No. 1 seed North Carolina outlasts No. 2 seed Kentucky to advance to the Final Four

3 Comments

Luke Maye buried the game-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left to help North Carolina advance to its second consecutive Final Four as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels outlasted No. 2 seed Kentucky, 75-73, during Sunday’s South Regional final in Memphis.

During the insane final 10 seconds of Sunday’s game, Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk tied the game at 73-all with a heavily-contested three-pointer at the top of the key, only to see North Carolina’s Theo Pinson take the ensuing possession down the floor to find Maye for the game-winner on the left wing.

A reserve like Maye knocking down one of the biggest shots in North Carolina history is a huge reason the program was able to reach its twentieth Final Four. North Carolina has relied on many different members of its veteran team this season and its the reason the Tar Heels will face No. 3 seed Oregon next weekend in Glendale.

Heading into 2016-17, many were asking how North Carolina was going to replace Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and not showing respect toย the returning Tar Heel veterans who helped them to last season’s national-title game.

Many became enamored by Duke’s overall talent level and jaw-dropping freshman class. However, that Blue Devil on-paper greatness never materialized into anything more than a conference-tournament title.

It was easier to talk about Villanova’s chances to repeat or Kentucky’s new crop of All-Americans than it was to jump aboard the North Carolina national championship bandwagon this season. Even Kansas got more preseason national championship hype than North Carolina, and the Jayhawks have had a recent history of exits before the Final Four.

Through all of that, North Carolina has been the steady model of consistency in the ACC this season as they’re seeing a complete rotation of experienced veterans play with total confidence.

Justin Jackson has turned into a lock first-round pick and one of the country’s most lethal scorers on the wing, while junior point guard Joel Berry II is a premier floor leader on both ends. Last season’s interior depth that was a huge plus for the Tar Heels has remained even with Johnson’s departure. Seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have both played in a lot of important games, while reserves like Maye and freshman Tony Bradley have contributed valuable minutes this season.

Even after the Tar Heels won the deepest league in the country by two full games during the regular season, it felt like other teams were getting more national title love since North Carolina exited the ACC Tournament early. The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a bloodbath for the ACC that saw the league lose eight of its nine teams before the Sweet 16. North Carolina was just rounding into form to make another potential run at a title.

Who would have envisioned that North Carolina would be the favorite for the national championship entering Final Four weekend at any point this season? That’s what we’re looking at as we move to Glendale next week, and there were plenty of warning signs about this team’s greatness and ability to handle adversity during Sunday’s win over Kentucky.

North Carolina fans panicked in the first half when Berry went to the locker room to deal with a lingering ankle issue. The Tar Heels were able to withstand until Berry’s return later in the first half as reserves like Maye, Nate Britt, Stillman White and Bradley contributed enough to keep a lead in Berry’s absence.

Finding themselves down by five points late in the second half as Kentucky had all of the momentum, North Carolina’s offense didn’t resort to rushing into bad shots. Just like the Arkansas game in the second round, the Tar Heels regained the advantage in the final minutes by going on a 12-0 run at just the right time.

North Carolina’s defense was also consistently strong on Sunday as Jackson and Pinson were both standouts as perimeter defenders. After seeing Monk and fellow freshman De’Aaron Fox combine for 71 points during Kentucky’s December win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, Jackson helped contain Monk to 12 points on Sunday while Fox was limited to 13 points.

In the most important game of the season, the Tar Heels overcame their starting point guard not playing at 100 percent and rallied in the final five minutes to win against a top-10 team.

That being said, there are plenty of storylines to follow in the Final Four that are going to be more fun to track than the Tar Heels returning for a second straight year.

America loves the underdog story of No. 7 seed South Carolina. Gonzaga making it to the Final Four for the first time is another intriguing subplot. Oregon making the Final Four from the west coast means there are two teams trying to break the region’s title-less streak that has been around since 1997.

But it would be foolish to, once again, overlook North Carolina and everything they’ve accomplished to reach this point. Even Sunday’s hero, Luke Maye, went from being a player that Roy Williams wanted to be a walk-on to now having his own “Maye Madness” nickname.

Williams made the mistake of undervaluing his own player and it almost came back to bite him. It’s the same lesson America should apply when appreciating everything that North Carolina has done during back-to-back memorable seasons.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

Leave a comment

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 averagedย 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

Baylor Athletics
Leave a comment

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

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

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

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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 Iโ€™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 โ€“ both by our university and by Chris โ€“ 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

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
20 Comments

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.