Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson looks to go out in style

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said on multiple occasions that his team would play faster. And many snickered, pointing out that the team’s adjusted tempo of 63.6 in 2011-12 was the highest (ranked 281st nationally) of any Sendek-coached team during his time in Tempe. And from a scoring standpoint, since the 2008-09 squad led by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph (now Jeff Ayres) averaged 69.4 points per game no Arizona State squad in the three seasons that followed averaged more than 67 points per contest.

But while the cynics scoffed Arizona State knew they had a point guard in redshirt freshman Jahii Carson capable of changing the tempo at which the Sun Devils ran, and sure enough the Mesa native’s impact was felt immediately. With Carson leading the way Arizona State increased its scoring average by more than ten points per game (71.8 ppg after averaging 61.0 ppg in 2011-12) and more importantly the Sun Devils increased their win total by 12, going from ten wins to 22 and a trip to the Postseason NIT.

In regards to Carson’s (18.5 ppg, 5.1 apg) individual achievements, he became the first freshman to average at least 18 points and five assists per game since Mount St. Mary’s guard Chris McGuthrie (19.8, 5.1) did so back in 1992-93. With the combination of his individual skills and the way in which he helped transform the Arizona State program, Carson very well could have made the decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft.

But he didn’t, deciding instead to return to Tempe with the goal of leading Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

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“The most important information that we used to make the decision was Jahii’s own feelings about what he needed to do,” Sendek told NBC Sports. “Jahii has a very high basketball IQ, and he determined that this was really something that made sense for him.”

Carson wasn’t the first player to ultimately decide that returning to school was the best decision for him, and he certainly won’t be the last. But the concern in such situations is that instead of focusing on what the team needs, a player who returns to school does so with his focus being what the NBA scouts and executives want to see. And a failure to focus on the task at hand can result in a negative outcome for both the player and the program. However Sendek made it clear in early October that this would be the point guard’s final season in Tempe, and that move has removed most of the pressure Carson could have felt regarding the process.

“Many people, when they have the opportunity to go to the NBA, they try to play into what the NBA expects of them,” Carson told NBC Sports. “A lot of guys come back and say, ‘the NBA wants me to shoot better’ or ‘they want to see my ball-handling skills’ and they don’t necessarily play to win; they play to what the NBA scouts want to see.

“I’m the type of player who wants to win, because the more you win the better you’ll look to anybody,” Carson continued. “Everybody remembers a winner, so with my coach getting it out there and letting people know this will be my last season at Arizona State that takes the pressure off of me and allows me focus on making my teammates better and winning basketball games.”

If there’s one area that Carson needed to improve in during the offseason it was his perimeter shooting, as he made just 32% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13. While the new rules limiting contact on the perimeter may benefit a jet-quick guard like Carson, there’s also the possibility of teams sagging off and essentially daring him to prove that he can consistently knock down perimeter shots. But to this point in the preseason, Carson’s perimeter shot has improved according to Sendek.

And while that’s certainly a skill Carson needed to improve upon with an eye towards the long-term goal (getting to the NBA and being productive there), more importantly it will help Arizona State in the short-term.

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“I think the two will go hand-in-hand,” noted Sendek. “The more he helps Arizona State, the better that will prepare him for the NBA and enhance his chances in that league.”

Arizona State lost two double-digit scorers from last season in Evan Gordon (10.1 ppg) and Carrick Felix (14.1, 8.6 rpg), with the latter also being a valuable team leader both on the court and in the locker room. But center Jordan Bachynski returns for his senior season after posting averages of 9.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and a Pac-12 best 3.4 blocked shots per game, and the experienced Jonathan Gilling (9.7, 6.1) returns as well. Add in seven newcomers and Arizona State expects to have the depth needed to play at an ever faster pace.

One of those newcomers is senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who averaged 16.3 points per game at Penn State last season. Marshall’s arrival should help relieve some of the nightly attention that Carson receives from opponents, but the sophomore point guard will still be asked to score. If anything, Marshall’s arrival is expected to help make Carson a more efficient player.

“I don’t think it’s going to decrease my scoring,” said Carson of Marshall’s possible impact. “I do think that it will increase my productivity. With me being a more mature player, I’m going to be able to hit three-pointers, make my free throws and be more efficient from the field than I was last year. ”

The graduation of Felix makes leadership all the more important, and that’s an area in which veterans such as Carson, Bachynski and Gilling will be asked to grab the reins. And with the Pac-12 being an improved conference with eight teams feeling that they’ve got the talent needed to reach the NCAA tournament, Arizona State’s climb won’t be an easy one. But having an elite point guard will definitely help matters, and for all the individual praise heaped upon Carson the goal for his final season in Tempe is to accomplish what he didn’t a year ago: play in the NCAA tournament.

“I wanted to get to the NCAA tournament and only a few people get to experience that in their lives, and I want to be one of those people,” said Carson. “I felt like I had unfinished business here, and I want to leave a legacy here at Arizona State. And by making the NCAA tournament, I feel that it would secure a legacy for me at Arizona State.”

Gamecocks reserve guard Kory Holden leaves team

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Injured South Carolina guard Kory Holden has left the team.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin announced Holden’s decision Saturday, before South Carolina took on No. 10 Auburn at home.

Holden is a 6-foot-1 fourth-year junior who had sat out last season for the Gamecocks after transferring from Delaware. He was expected to be a big part of South Carolina’s backcourt this season with the departures of guards Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier and Justin McKie from last year’s Final Four team.

Instead, Holden played just 14 games off the bench and missed the past 11 games with a hamstring strain. He had averaged about 11 minutes and 3.4 points per game this season.

Saturday Recap: Kansas, Villanova earn big wins, Michigan State matches largest comeback win of last decade

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

What’s the best way to shake off a 3-for-18 day that included a 1-for-13 showing from three-point range? By making nine straight three-pointers the next game.

That’s exactly what Notre Dame senior point guard Matt Farrell pulled off in a Saturday afternoon ACC road win at Boston College. With the Irish desperately needing wins to stay in the NCAA tournament picture, Farrell let it fly for 37 points while going 10-for-12 from three-point range.

Farrell also added seven assists and only turned the ball over twice even though he navigated Notre Dame’s high-octane offense through the full 40 minutes.

RELATED: All of Saturday’s Bubble Banter in one place

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • MIKAL BRIDGES AND DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova: With Jalen Brunson having a slow afternoon, these two picked up the slack for Villanova. Bridges knocked down four first-half three-pointers on the way to 25 points for the Wildcats. DiVincenzo helped extinguish a Xavier second-half run with some big three-pointers, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
  • CALEB AND CODY MARTIN, Nevada: Playing its first game without starting point guard Lindsey Drew, the Martin twins stepped up in a road win at Utah State. Cody played point guard and dropped 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting while adding nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Caleb added 23 points and six rebounds.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: The senior point guard put together a solid overall game in a road win for the Tar Heels over Louisville. Berry finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists while knocking down five three-pointers.
  • FLETCHER MCGEE, Wofford: You might remember the junior guard for his performance in helping the Terriers stun North Carolina earlier this season. McGee had a monster outing to top that game in a win over Chattanooga. Knocking in a school-record 11 three-pointers, McGee had 45 points on 17-for-26 shooting.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Mark this one down as a tie. Kansas and Villanova both picked off fellow top-25 teams. More importantly, they both end Saturday tied for first place in their respective leagues after entering the day in second place.

Although the Jayhawks needed some help and got it with Baylor’s huge upset win over No. 7 Texas Tech, Kansas deserves credit on its own for its second-half, double-digit comeback win over No. 20 West Virginia. Now tied atop the Big 12 with the Red Raiders, Kansas will get a crack at Texas Tech in Lubbock next Saturday.

As for the Wildcats, they continued their domination of No. 4 Xavier with a convincing road win over the Musketeers. While Villanova has struggled with perimeter shooting the past few games, they had no such issues in this one as 11 first-half threes helped them gain control.

GAME OF THE DAY

As if this season hasn’t produced enough insane outcomes to begin with, things got even crazier on Saturday when No. 2 Michigan State rallied to beat Northwestern for a Big Ten road win.

The Spartans found themselves down by 27 points and still came back to win. It matches the largest comeback from the last decade of college basketball. The Big Ten has never had a bigger men’s basketball comeback.

It was a strange game in which the Spartans didn’t even need star sophomore Miles Bridges to have a big game to win one of the biggest comebacks in college basketball history.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

This win probability chart from Michigan State’s unlikely victory over Northwestern is ridiculous. We all understand how you feel, Chris Collins.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

We went this long without talking about Trae Young, so here’s the mandatory update. Texas actually came out of this one as the big story thanks to a huge Big 12 road win over Oklahoma. Dylan Osetkowski paced the Longhorns with 21 points while Young finished with 26 points on 7-for-21 shooting. This one really helps the bubble case for Texas.

Syracuse and Baylor were among the other teams earning huge bubble wins on Saturday as the Orange beat Miami and the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders also lost Keenan Evans to injury in that one as another this is yet another subplot to keep an eye on in the hectic Big 12 race.

Another wild day in the SEC as three ranked teams lost to unranked teams. South Carolina took down No. 10 Auburn but the biggest news in that one could be the Tigers’ loss of leading shot blocker Anfernee McLemore to injuryGeorgia raced past No. 18 Tennessee behind a big effort from Yante MatenAnd Arkansas earned another important resume win by handling No. 21 Texas A&M.

Of course, you can’t talk SEC with Kentucky as the Wildcats had some positive news. They snapped a four-game losing streak as Kentucky took down Alabama.

In the ACC, No. 14 North Carolina won its first game at Louisville as they knocked off the Cardinals.

Williams leads No. 9 Gonzaga over Pepperdine 81-67

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Pepperdine had closed within two points with more than seven minutes left, and forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie of No. 9 Gonzaga rose to meet the challenge.

Williams had two dunks and a block, and Tillie hit a couple of 3-pointers, to sink the Waves 81-67 on Saturday night.

“I’m playing with confidence,” said Williams, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for his sixth consecutive double-double. It’s rebound first. Points will come second. It’s been working for me.”

Coach Mark Few said Williams’ exceptional play during February was not a surprise.

“When he plays assertively, athletically … he’s a handful,” Few said. “He’s cutting loose a little bit.”

Tillie and Josh Perkins each scored 15 points for Gonzaga (25-4, 15-1 West Coast), which has won nine consecutive games and remains in first place in the West Coast Conference.

Colbey Ross scored 21 points for Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15), which has lost seven straight.

“Give them credit,” Williams said about Pepperdine. “They played a hell of a game out there. It was gut-check time.”

Gonzaga has won 35 straight games against Pepperdine dating to 2002. The Waves have not won in Spokane since 1998.

“They dialed it up defensively late in the game and got on a run,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of Gonzaga.

“We talked about not letting the crowd get in our heads, but it did,” Wilson said. “They went on a couple runs and the more the crowd was in the game, the better they played.”

Gonzaga hit four 3-pointers during an early 20-6 run to take a 26-12 lead.

Gonzaga began missing and Pepperdine clawed back to trail just 34-28 late in the first.

The Zags led 39-32 at halftime, after holding the Waves to 41 percent shooting.

Three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half lifted the Bulldogs to a 54-40 lead.

But the Waves came back and a basket by Trae Berhow cut Gonzaga’s lead to 66-64 with 7:32 left. Tillie hit a 3-pointer and Williams dunked to push Gonzaga’s lead back to seven.

The Waves were scoreless for more than six minutes, missing seven shots, as the Zags built a 77-64 lead.

“In the end we were solid in the last four minutes,” Few said. “We were making plays at the end. We started the game well, but we couldn’t quite put them away (until the closing minutes).”

WEIRD SHOOTING

Gonzaga shot nearly 57 percent from 3-point range (13 of 23), but just 53 percent from the free throw line (8 of 15). Pepperdine shot 41.4 percent in each half.

TWENTY FIVE WINS

Gonzaga has won at least 25 games for 11 consecutive seasons, trailing only Kansas’ streak of 12. “That’s really significant,” Few said. “Those are hard to come by. I don’t take them for granted.”

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The school announced earlier this week that Coach Marty Wilson, in his seventh season, will not return next year. “I was blessed to be able to coach at my alma mater for seven years,” Wilson said. “Not many people get that opportunity.” Few said the close game was a sign of how much Wilson’s players respect him. Nine of the Waves have missed games with injuries this season. Ross leads all WCC freshmen in scoring at 14.3 points per game.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs and No. 3 Villanova are the only teams in the nation that have six players averaging at least 10 points per game. The Zags are seeking a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. This was senior night for Williams and Silas Melson.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine plays at No. 15 Saint Mary’s next Thursday.

Gonzaga, which wrapped up its home season on Saturday, plays at San Diego next Thursday.

Bubble Banter: Texas, Syracuse, Baylor land massive wins

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Longhorns landed a massive, massive win for their NCAA tournament chances on Saturday afternoon when they went into Norman and picked off Oklahoma. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and put them into a position where a 2-2 finish to Big 12 play keeps them at 8-10 in the league. That’s relevant because no team more than two games below .500 in league play has reached the NCAA tournament since the early 90s. The Longhorns are now 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents with some elite wins in that mix — Texas Tech, at Alabama, a sweep of Oklahoma Butler on a neutral — and no losses worse than Quadrant 2. Texas is going to have a very real chance to be an NCAA tournament team with 14 losses this season.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: First four out): The Orange hold their bubble future in their own hands, and they got started in the right direction on Saturday by going into Coral Gables and picking off Miami. That’s their third Quadrant 1 win — assuming that Buffalo, who is currently 30th in the RPI, remains top 30 — but a Quadrant 3 loss and the lack of a truly marquee victory is a glaring hole in their résumé. The good news? This is the remaining schedule for the Orange: UNC, at Duke, at Boston College, Clemson. Go 2-2 in that stretch and they will enter the ACC tournament in pretty good shape.

BAYLOR (RPI: 58, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: Play-in game): What seemed like a pipe dream a few weeks ago now is within their grasp: The Bears are on their way to playing their way into the tournament now after winning their fifth straight game against Texas Tech on Saturday night. They are now 4-8 against Quadrant 1 with no losses outside the top two Quadrants. But they are 16-10 already with games left against West Virginia, at TCU, Oklahoma and at Kansas State. I think they need a split.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 59, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: Next four out): The Golden Eagles are going to ensure that things are, at the least, interesting for them down the stretch. Entering today, they had lost five of their last six games. Then they dug themselves a 20-point hole against Creighton Then they lost Markus Howard to a hip injury. And then they came back and won on the road. This is big because it is their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season, but it is bigger because it’s their last Quadrant 1 game of the season. They’ll have a real shot at getting in if they can win out: Saint John’s, at DePaul, at Georgetown, Creighton.

LSU (RPI: 72, KenPom: 64, NBC seed: Next four out): The Tigers picked up another Quadrant 1 win on Saturday, knocking off Missouri at home and ending their five game winning streak. LSU is now 15-11 on the season and 6-8 in the SEC, but they are also 7-5 against Quadrant 1 opponents. Only one of their 11 losses came against a Quadrant 3 opponent. Here’s the kicker: Their last four games are all very winnable: Vanderbilt, at Georgia, at South Carolina, Mississippi State. If they can get to the SEC tournament with a 19-11 record, I think they’ll be in the NCAA tournament.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 57, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 10): The Wildcats did what they needed to do on Saturday, dispatching Iowa State in Manhattan and setting themselves up for a critical stretch run. They play the following four games: Texas, at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor. Given that Kansas State has a Quadrant 2 loss and that their non-conference SOS is in the 320s, I would think they need two of those wins to feel comfortable. But here’s the catch: if they don’t win either road game, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 3-9 mark against Quadrant 1 opponents. The Selection Committee told us how much they value quality wins when the bracket was revealed last weekend. Would three Quadrant 1 wins be enough with seven Quadrant 2 wins? It might be, but I don’t think I would want to bet on it.

WASHINGTON (RPI: 52, KenPom: 103, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Huskies snapped a three-game losing streak by blowing out Colorado at home on Saturday, but this team is in a tough spot right now. While every other team on the bubble will have chances to improve their profile, Washington has just one Quadrant 2 game and three Quadrant 3 games left.

ARKANSAS (RPI: 30, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: 9): The Razorbacks landed their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season. They are now 19-8 on the year and have just one loss outside of Quadrant 1. At this point, Arkansas is going to be moved off of the bubble for us. They’re in if they don’t do anything stupid the rest of the way.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 59, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies beat the breaks off of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, meaning they finished their three game road trip at 2-1 with a win at Virginia. Not bad. The rest of VT’s schedule looks like this: Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. With a Quadrant 3 loss and a non-conference SOS of 325, I still think the Hokies need to win two of these games.

UCLA (RPI: 54, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): UCLA likely kept themselves on the right side of the bubble for now, as they picked off Oregon at home on Senior Night. I still think that if the Bruins want to feel safe on Selection Sunday they are going to need to win out. As it stands, they have just two Quadrant 1 wins and two Quadrant 3 losses. They finish the season like this: at Utah, at Colorado, at USC.

BUTLER (RPI: 40, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 10): The Bulldogs added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Saturday with an impressive win over Providence at home. Butler is 3-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents with three Quadrant 1 games left on their schedule: Creighton, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall. I think they’ll probably be in if they win one of those three games, but I would recommend winning two.

SAINT MARY’S (RPI: 31, KenPom: 19, NBC seed: 9): The Gaels ended their two-game losing streak by beating Portland on the road. They will be in the tournament as long as they don’t lose to anyone not named Gonzaga the rest of the way. The might be OK if it is BYU they lose to in the WCC tournament, but I would not recommend betting on that.

USC (RPI: 45, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: First four out): Simply put: USC could not afford to lost to Oregon State at home. They didn’t. I think they need to win out during the regular season to have a real chance at getting into the NCAA tournament. They only have two Quadrant 1 wins and only play one more Quadrant 1 opponent in the regular season.

N.C. STATE (RPI: 51, KenPom: 60, NBC seed: 11): The Wolfpack did what they needed to do by going into Winston-Salem and knocking off Wake Forest. Kevin Keatts’ club is in a good spot, but they are not a lock. They have some legitimately great wins this season, but they have already lost nine games this season and have a pair of Quadrant 3 losses. They’re in a good spot, but their margin for error is a little bit lower than other bubble teams since they have no more Quadrant 1 opponents on their schedule.

TCU (RPI: 24, KenPom: 20, NBC seed: 10): The Horned Frogs took care of business at home against Oklahoma State on Saturday, which is something that is not as easy as it would seem this season. TCU is 4-7 against Quadrant 1 and 6-9 against the top two Quadrants. Their final four games: at Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State, at Texas Tech. Win two of those and they should be fine.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 26, KenPom: 46, NBC seed: 11): The Blue Raiders did their job. They won at Louisiana Tech. They have home games left against UAB, Western Kentucky and Marshall before the Conference USA tournament. Win those, and as long as they take a loss to Western Kentucky in the league tournament, they might have a shot. They only have one Quadrant 1 win, but they would be 26-6 on the season.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 8): Losing at Butler doesn’t exactly hurt Providence’s profile. Quadrant 1 road losses are what they are. The Friars are interesting because they have five Quadrant 1 wins but two Quadrant 3 losses and a hideous, Quadrant 4 loss to DePaul at home. I think they need two more wins (Seton Hall, at Xavier, at Georgetown, St. John’s) to lock up their at-large bid.

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 43, KenPom: 34, NBC seed: 11): The Cardinals got worked at home by North Carolina on Saturday. The worry for this group is that they just don’t have all that many great wins. Their two Quadrant 1 wins are at Florida State and at Notre Dame, and they have just one other Quadrant 2 win. The good news? Their last four games — at Duke, at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State — are all Quadrant 1. They will be able to play their way in.

 

No. 7 Texas Tech lost to Baylor, but did they lose Keenan Evans, too?

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Baylor won their fifth game in a row on Saturday night, 59-57.

They beat No. 7 Texas Tech in Waco.

Texas Tech is now stuck in a tie for first place in the Big 12 with Kansas, blowing the one-game lead they entered the day with.

Baylor?

They’re probably going to the NCAA tournament.

But none of that is really the story of the night.

Because Keenan Evans, Texas Tech’s leading scorer and all-american point guard, did not play in the second half after suffering what head coach Chris Beard called a toe injury in the first half. He has not had x-rays on the toe yet — there were no x-ray machines in the Ferrell Center — but suffice to say that the Red Raider season hinges on what those results say.

Make no mistake: Evans could very well be a first-team all-american. Hell, if he returns healthy and Trae Young’s slide doesn’t stop, you can make a valid case that Evans should be the Big 12 Player of the Year come March. He’s a big shot maker and, as we saw down the stretch against Baylor, one of the only guys on this Texas Tech roster that can create a shot.

If he is out for any significant amount of time, it totally changes the trajectory of the Big 12 title race and the chances that the Red Raiders have at making a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

So here’s to hoping that Evans, a senior that has now played through two coaching regimes, can return healthy and reap the spoils of the work he’s put in by getting a chance to play his way to a Final Four in San Antonio.