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No. 1 seed Tar Heels aiming to remain dominant on the boards

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams has made it clear to his players for years.

When that ball goes up, the Tar Heels had better put a body on someone to box out or work to get inside position and tap a missed shot back up on the glass. And those wing players, well, they need to run in and chase down rebounds or risk earning a seat alongside their Hall of Fame coach.

That relentless approach made the Tar Heels the nation’s best rebounding team and helped them earn a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament’s South Region. It’s a key reason why they’re still alive, too, after surviving a scare to reach the Sweet 16 and face Butler on Friday in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It’s part of our job,” junior swingman Theo Pinson said. “It’s what we’re taught to do, and we need to do it.”

And no team has been this good at it in years.

North Carolina (29-7) leads the country in rebounding margin at plus-13.1, the highest average by a Division I team since Michigan State outrebounded opponents by more than 15 a game during a Final Four season in 2001. It touches everything the Tar Heels do, from snatching down a miss to secure a defensive stop, to the outlet pass that kickstarts their fast-paced offense and ultimately the work on the offensive boards that gives them extra chances around the rim.

“You’ve heard me say that a prospect came in one time and said, `I didn’t realize there was an 11th commandment: Thou shalt box out,”‘ Williams said in January. “But that’s the way I treat the game.”

This year’s Tar Heels lack the kind of dominant rebounder they had in Associated Press All-American Brice Johnson, who averaged 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds during the Tar Heels’ run to last year’s NCAA championship game.

Six-foot-10 senior Kennedy Meeks leads UNC at 9.1 rebounds per game, but UNC gets plenty of production through its lineup; 6-9 senior Isaiah Hicks (5.7) and 6-11 freshman Tony Bradley Jr. (5.3) work inside, while the team’s perimeter length shows up with the 6-6 Pinson (4.4) and 6-8 Justin Jackson (4.7).

“I told them, gave them (Louisville coach) Rick Pitino’s old line about `Those guys aren’t walking back in that door,”‘ Williams said of losing Johnson and four-year starter Marcus Paige.

“So we started emphasizing it the first day: we’ve got to get rebounding from five people on the defensive boards. You hear us on the bench if sit close enough, all the time we’re screaming: `You’ve got to get to the boards.”‘

UNC’s work on the offensive glass stands out in particular, with Pitino noting in February that it was “an offense unto itself” and was “probably just as potent as anything they do.”

Consider: the Tar Heels lead the country in KenPom.com’s offensive rebounding percentage – a measure of possible offensive rebounds collected – at 42.2 percent. And that means the Tar Heels get roughly seven more shots per game than their opponents.

The Tar Heels have frustrated Williams at times by repeatedly batting the ball around on the glass – “all those volleyball times,” he called it – but failing to convert around the rim as efficiently as he would like.

Still, the Tar Heels average 17.6 second-chance points per game, roughly nine more than opponents. That includes Sunday, when Meeks tipped in Joel Berry II’s final-minute heave onto the backboard during a 12-0 game-closing run to rally past Arkansas 72-65 after flirting with a stunningly early exit.

“It’s a little different shooting the ball and not really feeling like, `We’re not going to get an offensive rebound,”‘ Jackson said. “But shooting the ball and knowing, `OK, we might have a chance of getting another possession or whatever,’ it gives you a little more confidence whenever you shoot it.

“For us, we have to continue to get on the offensive glass and try to dominate as much as possible in that area.”

No one has to tell Butler coach Chris Holtmann about the importance of slowing the Tar Heels on the boards. His Bulldogs (25-8) were outrebounded in their last three games before the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re going to have to rebound better because they rebound so well,” Holtmann said. “I think they’re the best offensive rebounding team in 10 years.”

 

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedΒ 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.