Final Four Preview: No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 4 Michigan

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This game needs to be a classic.

We need it to be great.

As a whole, the tournament has been kind of a bust this season. Florida Gulf Coast was fun while it lasted. Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross have hit some game-winners. Marquette played a couple exciting first weekend games. But the majority of the games have been blowouts. Even Wichita State’s run to the Final Four has been a bore, for the most part.

But this game? It has the chance to be a classic. Player of the Year vs. the toughest defense in the tournament. The most surprising freshman vs. the most athletic front line in the country. John Beilein vs. Jim Boeheim. Three point shooters vs. the zone.

Most importantly, two of the five most talented teams in the country squaring off on the biggest stage when they’re playing their best basketball. It should be fun.

Key Player: Mitch McGary

McGary has been arguably the best player in the tournament to date. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 boards through four games, single-handedly keeping the Wolverines in the game against Kansas for 33 minutes and then setting the tone in the blowout win over Florida. And the big fella has a pretty good matchup with this Syracuse team. Their big guys are long and athletic, but they aren’t nearly as physical as McGary is. There are few big men in the country that are as long and athletic as Jeff Withey, and eight days ago he gave the Kansas all-american 25 points and 14 boards.

Key Matchup: Trey Burke guarding Michael Carter-Williams

It feels obvious to say that the key matchup is the most important player from one team guarding the most important player from the other team, but it’s true. Carter-Williams is going to have a good five inches on Burke, and the last time we saw him going up against a guy where he had that kind of a size advantage, Carter-Williams gave Yogi Ferrell and Jordy Hulls 24 points in his best offensive performance of the season. That was in the Sweet 16. Will it be the same deal in the Final Four? Who knows, but I do know that Michigan cannot win if Burke cannot at least make things difficult for the Syracuse star.

Key Stat: 12-94

That’s what opponents are shooting from three against Syracuse in this tournament. Michigan has relied on the three-ball as much as anyone in the country this season. The Wolverines don’t have a chance if those three-balls aren’t going down.

Who Wins?: It’s going to come down to the final possession, which means that I’m going with Michigan. You don’t bet against Trey Burke in the clutch.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky

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Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.

But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.

Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.

Rice’s Marcus Evans becomes one of top available transfers

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Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.

The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.

With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.

Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.

NBA Draft Stock Watch: Who has helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament?

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The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.

We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player. 

Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?

STOCK UP

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.

Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.

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STOCK DOWN

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.

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Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.

Archie Miller received advice from John Calipari before taking Indiana job

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Indiana hiring former Dayton head coach Archie Miller to the same position over the weekend was major news and the move seemed to come so quickly.

While many believed that either Steve Alford or Chris Mack would be the frontrunner for the job, Miller was announced to a seven-year deal on Saturday morning.

The news was so surprising that Miller’s own father, John, wasn’t looped into the decision until Thursday night after Arizona and Archie’s brother, head coach Sean Miller, lost in the NCAA tournament to Xavier.

In a story from Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily News, he breaks down how John Miller found out about the Indiana job from Archie in a San Jose hotel room. There were also some other people Archie spoke to before making the decision. Archie’s brother, Sean, the head coach at Arizona had some input along with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

From Archdeacon’s story:

“When we lost to Xavier, we got back to the hotel and I was sort of in shock,” John said. “And all of a sudden Arch goes, ‘Guess what, Dad? I got a shot here (at the Indiana job). Whaddya think?’

“He listened to Sean and Cal – John Calipari is real close to us family-wise – and I spoke up a bit, too.

“I’ll tell you I was almost in tears, just like when my other guy left (Sean from Xavier to Arizona). Oh man I hated that. I loved Xavier. And now here it is eight years later and I’m in the same exact boat.

“I know in his heart Arch hates to get out of (Dayton), but that’s how it was with Sean leavin’ Xavier too. He turned Arizona down the first time, and I remember Calipari calling him up and saying, ‘Are you outta your mind? You gotta take that Arizona job!’”

The story from Archdeacon also has some interesting bits from John Miller about how he knew Archie wouldn’t take the N.C. State job while he also told some of his Dayton friends that Archie was staying put before he found out about the Indiana job in San Jose.

If Miller and Calipari are on good terms then it will be interesting to see if Indiana and Kentucky can work out a proper agreement so they are playing each other at least once a year. Clearly there is a respect between the Millers and Calipari and that will be an intriguing subplot to watch during Archie’s tenure at Indiana.

Roy Williams ‘scared to death’ over Joel Berry II’s Final Four status after ankle injuries

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North Carolina is going to be extra cautious with junior point guard Joel Berry II during this week after he went to the locker room during part of the first half in Sunday’s win over Kentucky.

Consistently bothered by a sprained ankle during the NCAA tournament, Berry will rest a lot this week, according to North Carolina head coach Roy Williams as he is going to make sure his floor leader is as healthy as possible heading into Glendale.

“Right now I’m scared to death because I just don’t know,” Williams said to reporters about Berry’s Final Four status.

Without Berry in the lineup for part of the first half, North Carolina was able to sustain its lead on Kentucky as veteran backups like Nate Britt and Stillman White provided valuable minutes. Williams said in yesterday’s postgame that Berry actually sprained his right ankle during Saturday’s practice and hurt his left ankle during Sunday’s game against Kentucky.

Berry returned in the second half and finished with 11 points for the game as his health will be a major focal point for North Carolina’s title hopes this weekend.