwright will again split playing time at point guard. In addition to Ferguson, two other Rivals top 20 prospects are both Tucson-bound: slashing 6-foot-4 wing Rawle Alkins and 6-foot-5 scoring point guard Kobi Simmons.
How can Arizona find playing time for all seven of those players? There's still a slim chance the Wildcats may not have to worry about that. Alkins did not fax his letter of intent on the first day of the spring signing period on Wednesday, though he has until mid-May to do it.
If Alkins signs later this week as expected, one option could be going small and giving the 6-7 Smith extended minutes as an undersized power forward. That would allow Ferguson to start alongside Trier at wing and make sure Arizona has sufficient outside shooting to space the floor at all times.
Playing Smith at power forward would also mask the one potential weak spot on the Arizona roster. While the Wildcats have Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche back at center, the lone true power forward on the roster is Finnish freshman Lauri Markannen, another highly touted prospect but one that may not be ready to play 30 minutes per game right away.
Regardless, the perimeter logjam Arizona has is definitely not a bad thing. It will just be up to Miller to figure the lineup combinations that give the Wildcats the best chance to win and keep everybody happy.
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The NCAA tournament will remain on CBS and Turner for at least the next 16 years.
The broadcast partners on Tuesday announced an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension that will allow them to provide live coverage of NCAA tournament games on any platform they choose through 2032. That includes those platforms "to be created over the life of the agreement."
The rights fee is a significant increase over the original 14-year contract CBS, Turner and the NCAA agreed to back in 2010. Whereas CBS and Turner will pay an average of approximately $771 million every year to air the NCAA tournament from 2011-2024, that fee will rise to $1.1 billion per year from 2025-2032.
That increase is crucial to the NCAA, which secures more than 90 percent of its total revenue from the men's basketball tournament. NCAA president Mark Emmert said that money flows back to the association's 1,100 members schools to help them support other sports that do not produce revenue.
The stability this TV rights deal provides is welcome news for those who like the current format of the NCAA tournament. Emmert said on a conference call Tuesday that there has been "absolutely no discussion about expanding the field beyond 68."
"We're very pleased with the way the tournament is conducted right now," Emmert said."It works exceedingly well for the participants as well as the audience."
It appears CBS and Turner are equally pleased with their current arrangement of alternating broadcast rights to the Final Four and national championship game each year. Executives from both networks said they have no plans to change that format despite a ratings decline this year with the national semifinals and title game airing on TBS for the first time.
The one change that appears likely is an alteration to the selection show after CBS expanded it to two hours for the first time last month. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said that while formal discussions on the format will not take place until the summer, his network is well aware of the backlash from viewers unhappy that it took so much longer for each bracket to be revealed.
Said McManus, "I think it's safe to assume we'll be a bit more timely with the announcement of the brackets in the future."
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If Michigan State is going to contend for a national title again next season, the Spartans will have to rely heavily on their highly touted freshman class.
That much is clear after forward Deyonta Davis announced Tuesday that he's declaring for the NBA draft and hiring an agent.
Davis would have been an interior focal point for Michigan State next season had he returned to school, but his stock was too high among NBA scouts for that to be a realistic possibility. The raw but talented 6-foot-10 freshman is a projected mid-first-round pick even though he averaged a modest 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds and had just begun to scratch the surface of his capabilities while starting 16 of the Spartans' final 17 games.
"Over the last year, Deyonta has improved as a player, as he is just starting to tap his true potential," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. "Off the court, there is no question that he has grown by leaps and bounds as he matures as a young man. I’ve been fortunate to live my dreams, but the real thrill as a coach is getting to see my players live their dreams. I look forward to following Deyonta’s development and career in the NBA for years to come."
Michigan State will still have the talent to match or even exceed this past season's accomplishments even without Davis, but next year's Spartans will be younger and more vulnerable on the interior. They'll have to rely on a recruiting class that features four Rivals Top 50 players.
The most talented of the newcomers are 6-6 combo forward Miles Bridges and 6-6 wing Josh Langford, both of whom are McDonald's All-Americans. Look for both to start right away, with Bridges filling a Justise WInslow-like undersized power forward role and Langford entering a wing rotation that will also include senior Eron Harris, sharpshooter Matt McQuaid and reserve Alvin Ellis.
Playing time at point guard will be split between junior Tum Tum Nairn and highly touted incoming freshman Cassius Winston. When Izzo needs outstanding on-ball defense, reliable decision making and leadership, the choice will be Nairn. When Izzo needs an offensive spark, Winston will be his guy.
Where Michigan State will face the most questions is its lack of a proven big man. Matt Costello graduates this spring, Davis is headed to the NBA and Marvin Clark is transferring, leaving behind senior-to-be Gavin Schilling, former walk-on Kenny Goins and incoming freshman Nick Ward.
Schilling is the likely starter if he can avoid the injuries that derailed his junior season. Goins proved to be a more capable than expected backup and Ward has excellent long-term potential, but it would be a surprise if Michigan State didn't at least explore the graduate transfer market. One more big man would certainly be a plus in case of injuries or in games when Bridges is too undersized to play 30-plus minutes at power forward.
When Michigan State lost elite shooting guard prospect Josh Jackson to Kansas on Monday, that stung only because it was an in-state kid with a world of talent.
In reality, however, the loss of Davis is the bigger blow. It leaves Michigan State without an interior focal point offensively and makes the Spartans a bit more reliant on their freshman than Izzo would probably prefer.
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When it was time for him to accept the trophy for Big 5 Coach of the Year on Monday night, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli couldn't resist poking fun at himself.
The coach whom Martelli had beaten out to win the award went on to win the national title a couple weeks after voters had turned in their ballots.
"Seriously, there’s not one person in here that would say ‘Big 5 Coach of the Year? It must be Phil Martelli! It’s not Jay Wright!'" Martelli told guests at the Big 5 awards banquet.
"Jay, this is yours. I’m going to borrow it for an hour and if I can get into your gated community in Newtown Square, I’ll drop it off."
As recently as three weeks ago, Martelli was not a ridiculous choice. After all, St. Joseph's won 28 games, captured the Atlantic 10 tournament title and led No. 1 seed Oregon deep into the second half before falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Of course, everything changed when Villanova validated its Big East title with the type of NCAA tournament success that had proven elusive in recent years. The Wildcats broke through to the second weekend for the first time since 2009, defeated surging Miami and No. 1 overall seed Kansas to reach the Final Four and then throttled Oklahoma and edged North Carolina to capture the school's first national title in 31 years.
At the end of his speech, Martelli smacked a sticky note onto the trophy with the words "Jay Wright" written on it. The award may inevitably find its way into the St. Joseph's trophy case, but if Martelli has his way, you can bet the sticky note is staying on it.
Saint Joseph's Phil Martelli puts a post-it note on the Big 5 coach of the year trophy. pic.twitter.com/a12uwtbfbD— Dan Gelston (@APgelston) April 12, 2016
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At a time when most of the rest of the Big 12's top teams appear poised to take a step backward, Kansas is just reloading.
The Jayhawks bolstered an already strong roster on Monday night when they landed a prospect Rivals.com considers to be the best in the 2016 class.
Shooting guard Josh Jackson committed to Kansas, choosing the Jayhawks over fellow finalists Michigan State and Arizona. The 6-foot-7 senior at Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., is a consensus top-three prospect nationally along with Duke-bound forwards Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum.
What makes Jackson one of the elite wing prospects to enter college basketball in recent years is his ability to impact a game at both ends of the floor. The tough, ultra-competitive Jackson has a nonstop motor, an explosive first step to the basket, a knack for making plays in transition and the ability to lock down an opposing team's best perimeter player.
Some of Jackson's attributes were on display at the McDonald's All-American game earlier this month when he scored an efficient 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. He earned co-MVP honors and led the West Team to a 114-105 victory.
For Kansas, the addition of Jackson reduces the sting of starting wing Wayne Selden and reserve Brannen Greene both entering the NBA draft. Jackson should slide into the starting lineup alongside returners Frank Mason and Devonte Graham with promising Svi Mykhailiuk also playing heavy minutes off the bench.
How deep Kansas' frontcourt is will depend on whether Cheick Diallo stays in the NBA draft or not, but the Jayhawks have options even if he leaves. Heralded sophomore-to-be Carlton Bragg has the skill to replace some of the production Perry Ellis provided at power forward, while Landen Lucas emerged late this past season as a strong defender and rebounder.
That nucleus should be enough to make Kansas a preseason top 10 team and a favorite to capture a 13th consecutive Big 12 title.
Oklahoma loses a minimum of three starters from its Final Four team including national player of the year Buddy Hield. Iowa State faces life without Georges Niang as well as fellow seniors Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader. West Virginia and Texas both have the potential to contend next season, but the Mountaineers have to hope forward Devin Williams doesn't stay in the draft and the Longhorns have to do the same regarding guard Isaiah Taylor.
Kansas had emerged as the favorite to land Jackson in recent weeks even though he had strong ties to both Michigan State and Arizona.
Jackson grew up in Detroit and is close with several members of the Spartans' highly touted 2016 recruiting class. Jackson also played for Arizona's Sean Miller with USA Basketball and said recently that he is closer to Miller than any other head coach recruiting him.
Had Jackson gone to Michigan State, he'd have been the centerpiece of a recruiting class that already may be Tom Izzo's best ever. Had Jackson gone to Arizona, he'd have joined a collection of talented wings that already includes returning star Allonzo Trier and talented freshman Ray Smith.
Instead Jackson is Kansas-bound, keeping the Jayhawks in their customary position as preseason favorites in the Big 12.
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The fate of the next Maryland basketball season could hinge on the feedback star point guard Melo Trimble receives from NBA scouts this spring.
Trimble announced Monday night he will declare for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, leaving open the possibility he could return for his junior season.
If Trimble leaves, Maryland will have to replace every member of a supremely talented starting five that led the Terps to a 27-win 2015-16 season and a Sweet 16 appearance. If Trimble comes back, Maryland will still have questions in the frontcourt but the Terps can build around a perimeter corps highlighted by one of the nation's most dynamic point guards.
Trimble returned to Maryland after an outstanding freshman season in hopes of solidifying himself as a future first-round pick, but his sophomore season was too erratic to achieve that goal.
Among the positives: His assist-to-turnover ratio improved and he enjoyed some strong stretches, especially during the first half of the season. Among the negatives: His outside shot deserted him, he endured a painful February slump and he could not get to the foul line as consistently because opponents consistently went under screens and dared him to shoot jumpers.
Trimble is currently projected as a second-round pick by most scouts and mock drafts. For him to improve his stock during workouts or the combine, the 6-foot-3 junior-to-be would likely have to show the consistent outside shooting stroke that he lacked during the latter half of the season.
Were Trimble to return, he'd come back to a roster that hardly resembles the one Maryland fielded this past season. Guard Rasheed Sulaimon and small forward Jake Layman both graduate, power forward Robert Carter decided last week to turn pro and hire an agent and freshman center Diamond Stone followed suit on Monday.
There's still enough talent in the backcourt that Maryland would have a good chance to return to the NCAA tournament if Trimble came back.
A healthy Dion Wiley should be a fixture at one wing spot. Fellow returner Jared Nickens will compete for playing time at the other. And Maryland's three-man recruiting class is anchored by Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, the former the heir apparent to Trimble at point guard and the latter a high-scoring 6-foot-7 guard who can play anywhere on the perimeter.
The greater concern would be the frontcourt regardless of Trimble's decision. Though both Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd have enough talent to seize the starting center job, neither has proven himself as a starter-quality option yet. Power forward is even more uncertain as the job could go to 6-foot-9 Bosnian native Ivan Bender unless Maryland finds another option on the graduate transfer market.
Of course, the return of an All-American-caliber point guard would hide a lot of warts.
With Trimble, Maryland can still finish in the upper third of the Big Ten and reach the NCAA tournament. Without him, the Terps could be headed for a rebuilding year.
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Having watched another transfer point guard thrive at Creighton this past season, Kaleb Joseph decided to follow in his footsteps.
The Syracuse transfer committed to the Bluejays on Sunday evening, his former AAU coach Vin Pastore told Yahoo Sports on Monday.
One of the biggest factors in Joseph's decision was his strong relationship with Creighton assistant Preston Murphy. The other was the success the Bluejays had with point guard Maurice Watson, a Boston University transfer who averaged 14.2 points and 6.6 assists in his debut season in the Big East this year.
It appealed to Joseph to go to a school with a track record of helping transfers improve during their redshirt seasons. Creighton also had a need for a point guard with Watson set to graduate after the 2016-17 season and no heir apparent waiting in the wings.
What Creighton is getting in Joseph is a former Rivals top 50 prospect in need of a fresh start.
Thrust into the role of top point guard right away at Syracuse as a result of Tyler Ennis' unexpected evolution into a one-and-done prospect, Joseph started 30 of 31 games as a freshman and performed respectably under the circumstances. He averaged 5.9 points and 3.8 assists, but his outside shooting was a liability and turnovers were too frequent.
Joseph lost his starting job to Michael Gbinije before this past season and the back-up role to Frank Howard by midseason. He did not play more than one minute in any of Syracuse's final 18 games in Jim Boeheim's tight rotation, yet he did not complain publicly and remained engaged on the bench throughout the team's surprise run to the Final Four.
Joseph and high-scoring Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome were the two transfer point guards Creighton pursued most heavily the past few weeks. Hours after Joseph committed to the Bluejays, Broome texted Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin around 1 a.m. to tell him he wanted to join the Bearcats.
For Creighton to add to its burgeoning reputation as a haven for transfers, it will need to help Joseph regain confidence in his shot. The versatility of Gbinije and the emergence of Howard diminished Joseph's role at Syracuse, but he's still clearly capable of becoming an impact player in the Big East now that he has a fresh start.
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In his freshman season at Sacred Heart, he started from the outset and averaged an impressive 14.5 points per game. In his sophomore season with the Pioneers, he scored 23.1 points per game and won conference player of the year honors.
Now Cane Broome is ready for a bigger challenge.
The 6-foot combo guard announced Monday he will transfer to Cincinnati, where he'll sit next season before having two years eligibility remaining thereafter. Broome also visited Creighton and received interest from the likes of Seton Hall and NC State, among others.
Having such prestigious programs pursue him was a new experience for Broome, a Hartford native who was lightly recruited out of high school. Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina was the first to offer a scholarship to Broome and made him the program's biggest priority the following summer, leading to a commitment early in the 2013-14 school year.
Broome played as though he had something to prove during his two years at Sacred Heart, and now he's headed to another program known for having that mentality. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has built a perennial NCAA tournament team not with blue-chip prospects but blue-collar ones.
With Troy Caupain entering his senior season next year, Broome has a chance to inherit Cincinnati's starting point guard job the following year. Broome is already a gifted scorer who's capable of getting into the lane or knocking down shots from behind the arc, but he'll have to improve his efficiency and work on getting better defensively and at creating off the dribble for his teammates.
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Before Duke's Sweet 16 loss to Oregon last month, point guard Derryck Thornton reflected on the challenge of graduating high school in three years, enrolling at one of the nation's most tradition-rich programs and trying to fill the void left by Tyus Jones' early departure.
"It's definitely tough, but you can do it if you're mentally focused," Thornton told Yahoo Sports. "This season has been so great for me and for my team and I've learned so much. It was a great opportunity for me to come here and I'm really happy with my decision. I've learned so much from Coach [Mike Krzyzewski]. There's a lot I wouldn't have learned if I were still in high school."
At that time, Thornton certainly didn't sound like someone who intended to leave when the season ended, but that's not the case any longer. Duke announced Sunday that the sophomore-to-be is transferring.
“We wish Derryck the best and appreciate his contributions to our team this season,” Krzyzewski said in the statement. “We support his decision and want only what is best for him in the future.”
Thornton played in all 36 of Duke's games as a freshman and averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists in 26 minutes per game. He made 20 starts for the Blue Devils, but he did not start any of Duke’s ACC or NCAA tournament games despite being the only true point guard on the roster.
Playing time might have been more scarce for Thornton next season had he returned with guards Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard all returning and McDonald's All-American point guard Frank Jackson and wing Jayson Tatum joining the roster. Not only would Thornton likely have competed with Jackson for playing time at point guard, there also surely will be possessions that the Blue Devils put Allen on the ball with Kennard, Jones or Tatum at the wings.
Thornton's departure opens a scholarship for Marques Bolden, the five-star center Duke is currently pursuing. Bolden is expected to decide between the Blue Devils and Kentucky in the coming weeks.
As for Thornton, he said in Duke's release that he intends to transfer closer to his native Chatsworth, Calif. The former five-star recruit will have three years eligibility remaining and will undoubtedly look for a program where he can be more of a focal point of a high ball screen-heavy offense.
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In response to what it described as a "breathtaking and audacious" series of rules violations, the NCAA has hammered former Southern Mississippi coach Donnie Tyndall with a punishment that will make it difficult for him to work in major college athletics again.
Tyndall received a 10-year show cause penalty Friday for allegedly directing his staff to engage in academic fraud, facilitating impermissible financial aid for two players and obstructing the NCAA's investigation into the potential violations.
If an NCAA school were to hire Tyndall during his 10-year show cause order, he would be prohibited from participating in all coaching duties. Even after the 10-year show cause expires on April 7, 2026, any NCAA school that hires him would have to suspend him for the first half of his debut season.
"It's heartbreaking," Tyndall, 45, told Yahoo Sports. "I don't know what to do, man. There's nothing I want to do with my life besides coach basketball, and now that has been taken away from me. Ten years? That is so over the top."
Only one other basketball coach has received a 10-year show-cause punishment before: Ex-Baylor coach Dave Bliss, who was at the helm of the Bears program when guard Carlton Dotson murdered teammate Patrick Dennehy in 2003. The NCAA's ensuing investigation revealed that Bliss paid multiple players to come to Baylor and tried to cover it up by instructing players to fabricate a story about Dennehy dealing drugs as a way to explain how part of Dennehy's tuition was paid.
The allegations against Tyndall aren't as salacious as those against Bliss but they're still unprecedented in scope.
The NCAA says Tyndall sent assistant coaches or graduate assistants across the country to physically assist seven prospects complete the requisite coursework to become eligible to play at Southern Mississippi. This scheme began six weeks after Southern Mississippi hired Tyndall away from Morehead State in 2012 and continued throughout a two-year tenure in which his teams went 56-17 and twice reached the NIT quarterfinals in 2013 and 2014.
All parties involved in the case accept that sweeping academic fraud took place at Southern Mississippi from 2012-14, but it's Tyndall's contention that the scheme went on without his knowledge. Though the NCAA has evidence Tyndall paid for a graduate assistant's trip to California to assist one player with his coursework and paid the registration fees for another player's online classes, the former coach insists he knew nothing of the academic fraud until his initial interview with NCAA investigators on Nov. 18, 2014.
Tyndall's biggest point of contention is that the committee on infractions relied heavily on the testimony of a former assistant coach who only linked Tyndall to the academic fraud after cutting a deal for immunity with NCAA investigators. That is Adam Howard, who followed Tyndall to Tennessee in March 2014 but was forced to resign the following November when Tyndall says the school discovered he had lied to NCAA investigators.
"There are over 4,000 pages of transcripts and documentation," Tyndall told Yahoo Sports. "There were 40 people interviewed. The only person that said anything about Donnie Tyndall having any involvement in this was Adam Howard. ... How's the NCAA going to take the word of one guy who's already lied to them on the record twice and only spoke to them the third time when they gave him immunity?"
In additition to the academic fraud allegations against Tyndall, the NCAA also says he fabricated a document to help justify facilitating cash and prepaid credit card payments to two players from their former high school coaches. Tyndall also allegedly took other actions to thwart the investigation once it began, from deleting relevant emails, to providing false or misleading information during interviews with NCAA investigators, to calling key figures in the investigation from a previously seldom-used phone registered to his mom.
Tyndall denies intentionally obstructing the invstigation and says he only placed those calls in an attempt to glean more investigation about the allegations against his program.
Besides Tyndall's punishment, the NCAA also placed Southern Mississippi on three years probation, handed down some scholarship and recruiting restrictions and accepted the two-year postseason ban that the Golden Eagles have already served. The former assistant coaches involved in the academic fraud each were hit with shorter show-cause penalties as well.
Tyndall spent only the 2014-15 season at Tennessee before being fired in March 2015 when Vols athletic director Dave Hart discovered the extent of the violations his coach was facing. Tyndall last worked as an associate athletic director at NAIA Tennessee Wesleyan College earlier this year on a volunteer basis.
Tyndall has vowed to appeal Friday's punishment in hopes of reducing the length of the show-cause penalty he's facing. He hopes to work again in college athletics.
"I'm stunned," Tyndall said. "To hit me with 10 years, it's unbelievable."
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Memphis gets rid of a coach it no longer wanted but could not afford to fire. Josh Pastner gets a fresh start at a power-conference program starved for stability and sustained success.
There's no doubt both are winners now that Georgia Tech has given Pastner an unlikely life line, but the more intriguing question is can the Yellow Jackets claim victory here too?
In the 12 years since Georgia Tech reached the national title game, the Yellow Jackets endured seven years of decline under Paul Hewitt and five years of mediocrity under Brian Gregory. Athletic director Mike Bobinski fired Gregory last month after he failed to make the NCAA tournament for a fifth consecutive season despite an experienced roster with four senior starters.
Georgia Tech's state-of-the-art new arena, rich tradition and fertile recruiting base make it more attractive than many ACC jobs, but the specter of competing in the same league as Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Virginia scared potential candidates away. Bobinski found that out as he swung and missed pursuing Valparaiso's Bryce Drew, Duke assistant Jeff Capel and Butler's Chris Holtmann, which led him to reach out to a coach whose own administration would love to see him move on.
What Georgia Tech is getting in Pastner is a coach who has gone from star in the making, to heir apparent to John Calipari at Memphis, to serial underachiever all before his 40th birthday.
Hailed as a future head coach even while he was still playing for Lute Olson as a walk-on at Arizona, Pastner was all but groomed for the job. This is a guy who studied game film in elementary school, sent detailed scouting reports of prep talent to top college coaches by age 13 and coached a Houston AAU program that included T.J. Ford and Emeka Okafor while still in high school.
Pastner's reputation as a wunderkind actually worked against him in some ways because it helped him land a job for which he wasn't ready.
When Memphis promoted Pastner to head coach in 2009, he was 31 years old and had no prior experience as a head coach at the college level. He was not yet qualified to run a top 20 program, let alone one Calipari had just taken to four consecutive seasons of 33 or more wins.
Pastner's charisma, intelligence and work ethic initially helped him recruit at nearly as high a level as Calipari had. In his first four classes at Memphis from 2010-2013, Pastner landed 14 Rivals 150 prospects including eight ranked in the top 50.
Where Pastner ran into problems was his inability to coax enough wins out of his most talented rosters.
He won only two league championships in seven seasons at Memphis even though his teams spent four years in the threadbare Conference USA and three years in the solid but unspectacular American Athletic Conference. He made four NCAA tournaments, but he only won two games and never made it beyond the round of 32.
Pastner's inability to approach or match Calipari's success at Memphis led to backlash that made it tough for him to sustain his initial recruiting success. His final two Memphis teams were only modestly talented, played in front of sparse crowds at home games and never sniffed NCAA tournament contention.
It also didn't help Pastner that he never seemed to address his weaknesses in player development and as a tactician. From Robert Kirby, to Damon Stoudamire, to Luke Walton, to Keelon Lawson, to Glynn Cyprien, all the men who coached under Pastner never held head coaching jobs and were best known for their prowess as recruiters.
Only a few weeks ago, Memphis had to decide whether it was easier to stomach one more season with a lame-duck coach or paying Pastner a reported $10.6 million not to coach their team. They were prepared to tolerate meager crowds and a poor win-loss record for one more year until along came Bobinski, seemingly out of nowhere.
One key for Pastner at Georgia Tech will be hiring a staff that complements him better than the one he had at Memphis did. He needs a tactically savvy assistant with head coaching experience to fill the same role for him that Mike Dunlap initially did for Steve Lavin at St. John's a few years back.
Another key will be tapping into a 2017 recruiting class that boasts eight top 100 prospects who hail from Georgia including No. 4 Wendell Carter and No. 20 Ikey Obiagu. The Yellow Jackets desperately need the influx of talent since the only four players on this past season's team to average more than five points per game are all seniors set to graduate this spring.
Best-case scenario for Georgia Tech: Pastner excels with a fresh start and more realistic expectations, woos several members of that promising in-state 2017 class and evolves into a more capable tactician with the help of his new staff. Worst-case scenario for Georgia Tech: The fan base turns on Pastner from the start, he can't build any recruiting momentum and even in his second gig, he is still an X's and O's disaster.
So while it's possible that Pastner succeeds at Georgia Tech in a way he never could at Memphis, the hire the Yellow Jackets made is far from a sure bet.
Memphis and Pastner can both celebrate badly needed fresh starts. Georgia Tech can only hope it doesn't regret giving a wunderkind-turned-serial underachiever a second chance.
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At the start of his press conference announcing 23-year-old Tyler Summitt as Louisiana Tech's next women's basketball coach two years ago, athletic director Tommy McClelland addressed his new hire's age by cracking a joke.
"Did you hear the joke about what the young guy said to the younger guy?" McClelland deadpanned. "Need a job?"
You can bet other athletic directors will be more reticent giving so much responsibility to someone so young now that a hire made to generate headlines has become a high-profile fiasco. Summitt, the 25-year-old son of legendary former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, resigned from his job at Louisiana Tech on Thursday, citing an unspecified inappropriate relationship.
"I am profoundly disappointed in myself for engaging in a relationship that has negatively affected the people I love, respect and care about the most," Summitt said in a statement. "My hope, plans and prayers are to repair those relationships. I am appreciative of the opportunity I was given to coach at Louisiana Tech. I am heartbroken that my time has ended in Ruston, but because of my respect for the institution, it is best that I resign."
Summitt's indiscretion indelibly tarnishes a name that until now stood for only determination, grace and success. Pat Summitt won eight national titles and 16 SEC championships in 38 seasons at Tennessee before stepping down in 2012 due to early-onset Alzheimer's and dementia.
The younger Summitt has been around basketball since he was in diapers, whether flying to a game in his mom's lap before he was a month old or riding the back of the bus with the players while in grade school. By high school, he attended his mom's early morning workouts before school, practiced with his team in the afternoons and then raced across town to watch as much of the Vols' practice as he could.
To prepare himself further for coaching upon enrolling at Tennessee, Tyler spent the 2009-10 season under his mom as a student assistant and the following two years as a walk-on playing for Bruce Pearl and then Cuonzo Martin. In his spare time, he also worked camps and coached several Knoxville-area AAU teams, including the talent-laden Tennessee Fury 17U Girls.
When Summitt landed an assistant coaching gig at Marquette four years ago at age 21, he was the same age or younger than several players on the team. When McClelland hired Summitt to revitalize Louisiana Tech's tradition-rich women's basketball program two years later, the oldest player on the team was only 13 months younger than her new head coach.
Why would McClelland hire a 23-year-old when there were dozens of other potential candidates with more experience and superior credentials? At the time he cited Summitt's ferocity on the recruiting trail, tactical prowess and maturity beyond his years, but there was surely more to it than just that.
First and foremost, the Summitt name ensured the type of national publicity elusive in women's basketball and even more rare at Louisiana Tech. Everyone from ESPN, to USA Today, to Yahoo Sports, to Sports Illustrated penned stories about Summitt during his tenure even though his first two seasons coaching the Lady Techsters produced a combined record of just 30-31.
It also had to appeal to McClelland that Summitt's story mirrored his own. McClelland became Division I's youngest athletic director at age 26 when McNeese State promoted him in March 2008.
Two years ago, McClelland said he met with Summitt in person for five hours and spoke to 30 people about his coaching ability and character before making the hire. What he learned was Summitt married his high school girlfriend, AnDe Ragsdale, and was deeply religious, both of which may have helped convince McClelland that the coach wouldn't fall victim to off-the-court behavior typical of a 23-year-old.
That gamble blew up in McClelland's face in unfathomable fashion on Thursday, and the ramifications are sure to be widespread.
No longer will Summitt be able to follow in his mom's footsteps because he's far too toxic for another school to give him a chance to coach anytime soon. McClelland also will face questions about whether he properly vetted Summitt and whether he paid more attention to his last name than his age. And athletic directors from coast to coast will surely be more cautious about hiring a coach who's barely older than the players over which he has authority.
When Summitt spoke at his introductory news conference, he too addressed his age with a joke about his baby-faced looks.
"I'm not 15 years old even though I look it," Summitt said with a chuckle. "I'm 23, and if that's my biggest weakness, that's great because inevitably, no matter what I do, that's going to change."
Turns out his immaturity was more of a weakness than he thought it was. As a result, he tarnished his family name, embarrassed the school that hired him and made landing a head coaching job far more challenging for the next wave of 20-something up-and-comers.
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An Indiana team best known for its array of perimeter standouts the past two years may be more frontcourt-driven next season.
Bryant's return gives Indiana a centerpiece for a frontcourt that could be the Big Ten's best next season regardless of whether forward Troy Williams opts to return for his senior year or not.
If Williams is back, he'd likely start at small forward with Bryant at center and promising sophomore-to-be O.G. Anunoby at power forward. If Williams leaves, Collin Hartman is a capable starting small forward and the Hoosiers would still have 6-foot-7 sophomore-to-be Juwan Morgan and 6-foot-10 incoming freshman De'Ron Davis to provide depth off the bench.
It could not have been an easy decision for Bryant to return to Indiana because the former McDonald's All-American had a chance to be selected in the first round had he left.
Bryant averaged 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds as a freshman, shot over 70 percent from the field and improved defensively over the course of the season. He had 19 points and 5 rebounds in Indiana's second-round win over Kentucky last month and 12 points and 8 rebounds in a Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina five days later.
Indiana won 27 games, captured the Big Ten regular season title and reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament this past season.
With Bryant back, the Hoosiers have a chance to match or exceed those accomplishments next year.
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Already a strong candidate to be next year's preseason No. 1 even if Grayson Allen entered the NBA draft, Duke became a near lock on Wednesday when its leading scorer decided to pass.
The high-scoring guard announced he will return for his junior season and remain part of a Blue Devils team that now returns six of its top eight players and welcomes a decorated recruiting class.
"I've made a lot of friendships with the guys here and relationships with my teammates that I'll have forever," Allen said in a video released Wednesday by Duke. "Coming back for another season to play with them is important for me. Also, I'll be continuing to work academically toward my degree and I feel like next year's team has a chance to be special with the guys we do have coming back, the experience we have and also the outstanding freshman class we have coming in."
Allen's decision comes on the heels of a season in which he unequivocally proved that his title game heroics the previous spring were no fluke. He averaged 21.6 points per game, shot 41.7 percent from behind the arc and helped lead a shorthanded Duke team to the Sweet 16.
Questions about Allen's ability to defend and make plays for others kept his stock from rising too high, but his deep range and ability to create off the dribble still might have been enough for him to be taken late in the first round. Allen said he did not consider testing the waters, preferring instead to either return to Duke or go all-in entering the draft.
Allen's return gives Duke an experienced star to go with its collection of veteran role players and talented incoming freshmen.
Small forward Jayson Tatum and power forward Harry Giles are arguably the nation's top two recruits and should emerge as impact players right away if Giles has fully recovered from his ACL tear. Frank Jackson, Duke's third incoming McDonald's All-American, should compete with sophomore-to-be Derryck Thornton for playing time at point guard. And in his return from the foot injury that sidelined him much of this past season, Amile Jefferson will bolster Duke's frontcourt and provide leadership, defense and rebounding.
Does Allen's return make a second Duke national championship in three years a certainty? Of course not. Kentucky and Michigan State both welcome star-studded freshman classes and Villanova could return all but two key players from its national title team.
But Duke should be very, very good next season, and the Blue Devils are a worthy preseason No. 1.
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The greatest program in history now has the greatest class in history.
Connecticut's three senior stars – Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck – became the first players to win national championships in all four of their collegiate seasons when the Huskies crushed Syracuse 82-51 on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
No women's team ever had won more than three straight national titles, and the only men's team to do so, UCLA from 1967 to 1973, did so before freshmen were eligible.
Coach Geno Auriemma passed UCLA men's coach John Wooden with his 11th national title, and the Huskies finished 151-5 in the seniors' time at UConn. Throw out the freshman year and it's 116-1, with a current 75-game win streak.
"To do something that no one else has ever done with them, I mean, I keep saying, 'Unbelievable' as a word to describe it. But I don't know what other word you could use," Stewart said. "The fact that we made history together, that's going to create a connection that will never be broken."
The Huskies sapped the suspense from Tuesday's title game early. Tuck's free throw 11 seconds after the tip gave UConn a lead it never relinquished, and they stretched it to 9-0 before the Orange got on the scoreboard. A subsequent 10-0 run made it 23-6, and by halftime it was 50-23.
Only a stunning 16-0 third-quarter run by Syracuse kept UConn from the biggest blowout in Women's Final Four history, but the spurt didn't even cut the Huskies' lead in half. Senior and former walk-on Briana Pulido drilled a long baseline jumper for the game's final basket and a perfect exclamation point, exhilarating the already jubilant UConn bench.
Stewart dominated at both ends of the floor and was named the Most Outstanding Player for a fourth time. No one else has done so more than twice.
UConn's unprecedented success overshadowed the other storyline from Indianapolis, the Final Four debuts of the three other teams. The overachieving Orange had won two tournament games before this season's improbable run, and Oregon State and Washington gave the Pac-12 a pair of surprise national semifinalists.
Those three teams and the top seeds that didn't make it to Indianapolis – Baylor, Notre Dame and South Carolina – figure to be among the group scrambling to prevent next season's new-look Huskies from stretching the program's title streak to five.
It'll mark the first time since these seniors were freshmen that UConn isn't the obvious team to beat.
Of course, that UConn team won the national title – in the biggest championship-game blowout of them all.
HOUSTON — Thirty minutes after Kris Jenkins’ thunderbolt of a 3-pointer delivered Villanova its first championship in 31 years, Wildcats coach Jay Wright opened his press conference by calling Monday’s title game “one of the great college basketball games we've ever been a part of.”
To be honest, he may not have needed those qualifiers.
Villanova’s epic 77-74 victory over North Carolina had everything synonymous with March Madness — wild momentum swings, thunderous roars, heroic performances and a dramatic finish that left one team stunned and heartbroken and the other spilling onto the floor in celebration. In this case there were two shining moments, Marcus Paige’s leaning, twisting 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left that seemed destined to force overtime and Jenkins’ rebuttal at the buzzer to end the game in regulation.
The lingering question the day after the gripping drama of Monday night is whether Villanova-North Carolina is the best title game that college basketball has ever produced.
Helping its case is the high-level quality of play from start to finish and a Disney-worthy ending that will be replayed every March for decades. Hurting its case is that neither side featured a transcendent star player, nor was the outcome a seismic upset or an instigator for change.
Here’s a humble attempt at the daunting task of ranking college basketball’s eight greatest title games. The criteria include everything from quality of the players and coaches involved, to the historical significance of the outcome, to the shock and awe of the finish.
1. North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 (1982): This one had everything, from rosters riddled with future NBA stars, to two coaching legends vying for their first championship, to an indelible gaffe as memorable as the go-ahead shot that preceded it. Patrick Ewing, James Worthy, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and Sam Perkins were the game’s most established players, but it was a jumper from the left side by a freshman named Michael Jordan that gave North Carolina the lead with 15 seconds to play. Georgetown had one last chance, but Fred Brown thought Worthy was a teammate and inexplicably threw him the ball, enabling the Tar Heels to run out the clock and shed Dean Smith’s label as a coach who couldn’t win the big one.
2. North Carolina State 54, Houston 52 (1983): Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma team was seemingly one of the most invincible favorites in NCAA tournament history, a 31-2 undisputed No. 1 that crushed opponents by an average of 18 points per game and did so via a barrage of jaw-dropping dunks. Stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were not just future pros but future NBA all-stars. Somehow, NC State shocked the Cougars when Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg's last-second miss at the buzzer, sending coach Jim Valvano in search of someone to hug. The sixth-seeded Wolfpack lost 10 games, barely made it into the NCAA tournament and survived a series of close games to advance to the title game at all.
3. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (2016): Villanova had beaten its five previous NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 24.2 points and had throttled Oklahoma by 44. North Carolina had won all five of its NCAA tournament games by 14 or more and had scarcely trailed in the second half in any of them. In a year that lacked a dominant team during the regular season, these two had emerged to challenge the season-long narrative in March. The 3-pointers from Paige and Jenkins have deservedly dominated the conversation Tuesday, but the quality of the rest of the game should not be ignored. From North Carolina’s unlikely outside shooting, to Villanova’s aggressive forays to the rim, this was compelling from the start.
4. Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 (1985): It was supposed to be a coronation for Patrick Ewing's greatest Georgetown team. The Hoyas had won 17 straight games, had held opponents to 39 percent shooting all season and were one win away from joining the small group of teams that had captured back-to-back national championships. Eighth-seeded Villanova was an improbable candidate to spoil the day for Georgetown, but led by point guard Gary McLain and center Ed Pinckney, the Wildcats earned one of the most memorable title game upsets in college hoops history. The Wildcats shot 78 percent from the field, opened a five-point lead with 1:24 to go and sank just enough free throws to seal the upset.
5. Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 (1966): What stood out about this game at the time it was played was that it was a big upset, a largely unknown school toppling one of the sport’s most tradition-rich programs. Only in hindsight is it now apparent the social significance of the result. Texas Western was the first NCAA champion to start five black players. Kentucky, like other Southern schools, had never had one. The outcome hastened the integration of college basketball, especially in the South and made unwitting racial pioneers out of coach Don Haskins and his players. It also dispelled the then-popular notion that black players needed at least one white player on the court to lead them.
6. Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 (1979): Thirty-seven years ago, college basketball was primitive by today’s standards. Nationally televised games were rare, so most people had only heard tales of the exploits of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird before this title game. As a result, a record television audience of about 20 million fans tuned in for the rare chance to see both play. The game itself was one-sided — Johnson’s superior supporting cast helped Michigan State remain in control throughout — but the interest helped pave the way for the growth of the NCAA tournament. The game also served as the birth of the rivalry between Johnson and Bird, who competed throughout the 1980s with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
7. North Carolina 54, Kansas 53, 3OT (1957): On one side was a Tar Heels team undefeated all season. On the other side was a Jayhawks team starring the most dominant player of his era. It was one of the most compelling matchups of the NCAA tournament’s early years, and it lived up to the pregame buildup. North Carolina slowed the pace of play to a crawl, held — yes, held — Kansas star Wilt Chamberlain to 23 points and 14 rebounds and took the lead on a pair of Joe Quigg free throws with 13 seconds to go in the third overtime. The Jayhawks tried to get the ball to Chamberlain on their final possession, but Quigg tipped away the pass to seal the victory.
8. Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 (1987): In a clash of two of college basketball’s most iconic coaches, Keith Smart helped Bob Knight get the best of Jim Boeheim. Smart received a pass from Darryl Thomas at the left elbow, dribbled toward the baseline and sank a game-winning jump shot just before time expired. In-state hero Steve Alford was Indiana’s best player that season, but Smart stepped up when Syracuse began face-guarding Alford to keep the ball out of his hands. Smart finished with 20 points to help the Hoosiers survive a loaded Syracuse team featuring future NBA standouts Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly.
Five other title games of note:
Duke 61, Butler 59 (2010): Had Gordon Hayward’s last-second half-court heave gone in, it would have produced the most unlikely champion ever and been hailed as the greatest shot of all time.
Kansas 75, Memphis 68, OT (2008): Mario’s miracle paved the way for the Jayhawks to win in overtime, earning Bill Self his lone title and denying John Calipari his first for another four years.
Connecticut 77, Duke 74 (1999): The Huskies forced back-to-back Trajan Langdon turnovers on Duke’s final two possessions to secure a huge upset and capture their first title.
North Carolina 77, Michigan 71 (1993): Chris Webber’s ill-fated timeout he didn’t have provided the clinching free throws as North Carolina captured Dean Smith’s second championship.
Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79 (1988): It took an improbable run as a No. 6 seed, but Kansas finally got its second championship thanks to Danny and the Miracles.
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The ultimate night for Crying Jordans — North Carolina losing in the national title game to Villanova — did not disappoint.
Brace Yourself...— Bring Back The Buzz (@BringBackTheBuz) April 5, 2016
Here come the Jordan Memes. pic.twitter.com/q3nK4vj7IM
If Jordan doesn't cry tonight the memes gotta stop.— Matthew Hasselbeck (@Hasselbeck) April 5, 2016
The game-winning, Jordan-crying shot. pic.twitter.com/2ZboAZwkm6— Eric Orvieto (@eorvieto) April 5, 2016
ALL THE CRYING JORDANS CRYING pic.twitter.com/f2E0HjPl2m— Eric Orvieto (@eorvieto) April 5, 2016
Jordan gone cry in the car... pic.twitter.com/jlCkk47nqL— Delvon Roe (@DelvonRoe10) April 5, 2016
Tonight's winner, as always, the Crying Jordan Face.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 5, 2016
Tonight may be the night the Jordan meme gets worn out. Maybe.— Joy Taylor (@JoyTaylorTalks) April 5, 2016
you get a crying jordan, and you get a crying jordan, everyone gets a crying jordan pic.twitter.com/atUYmyrzXg— brohsen (@brohsen) April 5, 2016
CRYING JORDAN MEME HAS OFFICIALLY TAKEN OFF FROM THE FREE THROW LINE pic.twitter.com/A3bU7rkeXY— Rico Ripoly (@RicoRipoly) April 5, 2016
UNC fans right now pic.twitter.com/yT3Hyjs8uh— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 5, 2016
The emotions of Villanova fans went from gut-wrenching to pure ecstasy.
On one end, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige tied the national championship game at 74 with a double-clutched 3-pointer with four seconds to go.
But Kris Jenkins brought the national championship trophy back to Villanova with a miraculous 3-pointer of his own as time expired.
Villanova fans in the Philadelphia area and across the country reacted accordingly:
REACTION: What the game-winning shot looked like from a near-campus bar.— Comcast SportsNet (@CSNPhilly) April 5, 2016
My Dad is the biggest Villanova fan I know. MUST WATCH video of him on last play pic.twitter.com/I2aspQd1Y4— Jay Alter (@jaltersports) April 5, 2016
NOVA WINS pic.twitter.com/t0xBqTnOS4— Justine McDaniel (@McDanielJustine) April 5, 2016
Here was the final shot from inside Chickie's and Pete's: pic.twitter.com/iTncbLpPGC— Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) April 5, 2016
It doesn’t get any better than that if you’re a sports fan.
And of course, the Villanova version of the game's broadcast had a fantastic reaction.
The Villanova teamstream call of the final shot pic.twitter.com/vTYkVo4txm— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) April 5, 2016
Villanova student radio's call was even better:
Here's how Villanova student radio called the shot that won the national championship: pic.twitter.com/RsFP2RSutD— Deadspin (@Deadspin) April 5, 2016
Not to be outdone, Rollie Massimino, the head coach for Villanova's only other national title in 1985, made the trip to Houston from his home in Florida and was thrilled as well.
And back on the Main Line, students flooded the streets.
LIVE celebration on Lancaster Ave. - Villanova are champions! pic.twitter.com/BVGOlB14eL— Comcast SportsNet (@CSNPhilly) April 5, 2016
For comparison, here's how Jenkins' winner sounded on the North Carolina team stream:
Here's tonight's NCAA Tournament-winning buzzer-beater for Villanova, as called by the UNC homers feed: pic.twitter.com/UqCcqUAgZJ— Deadspin (@Deadspin) April 5, 2016
The UNC faithful watching the game at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill went totally silent.
Oh my word that was insane pic.twitter.com/YLC3q11PSF— Aaron Mansfield (@aaroncmansfield) April 5, 2016
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Jim Valvano became an iconic symbol of college basketball and the NCAA tournament when he lost his mind running around the court at The Pit in Albuquerque in 1983 in the seconds after his North Carolina State team won the national title on a buzzer-beater over heavily favored Houston.
Villanova coach Jay Wright experienced the thrill of winning a national title Monday in the same fashion when guard Ryan Arcidiacono passed to forward Kris Jenkins, who then buried the game-winner to beat North Carolina 77-74 at the horn in Houston. But Wright might go down in history for his utter lack of emotion aside from a slight smile as he simply turned to walk down the sideline and shake hands with UNC coach Roy Williams before he was caught up in a hug with his assistant coaches.
At the moment Jenkins was taking the shot, Wright appeared to say, "Bang."
Wright admitted in a postgame interview with TBS during the trophy presentation that what appeared to be smooth and self-confident was actually him in a state of disbelief at what unfolded.
"I can't wait to see that look because I was just shocked," Wright said.
Of course it won't be just the reaction to the game-winner that Wright will be remembered for when it comes to this special season for the Wildcats. He managed to calm his players in a timeout with 4.7 seconds remaining only seconds after North Carolina guard Marcus Paige hit a cold-blooded 3-point shot to tie the game.
Wright credited his players for handling the pressure of the moment and executing.
"We have an end-of-a-game-situation play like that," Wright said. "We put it in Arch's hands. It's Arch's job to make the decision. Kris told him he was going to be open. Arch made the perfect pass and Kris Jenkins lives for that moment."
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The NCAA tournament ended Monday night with a buzzer-beating game-winner by Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, capping three weeks of fascinating upsets, comebacks, collapses and drama that lasted right up to the final second of the season.
Many of the most memorable moments were captured and put to music with the "One Shining Moment" video that is always a big part of the rich tradition of the tournament. Villanova's 77-74 win over North Carolina will never be forgotten but neither will many of the other moments fans experienced in the past three weeks. Enjoy.
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HOUSTON — All that talk of this being the worst Final Four in history sure looks silly now.
Two dull, one-sided national semifinals paved the way for the most riveting national championship game in recent memory.
With time melting away in a tie game, Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono sprinted up floor, drew two defenders and dished to teammate Kris Jenkins, who was running alongside him screaming for the ball. Jenkins pulled up from the right wing and buried a tie-breaking 3-pointer at the buzzer over the outstretched arms of North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks, giving the Wildcats a 77-74 victory and their second national title.
Jenkins' shot dwarfed another dramatic 3-pointer that only seconds earlier appeared as though it was going to go down in NCAA tournament lore. Marcus Paige's off-balance, leaning 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left capped a 17-7 North Carolina surge, tied the score at 74 and set off a celebration among Tar Heels fans who were certain the title game was headed to overtime.
But there would be no overtime because Hicks inexplicably gave too much space to Jenkins, a lethal shooter who hit 17 of 33 attempts from behind the arc during the NCAA tournament. His final one forever secured his place in Villanova lore and will be replayed every March for decades.
"I knew when I gave Arch the ball, he was going to be aggressive," Jenkins said. "They were going to try to take Arch away because he's hit big shots in his career. When they all followed the ball, I just knew if I got in his line of vision, he would find me."
The wild finish gave Villanova its first national title since 1985 when Rollie Massimino coaxed a No. 8 seed to a stunning upset over a star-studded Georgetown team. This one will be just as memorable considering the many momentum changes that preceded Jenkins' moment of glory.
Though North Carolina led by five at halftime, it was an advantage that came with many warning signs. A typically cold-shooting Tar Heels team ranked 294th in 3-point shooting knocked down 7 of 9 attempts from behind the arc yet could not generate any separation.
Once the Tar Heels cooled off just a bit from the perimeter, Villanova made its move, unleashing a 33-16 second-half surge to erase a seven-point deficit and build a 10-point lead with just over five minutes to go. The Wildcats were aided by North Carolina coach Roy Williams' unwillingness to call timeout, a longstanding strategy born out of trust in his players and a desire to let them figure things out on their own.
This was one time the Tar Heels might have benefited from a timeout to regroup because they appeared to be rattled both by the officiating and by the Wildcats. Villanova spread North Carolina out and attacked off the dribble at one end and denied post-entry passes at the other.
Phil Booth (20), Arcidiacono (16) and Josh Hart (12) combined for 48 points, the majority of it coming via their ability to attack of the dribble. North Carolina's All-American power forward Brice Johnson had 14 points on 10 shots, but the Tar Heels were largely reliant on their backcourt and unable to exploit their size advantage inside.
"At halftime, we just recommitted to Villanova basketball," center Daniel Ochefu said. "In the locker room, we did something we don't normally do. We asked everybody — all the managers, all the coaches — to leave the locker room. Guys were getting on each other.
"We got back to Villanova basketball. We started defending better and started rebounding better."
It would have been easy for North Carolina to quit facing a double-digit deficit with five minutes to go, but the Tar Heels never gave up hope of winning Williams his third championship.
A quick 4-0 spurt forced a timeout from Wright and then huge 3-pointers from Paige and Joel Berry brought North Carolina within three. Villanova sank 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes to keep the pressure on the Tar Heels, but Paige came through with a game-tying shot that at the time had him pumping his fists and screaming but now seems bittersweet.
"At that point we believed we were going to win," Paige said. "We just needed 4.7 seconds of defense. It didn't work out. Kris is their best 3-point shooter. He got a pretty clean look for whatever reason. There are 75 possessions in the game. They just happened to get the last one and make the shot."
The most remarkable part of Villanova's title run is that it's come without surefire NBA talent. Whereas the previous 28 national champions have each had at least one future first-round pick on their roster and often as many as four or five, NBA scouts are skeptical any of this year's Wildcats will ever be worthy of being selected in the opening round.
What Villanova lacks in raw talent it makes up for in chemistry, work ethic and motivation. The roots of this year's title run can be traced back to the Wildcats' past March failures.
Motivated to shed its reputation for early NCAA tournament exits after back-to-back second-round losses the past two years, Villanova entered this season with something to prove. They've evolved from a good team to the nation's best as freshmen Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges grew more comfortable at the college level and Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds adjusted to increased responsibility.
They embraced the importance of moving the ball unselfishly and displaying smarter shot selection. They learned to defend with more cohesiveness and communication in their aggressive, switching man-to-man scheme. They also benefited from Daniel Ochefu returning from injury and blossoming into an interior scoring threat who's also able to pass out of double teams.
The product of Villanova's season-long progression was a formidable yet undervalued team that now has the March validation it craved. The Wildcats defeated their first five NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 24.2 points, a run highlighted by their 44-point beatdown of Oklahoma in Saturday's national semifinals.
Monday night's win was not nearly as emphatic but it was even sweeter. For the first time in 31 years, the Wildcats can finally party like it's 1985 all over again.
HOUSTON — Even with an ankle-deep layer of streamers and confetti still covering the NRG Stadium floor, the buildup for next year's college basketball season has already begun.
Much of the discussion has centered on the leading contenders to succeed Villanova as national champions next April in Glendale, Ariz.
A clear-headed look at next season is especially difficult this year with four Rivals top 20 recruits not having chosen a school, transfer season only just beginning and dozens of NBA draft prospects still deciding if they intend to stay in school or turn pro. Nonetheless, based on my best educated guesses for who's staying and who's going, here's our ridiculously early look at the best teams for the 2016-17 season.
Key losses: F Brandon Ingram, C Marshall Plumlee,
Key returners: G Grayson Allen F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Luke Kennard, G, Derryck Thornton, F Chase Jeter
Notable newcomers: F Harry Giles, F Jayson Tatum, G Frank Jackson, F Javin DeLaurier, F Jack White
Outlook: Allen's announcement that he's returning for his junior season makes Duke a near lock to begin next season No. 1 in the polls. He averaged more than 21 points per game during a brilliant sophomore season, but was projected to be only a borderline first-round pick. With Allen back, Duke has a proven star to go with its experienced role players and talented freshmen. Tatum and Giles are arguably the nation's top two recruits and should emerge as impact players right away if Giles has fully recovered from his ACL tear. Jackson, Duke's third incoming McDonald's All-American, should compete with Thornton for playing time at point guard. And Jefferson's return from injury will bolster Duke's frontcourt and provide leadership, defense and rebounding, though his presence may complicate the Blue Devils' pursuit of five-star center Marques Bolden.
Key losses: G Tyler Ulis (projected), G Jamal Murray, F Skal Labissiere (projected), F Alex Poythress
Key returners: G Isaiah Briscoe (projected), F Marcus Lee (projected), F Derrick Willis, F Isaac Humphries, G Dominique Hawkins
Notable newcomers: G DeAaron Fox, G Malik Monk, C Bam Adebayo, F Wenyen Gabriel, F Sacha Killeya-Jones
Outlook: Here's a scary thought for Kentucky's future opponents: John Calipari has said this may be his best incoming recruiting class. Set to replace Ulis and Murray in the backcourt are Fox and Monk, the former the nation's most prized point guard and the latter the nation's most highly touted shooting guard. The 6-foot-4 Fox is explosive off the dribble, effective making plays and tough on defense too. Monk is a pure scorer who can blow by defenders who play him too tight and knock down jumpers if given free space. Those two could team with Briscoe if he returns to form a formidable backcourt. While Kentucky's frontcourt was the weak link this past season, the rugged, physical Adebayo could help change that. He should be a double-double machine in the paint and an ideal complement to the sweet-shooting Willis. Lee will also be a factor in the frontcourt and Gabriel and Killeya-Jones are capable of making an impact too. Kentucky is also still recruiting elite center Marques Bolden, who will decide between the Wildcats and Duke.
Key losses: G Ryan Arcidiacono, C Daniel Ochefu
Key returners: G Josh Hart (projected), G Jalen Brunson, F Kris Jenkins, F Darryl Reynolds, F Mikal Bridges, G Phil Booth
Notable newcomers: F Omari Spellman, C Dylan Painter, F Eric Paschall
Outlook: There's a decent chance the reigning champions could return all but two rotation players if Hart doesn't enter the draft and nobody else unexpectedly departs. If so, it's entirely realistic Villanova could not only capture a fourth straight Big East title next season but also return to the Final Four. Departing seniors Arcidiacono and Ochefu have been crucial to Villanova's recent success, but the Wildcats have promising replacements for both ready to embrace bigger roles. Ex-McDonald's All-American Brunson will likely share point guard duties with Booth next season after splitting them with Arcidiacono this past season. Reynolds could move into the starting lineup in Ochefu's stead next season, though the senior-to-be will be pushed by Spellman, Villanova's most promising incoming freshman. An early exit from Hart would be a blow, but Villanova has some depth at wing too. The talented Bridges might be the team's best long-term prospect.
Key losses: F Perry Ellis, G Wayne Selden, F Jamari Traylor, C Hunter Mickelson, G Brannen Greene, F Cheick Diallo (projected)
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Devonte Graham, F Landen Lucas, G, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, F Carlton Bragg
Notable newcomers: C Udoka Azubuike, F Mitch Lightfoot
Outlook: Kansas will again be formidable next season, but there are there are too many unknowns to have a clear idea of how good the Jayhawks can be. Will raw but promising Diallo stay in the draft or seek to improve his stock by playing a bigger role next season? Will Mykhailiuk stay or go? Will Kansas land elite wings Josh Jackson or Terrence Ferguson to help ease the sting of Selden's departure? The one thing Kansas can count on is that guards Mason and Graham should again anchor the backcourt and that Bragg should emerge as the heir apparent to Ellis alongside Lucas in the frontcourt. If Mykhailiuk returns and finally develops into an impact small forward or if Jackson or Ferguson come to Lawrence, that's clearly a strong enough nucleus to keep Kansas in its customary spot — atop the Big 12 for a 13th straight season.
5. Michigan State
Key losses: G Denzel Valentine, G Bryn Forbes, C Matt Costello, F Deyonta Davis (projected), F Marvin Clark, F Javon Bess
Key returners: G Eron Harris, G TumTum Nairn, F Gavin Schilling, G Matt McQuaid, F Kenny Goins
Notable newcomers: F Miles Bridges, G Cassius Winston, G Josh Langford, C Nick Ward
Outlook: For a school that's losing a national player of the year winner, one of the country's most lethal outside shooters and the Big Ten's most improved big man, Michigan State will enter next season feeling pretty optimistic. The Spartans return several key rotation players from this season and add a recruiting class rivaled only by Duke's and Kentucky's. At point guard, Michigan State will have Nairn and the promising Winston. At wing, returners Harris and McQuaid will compete for playing time with the highly touted Bridges and Langford. The frontcourt could be an area of concern if Davis chooses to enter the draft, but Bridges could definitely see playing time at the four spot similar to how Justise Winslow did at Duke his lone season. In addition to Davis' draft decision, the other significant wildcard for Michigan State is the recruitment of Josh Jackson. The nation's most coveted guard is down to the Spartans, Arizona and Kansas and is expected to reveal his choice soon.
Key losses: F Elgin Cook, F Dwayne Benjamin
Key returners: F Dillon Brooks, G Tyler Dorsey (projected), F Chris Boucher, F Jordan Bell, G Casey Benson, G Dylan Ennis, G Kendall Small
Notable newcomers: C Michael Cage, G Payton Pritchard, F Keith Smith
Outlook: It may be difficult for Oregon to exceed expectations in the Pac-12 preseason poll yet again next season. That's because the Ducks figure to start the year as Pac-12 favorites barring a rash of unexpected departures. Oregon could have five of its seven top players back from this season's 31-win Elite Eight team if Dorsey chooses not to enter the draft and Brooks and Boucher follow through on recent pledges to return. The Ducks will also get an influx of talent via a strong freshman class that includes Pritchard, a high-scoring point guard and Cage, a skilled, long-armed center. The wildcard is Ennis, a Villanova transfer who sat out all but two games this past season due to injury. If Ennis is granted a sixth year by the NCAA, he would certainly earn playing time both on and off ball and would provide some insurance in case Dorsey does turn pro.
Key losses: F James Farr, G Remy Abell, F Jalen Reynolds (projected)
Key returners: F Trevon Bluiett (projected), G Edmond Sumner, G Myles Davis, G JP Macura, F Sean O'Mara, F Kaiser Gates, G Larry Austin Jr.
Notable newcomers: G Quentin Goodin, F Tyrique Jones, C Eddie Ekiyor, F Rashid Gaston
Outlook: Whereas the promising Sumner has already said he will return to Xavier next season, two of his teammates have both declared for the draft without hiring an agent. Bluiett is expected to seek feedback and return to the Musketeers, but the fact that Reynolds is 23 years old and already has his degree could lead him to stay in the draft even though he is unlikely to be selected. If both were to come back, Xavier would return every key player from this year's 28-win team besides shooting guard Remy Abell and sixth man James Farr. The Musketeers would be well positioned to challenge for the Big East title and to go deeper in the NCAA tournament than their disappointing second-round exit last month. Even if Reynolds stays in the draft, Xavier still might exceed this past season's accomplishments. O'Mara could see increased playing time and Norfolk State transfer Rashid Gaston averaged 15.5 points and 9.6 rebounds his final season for the Spartans.
8. North Carolina
Key losses: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, Joel James
Key returners: F Justin Jackson (projected), C Kennedy Meeks (projected), F Isaiah Hicks, G Joel Berry, G Nate Britt, F Theo Pinson
Notable newcomers: G Seventh Woods, G Brandon Robinson, C Tony Bradley
Outlook: While the future is murky for North Carolina as a result of potential sanctions stemming from the NCAA's academic fraud investigation, the team that the national runner-ups will put on the floor next season has the potential to be very good. The Tar Heels lose their All-American power forward and a longtime stalwart in their backcourt, but Johnson and Paige could be their only major losses if Jackson decides not to enter the draft. The potential return of Jackson is critical for North Carolina because he could inherit the role of go-to scorer. Meeks and Hicks should still be a pretty imposing low-post combo, Pinson and Berry seem ready to take on a bigger role and all three freshmen are four-star prospects capable of contributing off the bench right away.
Key losses: G Yogi Ferrell, F Troy Williams (projected), G Nick Zeisloft, F Max Bielfeldt
Key returners: F Thomas Bryant (projected), F O.G. Anunoby (projected), G James Blackmon, G Robert Johnson, F Collin Hartman, F Juwan Morgan
Notable newcomers: G Josh Newkirk, C De'Ron Davis, G Devonte Green, G Curtis Jones, G Grant Gelon
Outlook: Indiana is likely to contend in the Big Ten again next season, but how good the Hoosiers can be may depend on how many of their frontcourt standouts return. Bryant and Anunoby both have first-round potential but could potentially improve their stock by returning, while Williams' athleticism should at least get him some looks if he chooses to forgo his senior season. If even two of those three return, Indiana will be loaded in the frontcourt as Hartman, Morgan and the promising freshman Davis will also be available and capable of making an impact. There's no single player who will replace everything that Ferrell did for Indiana this past season, but Indiana has options in the backcourt too. Newkirk, a Pittsburgh transfer, should compete for playing time at point guard with Johnson. A healthy Blackmon is likely to start at wing and Jones should also see playing time as well.
Key losses: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, F Evan Nolte
Key returners: G London Perrantes, F Isaiah Wilkins, G Devon Hall, G Marial Shayok, G Darius Thompson, C Jack Salt, F Jarred Reuter
Notable newcomers: F Austin Nichols, G Kyle Guy, F Mamadi Diakite, G Ty Jerome, F DeAndre Hunter, F Jay Huff
Outlook: The only silver lining to Virginia's late-game collapse against Syracuse in the Elite Eight was that it doesn't figure to be the Cavaliers' last chance at a Final Four. The way Tony Bennett is recruiting, the Cavaliers could be back in contention soon. While Virginia graduates four rotation players including the ACC player of the year in Brogdon and another all-conference standout in Gill, the talent entering the program should keep Virginia from falling far. Nichols, a transfer who averaged 13.3 points and 3.4 blocks his final season at Memphis, should provide interior scoring and the rim protection the Cavaliers lacked last season. He'll anchor the Virginia frontcourt along with Wilkins, while Diakite competes for minutes with incoming freshman Huff and returners Salt and Reuter off the bench. Perrantes must take on a greater role as a scorer and a leader next season at point guard, but he'll have plenty of help. Hall and Shayok both have breakout potential at wing and Guy is the program's first McDonald's All-American in seven years.
Key losses: G Damion Lee, G Trey Lewis, C Chinanu Onuaku (projected)
Key returners: G Donovan Mitchell, G Quentin Snider, C Mangok Mathiang, F Raymond Spalding, F Jaylen Johnson, F Deng Adel, F Anas Mahmoud
Notable newcomers: G V.J. King, G Tony Hicks
Outlook: The lingering question hovering over the Louisville basketball program is whether the NCAA will be satisfied with its self-imposed 2015-16 postseason ban or levy further punishment next season. A nine-game suspension for Rick Pitino for failure to monitor his program seems inevitable and scholarship reductions are certainly a possibility, however, the Cardinals have team that can play deep into March next season if its allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament. Whether Onuaku stays in the draft or not, Louisville has an array of big men capable of altering shots around the rim and attacking the glass at both ends. The key for the Cardinals will be whether they can replace the scoring of Lee and Lewis. Snider is a good offensive point guard, Mitchell and Adel are both candidates for breakout sophomore seasons and incoming McDonald's All-American King should also be able to make an immediate impact.
Key losses: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York, F Ryan Anderson, G Justin Simon, Mark Tollefsen
Key returners: G Allonzo Trier, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, G Kadeem Allen, C Dusan Ristic, C Chance Comanche
Notable newcomers: F Ray Smith, G Kobi Simmons, G Rawle Atkins, F Lauri Markkanen
Outlook: Monday's announcement that Trier is returning for his sophomore season is huge for Arizona. Not only is the promising 6-foot-4 guard instantly one of the favorites to win Pac-12 player of the year next spring, his perimeter scoring should ease the pressure on the Wildcats' array of talented newcomers to shoulder a heavy load right away. Set to join Trier in Tucson are a pair of top 20 guards, a highly skilled 6-foot-11 stretch forward from Finland and an elite wing prospect who sat out all of this past season with a torn ACL. Throw in veteran point guards Allen and Jackson-Cartwright and returning centers Ristic and Comanche and this is an Arizona team with a good blend of youth and experience. There may be some early growing pains as the newcomers and returners mesh but the Wildcats should be formidable by conference play.
Key losses: None
Key returners: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, C Ethan Happ, F Vitto Brown, G Zak Showalter, G Jordan Hill, F Khalil Iverson
Notable newcomers: None
Outlook: While Hayes undoubtedly intended to enter the NBA draft as a junior before this season began, he might be wise to stay put for his senior year. He endured some rough patches this season as his revamped outside shot deserted him and he transitioned into a leadership role. He also has the chance to be part of another special season at Wisconsin if he returns as the Badgers could return up to 99.7 of their scoring and rebounding from a team that blossomed during the second half of the season and came within a basket or two of the Elite Eight. Hayes would be part of a starting lineup that would include co-star Bronson Koenig, fellow seniors Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter and reigning Big Ten freshman of the year Ethan Happ. Preseason expectations might not match the 2014-15 season, but the Badgers would definitely be expected to contend in the Big Ten and make another deep March run.
Key losses: G Michael Gbinije, G Trevor Cooney, G Malachi Richardson (projected)
Key returners: F Tyler Lydon (projected), F Tyler Roberson, C Dajuan Coleman, G Franklin Howard, G Kaleb Joseph
Notable newcomers: G Tyus Battle, F Matt Moyer, C Paschal Chukwu
Outlook: Syracuse's potential next season hinges on the draft decisions of promising but streaky freshmen Richardson and Lydon. Richardson, a 6-foot-6 wing, turned aside questions about his plans for next year after Saturday's Final Four loss to North Carolina. Lydon insisted he'll be back, but his decision is one that might require further reflection. Scouts are intrigued enough with his potential as a stretch forward that he would undoubtedly be drafted this June, yet a year of not having to man the middle of Syracuse's zone and being able to play his natural position could do wonders for his stock. If Lydon returns, look for him to be the centerpiece of a frontcourt that would also include Roberson and the center duo of Coleman and Chukwu, a 7-foot-2 Providence transfer. Howard is the most likely option to replace Gbinije at point guard with Richardson alongside him at shooting guard if he is back or Battle starting right away otherwise.
Key losses: F Kyle Wiltjer, F Domantas Sabonis (projected), G Eric McClellan, G Kyle Dranginis
Key returners: G Josh Perkins, C Przemek Karnowski (projected), G Silas Melson, C Ryan Edwards, G Bryan Alberts
Notable newcomers: G Nigel Williams-Goss, F Jonathan Williams III, C Zach Collins, G Zach Norvell
Outlook: While the graduation of Wiltjer and likely departure of Sabonis will be a blow to Gonzaga, it's possible the Zags turn out to be better next season than they were this year. That can happen if two transfers make the impact they're expected to and Karnowski returns for a fifth season and regains his pre-back injury form. One of Gonzaga's transfers is Williams-Goss, a former McDonald's All-American who averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 assists at Washington his final season with the Huskies. He and Perkins are likely to both start and share point guard duties. The other transfer is Williams, who averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds at Missouri during the 2014-15 season. Williams, Collins, Karnowski and Edwards would form a frontcourt good enough to ease the sting from the departure of Wiltjer and Sabonis.
Key losses: F Tony Parker
Key returners: G Bryce Alford, G Aaron Holiday, G Prince Ali, G Isaac Hamilton, F Jonah Bolden, C Thomas Welsh
Notable newcomers: G Lonzo Ball, F T.J. Leaf, C Ike Anigbogu, G Kobe Paras
Outlook: One of this past season's biggest disappointments has the potential to return to national relevance this season. UCLA could return all but one rotation player from a 15-win season and will add four coveted freshman capable of shoring up some of the holes in the roster. Chief among the additions is Ball, a point guard who this past season led his high school team to an undefeated season and a state championship in California's toughest division. The McDonald's All-American will likely be the centerpiece of a backcourt that also includes a volume shooter in Alford, a dynamic on-ball defender in Holiday and a streaky scorer in Hamilton. The addition of Leaf and Anigbogu gives UCLA's frontcourt a skilled power forward and a rim-protecting center — two things last year's team lacked. The development of Anigbogu in particular will be key because this UCLA roster is loaded with players who are better scorers than defenders.
Key losses: C Cameron Ridley, F Connor Lammert, C Prince Ibeh, G Javan Felix
Key returners: G Isaiah Taylor (projected), G Kendal Yancy, G Eric Davis Jr., G Kerwin Roach, G Tevin Mack
Notable newcomers: G Andrew Jones, C James Banks, G Jacob Young
Outlook: This ranking is contingent on the fact that Taylor returns for his senior season since he'd be a long shot to be drafted this June. If he does, Texas will have the Big 12's only returning first-team all-league player. If he doesn't, the Longhorns will be very young and may have trouble replacing his 15.0 points and 5.0 assists per game. Assuming Taylor does return, Texas has a chance to emerge as Kansas' top Big 12 challenger if it's freshman class proves to be ready to make an impact right away. Jones is the most highly touted Texas signee, but Banks could be the most important given the dearth of big men on the roster. Coveted six-foot-9 forward Jarrett Allen could also help bolster the Texas frontcourt and is projected by many to commit to the Longhorns later this spring.
Key losses: G Katin Reinhardt, F Darion Clark, F Malik Martin
Key returners: G Jordan McLaughlin, G Julian Jacobs (projected), F Chimezie Metu, F Nikola Jovanovic, F Bennie Boatwright, G Elijah Stewart
Notable newcomers: G Shaqquan Aaron, G Jonah Mathews, G De'Anthony Melton, F Harrison Henderson
Outlook: Just when it seemed USC was poised to keep ascending after a breakthrough 2015-16 season, Jacobs' draft declaration threw a wrench into those plans. The junior point guard may still return to the Trojans, but his combination of court vision and athleticism is intriguing enough that he might be selected in the second round if he stayed in the draft. Assuming Jacobs returns, USC would probably look quite a bit like this past year's 21-win team. The transfer of Reinhardt was a blow, but Mathews and the Louisville transfer Aaron ought to make up for or even exceed his production. If Jacobs were to leave, that would be harder for USC to replace. Point guard duties would fall exclusively to McLaughlin. And in addition to Jacobs' 11.6 points per game, 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and solid perimeter defense, the Trojans would also miss his leadership.
19. West Virginia
Key losses: F Jonathan Holton, G JaySean Paige, F Devin Williams (projected)
Key returners: G Jevon Carter, G Daxter Miles, G Tarik Phillip, F Elijah Macon, F Nathan Adrien, F Brandon Watkins, F Esa Ahmad, G Teyvon Myers
Notable newcomers: F Maciej Bender, G James "Beetle" Bolden, F Sagaba Konate, G Chase Harler
Outlook: West Virginia seemed to be the clear-cut top challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 before Williams chose to declare for the draft last week. The double-double threat's departure is a blow to a Mountaineers team that already must replace the perimeter scoring of Paige and the offensive rebounding of Holton. One of the few certainties for West Virginia is that Miles will start and play off ball. Carter is another likely starter, either at point guard or at shooting guard if either Bolden or Phillip force their way into the starting lineup. The key to West Virginia's season could be whether Macon can gain the consistency he lacked last season and the promising Ahmad can make a jump between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Macon tapered off late this past season and Ahmad spent much of the season trying to get comfortable in Huggins' pressing scheme and only started to make strides on offense down the stretch.
Key losses: G Sterling Gibbs, F Shonn Miller, F Phillip Nolan, G Omar Calhoun
Key returners: G Jalen Adams, G Daniel Hamilton (projected), G Rodney Purvis (projected), C Amida Brimah (projected), F Kentan Facey, F Steven Enoch
Notable newcomers: G Terry Larrier, F Juwan Durham, F Vance Jackson, G Alterique Gilbert, F Mamadou Diarra
Outlook: Three of the seven Huskies who played at least nine minutes in their NCAA tournament finale last month will graduate. Three others have declared for the draft without hiring an agent. So could this be too high for UConn if the Huskies are replacing six of their top seven players? Heck yes. Could it also be too low if the three who are testing the waters all return? That's true as well. The rotation player who's certain to return is Adams, the promising freshman guard who hit the 70-foot heave against Cincinnati that likely got UConn to the NCAA tournament at all. He's hoping to be joined by Brimah, Hamilton and Purvis, but each has a decision to make in the coming weeks. Purvis is on pace to graduate and could play overseas, while Brimah's shot blocking and Hamilton's versatility should at least make both of interest to NBA scouts. Regardless, Adams will be helped by an array of promising newcomers including Larrier, a highly touted VCU transfer.
Others worthy of consideration: Pittsburgh, Creighton, Seton Hall, Texas A&M, Maryland, Purdue, Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Florida State, Dayton, Miami, Virginia Tech
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Boatloads of former players and notable alumni attended the national championship game Monday night in Houston between Villanova and North Carolina, but no one received a bigger welcome than Michael Jordan.
The former Tar Heel and two-time, first-team All-American bathed in cheers from the crowd at NRG Stadium each time he was shown on the video boards. The television audience on TBS saw less of him but Twitter made up the difference with new variations on the Crying Jordan meme.
Tar Heel great Michael Jordan is taking in the National Championship. pic.twitter.com/Gh8mqlyUNl— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 5, 2016
A buzz began to grow about Jordan being in the building even before he found his seat, showing he still has a commanding presence 13 years after playing his final NBA game. That probably shouldn't be a surprise since Jordan remains at the top of Forbes' highest paid retired athletes list, making a cool $110 million last year.
A fellow named Jordan is here to watch his Heels in Houston. pic.twitter.com/4RRBQNbTpJ— Gerry Ahern (@USATGerryAhern) April 5, 2016
He's here. pic.twitter.com/91rpSQkBXb— Luke DeCock (@LukeDeCock) April 5, 2016
Jordan sat nine rows behind the North Carolina bench wearing a long-sleeve Carolina blue shirt made by Nike’s Jordan brand of course. It’s been 34 years since Jordan buried the game-winning shot for the Tar Heels in the 1982 championship game over Georgetown. He went on to win six NBA titles.
Jordan did an in-game interview with Craig Sager on TBS early in the second half with Jordan starting by complimenting Sager on his shoes. TBS had some audio difficulties during the interview.
"This is how it started," Jordan said. "This is about roots. This is where I began. For me, it's about supporting the University of North Carolina. It gives me great pleasure.
"...It's like a family. Any time we can come back and support the university we do. This is my chance to come back and give back and support."
Jordan finished the interview with a classy gesture by asking Sager, who is battling cancer, how he was feeling. "It's always good to see you man," he said.
Anyone else think it’s weird the ultimate winner is now commonly associated with losing because of a meme? That’s the power of the Internet, we guess.
LMAOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/R9llxuULxk— WORLD STAR FANS (@WORLDSTARC0MEDY) April 5, 2016
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A year removed from his most recent Final Four and just weeks removed from, perhaps, the most bitter exit he has experienced from an NCAA tournament, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo earned the ultimate honor in his line of work on Monday.
Izzo will be inducted with the class of 2016 in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
It was quite the contrast in emotions from three weeks ago for the veteran coach. He watched his Spartans, led by six-time national player of the year honoree Denzel Valentine, lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed to No. 15 seed Middle-Tennessee.
The Spartans went into this season’s tournament as one of favorites to play for the national title on Monday night but didn’t even get to play a second game in the bracket in their 19th consecutive trip to the tournament.
Izzo has led the Spartans to seven Final Fours and one championship in his 21 seasons as head coach in East Lansing. Only Bob Knight at Indiana won more games at a Big Ten school than Izzo has with the Spartans. He has a 524-205 career record, but made sure to give credit to everyone who played for him and coached alongside him over the years for his induction.
“As a coach it ranks No. 1,” Izzo told Mlive.com. “The national championship would rank higher but that is only a group of three or four classes that got to be a part of that. To me, this is an award that was won by all 21 classes and won by all the assistant coaches. Jud Heathcote should take a big part of this honor and so I think should our president, AD … so many people have to help you to get to this point.
“A championship, you have the core of the team. On something like this, it’s over an entire career and more people are a part of it.”
The 2016 Hall of Fame class includes:
Tom Izzo, coach
John McLendon, coach
Jerry Reinsdorf, owner
Darrell Garretson, referee
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Rollie Massimino's dreams came true back in 1985 when he coached Villanova to the national title in college basketball and it looks like he'll get to experience some of that joy again Monday night.
Massimino, now 81, has waited all this time to see another group of Wildcats get back to the title game and thanks to a friend, who is a member of the Villanova board of trustees, he will be in Houston to watch Villanova play for the title Monday night against North Carolina.
Massimino elected to remain at home in Jupiter, Fla., with his ailing wife, Mary Jane, instead of flying to Houston for the national semifinals on Saturday, but he was offered the chance to travel Monday on a private plane owned by his friend and he accepted.
It wasn't just concerns over leaving behind his sick wife that Massimino had to overcome to make the trip. He also has been dealing with kidney stones and a blood clot recently but managed to make the trip despite those health issues.
Massimino has a strong connection to program through his relationship with Wright that goes above and beyond his status as the man who led Villanova to the championship all those seasons ago. He hired Wright to be a Villanova assistant coach in 1987, two years after winning the title and when the school was looking for a head coach again in 2001, he suggested it hire Wright, who has been in the job since.
Many of the members of that special 1985 Villanova team were present at the team hotel to welcome Massimino to Houston when he arrived Monday morning. It should be a special night for them regardless of whether the Wildcats win this time around or not.
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HOUSTON — On the heels of a listless Final Four Saturday lacking drama or intrigue, here's a sliver of good news: A pair of dull, one-sided national semifinals at least produced a potentially compelling title game.
It will be North Carolina against Villanova in a battle between two teams that have been among college basketball's best all season and are unquestionably the sport's two hottest now.
The Tar Heels have won all five of their NCAA tournament games by 14 points or more and have only trailed in the second halves of those games for a total of 50 seconds. The Wildcats own an average NCAA tournament margin of victory of 24.2 points per game and are fresh off a 44-point demolition of Buddy Hield and Oklahoma on Saturday night.
How will North Carolina and Villanova match up? A look at three keys to Monday night's winner-take-all showdown:
1. Can Villanova handle North Carolina's formidable frontcourt?
North Carolina wing Justin Jackson had a succinct answer for why the Tar Heels have been able to be successful despite not shooting well from behind the arc.
“Because we have monsters inside," he said.
North Carolina indeed has thrived playing inside-out all season thanks to its formidable frontcourt. First-team All-American Brice Johnson has averaged 20 points and 9.6 rebounds so far in the NCAA tournament, Kennedy Meeks has emerged from his late-season slumber to provide a second low-post threat and reserve big men Isaiah Hicks and Joel James have both produced at key moments off the bench.
Tough as that quartet is on the low block, they're even better attacking the offensive glass. North Carolina is third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and secures more than 40 percent of its missed shots, which could pose major problems for an undersized Villanova team that typically plays four perimeter players around center Daniel Ochefu.
Above all else, the biggest key for Villanova is Ochefu defending and rebounding without picking up silly fouls. Beyond that, how Jay Wright chooses to match up with the North Carolina frontcourt will be intriguing.
Does he put Ochefu on Meeks and hope Kris Jenkins can contain the taller, longer Johnson? Does he put Ochefu on Johnson, risk foul trouble and give Meeks a defender he can overpower on the low block? Or does he go bigger and play Darryl Reynolds alongside Ochefu for longer stretches than usual? None of those are ideal options for Villanova, but chances are the Wildcats try a little bit of everything to see what works best.
"Their length and their size definitely has to be respected," Ochefu said. "They scored 50 some points in the paint against the Syracuse zone. That’s pretty impressive."
2. Can North Carolina defend Villanova's quicker perimeter unit?
The same mismatches that could work in North Carolina's favor at one end of the floor also promise to be a disadvantage at the other.
Johnson will have to prove he's mobile enough to defend Jenkins out to the 3-point arc, where he is lethal on catch-and-shoot opportunities, especially via pick-and-pops. More than two-thirds of Jenkins' field goal attempts this season have been 3-pointers and he's shooting 15-for-31 from behind the arc during the NCAA tournament.
“I definitely think that could be an advantage for us," Ochefu said. "We always use Kris in situations where he has to bring the opposing four man or five man out, especially when we want to go small."
Villanova's guards will pose problems for North Carolina too with their ability to attack the rim and create for themselves or others. Josh Hart, fresh off a 10-for-12 shooting night in the national semifinals against Oklahoma, promises to be a difficult matchup.
It would be difficult to imagine North Carolina stopping Villanova earlier in the season, but the Tar Heels have come a long way defensively over the past four to six weeks. Johnson is doing a better job handling ball screens and contesting shots as a weak-side rim protector and the entire team is simply defending with more urgency and cohesiveness, though guard Marcus Paige still sees more room for improvement.
"Our defense has been good enough in the tournament, but it hasn’t been at the level it was in the ACC tournament," Paige said. "We have to clean up on the defensive end, and obviously not shoot 0-for-10 on 3-pointers [like against Syracuse]. If we get the shots we want and get back to the level we were on defense a couple of weeks ago, we should be all right."
3. Who will do a better job imposing their preferred tempo?
One of the biggest reasons Villanova shut down Buddy Hield on Monday night was that Oklahoma seldom got anything easy in transition. The Wildcats made 71 percent of their shots and it was hard for Hield to get any of the looks he typically gets before the defense is set because the Sooners were typically taking the ball out of the net rather than trying to run off long rebounds or turnovers.
Villanova can't count on shooting 71 percent from the field again Monday night in a building that has historically been unkind to shooters, but controlling tempo against North Carolina may be even more important than it was against Oklahoma. Opposing coaches often describe it as a jailbreak whenever the Tar Heels look to run after grabbing a defensive rebound.
The strategy against North Carolina is to make the Tar Heels score against a set defense, limit their paint touches and keep them off the offensive glass. None of that will be easy for Villanova, but it has to start with keeping the pace of play slow.
"They want to play more of a slow-paced game, and we always want to play up-tempo," North Carolina guard Joel Berry said. "We want to penetrate and beat the defense down before they can set up their defense.
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Quick foul trouble for the best player in the game. An injury to their leading 3-point shooter on their first possession.
And still, a record-setting margin of victory for Connecticut at the Women’s Final Four on Sunday.
The top-seeded Huskies (37-0) prolonged their pursuit of an unprecedented fourth straight championship with an 80-51 rout of Oregon State in the opening game Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
A victory Tuesday would also earn Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma his 11th NCAA title, one more than legendary UCLA men’s coach John Wooden.
UConn will face former Big East Conference rival Syracuse in Tuesday’s championship at 8:30 p.m. ET. The fourth-seeded Orange handled Washington 80-59 in the late game. No team seeded worse than third has won an NCAA women's title in the tourney’s previous 34 years.
The Huskies took control from the start against the Pac-12 champions despite the adversity. Three-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart was whistled for two fouls in the first three minutes, but Auriemma didn’t bench her. Leading 3-point shooter Katie Lou Samuelson injured her foot and played through pain in the first half, but the Huskies later announced she had broken a bone and would not return. Samuelson won’t play Tuesday.
Senior All-American Morgan Tuck exploded for 14 first-quarter points in 5½ minutes, and UConn pulled away in the second quarter. The Huskies tallied 47 first-half points against the Beavers’ typically stout defense, and Pac-12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner couldn’t get going for Oregon State (32-5).
"We walked in, I said: Guys, we're up 21 points. Stewy's only got two shots," Auriemma said. "I don't know what they're thinking, but I'm thinking we're in pretty good shape."
Stewart finished with 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds, and Tuck led all scorers with 21. Now they and senior point guard Moriah Jefferson needs one more win to cap the winningest careers in women’s college basketball history.
A UConn championship would surprise nobody, but Syracuse would be the most unlikely champion in tourney history. The Orange entered March Madness with all of two NCAA tournament wins, but Syracuse made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time and then upset Sioux Falls Region top-seed South Carolina to open a path to the title game.
The Orange (30-7) showed no jitters against No. 7 seed Washington (26-11) in the late game. Syracuse’s pressure defense bothered the Huskies, who never got into an offensive rhythm.
"That's the difference in the game," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "We just wanted to get up and down and play fast. And I thought that we spread them up some in certain instances where we really needed to get the game going."
Talia Walton buried a Final Four-record eight 3-pointers for the Huskies, but the Orange made All-American Kelsey Plum take 18 shots for her 17 hard-earned points.
Though she was held to fewer than 20 points for the first time in the tourney, junior guard Alexis Peterson led Syracuse with 18 points. Junior guard Brittney Sykes continued her breakout tournament with 17.
But the Orange will have to take down an even more imposing group of Huskies to bring home an improbable title.
HOUSTON — At the end of his team's demolition of Oklahoma on Saturday night, even Villanova guard Josh Hart could hardly process what the Wildcats had accomplished.
He turned to teammate Ryan Arcidiacono and said, "We just won a Final Four game by 40. This is crazy. That's something I didn't even think was going to happen."
Villanova continues to surprise even itself with its ability to punch above its weight class. Not only are the Wildcats a victory over North Carolina away from the program's second national title, they're also potentially on the precipice of becoming the first team in nearly three decades to capture a championship without a single future first-round pick on its roster.
Indiana's 1987 national title team is the last to win in that manner, though those Hoosiers were hardly starless. The Dallas Mavericks selected Steve Alford 26th overall that year — the third pick of the second round back then — and Keith Smart and Dean Garrett both also went in the second round the following summer.
The 28 teams that have won championships since 1987 have produced an average of 2.9 first-round picks apiece, with 2004 UConn and 1996 Kentucky tying for the most with six. Of those 28 teams, the only ones to have just a single future first-rounder were UConn in 1999 and 2014, Louisville in 2013 and Arkansas in 1994.
It's entirely possible several players from this year's Villanova team make an NBA roster someday, but neither leading scorer Josh Hart nor promising freshmen Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are currently projected as future first-round picks. Two NBA scouts told Yahoo Sports they don't see a realistic first-round candidate on Villanova's roster, though they cautioned that either Brunson or Bridges could blossom later in their careers.
"It's a very good possibility there's not a single first-round pick on this team, but some of it will be dependent on how the young players develop," one scout said.
Said the other, "Bridges is the only one with the potential but he is a few years away."
How has Villanova managed to disprove the notion that it takes surefire future NBA talent to contend for a national title? It's certainly not entirely by choice. In just the 2015 class alone, the Wildcats landed a McDonald's All-American in Brunson, were a finalist for Syracuse's Malachi Richardson and were in the mix for several other decorated prospects.
"Talent is the first thing we look for," Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy said. "It would be a lie if I said otherwise. But I think we also try to find a fit for our culture. If we bring this guy in, will our current roster enjoy being with this guy? How's he going to respond to coaching? I think a lot of times you can tell that by spending time with their current coaches and getting to know their parents. It's certainly not an exact science, but we do try to look beyond the court."
The season-long improvement of this year's Villanova team is proof the Wildcats have a good mix of talent and character. They've evolved from a good team to one of the nation's best as Brunson and Bridges grew more comfortable at the college level and Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds adjusted to increased responsibility.
They're moving the ball more unselfishly and displaying superior shot selection than they were early in the season when they hunted threes with reckless abandon. They're defending with more cohesiveness and communication in their aggressive, switching man-to-man scheme. They've also benefited from Daniel Ochefu returning from injury and blossoming into an interior scoring threat who's also able to pass out of double teams.
"All of our guys are putting the team first and playing hard and together every game," Villanova assistant Ashley Howard said. "If our guys were on other teams, they would probably put up better individual numbers, but that's what makes our team special. Our guys are willing to sacrifice to win."
Elite talent can sometimes still trump character and work ethic, however, this year was ripe for a team like Villanova to contend. Not only was college basketball's freshman class not as deep or formidable as other years, the class of 2015's top prospects also didn't cluster at traditional powers.
Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney went to LSU. Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb headed to Cal. Malik Newman chose his dad's alma mater Mississippi State. Stephen Zimmerman stayed home at UNLV. The result was a college basketball season devoid of dominant teams as Villanova and five other programs passed the No. 1 ranking back and forth like a game of hot potato.
It probably also helped Villanova that it had the memory of back-to-back second-round NCAA tournament losses failures to sharpen its focus entering March. Motivated to shed its reputation for early exits, the Wildcats have beaten their five NCAA tournament opponents so far this March by an average of 24.2 points.
"I actually love it that a bunch of blue-collar guys like us are doing this," Reynolds said." It's nice to have a change of pace as opposed to having three or four first-rounders on a team and have them march to a championship. To have guys who put in work over the years and who have gotten so close and failed and come back again, I think it speaks to the character of the program."
In the aftermath of Villanova's jaw-dropping 44-point throttling of Oklahoma on Saturday night, Wright tried to send a message to his team. He told the Wildcats they may not have eight NBA players on their roster but by working together and sacrificing for one another, they had accomplished something only a team of NBA players should have been able to achieve.
"What he was trying to say was when this team has the type of synergy we had on the court yesterday, we can put together results that nobody could expect," Dunleavy said. "Nobody in this room could have expected beating an unbelievable Oklahoma team by 40 points. We would have never made that a goal. We would have never thought that would be possible. But as a product of playing together and playing off each other on both ends, we accomplished something that should take eight NBA players to do."
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Slaying the sportsbook is a monstrous task. Some days bettors take up residence in a penthouse suite. Other times, they curl up in the nearest ditch, shirtless and toothless. In an attempt to avoid complete destitution, I will post my picks, whether profitable or penniless, through the NCAA tourney. Check out Monday's national title selection below:
Villanova vs. North Carolina – The shooting showcase put on by Villanova Saturday versus Oklahoma left this rather loquacious fellow speechless. It seemed a rotation of prime Reggie Millers were on the floor. Against a Sooners defense that had surrendered just 1.00 points per possession in the NCAA tournament, the 'Cats netted an astonishing 71.4 percent from the field, second only to Rollie Massimino's '85 'Nova team, for hottest Final Four performance all-time. For KenPom fanatics, their 1.51 points per possession was pure lunacy.
Equally impressive, Josh Hart and friends kept OU out of transition, clamped down along the perimeter and forced numerous turnovers (17). That outstanding defensive effort held one of the game's elite offenses, spearheaded by arguably the best player in the nation Buddy Hield, to only 0.81 points per possession. The 44-point differential, the most lopsided victory in Final Four history, was a bloodbath of 'Rambo' proportions.
After 'Nova's rousing performance, many believe it will be spent when it takes the floor Monday night. Though the blistering scoring exhibition won't be duplicated, it has shot tremendously well throughout the tournament. Excluding the OU massacre, the 'Cats tallied 1.27 points per possession and drilled 46.3 percent of their three-point attempts in their other triumphs.
Because Jay Wright's club is only an average rebounding team, UNC, which has generated a second chance opportunity on 48.1 percent of its tournament possessions, has a distinct glass advantage. Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks should feast down low. However, due to Villanova's unrelenting halfcourt defense, Tar Heel transition opportunities will likely be few and far between. And it's impossible to predict what versions of Marcus Paige and Joel Berry make an appearance. Against a 'Cats defense that's conceded only 33.3 percent from three this season, a net-burning performance from the inconsistent duo seems unlikely.
Ultimately, the three is the great equalizer. If the 'Cats, a dynamite passing team, swing the ball effectively to the open man, they should receive several uncontested looks. Keep in mind Carolina ranks No. 247 in three-point percentage defense. Seize those moments, occasionally drive to the tin without hesitation and maintain a halfcourt tempo, and Villanova will score its first championship plaque in 31 years.
Prediction: Villanova (+2.5) 79 North Carolina 76 (OVER 151)
Follow Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise
Two young men who have been close friends since they were 10 years old, shared the same home in high school and consider themselves brothers will compete against each other Monday night in the national championship game.
Kris Jenkins, a junior forward, scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in leading Villanova to a historic win over Oklahoma on Saturday in one national semifinal. Junior guard Nate Britt played a less substantial role in helping top-seed North Carolina beat No. 10 seed Syracuse.
Jenkins and Britt first began discussing the possibility of playing against each other for the national title when the NCAA bracket was released three weeks ago and they noticed it was a possibility since they were on opposite sides of the bracket.
In the time since, their story has gained substantial attention. Jenkins actually sat behind the North Carolina bench during an Elite Eight game last week, rooting for his dear friend to reach the Final Four after he and his Villanova teammates already had punched their ticket.
Jenkins and Britt played together at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and were highly recruited. Britt's parents became Jenkins' legal guardians, which makes their brotherly bond even more substantial.
They went their separate ways for college but will be reunited on the court for the first time in college on the biggest stage Monday, capping a fascinating season with a fun story no matter who wins.
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HOUSTON — When Malachi Richardson sank a 3-pointer to pull his team within seven midway through the second half, it wasn't just everyone wearing orange whose minds flashed back to Syracuse's unlikely Elite Eight comeback against Virginia last weekend.
North Carolina point guard Joel Berry also couldn't help but recall how the Orange erased a 13-point deficit in the final nine minutes against the Cavaliers.
"We had that in the back of our minds. I know I did," Berry said. "I was like, 'We can't let that happen to us.'"
It's a testament to North Carolina's superior talent and resolve that the 10th-seeded Orange got no closer. This wasn't a Gonzaga team with wobbly guards or a Virginia team uncomfortable against full-court pressure. This was an opponent hailed as the nation's best team before the season began and now finally playing like it.
Fueled by their blistering transition attack and their dominance around the rim, North Carolina defeated Syracuse 83-66 on Saturday night to advance to the national title game. The Tar Heels opened an 11-point halftime lead, extended it to as many as 17 just seven minutes into the second half and then responded with poise when Syracuse cut into the lead with a last-gasp 10-0 run.
Marcus Paige answered Richardson's 3-pointer with one of his own, the first one North Carolina hit the entire game after an 0-for-12 start from behind the arc. Brice Johnson delivered a powerful two-handed dunk via a deft post move on the Tar Heels' next possession and then Theo Pinson hit another big 3-pointer to extend the lead to 12.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called for full-court pressure to try to rally the Orange in the final minutes, but it wasn't a momentum changer like it was against either Virginia or Gonzaga.
"I don't think we can press this team," Boeheim said. "We were going to, because that was the only way to get back in it. But it's kind of like, you know, if I'm on top of the Empire State Building, I don't have to jump to know it's going to hurt. I don't need to press North Carolina to know it's going to hurt. They're veteran guys. They're good against pressure."
North Carolina's victory propels the Tar Heels to within one win of their third national championship under Roy Williams and their sixth since the inception of the NCAA tournament. Standing in their way is 34-win Big East champion Villanova, the only team whose performance has rivaled North Carolina's thus far in the tournament.
If Monday's title game is in doubt deep into the second half, it will be something North Carolina has not experienced since the ACC tournament. All five of the Tar Heels' NCAA tournament victories have come by at least 14 points and they've trailed for only a total of 50 seconds in the second halves of any of those games.
That dominance is a testament to how North Carolina has raised its level of play since the postseason began. Not only are the Tar Heels gashing opponents in the paint, in transition and on the offensive glass as they did en route to winning the ACC title during the regular season, now they're also defending with urgency as well.
"We're still doing the same scoring we've been doing, but we're getting a lot of stops with it," Johnson said. "We've grown a great deal on the defensive end. We've really turned up the defensive intensity."
North Carolina held Syracuse to 40.9 percent shooting and surrendered few easy baskets around the rim. Trevor Cooney scored 22 points in his final game for the Orange and Richardson added 17, but Michael Gbinije needed 18 shots to score 12 points and no other Syracuse player hit double figures.
Anytime Syracuse turned the ball over or served up a long rebound, North Carolina used it as a chance to get out in transition and score before the Orange's two-three zone was set. The Tar Heels shot 53.8 percent because they were lethal on the fast break, effective getting the ball into the middle of the zone and dominant on the offensive glass.
Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson both led North Carolina with 16 points apiece. Kennedy Meeks, Joel James and Isaiah Hicks delivered when Johnson was on the bench in foul trouble late in the first half and Paige sank all three of his 3-pointers in the final nine minutes.
The surest sign Syracuse was in trouble came via the halftime box score. North Carolina missed all 10 of its attempts from behind the arc, played without its All-American for the final nine minutes and still led by 11 points.
Even for a Syracuse team with a propensity for remarkable comebacks, that was too much to overcome.
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Villanova crushed Oklahoma in a national semifinal game at the Final Four on Saturday in Houston, winning in record-setting fashion and touching off a wave of disbelieving and humorous responses on social media.
The Wildcats shot 71.4 percent in the game and won 95-51 to advance to the national title game Monday night against either North Carolina or Syracuse. It was the largest margin of victory in history in a FInal Four game.
No, this wasn't Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson or Holly Holm shocking Ronda Rousey. This was a battle of No. 2 seeds who spent all season ranked among the best teams in the nation. As the carnage unfolded, so did the astonished reactions and fun takes on Twitter. Here is a sample.
Oklahoma Sooners basketball right now... pic.twitter.com/pj4wpGFWtM— Fake SportsCenter (@FakeSportsCentr) April 3, 2016
Damn Oklahoma, you went down like that??? pic.twitter.com/EjS2dPXM7S— Fake SportsCenter (@FakeSportsCentr) April 3, 2016
Nova vs 76ers who you got? #bestinphilly— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) April 3, 2016
🎵 OOOklahoma where your run stops at the Final Four 🎵 pic.twitter.com/1yU2vj33q2— SB Nation (@SBNation) April 3, 2016
Every Oklahoma fan right now 😂https://t.co/z5lWDTsCEO— Basketball Problems (@BballProblemz) April 3, 2016
My Nova - Oklahoma game review https://t.co/bXoINoq1rI— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 3, 2016
On the plus side for Oklahoma, their 37-17 Orange Bowl loss no longer looks like such a blowout...— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) April 3, 2016
Oklahoma is henceforth banned from being in the national semifinals of any sport.— Brian Barbour (@tarheelblog) April 3, 2016
Fun Fact: Oklahoma basketball and football lost national semifinal games this year by a combined score of 132-68.— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) April 3, 2016
When Oklahoma scores, their fan section celebrates like 'The Little Giants' parents when they see their kids got a yard to make it 2nd & 9.— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 3, 2016
Big free throw there by Oklahoma to cut the lead to 37.— Corey Clark/TDO.com (@Corey_Clark) April 2, 2016
You can't hide your tears behind that towel, Oklahoma. pic.twitter.com/ZKNzBZ127Z— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) April 3, 2016
There are AAU teams appalled at Oklahoma's defensive intensity— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) April 3, 2016
Oklahoma today pic.twitter.com/JcydU4TzPA— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 2, 2016
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HOUSTON — As he exited the floor at halftime of his team's Final Four clash with Oklahoma, Villanova's Daniel Ochefu turned around to glance at the NRG Stadium scoreboard one more time.
It was as if he wanted to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him.
The team that lost by 23 points in the first meeting between the Sooners and Wildcats held a double-digit lead. The team that faced questions about how it would stop Buddy Hield all week was stifling the national player of the year like few opponents have all year. The team with a reputation for early NCAA tournament exits already was well on its way to the national title game.
In a display of dominance few expected leading up to Saturday's game, Villanova throttled Oklahoma 95-51 to earn a title shot on Monday night against either North Carolina or Syracuse. The Wildcats led by 14 points at halftime and delivered the knockout punch early in the second half en route to a result that shattered the previous record for largest margin of victory in a Final Four game.
"I am surprised, actually," Ochefu said. "I definitely was not expecting that coming into this game. It's a credit to the type of players we have on this team. We were dialed in defensively and we were able to make shots tonight."
There were many heroes for Villanova on a night when it silenced all talk of NRG Stadium's poor sight lines for shooters by hitting a jaw-dropping 71.4 percent of their field goal attempts.
Josh Hart scored a game-high 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting, punishing Oklahoma off the dribble and on the offensive glass. Ochefu hurt Oklahoma early in the game on the low block and Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth each hit multiple 3-pointers as the Wildcats shredded a Sooners defense ranked in the top 15 nationally all season.
"A big part of it was that we got the ball inside to Daniel Ochefu early in the game, and it just loosened up their defense and made our guys comfortable," Villanova assistant Ashley Howard said. "When you take the time to get the ball inside and you're not just taking quick shots, you limit their opportunities to get out in transition. So I think that really helped us on both ends of the floor."
If back-to-back second-round exits inspired doubts about Villanova's legitimacy entering the NCAA tournament, it's safe to say the Wildcats have answered any lingering questions. They're now on the precipice of capturing Villanova's second championship, joining the miraculous 1985 team that entered as a No. 8 seed yet toppled heavily favored Georgetown in the national title game.
The roots of Saturday's victory can be traced back to the first meeting between the Wildcats and Sooners back on Dec. 7. Oklahoma cruised to a 78-55 rout, a result that provided Villanova a barometer for what a national title contender looked like and a reminder of what the Wildcats had to fix to become one.
Over the next few months, Villanova evolved into a team that moved the ball unselfishly, displayed prudent shot selection and defended with cohesiveness and communication. As a result, the Wildcats cruised to a third straight Big East title and survived the toughest NCAA tournament draw of any of the four teams in Houston en route to their first Final Four since 2009.
While many of Oklahoma's previous opponents either face-guarded Hield to prevent him from touching the ball or sent multiple defenders at him to force him to give it up, the memory of the Sooners' balanced scoring in the first meeting between the teams led Villanova to try a different approach. Instead of assigning its top defender to shadow Hield, the Wildcats trusted their defensive principles, guarded him by committee and switched every ball screen Oklahoma set.
Whether it was Hart, Bridges, Booth, Arcidiacono or Jalen Brunson matched up against Hield, the approach was always the same: Make him put the ball on the floor and don't let him catch and shoot. The result was Hield scoring nine points on 4-for-12 shooting, one of his worst performances of the season and well below the 29 points he had averaged in four previous NCAA tournament games.
"We wanted to get Buddy off the 3-point line," Booth said. "You can't let him get catch-and-shoot threes and you can't let him get in a rhythm when he's dribbling. If he hits you with that step-back, his release is so quick, so we wanted to make it difficult for him."
Oklahoma mounted a brief surge to open the second half when Jordan Woodard rebounded his own missed free throw and scored an acrobatic layup to cut the Villanova lead to nine. But the run was short-lived as the Sooners couldn't string together stops, nor could they find any consistent sources of offense with Hield quiet and Woodard and Isaiah Cousins shooting a combined 6-for-24.
When Ochefu walked off the floor after the game was over, there was no need for him to look back at the scoreboard again. Instead he high-fived several Villanova fans, pointed his index finger to the sky and shouted the words, "one more" over and over.
"Everyone understands we can't celebrate yet," Ochefu said. "This was a big win for us, but we told each other at the end of the game, we still have work to do."
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For the second consecutive year, the NCAA invited four student-athletes from each Final Four school to sing the national anthem Saturday prior to the first national semifinal game, and once again they killed it.
This year the four vocalists were Chevis Armstead II, a track and field athlete from Syracuse; Karlie Crispin, a women's basketball player from Villanova; Nico Melo, a men's soccer player from North Carolina and Madison Ward, a women's volleyball player from Oklahoma.
The NCAA first used the approach of four students from the participating schools last season and so far nothing from either performance should be giving anyone reason to switch it up.
National Anthem was tremendous! pic.twitter.com/Y5bY8BuOI2— Tim Brando (@TimBrando) April 2, 2016
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Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, were in Houston at the Final Four rooting for Syracuse and Villanova on Saturday and if their alma maters win, they might have to be separated for a few hours Monday night.
The vice president earned his law degree from Syracuse in 1968 and Jill Biden earned one of her two master’s degrees from Villanova in 1987. The Bidens appeared on the TBS pre-game show prior to Villanova taking on Oklahoma in one national semifinal.
Ernie Johnson asked the couple what happens if their teams meet in the championship game on Monday.
“I got to figure out where I’m sleeping,” Joe Biden said.
“No, it’s all good. It’s friendly. It’s a friendly rivalry,” Jill Biden said.
Joe Biden said he picked Syracuse, Villanova, Notre Dame and Oregon to reach the Final Four when he filled out his bracket. He said he filled it out on St. Patrick’s Day, which is why he included Notre Dame.
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Much of the pregame attention on Saturday's Syracuse-North Carolina national semifinal has focused on the scandals that have embroiled both programs, but the game itself also has some compelling storylines. A look at three keys to the upset hopes of the 10th-seeded Orange:
1. Can Syracuse force North Carolina into jump shots?
Passing the ball around the perimeter of Syracuse's trademark two-three zone is seldom the right approach to attacking it, however, that's especially true this season. Opponents are shooting only 30 percent from behind the arc against the Orange but the unusual lack of length among Syracuse's frontcourt players has made it easier to score around the rim against this team.
For North Carolina in particular, the importance of not settling for jump shots cannot be overstated. The Tar Heels' biggest weakness offensively is that they're 285th in the nation in 3-point percentage, though they've been a bit better lately as Marcus Paige has emerged from a late-season slump.
What North Carolina wants to do is beat Syracuse down the floor and score before the zone is set up. When that's not possible, the Tar Heels need to look to probe gaps in the zone off the dribble or get the ball to All-American forward Brice Johnson in the high post and let him create from there.
2. Can Syracuse keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass?
Forcing North Carolina to take jump shots is only half the battle for Syracuse. The Orange also have to snare the rebound of any shots the Tar Heels miss.
North Carolina is the nation's third best offensive rebounding team, grabbing more than 40 percent of its misses. The Tar Heels' three primary big men — Johnson, center Kennedy Meeks and top backup Isaiah Hicks — are all long, active and aggressive on the offensive boards, which explains why North Carolina scores such a high percentage of its points via second-chance opportunities.
Syracuse is especially vulnerable in this area because it's not a good defensive rebounding team and its zone makes it hard to put a body on opposing big men. The Orange need Tyler Roberson to be a menace on the glass and they need the rest of the team to commit to helping him rebound rather than leaking out in transition.
3. Will Syracuse's full-court press once again be effective?
The key to Syracuse's victories in both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight was the full-court press the Orange unleashed late in both games.
They outscored Gonzaga 9-1 during the final three minutes, forcing a timeout, two turnovers and a rushed Kyle Wiltjer layup attempt in the process. Then they roared back from a 13-point deficit over the final eight minutes against Virginia, speeding up the slow-paced Cavaliers the way few teams have and making them look rushed and uncomfortable.
Harassing a North Carolina team with experienced guards and a penchant for up-tempo basketball will not be so easy, but it's still a weapon Syracuse has in its arsenal if it can keep the score close into the final minutes. If the Orange can get North Carolina to play defensively instead of aggressively against the press, it's a good change of pace.
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With the NCAA Tournament drawing to a close, who better to break it all down than a guy who's been watching every minute so far? Ernie Johnson of Turner Sports fame is here to consider all four of the Final Four teams, the unique beauty of the college game, and of course a quick hit on the NBA. It's a fun 10 minutes; check it out and enjoy! Then, make sure to check out the Final Four on Saturday and Monday on TBS.
Thanks for listening to the Grandstanding podcast with Jay Busbee and Kevin Kaduk. Hit us up on Twitter (@kevinkaduk and @jaybusbee) Facebook (Kaduk here, Busbee here) or via the hashtag #grandstanding. See you next ep!
[Music by Chris Salmon and Tobin Summerfield]
HOUSTON — The first time Mikal Bridges tried to guard Villanova wings Josh Hart and Darrun Hilliard in practice last season, it did not go well at all.
He was too frail, too wide-eyed and too unprepared.
"It was brutal," Bridges said. "They scored like every time I guarded them. They would just bully me."
In the 18 months since Hart and Hilliard treated him like a turnstile in his first few practices, Bridges has evolved from a defensive liability to a defensive stopper. The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman has added 20 pounds of muscle, learned to use his length and mobility as weapons and embraced the challenge of guarding opposing teams' top perimeter scorer.
One way that Bridges has made an impact is with his disruptiveness in the passing lanes or at the top of Villanova's 1-2-2 press. More recently, he has also excelled at on-ball defense too, earning the crunch-time assignment of defending anyone from Providence point guard Kris Dunn, to Butler wing Roosevelt Jones to even Kansas power forward Perry Ellis.
Bridges' defensive prowess and versatility make him one of Villanova's most important players entering Saturday's Final Four clash with perimeter-oriented Oklahoma. While no single player will defend national player of the year Buddy Hield by himself in Villanova's switching man-to-man scheme, Bridges and Hart will likely spend the most time of any of the Wildcats shadowing the NCAA tournament's most lethal scorer.
"When Mikal's out there, we want to get his length and mobility on the ball," Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds said. "We're not afraid to switch, but it bothers people when he guards them. It frustrates you when you feel like you have someone beaten and then his long arm reaches out and he gets a block or a steal. Guards aren't used to seeing someone at his size also be as mobile as he is."
How to defend Hield has been a riddle opponents haven't solved all season but especially in the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 29.3 points per game in four NCAA tournament victories, torching opponents for everything from catch-and-shoot looks in transition, to step-back pull-ups off the dribble, to driving layups at the rim.
Texas A&M tried to face guard Hield with top defender Alex Caruso in the Sweet 16; Hield still scored 17 points including several back-door layups and teammates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard flourished because of the extra space they had to attack off the dribble. Oregon played Hield more traditionally in the Elite Eight with its best defender Elgin Cook checking Hield most of the time; Hield dropped 37 points on him on only 20 shots.
Villanova's approach will probably be a little different. Instead of assigning one defender to check Hield from start to finish, the Wildcats will likely begin possessions with either Hart or Bridges on him but switch all ball screens and trust in their ability to defend by committee. They're more equipped to play that way than any team Oklahoma has seen so far because they have three or four capable perimeter defenders.
"I think it's to our advantage because that's how we defend," Villanova assistant Ashley Howard said. "Some teams aren't accustomed to defending that way. Some teams that have one stud defender will try their chances with that one guy on Buddy. With us, we defend by committee. We've been doing it all season. I think that gives us the best chance of being successful tomorrow. We won't have to switch up our game plan. We'll just keep doing what we do."
One reason Villanova is hesitant to devote too much attention to Hield is what happened to the Wildcats in their 23-point loss to Oklahoma in the teams' first matchup this season. Villanova held Hield to a relatively quiet 18 points on 17 shots, but Cousins, Woodard, Ryan Spangler and seldom-used Dinjiyl Walker combined for 51 points including 10 3-pointers.
While Villanova may not want to throw too many bodies at Hield and leave other guys free, containing him will still be a key to the Wildcats' defensive game plan. They have to deny him the ball and chase him around screens. They cannot lose him in transition or second-chance opportunities. And when he has the ball, they have to force him right and trust in their help defense.
The emergence of Bridges is key to that because it gives Villanova another tough defender to throw at Hield, one with the length to bother his shot, the mobility to stay in front of him off the dribble and the confidence to believe he can make life tough for the nation's best scorer.
Bridges didn't arrive at Villanova as a defender, but the challenge of guarding Hart and Hilliard every practice during his redshirt season forced him to improve in a hurry. No longer is he too frail, too wide-eyed and too unprepared. Now he's a tough assignment for any perimeter scorer.
"It's day and night since the first time he stepped on the Villanova campus," Hart said. "He takes pride in stopping the best player, guarding Kris Dunn and Isaiah Whitehead. He's definitely going to be on Buddy a lot. We have all the confidence in the world in him, and I think he'll do a good job."
The NCAA Tournament is coming to its conclusion, and along with the cutting of the nets and the playing of "One Shining Moment" will come the naming of the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Sure, you can probably hazard a pretty good guess which schools have had the most MOPs, but what states do they hail from? How successful have they been in the pros? And which MOP traveled the farthest distance from home to college success?
For a deeper dive into the MOP stats, check out our interactive Google Map of MOPs' hometowns. Here's a sample from the upper Midwest:
You might have a MOP hailing from your backyard and not even know it. Click here to find out.
Villanova coach Jay Wright met with the media in Houston at the Final Four on Thursday and was asked about the significance of being the first school from the new Big East Conference to advance this far in the NCAA tournament.
Part of his answer was somewhat surprising to say the least.
“In my pool, my family pool, which we do, just in the family, everybody has to pick Villanova all the way through in one bracket,” Wright said. “I had Xavier in my other bracket. I just thought they were good enough, and they are. Just like Kansas is good enough to win this whole thing, just matchups in one game, you know.”
Villanova won the Big East this season by two games over Xavier and split the season series with the Musketeers, including a win at home by 31 points. Yet, it’s easy to see why Wright has so much respect for Xavier.
The Musketeers were a popular dark horse pick for the Final Four this year after spending much of the season ranked in the top-10. Xavier was upset in the second-round by a Wisconsin team that had plenty of experience back from its run to the national title game last season.
Wright’s comment was a nice tip of the cap to a conference rival and Xavier coach Chris Mack.
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The Xavier basketball program just completed one of its most successful seasons in the program’s history, but the offseason isn’t off to such a great start.
Guard J.P Macura was arrested early Thursday after allegedly pulling his pants down inside an Irish pub in Cincinnati as well as “making unreasonable noise or an offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display or communicating unwarranted and grossly abusive language.”
The 20-year-old sophomore gained entry to the pub with an ID apparently belonging to Myles Fox Morrissey a junior on the Xavier golf team. He was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing official business. He plead not guilty and has been released on a $1,000 bond, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
There was no mention of whether Macura was under the influence of alcohol and what might have motivated him to pull his pants down in public. A Xavier spokesman said the school is “working to collect all the facts.”
Macura had a strong sophomore season and earned the Sixth Man of the Year award in the Big East Conference after averaging 9.4 points per game and scoring in double figures 16 times.
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association and several media outlets named coach Chris Mack the National coach of the year this season for leading the Musketeers to a 28-6 overall record, a second-place finish in the Big East and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
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South Carolina was so close to making the NCAA tournament that the team believed for a brief time on Selection Sunday that it was part of the 68-team field.
South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner told WISTV in South Carolina that NCAA officials told the them it was a part of the NCAA tournament at 6:30 p.m.
One problem: the Gamecocks weren't officially part of the tournament.
The invitation was a mistake and an official notified South Carolina approximately 10 minutes later to inform the Gamecocks of the error and let the team know it would not be participating. The news of the mistake was first reported by NOLA.com Thursday morning.
"Unfortunately, during the selection show a junior men’s basketball staff member mistakenly sent a text to a member of the University of South Carolina athletics department staff via an app we used for the first time during the 2016 tournament," NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. "The text was supposed to go to all teams, congratulating them for making the tournament. Regrettably, a text meant for another institution went to South Carolina instead.
"While the Gamecocks were given serious consideration, at no time during the selection process was South Carolina voted into the field. Ultimately, they were one of the last four teams left out of the tournament. I take full responsibility for this clerical error and apologize to Coach [Frank] Martin, his staff and team and the entire University of South Carolina community."
While South Carolina didn't get in, one of the final teams in the tournament was fellow SEC member Vanderbilt. The Commodores lost to Wichita State by 20 points in a First Four game and the Shockers went on to upset Arizona in the round of 64. Another USC, the University of Southern California, was also a member of the tournament. Perhaps there was USC confusion on the app.
The mistaken invitation meant an extension of what's now a 12-year absence from the NCAA tournament for South Carolina. The Gamecocks last made the tournament in 2004. That season South Carolina was a No. 10 seed and lost to No. 7 Memphis in the first round. After missing out on the NCAA tournament, South Carolina went to the NIT and lost in the second round to Georgia Tech.
Despite the tournament miss, South Carolina's board of trustees is meeting on Friday and is expected to approve a contract extension for Martin.
Martin has a record of 70-62 in four seasons at South Carolina and has improved the team's SEC record in every season.
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Slaying the sportsbook is a monstrous task. Some days bettors take up residence in a penthouse suite. Other times, they curl up in the nearest ditch, shirtless and toothless. In an attempt to avoid complete destitution, I will post my picks, whether profitable or penniless, through the NCAA tourney. Check out Saturday's Final Four selections below:
Oklahoma vs. Villanova – When people associate "Oklahoma" with "basketball" thoughts of Buddy Buckets are immediately conjured. The decorated senior, who is a near lock for a top-10 overall pick in June's NBA draft, is the face of the program. His often ridiculous single-game performances, as seen in his combined 73 points scored versus Texas A&M and Oregon, hurled the Sooners into the national semifinals.
Though OU is offensively gifted – it's swished 44.2 percent from three in the NCAA tournament – its underrated defense is really the reason why it's knocking at the door of a national title. Ranked top-15 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Sooners have given up only 1.00 points per possession in this year's Big Dance. And that was achieved against a number of potent-scoring teams.
Villanova, due to its magnificent outside shooting and unrelenting defense, is nearly identical on paper to Oklahoma. It relies heavily on the three-point shot, is only marginal on the glass and lacks frontcourt depth. Really, the 'Cats only differ in one critical category: turnovers. Overall, they protect the rock substantially better than the Sooners.
These two teams, surrounded by Pearl Harbor vets and fans alike, squared off Dec. 7 in Hawaii. In that contest, a 78-55 throttling by Oklahoma, the 'Cats were a wretched 4-of-32 from distance, were out-rebounded 41-33 and netted only 0.77 points per possession. If Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, who combined for 30 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists in that game, complement Hield similarly, the Boomer Sooner party will roll on.
In what will be a much tighter contest, expect that to occur.
Prediction: Oklahoma (+2) 72 Villanova 68 (UNDER 143)
North Carolina vs. Syracuse – Mea culpa Tar Heels fans. My 1,000-word pre-tourney diatribe arguing why your beloved Baby Blue was "untrustworthy" was horribly, terribly and undeniably wrong. With the exception of a couple rocky halves, UNC has played brilliantly. The eggwash facial I've received is well-deserved.
Win some. Lose most.
The Heels, for the most part, have reached their stratospheric potential. Brice Johnson, virtually unstoppable in March, Justin Jackson and, surprisingly, Marcus Paige have brought their best. As a result, the Carolina machine has generated second chance opportunities on 47.2 percent of their possessions, contested shots and drained numerous threes. Most importantly, it's displayed toughness, a questioned characteristic throughout the regular season. That balance is why it's emerged victorious by an average margin of 16 points in the NCAA tournament.
Syracuse's unforeseen run has happened due in large part to its stingy 2-3 zone and overall steely resolve. Dayton, Middle Tennessee, Gonzaga and Virginia all failed to record at least 0.99 points per possession against it. That coupled with Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson's stellar offensive contributions and the Orange's timely second-half execution, despite deep deficits, explains why they've implausibly carved a path, as a No. 10 seed, to the Final Four.
When these two clubs clashed in Chapel Hill Feb. 29, 'Cuse kept it close thanks to free-throw conversions (19-23) and battling on the glass. Unless Paige and Joel Berry are splashing the bottom of the net from 25 feet, a similar outcome is entirely likely
The +9.5 is an absolute gift. HAMMER!
Prediction: North Carolina 73 Syracuse 69 (+9.5) (UNDER 144.5)
Follow Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise
The latest Kansas player to turn pro has started only three games in three years in Lawrence, has been in and out of Bill Self's dog house and has never averaged more than 5.7 points per game in a single season.
Reserve guard Brannen Greene is entering the NBA draft and hiring an agent, a decision he and his family feel good about despite his modest track record.
"He's spent the past few days in discussion with the coaching staff and feels that from the feedback he's heard regarding NBA tryouts, he's confident he can join an NBA team next season," father Jeffrey Green told Yahoo Sports via text message on Wednesday. "He feels like the only way to make this decision is to fully commit and will not entertain going back to college."
The attributes that will be Greene's ticket to a professional career — whether in the NBA or elsewhere — are his size and his lethal jump shot. The 6-foot-7 guard shot 49.2 percent from behind the arc this season and 42.2 percent from his career, good enough to make him one of college basketball's most feared perimeter marksmen.
Whether Greene goes undrafted or not will depend on if he can prove to NBA teams that he can do more than just catch and shoot. That has been his role off the bench at Kansas all three seasons, and that was unlikely to change had he returned as a senior.
Guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham are penciled in as near-certain starters at two backcourt spots. The departure of Wayne Selden frees up the third, but Kansas is heavily pursuing elite recruits Josh Jackson and Terrrence Ferguson and has promising wing Svi Mykhailiuk as an option besides Greene in the unlikely event neither become Jayhawks.
Greene also has not always endeared himself to the Kansas coaching staff during his career. He served a five-game suspension early this season and drew Self's ire again in conference play when he needlessly dunked at the final buzzer against Kansas State to extend the Jayhawks' lead to 18.
"That was probably the biggest [expletive] move I've ever had a player do during a game," Self said on his postgame radio show.
With all that in mind, Greene essentially had three options. He could turn pro and not look back. He could return and risk playing a bit role once again. Or he could explore transfer options even if that meant sitting out a full year.
Jeffrey Greene says the latter option was never a realistic possibility.
"He wouldn't even consider transferring," the elder Greene said. "He wanted to be known as a former KU basketball player."
As a result, Greene is headed to the draft with no regrets. There's no guarantee he'll crack an NBA roster as he and his family hope, but anyone with his size and his shooting ability will at least have an opportunity to turn some heads.
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When Arkansas coach Mike Anderson addressed reporters in Fayetteville on Monday, he was adamant that he expects every Razorback with eligibility back next season.
Only two days later, it's clear that's not going to happen.
Arkansas announced Wednesday that guard Jimmy Whitt, a consensus top 75 prospect in the class of 2015, will transfer after the school year. Whitt played in all 32 games as a freshman and averaged 6.1 points in 17.8 minutes per game.
"After meeting with Jimmy, although I don’t agree with his decision, I respect it," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said in a statement. "I had the privilege of watching Jimmy grow up over the years and it was a pleasure coaching him during his freshman season. We wish him and his family the best as he pursues another institution to continue his collegiate career."
The departure of Whitt makes Arkansas' 2015 recruiting class to be a near-lost cause. Whitt's lone season in Fayetteville wasn't memorable and fellow top 75 prospect Ted Kapita never even made it to campus, leaving only guard Lorenzo Jenkins, who logged seven minutes all season.
Squandered recruiting classes are not something Arkansas can afford as it tries to achieve the consistency that has been lacking during Anderson's five-year tenure. The Razorbacks reached the NIT in Anderson's third year and enjoyed a 27-win breakthrough in year four, but the program slipped to 16-16 overall and 9-9 in the SEC in year five.
The key to a bounce-back 2016-17 campaign will be bringing back center Moses Kingsley and sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs and finding other players to support those two pillars. Anton Beard has the potential to play a bigger role if he can improve his outside shot and become a more efficient scorer. Heralded junior college prospect Jaylen Barford also should make an immediate impact.
Whitt also had a chance to contribute more next season if he received more playing time and tapped into his potential more frequently.
Instead he's moving on, depleting Arkansas' depth next season and hurting its hopes for consistency and stability for years to come.
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Only a few months ago, Ohio State's JaQuan Lyle was a key member of a five-man freshman class ranked among the best in the nation.
Now Lyle is the last of that class left in Columbus.
😥..... pic.twitter.com/GhEWxSh5pj— JaQuan Lyle (@JMamba13) March 30, 2016
Lyle posted the above picture hours after Ohio State coach Thad Matta announced that guard A.J. Harris, forward Mickey Mitchell and center Daniel Giddens intend to transfer out of the program. Freshmen shooting guard Austin Grandstaff previously left the program in December and enrolled at Oklahoma in January.
Those departures are a blow to Ohio State's depth in the short term and a blow to its future in the long run.
On the one hand, the Buckeyes expect to return their six leading scorers from a 21-win team that lost in the second round of the NIT earlier this month. On the other hand all four players were Rivals 150 recruits who would have been at minimum key reserves next season and potentially played an even bigger role thereafter.
Of Tuesday's departures, the most prized player is Giddens, a raw 6-foot-9 center whose 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game this season don't fully reflect his potential. Giddens is already a capable shot blocker and has a chance to blossom into a standout if he develops his low-post game and plays with the same energy without fouling as frequently.
Mitchell made seven starts as a freshman, averaging 2.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.8 minutes. Harris put up 2.8 points and 1.6 assists.
The silver lining for Ohio State is that the transfers came early enough to to replenish next season's roster. Having to scramble late isn't ideal, but the transfer market should offer chances to address the holes created by Tuesday's exodus.
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