UNC’s confident entering Duke rematch (and then some)

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Every Duke-North Carolina game receives a massive amount of hype. But sometimes it’s justified when the game promises to be fantastic.

Like Saturday.

The ACC regular-season title is at stake when the Blue Devils (27-3, 13-2) play at Chapel Hill against a Tar Heels team (23-6, 13-2) that’s growing more confident by the day.

In fact, they’re confident enough to go all Joe Namath on us.

“I’m glad it’s home; that will give us a little advantage,” Kendall Marshall Dexter Strickland told the Charlotte Observer. “I feel like the last time we played them, we just made mental errors that can be mentally corrected. I think that on Saturday, we’re going to win. I know we’re going to win on Saturday. I have a lot of confidence in myself and in my teammates. And if everybody has the same attitude I do, I know we’re going to win.”

Brash? Yes. But Strickland’s not trying to glib. He’s just calling it like he sees it. When you have that much talent on the roster, it’s an easy thing to say.

“I knew my potential, and my team’s potential,” he told the paper. “All-Americans … we just have to play to our potential. If everyone plays to our potential, who’s going to stop us?”

That confidence can’t be all bad. With two freshmen and three sophomores getting loads of playing time, they need all the confidence they can muster. Be brash. Be bold. It’s doing wonder for Harrison Barnes.

As Mike DeCourcy writes, the freshman wing isn’t shooting well, but his confidence is off the charts. He’s playing aggressively on offense, which is creating opportunities for his teammates (when he’s not hitting game-winning shots).

Their oldest rival comes to town Saturday. They’re going to need all the confidence they can get.

Avoiding a cold spell in the second half also would help.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

VIDEO: South Carolina celebrates Final Four trip by dousing Frank Martin in water

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South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.

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VIDEO: Darius Rucker tears up as South Carolina advances to the Final Four

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Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

This isn’t really a secret.

Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:

You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:

Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.

VIDEO: Did South Carolina get away with a blatant travel after risky full-court pass?

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South Carolina is heading to its first Final Four in school history after a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida in the East Region on Sunday.

But the No. 7 seed Gamecocks’ historic win also came with some late controversy.

With South Carolina clinging to a 70-68 lead with 53.7 seconds left, the Gamecocks opted to make an extremely risky full-court pass on an inbounds play. The pass was caught at the other end of the floor by South Carolina’s Duane Notice.

Then Notice took about four or five steps before he was fouled by Florida’s Chris Chiozza to send him to the line.

It looks like Notice had a pretty blatant travel on the play. It’s a ridiculous catch in traffic that has to make South Carolina football fans proud, but Notice is clearly walking after getting the ball. Notice knocked down two free throws after Chiozza’s foul to make it a two-possession game as it became 72-68 with 50 seconds left.

Florida was obviously flat in the second half and didn’t deserve to win on Sunday. But it makes you wonder what might have happened if a travel was called on Notice. The Gators would have had a chance to tie with under a minute left instead of it being a two-possession game.

South Carolina advances to first Final Four in program history with win over Florida

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South Carolina entered this year’s NCAA tournament, their first NCAA tournament since 2004 and their fifth NCAA tournament in the last 43 years, having never won two consecutive tourney games in the history of the program.

On Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to their fourth straight win and their first trip to the Final Four.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 26 points in the final 10 minutes, leading No. 7 seed South Carolina back from a 40-33 halftime deficit for a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida. P.J. Dozier added 17 points and Chris Silva finished with a critical 13 points and nine boards, coming up with some huge offensive rebounds and hustle plays defensively in the second half.

After shooting 7-for-12 from three in the first half, Florida missed their all 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second 20 minutes. South Carolina’s defense, which is second nationally this season, according to KenPom, and which allowed 40 points to the Gators in the first half, buckled down in the final minutes, forcing turnovers and taking the Gators out of what they wanted to do offensively. They shot just 11-for-35, or 31.4 percent, from the floor after halftime and didn’t get a clean look at the rim in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s how South Carolina plays. That’s who they are. It’s physical and it’s ugly and it’s just so effective when they’re able to make shots at the other end of the floor. And that is where this team has changed in March. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games heading into the NCAA tournament, failing to score more than 1.00 points-per-possession in five of those six losses.

But the story of this game isn’t how this South Carolina team has changed.

The story is how the program has changed.

The Gamecocks were a 10-win team that went 2-14 in the SEC the year before they Frank Martin away from Kansas State, a hire that was made thanks to a falling out with his athletic director, and boy, does that look like a coup now. He was responsible for leading Kansas State, which isn’t exactly a program known for basketball success, to their only Elite 8 since 1988. He’s now led South Carolina to their first Final Four in the history of the program.

South Carolina will advance to Phoenix to take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.