Rob Dauster

Final Four Previews: They can win the national title if …


We’re now just two days away from the Final Four kicking off, and as such, we’ve already taken a look at some of the key storylines this week and the x-factors at play as well as breaking down what happened when the teams that square off in the national semifinals played during the regular season.

Here, we’re going to take a look at what it is going to take for each team to win two games in Houston this weekend:

Syracuse: The Orange are going to have their work cut out for them on Saturday as they face a North Carolina team that is about as bad of a matchup on paper as anyone in the country is for the Orange. Here’s the thing to know about the Syracuse zone: It’s always been really good at taking away threes. In the 15 seasons that are in’s database, the Orange have been outside the top 75 in defensive three-point percentage just three times; they’ve never allowed opponents to shoot better than 35.4 percent from three and have not once finished outside the top half of the country in that stat.

That’s not by accident. That’s how Jim Boeheim coaches that defense. If you watch them play, there are times where the zone almost looks more like a 2-2-1 than a 2-3 because of how high the wings play. That’s designed to make it difficult to get clean looks at the rim from beyond the arc, but by extending his defense as much as he does, Boeheim leaves open the short corner and the high post, not to mention the offensive glass. The Orange are 337th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. North Carolina? They’re third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and they have one of the nation’s best front lines at their disposal.

What does this all mean? Well, the Orange are going to have to find a way to battle in the paint on Saturday night or else their stay in Houston is going to be short-lived. And if they can get past the Tar Heels, I think they would actually have a real shot at winning a national title.

Villanova: The key for Villanova is offensively is going to be their shot selection. The difference between the Villanova that we’ve seen over the course of the last two months — the Villanova that has looked like the best team in the country during the NCAA tournament — and the one that was mollywhopped by Oklahoma back in December is how smart they are with when they decide to shoot from the perimeter. For a stretch early in the season, the Wildcats were shooting more than half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc and making them at a roughly-30 percent clip. That’s going to earn you a lot of losses.

During the tournament and down the stretch of the season, it was a totally different story. The Wildcats focused on getting the ball into Daniel Ochefu in the post. They put Ryan Arcidiacono in ball-screen actions and tried to get the ball into the paint. The threes they took were on kickouts and in transition as opposed to the shots they settled for because they couldn’t — or didn’t have the patience to try — find something better.

The result has been that Ryan Arcidiacono has been more productive and efficient and Josh Hart has gotten some easier looks at the rim. But the biggest beneficiary may have actually been Kris Jenkins, who has been feasting on the catch-and-shoot threes and the opportunities he gets to attack close-outs as power forwards struggle to remember that he is the most dangerous perimeter weapons Villanova has.

Villanova is good enough defensively — they’re tough, well-coached and mix up defenses enough to keep people off balance — that they’ll keep Oklahoma and whoever they play in the title game from running away from them. But their shot selection is going to determine whether or not they actually win this thing.

Oklahoma: Who shows up other than Buddy?

I mean, it’s really going to be that simple for the Sooners. You know what you’re going to get from Buddy Hield. He’s either going to be making shots like he did against VCU and Oregon, or the defense is going to be selling out to take away his touches like Texas A&M did. The Sooners have a pair of guards in their back court that have made game-winning plays and put on game-changing performances in big games this season. But both Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have put together some clunkers during the year.

Ryan Spangler is a stretch four that can get a double-double and Khadeem Lattin is an energy guy that blocks shots, gets to the offensive glass and finishes off lobs, but they’re not the real danger for opponents. It’s Cousins and Woodard, and when those guys get it going, Oklahoma is really, really good.

North Carolina: North Carolina has the best front line in the Final Four and, to be frank, it really isn’t all that close. Brice Johnson was an AP First Team All-American. Kennedy Meeks is an all-ACC caliber player. And Isaiah Hicks? There are NBA scouts that believe he may actually be the best of the bunch when it comes to NBA potential.

Those dudes are long, they’re athletic, they’re physical and they know how to get the space they need to be effective, whether it’s on a post touch or getting to the offensive glass. The key for the Tar Heels, the way that they’re going to win the national title, is by doing what they’ve done for the last month: pounding the ball inside. Not only will that get Carolina points at the rim and opponents in foul trouble, but once teams realize that they’re not going to be able to stop Johnson and company without some kind of help, it will create open looks from the perimeter for Joel Berry II, Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson.

With the way those guys are shooting the ball right now, rhythm threes for them are the kind of back breakers that will win the Tar Heels a title. In other words, if opponents are forced to live with those guys shooting threes, and they’re making threes, that’s a bad sign for those opponents.

Cooley hopes to be at Providence ‘for life’ with extension

Ed Cooley
(AP Photo/Stew Milne)
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Providence coach Ed Cooley has signed a long-term contract extension that he hopes will keep him at the school for the remainder of his coaching career.

School officials announced the deal Wednesday. Specific terms were not released, but Cooley said in a statement that he was excited to “be at Providence College for life.”

Cooley also announced that he and his wife, Nurys, would donate $500,000 to the academic portion of a planned student development center.

A native of Providence, Cooley was hired in 2011 and signed an extension in 2013.

The Friars finished 24-11 this season and made their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. They lost in the second round to North Carolina.

Final Four Previews: The x-factors in play on Saturday

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We kicked off our Final Four previews this morning with a look at the six story lines that are going to be beaten to death by the time the first Final Four game is tipped off. We’ll continue today with a look at the x-factors, key players and key matchups for Saturday night:

So can people shoot in NRG Stadium or nah?: Prior to this season, only once in the last decade had a team reached the Final Four while shooting more than 40 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc. This season, Oklahoma, Villanova and Syracuse all fire away from three at that rate. That’s entertaining to watch … when the shots are going down, and if there is any narrative that we all remember, it’s that the dome in Houston — formerly Reliant, now NRG — has not exactly been the friendly confines for jump shooters. As Ken Pomeroy explains here, in the 15 games played in this building since 2002, the teams have shot a combined 32.2 percent from three, a number that would rank 277th in Division I this season and which is, as Ken says, “only slightly easier to make three-point shots at NRG Stadium than it is on an aircraft carrier.”

Tar Heel fans are celebrating: They shoot just 26.8 percent of their field goals from three and score only 19.9 percent of their points on threes, which is the seventh-lowest total in all of college basketball. That could be bad news for Oklahoma (40.6% and 38.9%), Villanova (43.1% and 33.4%) and Syracuse (42.2% and 36.5%).

Tyler Lydon’s rebounding: The lineup where Syracuse is the most dangerous comes when they play Tyler Lydon at the five surrounded by Tyler Roberson, Malachi Richardson, Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. That puts four shooters on the floor surrounding one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. That’s really hard to guard, and for what is the worst offensive team left in the tournament, having as many offensive weapons on the floor at the same time matters.

The flip side, however, is that lineup makes the Orange incredibly susceptible to getting obliterated on the offensive glass. As it stands, there were just 14 teams in all of college basketball that allowed opponents a higher offensive rebounding percentage throughout the season, and DaJuan Coleman — the team’s best defensive rebounder — will not be on the floor when the Orange have their best offensive lineup out there. This is particularly pertinent against North Carolina, who has the nation’s most efficient offensive attack and is the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country.

Lydon is a very intriguing prospect given his height, length and shooting ability. But he weighs 200 pounds soaking wet. Will he be able to hold his own against a team that includes first-team AP All-American Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks on the front line?


Josh Hart vs. Buddy Hield: On paper, Josh Hart seems like he should be the perfect matchup for Buddy Hield. He’s long, he’s really athletic and he’s the kind of tough defender that drives an offensive player insane. In other words, he’s not afraid of contact or of doing the things that he has to do to get into Hield’s head. There’s a reason that Big East coaches hate to coach against him. But those aren’t necessarily the guys that give Hield the most trouble. He lit up Elgin Cook of Oregon, who has a similar physical profile to Hart, last weekend. Hield tends to struggle against quick, little guys that can chase him around screens, make it difficult for him to handle the ball and get up underneath and take away space on the catch.

Here’s the other part of it: Villanova doesn’t usually play straight man-to-man. They’ll play some different variations of zone — matchup, 2-3, 1-2-2 pressure, etc. — and they’ll also run some switching man-to-man defenses. Would they be willing to cast all of that aside to try and slow down Hield when Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have proven that they can win a game in this tournament when Hield is held in check?

And the key player on each team is

  • Kris Jenkins: Jenkins is the guy that makes Villanova so hard to guard. Prior to Saturday’s win over Kansas, Jenkins had made at least two threes in 11 straight games, scoring more than 15 points in 10 of those 11 and going for 20 in six of those 10. He’s a knockdown shooter with the best pump-fake in college basketball, one that’s good enough to allow him to get to the rim against power forwards despite the fact that he’s not overly quick. I don’t envy any coach that has to try to find a way to stop Jenkins and Josh Hart when Jenkins has it going.
  • Marcus Paige: It’s weird calling Paige an x-factor on any team, but that’s what he’s turned into with this group. And that’s also a testament to how much of a team player he is. Remember, this is a kid who was a preseason all-american as a junior, but he’s totally embraced the fact that Brice Johnson is this team’s best player and the Carolina front court is what has carried this team to the Final Four. He can still score, though. Ask Indiana, where he hit his first four threes and finished with 21 points and six assists. When he’s hitting shots from the perimeter, the Tar Heels are a different team.
  • Malachi Richardson: He scored 21 of his 23 points in the Elite 8 in the second half when the Orange erased a 15-point deficit and beat No. 1 seed Virginia. In a loss at Georgetown, he shot 1-for-8 from the floor. When Syracuse lost at St. John’s, he was 4-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-11 from three. He was 1-for-10 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three in a loss to Pitt. You see where I’m going with this? Richardson is a streaky scorer, but when he’s rolling, he’s as dangerous as anyone in the Final Four.
  • Jordan Woodard: We all know about Hield and you should know about Isaiah Cousins. But Woodard can play, too. He had 22 points in the win over Texas A&M when the Aggies sold out trying to stop Hield. If Villanova tries to do the same, the Sooners are going to need the same kind of performance from Woodard if they want to get to the title game.

Three Minnesota players suspended for video are reinstated

Richard Pitino
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The three Minnesota basketball players suspended after a sex video appeared on guard Kevin Dorsey’s social media accounts have been reinstated by the school.

Golden Gophers spokesman Dan Reisig confirmed on Tuesday that Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason are back in good standing with the team and the school after they were suspended for the final four games of the season. The Gophers lost all four of those games, including their first-round game in the Big Ten tournament.

The sophomore Mason and the freshmen McBrayer and Dorsey were three key players for a team that went 2-16 in Big Ten play.

Coach Richard Pitino suspended the players for what he called a violation of team rules. All three are expected to be counted on to help turn around the struggling program’s fortunes next season.

Notre Dame’s Jackson decides to enter NBA draft

Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson (11) grimaces in pain before leaving the court with an injury during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boston College, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind.  (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Demetrius Jackson, who helped Notre Dame advance to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 37 years, is entering the NBA draft.

“I am blessed with the opportunity to say I will be declaring for the NBA Draft. It was an honor to represent such a great University and program,” Jackson wrote in a statement the 6-foot-1 point guard posted Tuesday night on Instagram.

Coach Mike Brey, who said Monday he planned to sit down with Jackson in the next week to explore at least submitting his name for the draft but not signing with an agent, sent a Tweet saying he supported Jackson’s decision.

“Great decision by DJ & I fully support it,” Brey wrote. “He’s maxed out his college experience & is ready for challenge of NBA.”

University spokesman Alan Wasielewski said Jackson is expected to sign with an agent, which would mean he couldn’t revoke his decision and return to Notre Dame. Jackson has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday.

Jackson, who is from nearby Mishawaka, averaged 15.8 points and 4.7 assists in playing 36.0 minutes a game this season. He is the first Notre Dame player to declare early for the NBA draft since junior Carleton Scott in 2011. He went undrafted.

Jackson also thanked all those who supported him during his time at Notre Dame, saying they had made the last three years “unforgettable.” He also thanked his foster family, saying: “You gave me the best possible situation to be successful, and allowed me to open up and trust again. Words will never be enough to describe how you’ve helped me grow.”

Three others who played for Brey – forwards Luke Harangody in 2009 and Torin Francis in 2005 and guard Chris Thomas in 2003 – placed their names in the draft and then withdrew and returned to school. The only other player to declare for the draft under Brey was Troy Murphy in 2001. He was taken with the 14th overall by the Golden State Warriors.

The only other players to leave Notre Dame early for the NBA draft were Adrian Dantley in 1976, who was taken with the sixth overall pick by the then-Buffalo Braves and Gary Brokaw in 1974, who was taken with the 18th pick overall by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Doyle, Albrecht receive transfer releases from Michigan

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(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ricky Doyle and Spike Albrecht have been granted their releases to transfer from Michigan’s basketball program.

The school confirmed the releases Tuesday. Doyle has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Albrecht has spent four years at Michigan, but he hardly played at all this season after hip surgery, so he still has eligibility left.

The 6-foot-9 Doyle averaged 3.8 points and 12.2 minutes a game this season. He would have likely entered next season behind Mark Donnal and possibly Moritz Wagner on the depth chart.

Albrecht played only eight games in 2015-16 before being shut down for the season.