Dorian Finney-Smith

For Florida’s senior class, the season ends in shocking disappointment

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 team in the country. They were the No. 1 overall seed, and carried a 30-game winning streak into the Final Four. They were the best team in the country. They probably still are the best team in the country, and Saturday night’s Final Four matchup was looked upon as nothing more than a formality.

Show up, beat UConn, play for a national title.

Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and the rest of the Huskies had other ideas, however.

UConn overcame a horrid start, put a 27-6 run on the Gators to erase a 16-4 deficit, and shot 63.6% from the floor in the second half while making 11 of their last 12 shots from the field against the nation’s No. 1 defense. They would go on to win 63-53.

And like that, it was over.

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For Florida’s four-man senior class — Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather — it meant the end of a long and illustrious college basketball career. They reached three Elite 8s before getting to North Texas this season. They won four SEC titles, three of which were the regular season variety. Prior to their arrival on campus, Florida hadn’t reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament since the 2007 team that won a national title.

“I think, for the first time in my life, I was a part of a group of guys that were really willing to bleed for one another,” Young said. “Guys that were really willing to just do whatever it took to go outside of themselves, to commit to the greater goal. Looking at the year, going into it, we didn’t know what was going to happen with the suspension and the injuries and all that stuff. But we stuck together through it.”

And that is why the job that Billy Donovan did coaching this team was one of the best of his long, illustrious career.

Think about where this team was in November. They didn’t know if they were going to get Chris Walker cleared. The had two players — Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith — suspended at the start of the season. For Wilbekin, it was his second suspension in the span of eight months. Eli Carter never got healthy enough to play and was eventually shut down. Damontre Harris was booted from the team.

The team that was on the floor on Saturday night, the one that made Florida the best team in the country, wasn’t the one that Donovan expected to have at the beginning of the season.

“I saw how dysfunctional we were in September,” Donovan said. “Didn’t even know what we would look like.”

It would be one thing if Florida was like Kentucky, a team stocked with lottery-ready talent. But they’re not. It’s not a stretch to say that the only player that will end up having a significant career in the NBA is Walker, who basically didn’t have a role this season.

That’s what made the season so rewarding.

“I got a chance to experience a lot of personal victories along the way off the court,” he said. “Their body of work on the court, people will evaluate of judge themselves, but for me personally, where they were as individuals and where they were as a team, it was one of the most special experiences I’ve had being around a group of guys away from the court maybe since I’ve been in coaching.”

The good news for Billy Donovan is that he’s got plenty of talent in the pipeline. Florida is always going to get players, and that’s once again the case in the Class of 2014. Devin Robinson is a five-star wing that has the length and athleticism to have an immediate impact in college. Chris Chiozza might spend a year or two apprenticing under Kasey Hill, but his future is bright, as is that of Brandone Francis. Add in Duke transfer Alex Murphy, who will be eligible in December, to returnees Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter, and the framework for an SEC contender is there.

The key is going to be Chris Walker. He’s a freak athlete, a potential lottery pick that was a top ten recruit in 2013. But NBA front office types know that as well, and just because he couldn’t crack Florida’s rotation after he missed the first 21 games of the season doesn’t mean that his NBA career is in jeopardy. If he returns, Florida should very good once again. If he leaves, the Gators will be in major trouble along their front line. That’s one of the reasons they haven’t completely cut ties with Harris.

But the folks in the Gator program will worry about that later.

For now, they’re just upset about the fact that this team will not be ending their careers with a win.

“One thing I can take from this team,” Young said, “is just when you can truly love a group of guys or people like this, you bring the best out of them and you bring the best out of yourself.”

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.