Mental miscues, questionable coaching decisions doom Florida

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In the end, Florida simply dug themselves too big of a hole.

Thanks to some defensive miscues and a poor shooting start, Florida found themselves down 13-0, 20-4 and 41-17 before they woke up. By the time they did, the Gators simply couldn’t get out of their own way, as a series of mental mistakes and curious coaching decisions stunted any comeback attempt.

Florida’s season came to a close when the final horn sounded on Michigan’s 79-59 win.

It was a disappointing finish to a season that had been so promising. Florida was No. 1 in the Kenpom rankings for the majority of the season. They were the only team to rank in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency. They won the SEC regular season title, but a season of dominance over mediocre competition was marred by their struggles in close games.

In other words, this Florida team wasn’t one that you wanted to trust in a pressure situation. Playing a former No. 1 ranked team for the right to go to the Final Four in the Jerry Dome on national TV isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

MORE: Photos from the Elite Eight

Florida allowed the Wolverines to make a run early in the game, but that’s not really all that much of a concern. That happens. What was more concerning was the fact that, while watching Michigan pull away, Florida insisted on pounding the ball into their big men. Patric Young was being outplayed by Mitch McGary, while Erik Murphy was being out played by everyone; he finished 0-9 from the floor.

Florida also was apparently incapable of locating Nik Stauskas, who led the way with 22 points for Michigan and whose hot hand midway through the first half blew the game open. Look at his shot chart, via ESPN Stats & Info:

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Stauskas loves that corner. I can guarantee that it was in Florida’s scouting report, but if Luke Winn can figure it out, Florida’s coaching staff should. Eventually, even if that was missed, you would think that someone would realize that getting a hand up on Stauskas, after he’s hit three or four in a row from the same corner, would be a smart move.

(Here’s the funny thing: you can’t even credit Michael Frazier for trying to contest a Stauskas three when he committed a foul at the buzzer. He didn’t. He just ran into Stauskas.)

Perhaps the most head-scratching move came early in the second half. Florida had started out on an 8-3 run when Billy Donovan called a timeout immediately after a bucket. The Gators had cut the lead to just 12 points with 15:48 left, but per NCAA tournament rules, Donovan’s timeout would have to be a full-length media timeout: 3:30. When play resumed, McGary scored, Florida threw away the inbounds and Spike Albrecht scored, and then there was a whistle at the other end. Another media timeout, and this time Michigan was down 16 points. The Wolverines scored first out of that break, and that was pretty much it.

Florida’s got a promising future, however.

MORE: Michigan blows out Florida for first Final Four trip since 1993

They may end up losing their top four scorers — three graduate, Young may go pro — but with a solid core of youngsters in their back court, who will be joined by stud freshman Kasey Hill, and some grinders up front (Will Yegeute and Casey Prather) to play alongside five-star recruit Chris Walker, the Gators will have plenty of talent on their roster.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.