Sullinger, Thomas are keys to Buckeyes breaking through Syracuse zone

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BOSTON – Leading up to tonight’s much anticipated East Regional Final between the Syracuse and Ohio State, it’s clear what’s driving the discussion.

Rarely this season has the focus been about how the Orange would fare and adjust to an opponent’s offensive or defensive approach, but rather how their opponent would handle the vaunted zone.

Jim Boeheim’s team has been the favorites in every game leading up to tonight (note: tonight is the first game all season where ‘Cuse is the Vegas underdog, as they’re currently +2.5 against Ohio State), so they get the benefit of the doubt in most cases as the team that will win if they just play their game.

So for tonight, it’s not really about how a Fab Melo-less Orange team can limit the production of a Jared Sullinger. It’s not about if Syracuse’s ball-handlers can playmake when defended by Aaron Craft.

No, the questions being asked to handicap this match-up is if the Buckeyes, specifically Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, can effectively score against the 2-3.

“We haven’t seen a ton of zone for a steady diet,” said Thad Matta. “And Syracuse’s is different because they play it more obviously frequently.”

Sullinger has slowly taken his offensive game a bit beyond the basket, and may have to do that even more tonight to get his points by making the mid-range jumper.

He’s also a deft passer for a big-man, so getting him the ball in the middle of the zone wouldn’t be a terrible idea, as he could easily decide to look to draw defenders and hit an open perimeter player.

“Our guards are trying attack in the middle and dump it down on the baseline,” said Thomas.”It’s more than just shooting threes.  We’re just going to get in the zone and get easy shots”

For Thomas, his versatility is what makes him a potentially dangerous weapon for Thad Matta. A player that can score from just about anywhere on the court when he’s at his best – as proven in the Buckeyes Sweet 16 victory over Cincinnati – Thomas may have to replicate the output once again if the Buckeyes are to win the East.

“I think that you look at kind of the climate of college basketball now, and it’s really shifted to skilled four men and guys that can really stretch the defense,” said Matta, emphasizing the importance of player like Thomas against a zone. “I think the great thing Deshaun has is he cannot only stretch it but he’s driving the ball.  The last month of the season, he’s really putting it on the deck and doing a better job there, but he can also post‑up. “

The Buckeyes are a more talented and balanced team than Wisconsin. They don’t need to hit 14-three-pointers just to have a shot to beat the Orange. But what they do need to do is work from the inside to the outside when it comes to creating offense.

“Moving [Sullinger] around, high, low, inside, outside, kind of the same with Deshaun, that tandem there is something we definitely need to do in tomorrow night’s game,” said Matta.

The Buckeyes have the personnel on the offensive end to give the Orange fits for a full 40 minutes.

Getting Sullinger and Thomas going early is key, and allowing the rest of the team to feed off that attention and get open looks will be what could drive the Buckeyes straight to New Orleans.

Arizona lands Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther

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Arizona landed a key addition for its frontcourt on Wednesday as Pitt transfer forward Ryan Luther pledged to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-9 Luther is expected to receive a hardship waiver that would give him immediate eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com, as Arizona gets some much-needed help up front.

Playing in 10 games last season before a stress reaction in his right foot ended the season, Luther averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. In his final game of the season, Luther went for 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Pitt loss to West Virginia. Luther shot 45 percent from the field and is a noted perimeter threat as he was 38 percent from behind the three-point line.

Luther hasn’t logged heavy minutes as a contributor through a full season. Mostly a role player at Pitt until last season, Luther was the team’s most productive player when he was on the floor. But that production also didn’t come during ACC play and through the course of a full season.

Thankfully at a program like Arizona, Luther should have a bit more help around him. He could be a nice addition to the Wildcats, particularly if he rebounds and spaces the floor in the frontcourt as he did at Pitt. Arizona needed someone like Luther to provide more stability after losing players like Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic.

In the last few weeks, Arizona has rebounded nicely to land three commitments for next season — including freshmen Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans. The group isn’t as heralded as some past Arizona recruiting efforts. Given where the Wildcats were in recruiting a few weeks ago, however, this isn’t a bad turnaround.

TCU extends Jamie Dixon’s contract by two more years

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TCU has given head coach Jamie Dixon a two-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season, according to a release from the school.

Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.

With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.

Report: Kevin Ollie claims UConn violated rights with firing

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights during his departure.

Ollie sent a letter to UConn school president Susan Herbst which was obtained by ESPN’s Myron Medcalf in a report released on Wednesday. Ollie’s lawyers are claiming the school proceeded with his firing before giving Ollie a proper chance to contest his termination — which was guaranteed in his contract and also the collective bargaining agreement with the University of Connecticut’s branch of the American Association of University Professors. Ollie was fired, with cause, in late March as the school mentioned an NCAA inquiry as the reason why. According to Medcalf’s report, the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school.

Ollie’s union membership includes thousands of faculty members around the country as the collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct. Ollie claims he didn’t receive a letter he was supposed to get to begin the termination process.

“From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie’s employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie’s] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie’s opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment,” said the letter dated April 3.

“The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie’s property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

This letter to UConn likely begins a long legal battle to try to get an eight-figure payout back as Ollie is going to do everything he can to clear his name.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

North Carolina’s Cam Johnson undergoes hip surgery

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For the second time in the last six months, North Carolina wing Cam Johnson has undergone the knife.

On Wednesday, North Carolina announced that Johnson underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his hip on Monday, and that he is expected to make a full recovery and return to school in time for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was UNC’s third-leading scorer a season ago, averaging 12.4 points while shooting 34.1 percent from three. He only played 26 games, however, after missing time due to a surgery to fix a torn meniscus.