Ryan Boatright (AP Photo)

UConn beat Florida because they played Florida’s game, only better

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The story all tournament long — all season long, really — was that the UConn Huskies were only going to go as far as Shabazz Napier was going to carry them. He was the reincarnation of Kemba Walker, a veteran, all-american point guard that took complete control of a supposedly overmatched UConn team, strapping them to his back and carrying them from an unremarkable regular season on a magical run to the Final Four.

That narrative played out to perfection for the first two weeks of the tournament. Napier was the East Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 boards and 4.5 assists. The only reason he wasn’t named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in the first two weekends was that it is an award that doesn’t exist.

Entering Saturday night’s bout with the Florida Gators, every single pundit told you that the only way the Huskies would be able to handle the behemoth that the Gators had become would be for Napier to go crazy. That didn’t happen. Shabazz didn’t score his first point for more than 15 minutes and finished with “just” 12 points, six assists and four steals.

And it didn’t matter.

UConn won 63-53.

“We had no chance, right?” UConn assistant Karl Hobbs told the media gathered outside the UConn locker as the Huskies left the floor and took their first steps towards playing for the program’s fourth national title. It wasn’t just Hobbs that felt that way, either. Walking through the UConn locker room, it was obvious that was something that had been made very clear to the players. The only people that thought UConn had a shot had an 860 area code.

“We like that everybody’s not believing in us and picking us to lose,” Ryan Boatright told NBCSports.com. “We were supposed to lose every game in the postseason. They had us losing every single one. We take that to heart and use it as fuel to our fire. Every time we step out on the court, it’s us against the world.”

It was Boatright that ended up being the difference maker in this game. DeAndre Daniels was the star, posting a 20-point and 10-rebound performance that may end up sending him off to the NBA Draft, but Boatright finished with 13 points, six boards and three assists, hitting a number of key buckets early in the second half and, more importantly, playing the kind of stellar on-ball defense that he did against Michigan State. “At my size, I can’t afford to lack on defense,” he said, and it certainly wasn’t lacking on Saturday.

Scottie Wilbekin is Florida’s best player. He was on a number of all-american teams and was named the SEC’s Player of the Year, which is a really long-winded way of saying the dude can ball. Against UConn, he had four points on 2-for-9 shooting with three turnovers and just a single assists. Kasey Hill, Florida’s other point guard, finished with four points and four turnovers on 2-for-6 shooting. Michael Frazier, Florida’s sharp-shooter, got just three looks at a three and made one of them.

Napier played a role in that, as did guys like Terrance Samuel and Lasan Kromah, but it was Boatright that did the heavy lifting.

“It all starts with Boatright,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said in regards to UConn’s defense. “He does a great job pressuring the ball.”

The irony is that UConn essentially beat Florida at their own game.

The Gators climbed their way to the No. 1 overall seed by playing smothering defense, particularly on the perimeter, and relying on a balanced, but limited at times, offensive attack spurred on by Wilbekin’s ability to make a play at the end of a clock.

UConn won this game because they were able to do just that, only more effectively.

After a slow start that saw UConn dig themselves a 16-4 hole more than 11 minutes into the game, the Huskies went on a 27-6 run because they were able to do three things: Napier and Boatright were able to turn the corner on ball-screen actions and get into the lane, UConn stopped turning the ball over and the Huskies were able to keep Florida off of the offensive glass. They took away opportunities for easy points in transition and on second chances, forcing the Gators to try and break down what has turned into a hellacious half court defensive team.

“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he had all year long for us,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane. He had a really, really hard time getting in the lane around Boatright [and] Napier, which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult.”

“The biggest difference in UConn’s team, in my opinion, from seeing them in December and then watching them on tape is they have turned into a great defensive team.”

“Any time we can stop transition and make them play against our five we like our chances,” Boatright said.

At the other end of the floor, the Gators were able to limit Napier by switching on ball-screens and double-teaming him when the had the ball. Florida was daring the rest of UConn’s team to beat them, and they did.

The reward is a chance to play for a national title.

“We’re a complete team,” Boatright said as matter-of-factly as a player that just won a game in the Final Four can possibly speak. “It’s not a one player team, it takes an entire team to be in the national championship game. When Shabazz ain’t having the game that he’s normally having, people gotta step up.”

“People did.”

PHOTO: Thad Matta models Ohio State’s new jerseys

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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One of the things that basketball programs like to do near the start of the season is to blast out the new version of their uniforms on social media.

It gets fans excited about the upcoming season, it gets players excited to throw those jerseys on, it might result in some extra sales of team apparel. All that good stuff.

Typically, these pictures are with the uniforms modeled on a player or a mannequin. Not if you’re Ohio State, and not if you’re Thad Matta:

Here’s how the picture came to be, courtesy of ESPN:

According to Buckeyes video coordinator Kyle Davis, who took the Twitter photo, the staff was looking for a way to to show off the team’s new uniforms on social media before media day kicked off in earnest. He and OSU director of basketball operations David Egelhoff were laying the uniform out on various surfaces — tables, floors and so on — when Matta, en route to his daily workout, walked by.

“He asks us, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and we tell him we’re trying to show the new uniforms but we don’t really know what to do with this — we don’t have a mannequin,” Davis said. “And he says, ‘Why do you need a mannequin? I’m right here.'”

“We thought there was no way he was actually going to do this,” Davis said. “But Coach said ‘give me two minutes,’ and sure enough he came out wearing the uniform. He wanted everyone to know he still had it.”

Atlantic Sun Conference Preview: North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast lead a wide-open league

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 8:  Guard Dallas Moore #14 of the North Florida Ospreys directs play against theFlorida Gators  November 8, 2013 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Atlantic Sun conference.

The Atlantic Sun has experienced a surprising amount of tournament success recently as Florida Gulf Coast set the standard with its Sweet 16 appearance and famous “Dunk City” nickname in 2013 and Mercer followed that up with a win over Duke in the opening round in 2014.

The trend of solid tourney performances for the league continued last season when A-Sun tournament champion Florida Gulf Coast trailed eventual national runner-up North Carolina by only a point at halftime in a 1-16 game until the Tar Heels pulled away and won by 16 in the second half.

MORE: All-Americans | Impact Transfers | Expert Picks | Trending Programs

This season, the league is hoping to be another tough out in the tournament as they’re led by the last two teams to make the NCAA tournament from the conference in North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, and the rest of the league appears to be completely wide open.

After winning the regular season title last season, North Florida returns Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and senior point guard Dallas Moore as he’s clearly the top candidate to repeat his awards from last season. Moore is joined by talented forward Chris Davenport and 6-foot-11 senior Romelo Ranks returns from injury to anchor the post.

Florida Gulf Coast beat North Florida by 33 in the conference tournament and ended up back in the Big Dance as they return productive senior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia. The Eagles return four starters total as Antravious Simmons, Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell are all back and a few talented transfers makes this roster an intriguing one.

From there, the Atlantic Sun appears completely wide open with a lot of unpredictable rosters. Jacksonville was gutted by injuries last season and still managed to contend for the league’s regular-season title. The Dolphins return three starters and three more players from injury, including Darius Dawkins, who led the nation in made three-pointers before his season-ending injury.

NJIT had an admirable showing in their inaugural season in the Atlantic Sun, finishing 8-6 in league play. High-scoring senior guard Damon Lynn returns to lead while he’s flanked by two other returning starters. Tim Coleman is another returning double-figure scorer as the Highlanders have the talent to win the league.

Lipscomb lost high-scoring guard J.C. Hampton to Texas A&M as a graduate transfer but they get a transfer of their own in Western Kentucky center Rob Marberry. Former all-conference guard Josh Williams also returns from a season-ending injury as the Bisons are hoping to improve on consecutive .500 conference marks.

Stetson has some interesting pieces despite coming off a 4-10 league campaign. Forward Derick Newton was the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year last season and the Hatters return their top seven scorers and four starters. Kennesaw State brings back leading scorer Kendrick Ray but they have to replace 18 points a game from Yonel Brown. Al Skinner’s ballclub returns two more starters and productive bench scorer Aubrey Williams. Bringing up the rear is USC Upstate as they return all five starters and could just as easily finish in the league’s top half. Deion Holmes and 7-footer Michael Buchanan are returning double-figure scorers for the Spartans.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dallas Moore, North Florida

The easy choice for this award since Moore won Atlantic Sun Player of the Year honors last season. The 6-foot-1 point guard led the Atlantic Sun in points (19.7 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg) last season while also shooting 51 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. After withdrawing his name from the 2016 NBA Draft after testing the waters, Moore is hoping that another big season gives him a chance at making The League.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ATLANTIC SUN TEAM:

  • Damon Lynn, NJIT: The 5-foot-11 senior was an all-league selection last season as he’s averaged at least 17.0 points per game all three years of college.
  • Kendrick Ray, Kennesaw State: The 6-foot-1 senior put up 18.7 points per game last season as those numbers could go up with the departure of Yonel Brown.
  • Chris Davenport, North Florida: Versatile senior 6-foot-8 forward was fourth in the league in rebounding, second in blocks and shot 37 percent on three-pointers last season.
  • Marc Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast: Dominant at times in the conference tournament last season, the 6-foot-8 senior averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the 2015-16 campaign.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ASUNMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. North Florida
  2. Florida Gulf Coast
  3. Jacksonville
  4. NJIT
  5. Lipscomb
  6. Stetson
  7. Kennesaw State
  8. USC Upstate

Richmond promoted on Mullin’s staff

SPRINGFIELD, MA - AUGUST 8: Mitch Richmond, inductee, speaks with presenter Chris Mullin by his side speaks during the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on August 8, 2014 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Mitch Richmond has been promoted on the staff of fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Chris Mullin at St. John’s.

Richmond’s move from special assistant to assistant coach Thursday comes just before the start of Mullin’s second season at his alma mater. Richmond, a five-time All-NBA selection, played three seasons alongside Mullin with Golden State and won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

The Red Storm promoted former graduate assistant Luca Virgilio to assistant to the head coach and Chris Huey has joined the St. John’s staff as a graduate assistant.

Richmond replaces Barry Rohrssen who the school announced was no longer with the program on Sept. 7. Rohrssen, considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball, was with the program for one season.

Arizona State four-star freshman ruled academic redshirt

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A late addition to the Arizona State will have to wait to make his debut until the fall of 2017.

On Thursday, it was reported that Romello White, a four-star power forward, will sit out the 2016-17 season as an academic redshirt after failing to meet NCAA requirements, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

White, ranked as the No. 87 overall player in the Class of 2016, had previously verbally committed to Tennessee and had signed with Georgia Tech before becoming a Sun Devil in mid-May after the Yellow Jackets had parted ways with Brian Gregory.

“Just having (White) in the program, as disappointing as this feels, his upside and future here are very strong,” Hurley told azcentral sports. “We’re going to have to be a little different (without him), a little unique. With this news, we’re going to be obviously driven through our guard play.”

White was set to be one of several freshmen to see immediate time on an inexperienced frontline. The Sun Devils had graduated Willie Atwood and had lost Savon Goodman to transfer. The 6-foot-8 White, along with fellow newcomer Jethro Tshisumpa, was expected to help the team’s top returning rebounder Obinna Oleka.

This news puts even more of an emphasis on the backcourt, one that returns leading scorer Tra Holder and adds Shannon Evans, a double-digit scorer for Hurley at Buffalo, who sat out this past year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Arizona State began the Bobby Hurley era with a 15-17 (5-13) record. The Sun Devils begin the 2016-17 campaign on Nov. 11 against Portland State.

Virginia basketball joins kneeling protest

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On the latest CBT Podcast, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, wonder whether a college basketball player will kneel for the national anthem, a nationwide protest — from the professional level to the high school level — that was sparked by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those questions were quickly answered on Thursday night, as Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome tweeted out the above picture of the entire Cavalier team kneeling at halfcourt with a caption, “Kneel for injustice. Kneel for inequality.”

It’s hard to imagine this protest, which began during the NFL Preseason when Kaepernick was photographed sitting during the national anthem, simmers by the time the college basketball season starts. For starters, it’s still very much apart of the daily sports and political conversation in this country. You also have to imagine that next month, when the NBA season starts, several players will join in on the protest.

This time last year, a video — counter to this current protest — went viral. It was of Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams teaching his players, only 150 miles away from where Virginia’s protest picture was taken, the importance of the national anthem.

It remains to be seen if Virginia — or any other college basketball player/team — kneels for the national anthem during games this season, but one thing is clear: this protest will continue.