There’s something for everyone in this Final Four

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With the exception of the teams who take part in the First Four, the path to the Final Four is a rather straightforward proposition: win four games. But to take that view is to oversimplify things, as different teams enjoy different paths to the sport’s biggest weekend. This year’s quartet, No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 UConn and No. 8 Kentucky, are all examples of this, with each team encountering different issues over the course of the season.

And with the exception of a team that likes to run up and down the court with reckless abandon, these four teams all possess distinct characteristics that have resulted in their reaching this point in the season.

Take Florida, for example. For all of the pre- and in-season hype for the nation’s top freshmen, it’s been a group of four seniors motivated by falling short in three prior trips to the Elite Eight leading the way for the Gators. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been one of the best players in the country this season, thanks in part to his understanding of what Billy Donovan’s team needs at any point in time.

And it can also be noted that both Wilbekin and forward Casey Prather are “poster children” for the benefits of developing throughout the course of one’s career. Wilbekin entered college a year early, and maybe that played a role in the maturity issues that led to two suspensions during his time in Gainesville. But he’s matured, developing into one of the best leaders in college basketball.

“It worked out great with Scottie,” Donovan said of his point guard earlier this week. “I think the story is well‑documented in terms of him electing to bypass his senior year of high school and give that up. I think he’s continued to grow and develop over his four years here. I’ve enjoyed being around him, coaching him.”

Prather’s development on the court has been an important factor for Florida as well, with the forward going from playing less than ten minutes per game in his first two seasons to averaging 13.8 points per game as a senior. Add in the interior tandem of Will Yeguete and Patric Young, both of whom have also made strides while in Gainesville, and Florida has the experience more than a few analysts have cited as being necessary for success in March.

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However there’s also something to be said for having talent, which the Gators certainly don’t lack. And for a team that lacks the “requisite” championship experience, that talent can close the gap provided the intangibles are there as well. It took Kentucky a while to figure that out, with guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison being prime examples of this. Skill-wise both, as have their fellow freshmen, have improved but the biggest strides have come in areas overlooked by most such as body language and the understanding of their roles.

PREVIEWS: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn/ No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky

“One, the biggest thing we had to help them with was body language,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Monday. “As that changed, they became different players. “The second thing was, we had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year, by the end of the year. I can’t believe it. I was angry when I realized what I had done.”

After fighting through the struggle the Harrisons have both played better basketball in the postseason, and the same can be said of their classmates. Roles and expectations are better understood, and even seldom-used players Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee stepped forward in Kentucky’s regional final victory over Michigan. In this “microwave society” talks of going 40-0 preceded discussion of what it would actually take for Kentucky’s freshman to reach that point, and that worked against the Wildcats.

However once they figured things out, their talent eventually became noticeable in the form of an accomplishment few thought they were capable of achieving a month ago.

Fan of highly efficient offenses? Wisconsin certainly fits the mold, and that’s been the case for quite some time. In four of the last five seasons the Badgers have ranked in the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency category, with last year’s team being the lone exception. Leading the way in the NCAA tournament is 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, a big man with the skill needed to score both inside and out, making him one of the toughest individual matchups in the country.

And the road to this point certainly wasn’t an easy one for Kaminsky, who played sparingly last season with the likes of Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans receiving most of the front court minutes.

” Just working hard. It’s something I’ve always done,” Kaminsky said after the Badgers beat No. 1 Arizona in the West regional final. “I knew that this year there would be an opportunity for me to go out there and play a lot of minutes, and I just wanted to do, like I said, anything I could to be a big factor on this team.”

Kaminsky also noted the help of his teammates in reaching this point, and clearly it takes more than one talented option for a team to be as efficient as the Badgers have been. They certainly hit a rough patch, losing five of six conference games between January 14 and February 1, but Wisconsin was able to get back on track and help head coach Bo Ryan make his first trip to the Division I Final Four.

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Then there’s the adage that guard play wins in March, and that’s been a critical factor for UConn. Shabazz Napier has been, arguably, the best point guard in the country this season as he leads the Huskies in points, assists and rebounds. Just as important for Napier have been the intangibles, as throughout his time in Storrs he’s developed into the on-court leader a program left in flux by a postseason ban, the retirement of Jim Calhoun and conference realignment so desperately needed. And Napier isn’t alone, as junior Ryan Boatright has also been a key figure for the Huskies on both ends of the floor.

“He’s growing, maturing.  He’s meant a lot to us,” Ollie said of Boatright earlier this week. “Not only in the games when you see it on CBS or on ESPN, TNT, but what he’s done in practice, being more vocal, being a leader. It’s really helping our team. It’s really getting Niels and DeAndre better shots.”

The play of UConn’s guards shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering their coach, Kevin Ollie, was a point guard who led UConn for four seasons and then against all odds enjoyed a lengthy NBA career. Lasan Kromah, the graduate transfer from George Washington, has added depth and freshman Terrence Samuel has even chipped in during this NCAA tournament run. Without a dominant presence in the paint the guards are of great importance to UConn, and with Napier and Boatright leading the way the Huskies have made their way to the Final Four.

But while each team may possess a particular characteristic or two that sets them apart from each other, the fact of the matter is that there are ties that bind. Kentucky may have the most “lottery” talent, but clearly the other three teams have skilled players as well. Florida’s experience? Both UConn and Wisconsin have savvy veterans as well. Wisconsin’s efficiency? Kentucky, for all of its midseason issues, is also ranked in the top ten in adjusted offensive efficiency and Florida is a top 20 team in that category. And the guard play that has led UConn this season? The other three teams certainly don’t lack for quality perimeter players.

The differences may have led to distinct experiences along the way to AT&T Stadium, but these four teams have things in common as well. And the combination will lead to a fun weekend in Arlington, Texas.

Book from former Indiana player alleges Knight abuse

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Former Indiana coach Bob Knight is accused of punching a player with a closed fist, breaking a clipboard over a player’s head and grabbing players by the testicles and squeezing in a book authored by former Hoosier Todd Jadlow, according to a report from WTHR-TV in Indianapolis

“If (Knight) did those things today,” Jadlow told WTHR, “he would be in jail.”

The book, titled ‘Jadlow: On The Rebound,’ chronicles Jadlow’s time with the Hoosiers in the mid-to-late-1980s, including the program’s 1987 national championship, as well as his battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

What is likely to garner the most attention, though, is the alleged abuses from the Hall of Fame coach, who was accused of mistreating and berating players throughout his career.

Knight won three national championships and the 1984 Olympic gold medal but was dismissed from Indiana in 2000 after school president Myles Brand determined he had violated a “zero tolerance policy.” Knight went on to coach for seven years at Texas Tech before retiring.

“I’m a Knight guy,” Jadlow said. “I’m proud to have played for him and love him like a father; let’s not mistake that. But this was the life we led when we were playing for him.”

Jadlow’s claims aren’t exactly surprising given the history of allegations against Knight, but seeing them laid out is still rather disturbing. Among them in the book, according to WTHR, are as follows:

  • Jadlow was punched in the back of the head by Knight during a walkthrough for an NCAA tournament game against Seton Hall.
  • Knight broke a clipboard over Jadlow’s head in 1989 in a game against Louisville.
  • Jadlow’s sides were left with bruises after Knight dug his hands into him.
  • Knight “made a habit” of “grabbing players by the testicles and squeezing.”
  • Knight grabbed Daryl Thomas by the neck and shook him after the 1986 NCAA tournament.

Certainly ugly stuff.

UCLA freshman to miss 4-6 weeks with knee injury

UCLA head coach Steve Alford, second from right, watches action against Cal Poly with his assistant coaches in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Baker)
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The degree of difficulty just went up for UCLA in a season that was already likely to be filled with intrigue.

Ike Anigbogu, one of the members of the Bruins’ highly-touted recruiting class, suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss 4-to-6 weeks, UCLA coach Steve Alford announced Tuesday.

The 6-foot-10 center is one-third of Alford’s top-10 2016 class, which also included five stars Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. He wasn’t as highly regard as those two, but Anigbogu was a consensus top-50 recruit coming out of Corona, Calif. He averaged a double-double for UCLA during their foreign trip this summer.

“We’re optimistic we’ll have him back in four weeks so not going to miss a lot,” Alford said, according to Bruin Report Online. “The first three games probably.”

The Bruins aren’t without depth to weather the loss of Anigbogu as returning center Thomas Welsh averaged 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as a sophomore year ago and of course Leaf will play a major role.

Still, it’s a blow for a team that whose future appears so dependent on a group of freshmen, to lose one to start the season complicates the issue.

“Ike is doing a lot of good things,” Alford said. “Fortunately it’s a small tear. It’s not a major tear. I don’t think it’s going ot be a huge setback, but every time you have an injury there’s a setback.”

The timetable for Anigbogu’s return is interesting as if he’s able to hit the short end of the rehab window, which Alford repeatedly indicated they expected, he could be back for UCLA’s toughest stretch of non-conference games, starting with Kentucky on Dec. 3, then against Michigan on Dec. 10 and Ohio State on Dec. 17 before the Bruins open Pac-12 play against league favorite Oregon.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum injured during ‘Pro Day’ practice

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
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Duke freshman Jayson Tatum suffered an injury to his left foot during Duke’s pro day practice on Tuesday.

The severity of the injury is not yet known.

Tatum suffered the injury on what was a “routine landing”, according to someone that attended the practice, and it was immediately apparent he was in pain. Another source added that Tatum left the court without putting any pressure on the foot.

Tatum is a top five prospect in the Class of 2016 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s been as impressive as any player during the first month of practice, multiple sources have said.

Duke is currently without their other top five prospect, as freshman Harry Giles III is still recovering from a knee procedure last month. It’s unclear just how much Giles will provide this season, as this was the third surgery on his knees.

Miami beats out Kansas and Florida for 2017 center

Jim Larranaga
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Jim Larranaga and Miami just won a big recruiting battle.

Deng Gak, a 6-foot-11 center in the Class of 2017, committed to the Hurricanes on Tuesday over the likes of Kansas and Florida.

“First off I’d like to thank my family for supporting me throughout this long process,” Gak wrote on Twitter, “and all the coaches that recruited me up to this point.

“After thinking long and hard, I’ve decided that the University of Miami is the best fit for me to continue my education and basketball career!”

Gak made an official visit to Miami last month, but followed it up with visits to Gainesville and Lawrence before ultimately deciding to pledge to the Hurricanes.

Ranked in the top-100 by Rivals, Gak joins a strong 2017 class for Larranaga. The Hurricanes already have a commitment from four-star point guard Chris Lykes as well as highly-regarded New Zealand power forward Sam Waardenburg.

Miami would appear to have plenty recruiting momentum at the moment, coming off a 2016 class that included McDonald’s All-American Dewan Huell and top-50 guard Bruce Brown.

After busy summer, a healthy Krzyzewski ready to lead Duke

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 06:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-80.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Mike Krzyzewski is embracing the grind of another year at Duke after an offseason that was exceptionally busy – even by his standards.

The winningest men’s coach in Division I history is coming off a summer in which he had four surgeries and led the U.S. men’s national basketball team to a third Olympic gold medal.

The Hall of Fame coach who turns 70 in February joked his summer was “a cruise” and proclaimed himself healthy and ready to lead a loaded Duke team that looks capable of contending for a sixth national championship and third since 2010.

“I’m good, and everything that happened was curable and needed to be taken care of, and was taken care of,” Krzyzewski said. “And now I’m raring to go.”

Krzyzewski’s offseason and subsequent return to full health figure to be popular topics of discussion Wednesday when Atlantic Coast Conference coaches and players gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the league’s annual preseason media day.

His health drew widespread concern last February when he missed a game at Georgia Tech – the first time he didn’t travel with his team since 1995 – and briefly was hospitalized with what he recently said was dehydration, high blood pressure and “a little bit of exhaustion,” though he was back at work the next day .

Krzyzewski – who had both hips replaced in the 1990s – also had his left knee replaced in April, had hernia surgery a month later and underwent two operations on his left ankle in June.

The procedure on his knee – which prompted his daughter, Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino, to dub him “the bionic man” – was key, he said.

“It’s one of those times that can happen to anybody where you get a series of physical setbacks,” Krzyzewski said. “Part of the reason I was exhausted was, I had a bad knee, and I really think that whatever happened when we were going to Georgia Tech, a lot of it had to do with me having a bad knee for a couple months and knowing I was already going to get the knee replacement, because I (was) still pushing it.”

Krzyzewski said he’s known both of his knees have been “bone-on-bone” for a while, started feeling pain in the left knee at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and knew it had to be replaced.

But he kept it a secret for most of the season – at times even hiding a knee brace underneath his long pants so Duke’s players and fans couldn’t tell he was wearing one. And while the public didn’t know there was a problem, Savarino said the family noticed in the summer of 2015 that her dad was walking differently.

“Although he never really said a word about it at all, it was hard to watch him walk out on the court and just be a little bit nervous about, is his knee going to lock up on him?” Savarino said.

Coincidentally, just down the road in Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski’s fiercest rival was dealing with a similar situation.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a similar surgery in May to replace his right knee , which means that between them, they have seven national titles and four artificial joints. Williams, 66, said he feels comfortable enough to stand for longer stretches than he did last season, while the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game.

“It does feel better, and it’s been a long process,” Williams said.

Krzyzewski’s procedures left him feeling similarly spry, especially after completing pre- and post-surgery exercises to keep his quadriceps strong. He looked and felt fine during his final run with the U.S. team, leading them to one final gold medal before San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich takes over.

And with his focus now fully on the Blue Devils, he says he feels younger than before and is showing no signs of slowing down. He says now he can get more hands-on during practice than he could last year, when he left much of the on-court work with the players to his assistants.

“I knew I was going to be better. I knew that leg was going to be straight,” he said. “I knew that I’d have more energy and I knew that I needed to get ready for the Olympics. So in a very short period of time, I was well, and my knee is terrific. I’m like the poster boy for knee replacement.”

AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill contributed to this report.

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