Final Four Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

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Today we will be breaking down Saturday’s Final Four matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

MAJOR STORY LINES: Let’s get beyond the fact that these two teams have played once already this season, because we all know that the last time that Florida lost, back in December, came when Shabazz Napier was doing Shabazz Napier things like hitting buzzer-beaters. What’s more interesting is that Napier hasn’t stopped doing that, and has since led the Huskies to the American tournament title game and now the Final Four. Reminiscent of a certain UConn point guard by the name of Kemba, no?

What makes that all the more impressive is that UConn was left for dead as a program not too long ago. Recruiting violations, academic sanctions, getting kicked out of the Big East, getting blacklisted from the ACC, dealing with a coaching change and a new regime. And in his first NCAA tournament, that new regime — Kevin Ollie — has led the Huskies to with a game of playing for a national title.

Also worth noting here is that Billy Donovan has a chance to win his third title before the ago of 50. At what point does he (rightfully) get recognized as one of the sport’s legendary coaches?

KEY STATS: UConn is a top ten team defensively, and it starts with their back court. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can absolutely hound opposing guards. Florida has a tendency to be a bit turnover prone and UConn’s guards — I’m throwing Lasan Kromah into the mix as well — have a habit of picking pockets.

KEY PLAYERS: Normally I like to make this section be dedicated to the x-factors, but not this time, not when Shabazz Napier and Scottie Wilbekin are so important to their team’s success. Napier is the star of stars in this Final Four, the lone first-team all-american and the most important player to his team’s success. As Shabazz goes, so goes the Huskies. Wilbekin’s stardom isn’t quite as obvious. Florida’s recipe for winning basically goes like this: build a 5-10 point lead on a team over the course of the first 30 minutes, then give the ball to Wilbekin to close out the win. I’m not sure it will happen unless Florida plays Wilbekin and Kasey Hill together for extended minutes, but there’s always room to hope for those two going head-to-head for 40 minutes.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-6.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. DeAndre Daniels: He’s got lottery pick talent, but the only thing that he’s done consistently throughout his career is to play inconsistently. He put on one of the best performances that you’ll see in March in the win over Iowa State, and he’s been playing well for about three weeks straight now. He’s the guy that turns UConn from a good team to a team that has a chance to beat the Gators.

2. Florida switching defenses: This is what makes them so difficult to prepare for. They can give you five or six different looks defensively, and they can play all of them at an elite level. It doesn’t hurt that they have athletes up and down their roster that look like they’ve been training for the Mr. Universe competition.

3. UConn’s rebounding: The Huskies are not a big team, and their size up front is not all that strong or physical. There is a reason that they rank 246th in defensive rebounding percentage. Florida isn’t exactly Kentucky, but they can get on the offensive glass. Here’s the thing to remember, however: UConn’s front line shut down Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Sunday. Florida’s bigs aren’t as good as them.

CBT PREDICTION: Florida

Brad Underwood pokes fun at his version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’

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On Thursday afternoon, Brad Underwood, the new head coach of Illinois, was invited to Wrigley Field to throw out the first pitch and sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the seventh inning stretch.

While the ceremonial first pitch went well, his rendition of the ballpark classic did not go as smoothly.

Underwood was at least able to poke fun at his vocals following his performance.

“I’d rather coach naked than sing in front of 40,000,” Underwood said afterward. “There’s a reason my wife won’t let me sing in church.”

Underwood took over Illinois in mid-March following a one-year stint at Oklahoma State. He had previously led Stephen F. Austin to three NCAA Tournament appearances in as many seasons.

 

AAC plan men’s basketball tourney at new Texas arena in ’20

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.

On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.

Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.

After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Kansas’ forward Dedric Lawson accused of walking out on $88 bar tab

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Dedric Lawson has been accused of walking out on an $88 bar tab, according to a police report obtained by the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Here’s what allegedly happened: He was at a bar in Overton Square in Memphis at 1:30 a.m. when he was handed a bill for more than $88 by a waitress. That waitress, who said she went to high school with Lawson, told police that he walked out of the bar and got into a Nissan Maxima and left without paying the bill.

Dedric has denied the allegation. Appearing on 92.9 FM, an ESPN radio station in Memphis, he said that he ordered two drinks worth a total of $10.50 and gave the waitress $12, but she wanted him to pay for drinks that were ordered by other people for other people. He did not order or drink those drinks, Lawson said, so he did not want to pay for them.

Lawson transferred from Memphis to Kansas this offseason. He was suspended by the Jayhawks for an altercation in practice last month and left home from the team’s trip to Italy earlier this month. He averaged 19.9 points and 9.2 boards for the Tigers last season, and will be sitting out this year as a transfer at Kansas.

Late on Wednesday, another former Tiger, Joe Jackson, was arrested on felony drug and gun charges.

College programs in Barcelona safe after terror attack

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August is the time that college basketball programs take their overseas trips, and one of the most popular destinations for that travel is Barcelona.

On Thursday evening, tragedy struck in one of the city’s most popular tourist locations, as a van driven down Las Ramblas struck pedestrians. Local authorities have confirmed there are fatalities and are terming the incident a “terror attack”.

RELATED: NBC News has the latest on the incident

At least five programs are currently in Barcelona: Clemson, Arizona, Oregon State, Grand Canyon and Tulane. All five programs have released statements confirming that all members of the traveling parties are safe and accounted for.

The attack occurred right outside Clemson’s hotel. The team is currently on lockdown.

According to Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle, the attack “happened directly in front of our hotel while we were having a team meal in the restaurant.”