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Growth of supplemental guards key for Florida, UConn

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Saturday’s national semifinal between No. 1 Florida (36-2) and No. 7 UConn (30-8) will be a rematch of a game played back on December 2, with the Huskies winning 65-64 on a Shabazz Napier foul line jumper as time expired. But how much can be drawn from a game played four months ago, with both teams being much different outfits than they were on that Monday night? If anything it’s better to focus on how much the two teams have changed since that game, especially a Florida team that played the game at less than full strength.

Billy Donovan’s Gators were without backup point guard Kasey Hill, with the UConn contest being the fourth he would miss due to a sprained ankle. Add in the fact that fellow freshman Chris Walker had yet to be cleared by the NCAA, and Florida was without two players who have become solid reserves (to varying degrees) as the season’s worn on.

Obviously losing starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin late in that game due to a sprained ankle didn’t help the Gators’ chances of leaving Gampel Pavilion with the win either. Wilbekin played 35 minutes in that contest, which underlines the difference between the Florida team that left Storrs with a loss and the one that enters this weekend the prohibitive favorite to win the national title.

RELATED: CBTs preview of No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

The Gators lacked depth, with Dorian Finney-Smith essentially being their lone option off the bench. Now they’re up to an eight-man rotation, and it can be argued that of the three reserves it’s Hill whose impact is the most important even with his averaging just 5.5 points per game. Hill’s presence has allowed Wilbekin to do more work off the ball within the Gator offense. Averaging 35 minutes per game in the NCAA tournament, those moments off the ball can prove valuable to Wilbekin as he has been Florida’s best offensive weapon.

Hill also opens things up for his teammates due to his quickness with the basketball, and in Florida’s Sweet 16 win over UCLA as he racked up ten assists.

“I think Kasey in the tournament, and even going back to the SEC has come on.  He’s played better,” Donovan said earlier this week. “He’s improved. He makes our team faster when he’s out there. I thought what he did in the UCLA game really helped us.  He manufactured a lot of easy baskets for us by getting down the lane. So him being available to play I think helps our team.”

With Hill, Finney-Smith, who accounted for three points and six rebounds in the first meeting with UConn, and Walker firmly entrenched in the rotation Florida now has the depth it did not enjoy back in December.

As for UConn they’ve made some changes to the rotation since December, most notably Omar Calhoun going from starter to seldom-used reserve. Niels Giffey, the top three-point shooter in the American Athletic Conference, and Lasan Kromah have both strengthened their respective grips on spots in the rotation and even Terrence Samuel has earned an increase in minutes due to his ability on the defensive end of the floor.

But if there’s one player to focus on when it comes to the difference between UConn now and what they were in December, it would be junior guard Ryan Boatright.

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Shabazz Napier’s sidekick, Boatright’s made strides in areas that aren’t always visible in the box score. His defense against Michigan State’s guards in Sunday’s East Region final was one reason why the Spartans spent the majority of their time hoisting up jumpers instead of committing to working the ball inside. Boatright’s shooting just 38.5% from the field in the NCAA tournament, which is actually better than his percentage on the season as a whole, but he’s contributed in other areas to make up for that. And while Napier’s leadership gets the headlines, Boatright has been important as well.

“He’s meant a lot. Ryan is growing up,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said on Monday. “Ryan is allowing us to coach him now.  He’s opening up. He’s trusting us more.  That’s always difficult for young kids sometimes, the trust issue. Maybe I should not take this shot. Maybe I should pass this good shot up for Amida to have a great shot. He’s started to do that.”

December’s matchup between Florida and UConn produced one of the best endings of the college basketball season, with a Shabazz Napier shot off of a loose ball being the difference. The Gators haven’t lost since, getting healthier and solidifying their rotation while winning 30 straight games. As for UConn the road to Arlington was tougher, but they’ve gotten hot at just the right time.

Scottie Wilbekin and Shabazz Napier will receive much of the attention, and rightfully so, but the development of their respective sidekicks (Hill and Boatright) is what sticks out when looking back on the first meeting.

Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky out for the season

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Michal Cekovsky #15 of the Maryland Terrapins is defended by Zedric Sadler #2 of the Rider Broncs during the first half at Xfinity Center on November 20, 2015 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Maryland big man Michal Cekovsky will be out for the rest of the season with a fractured ankle, the school announced on Monday.

The 7-foot-1 junior went down with the injury late in the second half of Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin. He had recently rejoined the Terps’ rotation and had started to get more comfortable, scoring 10 points against the Badgers before leaving the game.

Cekovsky appeared in 17 games this season and averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game

“I feel badly for Ceko as he has endured a number of injuries throughout the season,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in the release. “It felt like he was really starting to turn the corner and his best basketball was ahead of him. We anticipate a full recovery for next season and we will be there to support him through the rehabilitation process.”

Without Cekovsky in the lineup, more pressure will be put on Damonte Dodd to stay out of foul trouble while staying productive. Sophomore Ivan Bender also figures to see more minutes now as he has already seen double-figure minutes off the bench for the Terps the last three games.

This loss will hurt Maryland’s frontcourt depth but they should still be able to withstand this injury with the firepower they have on the perimeter. Junior Melo Trimble is still playing fantastic ball while the team’s freshmen have also been solid for most of the season.

Maryland finishes the regular season with three out of four games at home as the one road game comes at Rutgers.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim isn’t pleased when asked by reporter if Syracuse is ‘impatient’

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim has never been a man that’s shied away from saying what he feels, even if that results in him going after a reporter during a press conference.

On Sunday night, Boeheim did just that, when he was clearly unhappy about being asked whether or not his team was ‘impatient’:

Boeheim had reason to be upset beyond that particular line of questioning: Not only did his team lose a tough road game thanks to a pretty bad call in the final 20 seconds, but that loss might be what costs them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

With Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, it’s time for John Calipari-to-the-NBA to heat up

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With Demarcus Cousins ending up on New Orleans – I hesitate to call that fleecing a “trade” – to join forces with another former Kentucky Wildcat, it only makes sense for the dots to get connected: John Calipari to the Pelicans!

Dan Patrick didn’t waste any time diving right in on Monday morning, opening his interview with Coach Cal with: “Can I have permission to start a rumor about you?”

Before Patrick even had a chance to define said rumor, Cal hit him with a, “Not. Happening.” He doubled down on his denials later on that morning by telling a teleconference of reporters, “that’s not going to happen.”

This is what Cal has to say. When you’re the head coach at Kentucky, an incredibly high-paying job and arguably the best in the college basketball business, you cannot be publicly campaigning for another position, even if it is an NBA gig with two of the league’s top 12 players. And while Cal isn’t exactly forthcoming when it comes to what he reveals in the media – his name gets mentioned with an NBA job roughly every six months, and he has the same answer every time – I think I believe him here.

Why?

Because I don’t think he gives up his lucrative seat as the celebrity overlord of college basketball for anything less than the perfect job: One where he can win immediately, avoiding the indignity of another NBA flameout like the one he had with the Nets 17 years ago, and one where he is given total and complete roster control. He wants to be the coach and the GM, and I’m not sure New Orleans is in a position where they would get rid of GM Dell Demps, who orchestrated The Fleecing Of Sacramento, or head coach Alvin Gentry, who was hired prior to the start of last season and could feasibly get this group back to the Playoffs this year, for a guy that last coached in the NBA in 1999 after getting fired 20 games into a season.

And all of that is before you consider that Cousins still needs to ink a long-term deal with New Orleans at some point for this theory to truly be viable, although finding a way to bring in Cal could certainly help Cousins make this decision.

I also get it.

Cal, better than anyone else since Cousins first touched a basketball, found a way to channel Cousins’ immense talents. If anyone can find a way to get Boogie to shed his baggage, it’s probably Cal. Then factor in the chance that he would find a way to be able to reel in, say, John Wall, and those are dots that are just screaming to be connected.

A Kentucky reunion in the Big Easy. Big Blue Nation would buy every ticket available at the Smoothie King Center. Who wouldn’t love that?

Maybe it happens. But at this point, I have a hard time seeing Coach Cal giving up his throne atop Lexington.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga remains atop the top 25, Baylor and Virginia tumble

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 10:  Head coach Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts to a call in the second half of the game against the Akron Zips at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 10, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Akron 61-43.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Once again, undefeated Gonzaga finds themselves sitting al alone atop the Coaches Poll. The Zags are also No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25 and the AP Poll.

Villanova and Kansas are two and three again, while Arizona and UCLA round out the top five.

Here is the full poll:

1. Gonzaga
2. Villanva
3. Kansas
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Louisville
7. Oregon
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Kentucky
11. Duke
12. Florida
13. West Virginia
14. Purdue
15. Wisconsin
16. Cincinnati
17.Notre Dame
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Virginia
20. Florida State
21. SMU
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State

AP Poll: Gonzaga remains No. 1, Baylor falls to No. 9

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
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The Zags remained alone atop the AP Poll on Monday morning, amassing 59 of a possible 65 first-place votes.

Villanova remained at No. 2 and Kansas stayed steadfast at No. 3. Baylor dropped from fourth to ninth after a pair of losses, while Virginia went from 14th to 18th after losing to Duke and North Carolina in the same week.

Here is the entire poll:

1. Gonzaga (59 first-place votes)
2. Villanva (5)
3. Kansas (1)
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Oregon
7. Louisville
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Duke
11. Kentucky
12. West Virginia
13. Florida
14. Purdue
15. Cincinnati
16. Wisconsin
17. SMU
18. Virginia
19. Florida State
20. Saint Mary’s
21. Notre Dame
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State