Which Final Four coach do you want? We state our cases

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Any coach who reaches the Final Four qualifies as a pretty good coach. Yes, even Rick Barnes.

But some of the coaches whose teams play in the NCAA tournament’s final weekend are a cut above their peers. They’re the best recruiters, Xs-and-Os guys, savvy managers of egos and smart enough to surround themselves to help them along the way.

That applies to the four guys in New Orleans: Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.

But which one would you want coaching your team for one game? We state our cases for each one.

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John Calipari

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You want John Calipari. He’s got the highest career win percentage of the four coaches, and while he may not have a national title to his credit like Rick Pitino or Bill Self it’s only a matter of time before he does. Of his 13 NCAA tournament teams ten have reached at least the Sweet 16, and that’s not something that happens solely because of the ability to recruit (I don’t worry about vacated records because that’s one of the dumbest punishments in all of sports).

He’s been able to get an immensely talented team to play together with no signs of ego taking over, and more times than not Kentucky ends up in a good position to be successful. The other three coaches may receive more praise for their work with a clipboard, but the judgment of Calipari in that regard seems to be more about perception than reality.

— Raphielle Johnson

*NCAA records. Does not include 42 wins, 2 losses, 2 league titles and 2 tourney titles that were vacated.

Thad Matta

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The youngest coach among the four, Matta’s also probably the most underrated. He’s been a head coach 12 years and won his conference title nine times, including five in the Big Ten, routinely one of the game’s three best leagues. He won an NCAA tournament game with Butler, took Xavier to the Elite Eight and was in the national title game in just his third year at Ohio State. That’s a career for most guys, not just the start of one.

Yet Matta’s proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, developer of talent and has a flair for preparation and in-game tactics, too. His Buckeyes were more than ready for Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone last weekend, shredding it with interior passing. He’s made a football school into one of college basketball’s elite programs. That’s no accident. That’s a testament to how good he is and how his players respond to that excellence.

— Mike Miller

Rick Pitino

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Would it surprise you to hear that, after a 29-point loss to Providence earlier this season, Cardinals fans were more likely to discuss the chances that their team missed the NCAA tournament entirely than that the possibility of winning the Big East tournament and reaching the Final Four? That’s the turnaround that Pitino has orchestrated, and he has done it while dealing with myriad of injuries to key players.

There’s more: Pitino has also proven to have a feel for this team, making in-game adjustments — like switching to a man-to-man defense against Florida — that have helped to spark this run. Most importantly, he has no pressure on him or his team. They are supposed to lose to heavily favored — and heated rival — Kentucky. John Calipari is the one with the pressure. Can you imagine the embarrassment of the best team he’s had getting upset by a rival coached by his personal rival? They always say the most dangerous person is the one with nothing to lose.

— Rob Dauster

Bill Self

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Bill Self and the Jayhawks did it again in 2011-12, despite losing the Morris twins and two more of his top five scorers from last season. They lost two top recruits, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, to eligibility problems. They didn’t have a clear-cut star or go-to guy to begin the season.

He made long-term player development investments, notably Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, which finally paid off this season. In the short-term, as Pat Forde of Yahoo! points out, Self outdueled Roy Williams in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina.

So, for reasons of consistency and the ability to build in both the short-term and long-term, Bill Self is the best coach in the Final Four.

— Daniel Martin

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

John Calipari reminds Kentucky fans to remain classy in defeat

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Before traveling to Phoenix for the Final Four festivities, Kentucky head coach John Calipari used his Twitter account in an effort to diffuse the anger members of Big Blue Nation have directed at a referee following a heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight.

In the days following the season-ending loss to North Carolina, some fans — not all — have harassed official John Higgins. They’ve flooded the Facebook page of his roofing business, leaving negative reviews and lowering his company’s star rating. Some have gone even more extreme, going as far as sending death threats over the phone.

Based on the replies, some have received the message. Others haven’t. The latter, despite it being a small but vocal group, can, unfortunately, paint a fan base with a broad brush.

Mark Emmert: NCAA Board of Governors to meet ‘in the next few days’ to determine N.C.’s tournament standing

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Late on Wednesday night, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to repeal the controversial and discriminatory House Bill 2 law, which is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The NCAA had given the state a deadline of Thursday morning to make a change in this law or they would miss out on hosting NCAA tournament game until the 2022 season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots here. The pressure the NCAA asserted on the state helped create a change.

The question is just how much of a change, as many believe that the repeal does not do enough to change what is discriminatory about the law.

“What distinguished North Carolina,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill, and they removed some of them but not all of them. If you removed two or three of them, is that enough?”

The NCAA Board of Governors have stretched out the process of determining future tournament sites as far as possible, Emmert said, meaning that a decision on this new bill will be made soon.

“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to find a time to get together with the board, and that will probably happen in the next few days,” Emmert said, and in those meetings, the board “will determine if this [new] bill is sufficient change.”

“I’m personally very pleased they have a bill to debate and discuss. Hopefully we can be in a place where we can announce the board’s decision early next week.”

Gonzaga’s Mark Few named AP Coach of the Year

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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.

Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.

This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.

Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.

Frank Mason is named AP Player of the Year

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Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.

The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.

TJ Leaf declares for the 2017 NBA Draft

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UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.

This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.

The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.