Syracuse shuts downs Indiana at both ends of the floor

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Syracuse was not supposed to be in the Elite Eight. Not with No. 1-seed Indiana, not on a court in which they were blown out by 22 points less than a month ago. But thanks to a career-high 24 points from Michael Carter-Williams, the Syracuse Orange advanced to the Elite Eight with a 61-50 win over the Hoosiers on Thursday night.

Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone gave the Hoosiers fits, as Indiana finished just 16-for-48 from the field and 3-for-15 from beyond the arc. Heading into the contest the key match-up top watch for was how Indiana would combat Syracuse’s length on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. It took less than 20 minutes to figure out that Indiana didn’t have many answers on either end of the court. By the end of the game, Yogi Ferrell failed to score any points, had just one assist and committed four turnovers. Jordan Hulls didn’t fare much better. He too finished with zero points, but dished out three assists to just two turnovers.

But Indiana’s struggles were not exactly their fault. Much of their demise can be credited to the play of Syracuse, who as a team finished with 10 blocks and 12 steals.

The way to beat a 2-3 zone is by inserting the ball into the high-post, then either a quick pass to the wing or down to the low block. Syracuse’s length forced Indiana to make inaccurate entry passes, and the Orange’s size down low was too much for Cody Zeller to deal with. This was one of the few times all season where he looked vulnerable. He struggled with high-percentage shots and had difficulty going up strong against the big Syracuse front line.

Jim Boeheim was extremely pleased with the way his role-players were able to stymie the Hoosiers’ frontcourt. “I thought Baye (Moussa-Keita) was tremendous and (Jerami) Grant made an unbelievable block. He gave us a plus 8 in 10 minutes he had an unbelievable block on Sheehey, those are the contributions that you have to have and he gave them to us tonight.”

From the opening tip Indiana looked tentative against the length Syracuse had on defense. “They were just long and active. We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have,” said Victor Oladipo, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “In the first half we got a little too anxious, catching the ball, moving out the ball, not having the ball secure in our hands, and our shots weren’t falling at the same time.”

Syracuse made Indiana feel uncomfortable all night long. The Hoosiers struggled to handle the ball, we’re hesitant to finish strong around the basket and became gun-shy once they realized their shots weren’t falling.

Syracuse’s James Southerland knew Indiana would have issues with their zone. “At first they looked confused, slowing the ball down seeing what they could get. We just do the a good job of talking out there and recovering if they get penetration, but it’s tough. One thing they don’t see is how long we are until they approach our zone.”

But it wasn’t just the Orange’s length on defense that gave Indiana trouble. The Orange ran their fast break to perfection, and used their size advantage on offense. The length and size of Syracuse’s guards made it difficult for Indiana to match-up defensively. Jordy Hull, at 6-foot-1, was not athletic enough to guard Brandon Triche, who at 6-foot-4, was the smallest player for the Orange on Thursday. “We felt like we had an advantage size wise finishing at the rim and that’s what we did,” said Triche, who finished with 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting.

Much of the Orange’s offensive game plan was focused on isolating Victor Oladipo and having the off-ball players go to the basket. When Oladipo guarded Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche exploited the defense. When he covered Triche, Carter-Williams did the same.

“Victor is a very good defender and through the first half he was pretty much guarding James, so Mike had a field day against the basket and I also contributed a few points,” said Triche. “Once he started guarding Mike, I felt like I had an advantage and once he got off Mike know, I felt like he had an advantage shooting but he also scored points on him well. We just did a great job getting into the lane and getting them in foul trouble.”

Carter-Williams had his best game in an Orange uniform, scoring a career-high 24 points and added five steals and four rebounds. The 6-foot-6 guard was too much for the undersized Indiana defense to handle.

Boeheim knew that Carter-Williams would be the difference-maker on offense, and was more than pleased with the result. “This was the best he’s played all year. He was tremendous tonight, he was the difference in the game on offense, clearly.”

With the win, the Orange are just one game away from a spot in the Final Four. But they will have to defeat a Marquette team that exposed the Orange’s zone early in the year en route to a 74-71 victory. The No. 3-seed Golden Eagles will face off against the No. 4-seed Orange on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Verizon Center in the East Regional Finals.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir.

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.

Two workouts this week could alter Caleb Swanigan’s NBA Draft decision

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Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan has the most important decision among any college basketball player who could return next season from the 2017 NBA Draft process. If Swanigan comes back for his junior season, he’s the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. More importantly, Purdue would have a serious chance to repeat as Big Ten regular season champions, especially if Vince Edwards also returns from the same draft process.

Wednesday night is the decision deadline for players to return to college basketball for next season and Swanigan will use two more workouts scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday to help decide his future. According to multiple reports, Swanigan will workout for the Orlando Magic on Tuesday and the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s workout with the Magic will also reportedly involve Cal big man Ivan Rabb — an important workout for Swanigan since Rabb is listed ahead of Swanigan on a lot of popular mock drafts. The Magic own three picks between No. 25 and No. 35 — which is listed slightly above the No. 40 slot that Draft Express has Swanigan listed. So if Swanigan has a good workout against Rabb for the Magic, then he could get himself some sort of guarantee from a Magic team that desperately needs talent and has a lot of picks in that range.

The Knicks also have Swanigan scheduled for a Wednesday workout as they own the No. 44 overall pick in the second round. Again, the Knicks are a team in win-now mode with current stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis openly feuding with the team’s front-office, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Swanigan to land some sort of guarantee from New York in the second round.

Of course, guarantees for draft night are nice to have, but things can change quickly on draft night. Swanigan has to consider all of the information he is receiving before he makes his decision on Wednesday. But if Swanigan has two strong workouts and gets the information that he’s looking for this week, then he could easily bolt for a potential guaranteed contract.