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Big men give Final Four teams spacing in positionless game

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A wave of positionless basketball has swept the nation. Coaches have loaded rosters with smaller, athletic players who shoot 3-pointers and beat defenders off the dribble. Three, sometimes four-guard lineups have become the norm, free-flowing the way to go.

This year’s Final Four teams certainly fit the mold. These final four also have something else in common: Skilled big men who keep defenses honest, grab rebounds and protect the rim with all those smaller guys out there.

Villanova has Omari Spellman, Kansas Udoka Azubuike. Moe Wagner is Michigan’s man in the middle and burly freshman Cameron Krutwig anchors the paint for Loyola-Chicago.

Those four are a big reason these four are in San Antonio this weekend.

“Big guys are going to be really valuable if they’re really skilled,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Everybody can get the positionless thing, but the guys who have positionless with the big guy, that’s going to be the best team.”

Wright’s Wildcats have a similar makeup to his 2016 title team. That squad had a group mostly in the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-8 range who could play multiple positions and shoot lights out. In the middle was Daniel Ochefu, an athletic 6-11 senior who could play with his back to the basket or square up for short jumpers. Defenses had to pay attention to Ochefu in the middle, freeing up Villanova’s perimeter shooters, and he was the rim protector the Wildcats needed.

Spellman has filled a similar role — with a twist.

He gives Villanova an inside offensive presence and is a high-flying shot blocker on defense, just like Ochefu. But the 6-9 redshirt freshman also contributes from the perimeter, hitting 45 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc. He was 4 for 7 on 3s in the Sweet 16, helping Villanova grind out a tough victory against West Virginia.

“There’s so many playmakers who can get in the lane and so many big guys now who are able to stretch out and hit the 3,” Villanova guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s just playing off each other. We have the ability to do that. Everything is unique. You have big guys who are able to make plays for themselves and others as well. I just like how complete we are.”

Wagner has a similar impact on Michigan.

The 6-11 German junior is a crafty inside player with good footwork and a multitude of moves. He also can step out and drain the 3, leading the nation among players 6-11 or taller with 59 this season.

Moritz’s maneuvering inside and out opens up the perimeter, where the Wolverines score more than 43 percent of their points. His agility also gives Michigan multiple options in its swarming defense.

“Being able to have a versatile big is huge because they can space the floor,” Michigan freshman guard Jordan Poole said. “We don’t feel like we have any matchup problems. For him to be able to hold a 5, but also being able to hold a 2-guard, is definitely big for our defensive principles and it gives us a lot of options.”

Azubuike and Krutwig are not perimeter shooters by any stretch, yet are the perfect fit for their teams.

Azubuike is a load inside at 7-foot, 280 pounds and plays with an aggressiveness that forces teams to double team or least hedge toward the Nigerian big man. Kansas coach Bill Self likes to work the ball from the inside out and Azubuike’s ability to batter his way to the rim frees up the Jayhawks’ plethora of shooters.

Azubuike led the nation by shooting 77 percent and is hitting an incredible 82 percent over his past 11 games. He’s also a force on the offensive glass and flies in for blocked shots if his teammates get beat off the dribble.

“They just make it really hard on you,” Spellman said of Kansas. “They’ve got four guys who are going off the dribble making great plays. They have a big guy in the middle, 7-foot, just offensive rebounding anything they miss and sealing up the rim. We do kind of do the same thing, but it’s hard to guard.”

Krutwig’s burliness makes Loyola a tough guard.

The Ramblers rely on quick ball movement and sharp cuts, often playing with four guards on the court at the same time. Krutwig makes it impossible for defenses to just gang up on the 3-point line.

A beefy 6-9, Krutwig plays a bruising game, often initiating contact. He has a variety of old-school up-and-under moves around the basket and is a deft passer from the post, whipping balls to the Ramblers’ cache of shooters.

“We play four guards at a time a lot, so when you’ve got guys who can space the floor and have an unselfish group, getting the domino started,” Loyola swingman Donte Ingram said. “When you have a post threat like Cameron, it makes us a very balanced team.”

This Final Four has four of them, thanks to their big men.

Report: Arizona State adds 7-foot-1 center

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Height has been something of an issue in recent years for Bobby Hurley and Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a step to remedy that Thursday.

Uros Plavsic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia has signed with Arizona State to become the fourth member of the program’s 2018 recruiting class, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels.

Plavsic, who is attending high school in Tennessee, originally committed to Cleveland State, but backed off that commitment last month before visiting Tempe this week.

“It was a great experience,” Plavsic told Scout. “They really took good care of me these past few days. Their campus is so, so big. The people here are nice. I met two guys I really liked and were important for a basketball team. Their facilities are crazy. Everything is in the same area.”

The Sun Devils ranked in the bottom half of the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year while ranking 265th in average height, according to KenPom.

“They were short the past two seasons,” he said about Arizona State. “They really needed a big guy and they can use me inside or can pass outside. They really need a big guy and I think I can help them out a lot next season.”

 

NCAA begins work of implementing complex basketball reforms

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.

Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.

The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.

“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”

The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.

It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”

The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”

The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.

“Some people like some of (the recommendations) more than others, which is human nature, but as a board we’re unanimous in the endorsement and the acceptance of these recommendations for the NCAA,” said Minnesota President Eric Kaler, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.

Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

ONE-AND-DONE

The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.

“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

ENFORCEMENT

The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.

AGENTS

The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.

AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES

The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

APPAREL COMPANIES

The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

 

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.