Final Four Preview: What you need to know about Syracuse

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Syracuse has really had a storybook season.

The Orange looked great early in the season, but they really began to struggle when James Southerland went out with his academic issues. It didn’t get any easier for the Orange when he got back, as Jim Boeheim struggled to find a way to get his team to buy back into his rotation.

The group was disjointed. There didn’t have much leadership. Their season ended with a 22 point whipping at the hands of arch-nemesis Georgetown. And then there was the 16 point collapse in the Big East tournament title game. And the fire that ripped through Michael Carter-Williams childhood home.

But it all came together for the Orange, as they have no made their way into the Final Four for the first time since Melo had cornrows and wore Orange.

How they got here: Syracuse beat No. 13 seed Montana 81-34 in the opening round, following that up with a win over No. 12 Cal to advance to the Sweet 16. There, in Georgetown’s home arena, Syracuse turned up their defense to a different level, knocking off both Indiana and Marquette and allowing a grand total of just 89 points in the process. It wasn’t pretty. But it worked.

Odds to win the title: 17:4

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

Why they can win: That defense. Syracuse has allowed just 0.72 PPP in the NCAA tournament. By contrast, Stephen F. Austin led the nation in PPP defense this season at 0.843. To put that into layman’s terms, in a standard, 64-possession basketball game, Syracuse would be allowing about eight points less, on average, than the stingiest defensive team in the country. SFA plays in the Southland. Syracuse beat Indiana on Thursday. Think about that.

Why they won’t win: Can we fully trust the Syracuse back court yet? Don’t get me wrong, Carter-Williams was simply exceptional this weekend, from both a performance and a leadership standpoint. He scored when he needed to score. He distributed when he needed to distribute. He defended, he rebounded, he did it all. But he’s also been inconsistent this season and is still adapting to that leadership role. Given how much he played last year, hes basically a freshman this season.

Will he be able to handle the pressure of the Final Four? Will Brandon Triche, who has had some turnover and consistency issues late in the season, play well enough to win a national title? Both players have had turnover issues this season. What happens if they get matched up with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith again?

Key stat: 15.2%. 14-92. That’s what opponents are shooting from three against the Orange in the four NCAA tournament games. Think about that. Montana shot 31 threes. Marquette shot 25. Indiana was 3-15 from beyond the arc. Michigan is a team that likes to shoot threes. Is that a recipe for disaster?

Game-changer: James Southerland. He’s the most explosive scorer for the Orange, and he’s also their best perimeter shooter. At 6-foot-8, he’s the perfect fit for Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, but also spreads the floor and creates driving lands for the Cuse guards.

Prediction?: I like the Orange knocking off Michigan, but I don’t think that they would knock off Louisville if they played them for a fourth time in the title game.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.