Storylines to watch in Final Four of four blue bloods

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There’s something in this Final Four for everyone. Well, except fans of the underdog.

After back-to-back Final Fours featuring at least one team from a non-power conference, the 2012 field is much more similar to 2007 or 2008, when it was essentially college basketball bluebloods and former champs. Consider it four teams grandfathers, fathers and sons have all seen at the top at some point.

Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. Those four are already causing quite a stir.

Some stats on the four:

  • They’ve combined for 13 national titles (7 by UK, but everyone has at least 1).
  • All of ‘em have been this far at least nine times, and 49 times total.
  • Kentucky leads in NCAA tournament appearances (52), followed by Kansas (41), Louisville (38) and Ohio State (28).
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino leads in Final Fours (6), followed by Kentucky’s John Calipari (4), Kansas’ Bill Self (2) and Ohio State’s Thad Matta (2). Pitino and Self each have one title.
  • Kentucky tops all NCAA teams in wins (2,088). Kansas is second (2,069), Louisville 16th (1,662) and Ohio State 37th (1,529).
  • In the last 42 years, the Final Four usually includes one of these four schools.

But it’s more than just about numbers. There are plenty of storylines, too. Here are eight to keep an eye on.

Kentucky vs. Louisville and John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino
Look for another post on this later, but it’ll be the week’s big topic. This is one of the game’s heated rivalries and the coaches don’t like each other. Also, the teams are great.

Revenge!
Already did a post on this, but forgot to mention that if Kansas and Kentucky meet in the championship, it’ll be another rematch from this season. That’s all kinds of odd.

Returns pay off for Sullinger, Jones
Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger earned some sweet satisfaction by returning to school and earning a Final Four berth. But he wasn’t the only one. Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones went to the Final Four last season, but passed on the NBA to bolster his status and earn another title shot. Well done, both.

Cheer for Thomas Robinson
Kansas’ junior forward was another guy who passed on the NBA for a season, but he had a little more at stake considering his mother died last season – weeks after he also lost two grandparents. Now Robinson’s a few months away from ensuring his little sister never has to worry about money every again.

Louisville’s amazing run
The Cardinals lost a starter and a key player this season to injuries. They ended the season losing four of their last six. But they’ve won eight straight thanks to the nation’s most efficient defense. This is the underdog of the Final Four.

Big men will rule
Four of the game’s top frontcourt players – Robinson, Sullinger, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng – are still around. They’re either the team’s focal point or the defensive backbone.

Davis’ knee
Kentucky’s freshman phenom banged his knee during Sunday’s win against Baylor, but said he’s fine.

Who runs the show?
The big men are studly, but the point guards might be the reason a team wins or loses. All four – Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, Kentucky’s Marquis Teague and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft – play a ton of minutes and do the primary ball-handling for each team. If they struggle, their teams usually do too.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Preaching patience, new Pitt AD says hoops program “a complete rebuild”

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Things did not go particularly well for Kevin Stallings in his first year at Pitt. The program, which essentially pushed Jamie Dixon out the door for being consistently good but not often enough great, struggled, going 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, just two games out of the cellar.

On top of that, six players prematurely left the program this spring.

Not great, especially when you’ve got a new boss that didn’t hire you, as is the case for Stallings with new Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke, who came aboard in March. In her first meeting with Stallings, Lyke asked a rather blunt question.

“Do you want to be here?” according to the Beaver County Times.

Stallings answered that he did, and his new athletic director would appear to be willing to give her predecessor’s hire time to reclaim and rebuild the program.

“It’s a steep climb, if you will,” Lyke said. “It’s not something that’s going to come easy and it takes an incredible amount of work.”

Stallings’ personal reputation took a significant amount of damage this spring when he attempted to block Cameron Johnson from an intra-ACC transfer to North Carolina. NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips called him a “town-deaf clown” in his attempt to keep Johnson from being a Tar Heel, a position he later relinquished, allowing Johnson to head to Chapel Hill.

Losing Johnson certainly won’t help Stallings and the Panthers recover from the difficult first season. Pitt didn’t hit any grand-slams in recruiting but is adding four-star guard Marcus Carr in its 2017 class.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look particularly bright, but Pitt appears to be positioning itself to exhibit some patience.

“If you look at the team, it is a complete rebuild,” Lyke said. “So I do think that (Stallings) is going to need a little time to develop it.

“But, we’ve got to be headed in the right direction. There’s some things that have got to get better and noticeable improvements. I’ve already seen those things start to happen.”

 

Miller Time: Indiana coach cashes in with $24 million deal

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — New Indiana coach Archie Miller will make $24 million under his seven-year deal — and potentially even more in bonuses.

Miller accepted the job in March, but the athletic department didn’t announce details of the contract until Tuesday.

He will receive a base salary of $550,000 per year and $1 million in deferred income each season. Miller also will receive an additional $1.85 million in outside marketing and promotional income — and will get a $50,000 per year raise each year through March 2024.

Miller can earn a $250,000 bonus for winning a national championship. He can earn an additional $125,000 for a Big Ten regular-season title, reaching the Final Four and producing multiyear Academic Progress Rate scores over 950.

Utah, BYU rivalry back on after one-year hiatus

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The BYU-Utah annual rivalry series will be back on this season after taking a one-year hiatus last year.

For just the second time since 1909, the Utes and the Cougars did not play in 2016-17 after Utah head coach Larry Kyrstkowiak asked for a one-year cooling off period stemming from an intense and emotional game against BYU in 2015-16. In that game, then-freshman Nick Emery was ejected as a result of this punch that he threw:

The last time those two teams did not play was due to World War II.

The game will be played at BYU on Dec. 16th.

Utah will also play Utah State this season, the first time that they have played the Aggies since 2011.

 

California bans state-funded travel to eight states; does it affect college hoops?

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A new California law could end up causing a headache for the sports teams for public universities in the state.

Because of recently-added laws that are perceived as discriminatory against the LGBT community, California has now banned travel to eight states: Texas, Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota join a list that already includes Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The law states that contracts that were signed before Jan. 1st, 2017, are exempted and can be fulfilled, but there’s not guarantee that will be the case in the future.

“Moving forward, the athletic department will not schedule future games in states that fail to meet the standards established by the new law,” a UCLA spokesman told the Sacramento Bee. That said, the university does not use state funding for travel sports teams as it currently stands, and the goal of the law to avoid “spending taxpayer dollars in states that discriminate,” according to California’s Attorney General.

On the college basketball side of things, the biggest question mark here is whether or not this law will prevent teams from playing in the NCAA tournament if they are sent to a site in one of those eight states. Next season alone, there are first weekend sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee, not to mention the Final Four taking place in San Antonio. The location for many of those events were determined prior to January 1st.

“We are generally not going to deny student-athletes the opportunity to compete in the postseason,” a UCLA spokesman told NBC Sports.

The next question then becomes whether or not regular season travel will be allowed. Earlier this year, Cal dropped out of talks with Kansas about a potential home-and-home series due to this law, and if regular season travel is not allowed, it would mean that Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville and Wichita State, along with Kansas, are not allowed to be visited by California public schools that need state funding to travel. A request for a clarification on the legality of college sports teams traveling to those states has been filed with the Attorney General by Fresno State, whose football team is headed to Alabama for a game this year.

Travel for recruiting is also a question that needs to be answered, but at the highest level of the sport, that is typically funded by boosters.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.