Planning for early departures begins well before April deadlines

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The days following the end of the college basketball season are important ones when it comes to the future of a program. Decisions have to be made by players with the potential to move on to the professional ranks, whether it’s to enter the NBA Draft or return to school for another season.

With the NCAA deadline to withdraw one’s name from the draft coming less than two weeks after the national title game, players and their families don’t have a great deal of time to decide their next move.

But for the programs involved, preparations for a possible departure begin well in advance of this period.

One school in that position this spring was Colorado, whose standout forward André Roberson had a tough decision to make. Roberson was one of the nation’s best forwards, as his defensive versatility and rebounding prowess played a pivotal role in head coach Tad Boyle’s ability to revive the CU basketball program. With averages of 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest, Roberson managed to earn first-team All-Pac 12 honors for the second consecutive season.

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The dilemma for the 6-7 Roberson: would he be better served from a skill standpoint to spend another season in Boulder, or should he make the move to the professional ranks with the idea of expanding his offensive repertoire at that level? In what was a tough decision, Roberson decided just before the NBA’s draft withdrawal deadline to go pro. And using the later deadline is something that happened by design, with the CU program encouraging Roberson to take all the time he needed to make an important decision such as this one.

“I think in André’s case it was one of those situations where he wanted to see who declared and who didn’t declare,” Boyle told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “I think waiting until the end of the process makes the most sense because you have a better feel of who’s coming back to college and who isn’t.

“I think that makes good business sense and it was something that André was smart to do.”

With Roberson no longer in the plans for 2013-14, the next step for Boyle and his staff was the figure out how they would go about accounting for the loss of one of the best players in school history. The fact of the matter is that from a recruiting standpoint this process began last summer.

“If you’re waiting until the spring to replace a guy like André Roberson you’re going to be left holding an empty bag,” said Boyle. “We actually started in the fall with the idea that could happen. And as a college coach, I know that if kids are close and it’s going to come down to one of those ‘down to the wire’ decisions it’s more often than not going to tip towards the NBA.

“We recruit with the idea that [the player leaving] is going to happen. If that doesn’t happen, you have to be ready for that as well.”

When it comes to recruiting to the the possibility of a player leaving school early, every school has a different strategy. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a school willing to make promises in regards to playing time, some schools are more open than others when it comes to discussing the various scenarios with recruits.

“For our staff, when we recruit we try to be fully transparent,” said Boyle. “We try to talk about what could happen, what might happen and what most likely what will happen. Obviously, there’s no guarantee and there’s no 100% certainty.”

To this point Boyle brought up the recruitment of incoming freshman Dustin Thomas, a 6-8 forward from Texarkana, Texas. Had Roberson made the decision to return to Boulder for his senior season, there was the possibility of Thomas redshirting (as Wesley Gordon did last year) or seeing limited minutes as a freshman.

But with Roberson off to the professional ranks, there’s now the opportunity for Thomas to come in and earn minutes as a freshman. Colorado also received a commitment from 6-6 forward George King in the spring, with his decision coming in mid-May. It would be unfair to expect one player to account for Roberson’s production next season. But the combination of newcomers and returnees (Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott lead the way) gives Colorado a number of players who are capable doing so by committee.

The recruiting process is one that never stops, and while some programs may be able to recruit five-star prospects as if they’re rolling in on an assembly line that isn’t the case for all. When it comes to the early entry process, how a program recruits becomes even more important. The programs that experience consistent success plan accordingly for early departures, beginning their work well before the April deadlines are on the horizon.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.