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.”

Crash survivor Austin Hatch back in LA with Michigan hoops

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Hatch finished high school less than two miles from Staples Center, playing basketball at Loyola High and golfing throughout the warm California winter four years ago.

But he mostly spent his one year in Los Angeles simply learning how to live again after surviving the second tragic plane crash of his young life, a crash that killed his father and stepmother.

When Michigan’s run to the Sweet Sixteen brought Hatch back to downtown LA this week, he was grateful for the chance to see his uncle, his extended family and his Loyola coach, Jamal Adams. They all plan to be in the stands Thursday when Michigan faces Texas A&M, with Hatch helping the Wolverines from his spot on the bench.

“It was only a year of my life, but it was a big year of my life,” Hatch said Wednesday before going through a workout with his teammates. “It was the year that prepared me for Michigan. Great people out here. I was very, very blessed to be a part of it.”

Hatch scored one point in his Michigan playing career, which ended in 2015. He is a student assistant coach now, watching the Wolverines in a suit and tie — except on Senior Day last month, when he suited up and received a stirring ovation at Crisler Center.

With the Wolverines needing only two wins in LA to reach the Final Four, Hatch is grateful to play any small role in their success.

“Obviously what I contribute to the team doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Hatch said. “But the fact that I’ve been able to add something has given me a sense of fulfillment, if you will. I couldn’t control what happened to me, but I knew I could control how I responded to it. And I think that given the circumstances, I’ve done my best to make the most of it. I know all my teammates appreciate that.”

Hatch’s impact has been immeasurable on the Michigan program and coach John Beilein, who lived up to his scholarship commitment to the promising prospect from Fort Wayne, Indiana, after the June 2011 crash that left him in a coma for weeks. Hatch had already survived a 2003 crash in which his mother, brother and sister died.

Given the traumatic circumstances in which he arrived on the West Coast, his return is a reminder of his resilience. Hatch healed during his year in Los Angeles — and he relished the chance to hit the links in January while Michigan was buried under snow.

“In hindsight, I’m really glad I was here,” Hatch said. “It broadened my horizons a little bit. I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Fort Wayne, a small town. Now I’m in Ann Arbor, which is relatively small in comparison to LA. It was good to come out here and experience a different way of life.”

While his time with the Wolverines will end soon, Hatch isn’t slowing down. He is getting married to former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole in the summer, and he’ll explore a career in business while deciding what he wants to do next.

But first, he’s hoping for two more weeks of hoops ending in a national title.

“My chapter at Michigan has been incredible,” Hatch said. “I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have no regrets. There’s nothing I wish I would have done. Everyone here has invested so much in me, and I’ve really done my best to show my appreciation by working hard.”

CBT Podcast: 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview, Picks and Predictions

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Sam Vecenie of the Athletic and the Game Theory podcast stopped by to chat with Rob Dauster about the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. The two went through each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups, detailing how each one of those eight games projects to play out and going over which lines — spread and over-unders — they like.

Dan Hurley will accept UConn head coaching position

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Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley will be the next head coach at UConn, replacing the 2014 national title winner, Kevin Ollie.

Hurley will be signing a six-year deal, according to multiple reports, that could be valued as much as $18 million. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who had also offered him a similar amount of money.

Hurley turned the Rhode Island program around during his six-year tenure, capped off with a pair of seasons where the Rams won a game in the NCAA tournament. UConn, which is one of the best jobs but has not been one of the best teams in the AAC in recent years, should be a place where he can continue to recruit talent. Under Ollie, the Huskies have been able to get players. The issue has been the performance and development of those players once they get to campus.

The Huskies finished 14-18 this past season.

Dan Hurley is the son of New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and the brother of former Duke guard and current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley.

VIDEOS: Villanova team bus stuck on icy roads trying to leave campus

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Villanova’s road to the Sweet 16 hit its roughest patch yet on Wednesday as the team attempted to leave campus for the team’s flight to Boston.

Since the Philadelphia area has been slammed with a snowstorm, the Wildcat team bus had issues leaving to get to the team’s chartered flight.

A struggle between team bus and ice ensued. The bus was delayed by 30 minutes before finally being able to leave.

Villanova continues its NCAA tournament journey on Friday when the No. 1 seed Wildcats play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.