Rob Dauster

Mark Few
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

NCAA calls Zags coach to admit officiating error

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HOUSTON (AP) For Gonzaga, the timing could not have been worse.

Coach Mark Few told The Associated Press the NCAA called to inform him officials blew the call on a 10-second violation that went against the Bulldogs late in Syracuse’s come-from-behind win in the Sweet 16.

The turnover came with 1:17 left and Gonzaga leading 60-59. Josh Perkins skipped a pass for Kyle Dranginis into the front court, and Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney deflected it back across the line, where Dranginis grabbed it again.

Refs called a 10-second violation but the 10-second limit in the backcourt should have reset once a player touched the ball in the front court.

Here’s video of the play:

Syracuse scored the last four points as part of a 15-3 run to end the game for a 63-60 win. The Orange went on to another come-from-behind victory, two days later against Virginia, and is in the Final Four with a semifinal against North Carolina set for Saturday.

The NCAA declined comment.

In Houston for a national coaching convention that coincides with the Final Four, Few told AP it was “big” of the NCAA to admit the mistake, though he wonders how the game might have played out had the call not gone against the Zags.

Syracuse did not score on the possession after the turnover, but ended up with the go-ahead basket with 22 seconds left, then two free throws after Gonzaga came up empty on its next possession.

“If you score there, you’re up by (three or) four, and if they subsequently go down and miss, they’d have fouled,” Few said.

The coach said there were no hard feelings. He heard the grumbling about Gonzaga’s five turnovers over the last 6 minutes of the game; in reality, the Zags only should’ve been charged with four.

“It shows you, there’s so much luck and stuff involved,” Few said. “There are all these factors, and people want to dive into this or that. But really, it’s just an unfortunate deal. … But I think it’s probably good in our sport to say, `Hey, we screwed up.’ I didn’t make all the perfect calls in that game, either.”

How is Villanova going to try and stop Buddy Hield? Not easily.

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HOUSTON — It got lost in the insanity that was the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, but Buddy Hield’s performance in the second round against VCU was as impressive as any performance that I can remember seeing in a game during the Big Dance.

Hield entered halftime with just seven points. With 15 minutes left in the game, he had just 10 points. He finished with 36, scoring 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points to hold off a wild VCU run that saw the Rams erase a 13-point second-half lead.

“In the beginning of the game, [we] did a good job arriving on the catch, forcing him to take some tough ones,” VCU’s Melvin Johnson said. “Second half they did the exact same thing, but instead the ball went in.”

In other words, VCU executed their game-plan, it worked for about 25 minutes before Hield went crazy. It’s not usually quite that obvious, but is a pretty good summation of Hield’s season. “Every game I know something crazy’s coming,” Ryan Spangler said. “I just wait for it.”

And therein lies the conundrum when it comes to designing a way to “stop” Buddy Hield.

Because, in the immortal words of Dan Patrick, “You cannot stop him. You can only hope to contain him.”

The most important thing to do if you hope to contain Hield is to accept the fact that Buddy’s going to get his.

We all know it’s true.

You don’t average 25.4 points with shooting splits of 50.4/46.5/88.0 without being able to do things even if an opponent is trying to take them away. And remaining focused and disciplined and locked in defensively even when Hield does the kind of things that can dishearten a defender may be the most important part of slowing him down.

“The biggest key to stopping him is not getting discouraged when he makes difficult shots,” said Ashley Howard, the Villanova assistant coach tasked with scouting these Sooners. “He’s an NBA player. He shoots with NBA range. So you can’t get affected when he makes difficult shots. Keep playing him hard, make all of his shots contested.”

Hield’s best skill on the offensive end of the floor may be his ability to move without the ball. Whether he’s sprinting to the three-point line in transition, drifting to the corner when one of Oklahoma’s guards drives baseline, running off of pin-down screens, moving into space when Oklahoma’s big guys come down with defensive rebounds, whatever.

He has a knack for finding a way to get into a pocket of space on the three-point line, and keeping him from getting clean looks at catch-and-shoot threes is the best way to keep him out of a rhythm.

“They do a really good job of hunting him and finding him,” said VCU head coach Will Wade. “When Spangler and Lattin get those offensive rebounds, they kick it out to the three-point line. They don’t go back up with them all the time. Easy threes. Which is tough.”

“They’ll give up layups to shoot threes. As a team, they get so much confidence from his three-point shots, the more you can eliminate the three the better chance you have.”

If you’re discouraged because Hield hit a challenged 27-footer off the dribble to beat the shot clock and it means you’re a second slow finding him in transition, you’re done. Suddenly, he’s hit three straight threes and you have to find a way to come back against an Oklahoma team that’s now brimming with confidence and holding on to the lead.

So you always need to be aware of where Hield is on the floor at all times.

The question that is up for debate is how to do that. What Texas A&M tried in the Sweet 16 was to use one of their best defenders, Alex Caruso, to deny Hield touches as soon as he stepped over half court. And that worked, to a point. Hield finished with just 17 points as Caruso did a great job of making it difficult for Hield to get the ball where he wanted it.

“He took advantage a couple of times and got layups and back cuts against us,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said, “but we didn’t want to let him catch it and start dribbling left and get into rhythm because he shoots a high percentage of three doing that.”

The problem?

It’s selling out to stop one guy, which would work if Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins weren’t so good.

“Woodard is a good guard, Cousins is a good guard,” Wade said. “They’ve got other guys that can beat you.”

What happens is that hugging up to Hield creates all kinds of driving lanes and space for Cousins and Woodard to attack. It makes defensive rotations that much more difficult to complete, which allows some of those other three-point shooters on the Sooner roster to get clean looks at the rim.

“Our guards had a hard time. We didn’t match up well with [Cousins and Woodard], but we didn’t anticipate not being able to guard Jordan Woodard like we did,” Kennedy said.

It’s a risk that Kennedy was willing to take because of how good Hield has become with the ball in his hands.

“He can shoot as soon as he gets off of the bus,” Howard said. “It’s a different type of gameplan. Because this guy, he has great range and plays within himself. He’s not going to just jack up threes for the sake of getting shots up. You’ve got to play him intelligently.”

“He loves to drive it left and shoot the little step back, so any time you can force him right into anything that’s not a layup you’re going to win that possession more likely than not,” said Wade. “Anything going left, catch-and-shoot, assisted three, you’re going to lose. So you’ve got to walk a thin line forcing him or influencing him right without giving him the basket.”

“And he plays hard,” Howard added. “Everyone talks about how well he can shoot. He plays the entire game at 100%. He sprints the floor in transition. He sprints in cuts. He runs at the offensive glass.

“After the game I questioned our philosophy on taking him away,” Kennedy said, “but then I saw him get 37 against Oregon and I would do it again. I’ll take our chances.”

Oregon, like VCU, defended Hield with more of a team approach. They didn’t drastically change what they do defensively to accommodate for Hield. Oregon still cycled through their changing defenses — switching man-to-man, matchup zones, etc. — and VCU ran their Half Court Havoc. They paid more attention to the NCAA Tournament’s leading scorer, yes, but having 10 eyes on Hield in transition and going box-and-one are two vastly different things.

“We tried to let them get into their offense,” Wade said. “Then, when he didn’t have the ball, try to deny him everywhere and make it really hard for him to catch it and make those other guys try to beat you.”

And that worked for a stretch for the Rams, as they were able to hold Hield to 10 points through the first 25 minutes of the game. And even when Hield went off in the final 15 minutes, VCU was still able to play their way back into the game and, eventually, take the lead on a number of occasions.

They lost to the No. 2 seed by four points. You can make the argument that their game-plan worked, and it’s a game-plan that will be similar to what you should expect to see out of Villanova on Saturday night. The Wildcats are not going to change what they do defensively. They’re still going to mix up their defenses, you’re still going to see a 1-2-2 press, a matchup zone and multiple different man-to-man looks throughout the evening. You’re going to see different players guarding Hield throughout the night. He’s going to have to beat different defenses on a possession by possession basis.

“We do everything as a team. Transition defense, anybody can be matched up on him. So everybody has to focus and concentrate on our game plan to guard,” Howard said. “We’re in the Final Four. You don’t want to go into a game like that and just completely get away form doing what you do as a team. Then guys aren’t as aggressive and guys are confused.”

Because getting confused when you’re supposed to be locating Buddy Hield is the easiest way to take a loss.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) goes up for a basket against VCU in the second half during a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Oklahoma won 85-81. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Spike Albrecht’s transfer restrictions removed by Michigan

Spike Albrecht
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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That ended quickly.

A day after Michigan was run through the media ringer for the way they were treating graduate transfer Spike Albrecht, head coach John Beilein back-tracked. A quick refresher — Albrecht has spent four seasons at Michigan, graduating with a year of eligibility remaining because he did not play this season due to a recurring and degenerative hip issue.

He does not have a scholarship available to him at Michigan next season. The spot’s been filled, and when Albrecht announced that he wanted to leave as a graduate transfer, Beilein put into place restrictions that banned him from going to any school in the Big Ten.

That set off a firestorm.

The kid graduated, he doesn’t have a scholarship available to him at Michigan and the Wolverines had the gall to block him from going to another Big Ten school? Beilein’s rationale is understandable. He doesn’t want a kid he groomed for four years to transfer to an intra-conference rival. Max Bielfieldt did that last season and he eventually helped Indiana beat Michigan in the regular season and win the conference title. I get it. But it’s also flat out wrong.

And on Friday, Michigan announced that Spike, and fellow transfer Ricky Doyle, would not be restricted anywhere.

“After initially granting a transfer release for Ricky (Doyle) and a fifth-year graduate transfer for Spike (Albrecht) consistent with the established norms regarding intraconference transfers, I am now removing all restrictions regarding their recruitment by other universities,” Beilein said. “While I have concerns about the current transfer policies as well as potential effects to the landscape of collegiate athletics, we should do what is right for Ricky and Spike as they decide to further their education and basketball careers elsewhere.”

The lesson to be learned here?

Anytime transfer restrictions are put into place, coaches are going to be crushed. Don’t even bother putting them in in the first place unless it’s worth the wave of negative publicity.

Luther Vandross, Ne-Yo will both sing ‘One Shining Moment’

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It seems the people that are making the decisions at Turner pay attention to the people, because the kerfuffle over changing the singer of One Shining Moment appears to have made them change their mind.

Luther Vandross will be on One Shining Moment, at least the version that gets played on the TBS broadcast; TBS will be airing the National Title game this year. Ne-Yo has also recorded a version of the song and it will be the one that is used on the team-specific broadcasts on TNT and truTV.

So that solves that problem.

With all due respect to Ne-Yo — I love Ne-Yo, his first two albums are some of the best mid-2000s R&B you’ll ever hear — Vandross is One Shining Moment and One Shining Moment is Vandross.

Why Buddy Hield’s proof that the new NBA Draft early entry deadline will be a good thing

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) goes up for a basket against VCU in the second half during a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Oklahoma won 85-81. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
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HOUSTON — The latest change to the NBA Draft early-entry deadline is going to be a major talking point over the course of the next two months.

For those that haven’t been paying attention to the deluge of players putting their name into consideration for the draft, the difference is this: Testing the waters is a thing once again. Players can declare for the NBA Draft and go through the process, attending workouts and interviewing with teams and going through the NBA combine, and return to school as long as they withdraw from the draft within 10 days of the end of the combine. They can do this up to three times in their career.

This is phenomenal for the kids. They’ve never had a chance to be this informed about what is arguably the most important decision of their basketball career. But it’s not necessarily a good thing for the college game — Will this mean that more kids end up turning pro? — and it certainly won’t reduce the stress level of the guys that are coaching them — These control freaks aren’t going to know what their rosters look like until late-May and you expect them to be happy about it?

So don’t be surprised when this becomes a major talking point once the season ends and the draft season begins.

And through it all, what you need to remember is that allowing players to get the access to information is the most important point in all of this.

Because without it, Buddy Hield wouldn’t have turned into #BuddyBuckets.

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“He comes in at 5:30 a.m. and shoots.”

That’s how Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler sets up his favorite story about teammate Buddy Hield’s notorious work ethic.

“I used to come in at 7:00 a.m., so by the time I was getting there at 7:00 a.m., he was coming out,” Spangler continued. “I come back at 11 and he’s there before me again. He had four workouts that day. I came up there with my roommate [that night] and we go on The Gun and he was still there at midnight.”

“That’s an everyday thing, not just one day.”

That is how Hield operates. That is how he went from being a 23.8 percent three-point shooter as a freshman to the guy that put together a season that can be favorably compared to J.J. Redick’s senior year, to a guy that is shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc while firing up nearly nine threes a night.

A change like that is possible, but it requires putting in the effort, and there’s no question that Hield is willing to put in the effort. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that that’s all he did in his spare time over the course of the last two years.

He’ll even admit it.

“I’m always in the gym. I’m always shooting. All I do is shoot in the gym,” Hield said.

But that was also part of the problem.

Because he focused all of his energy on ensuring that he’ll be a threat to shoot from beyond the arc, it meant that the rest of his game was lacking. Specifically, his ability to handle the ball, and when he was able to get feedback from NBA people about his potential as a pro after last season, they gave him the cold, hard truth.

“I wasn’t a good enough ball-handler and I couldn’t create a shot for myself,” Hield said of the feedback that he received. It was that inability to put the ball on the floor that limited the Big 12 Player of the Year to being a likely second round pick if he had decided to enter the NBA Draft as a junior.

And as you might imagine, that didn’t sit well with Hield.

“It was embarrassing,” Hield said. “You either fix it or you don’t fix it. I had to fix it this summer, and I did.”

“I just went out there and did what they say I couldn’t do.”

His teammates noticed.

“His first three years he just shot on the gun, so his first two or three years of college he was a set shooter pretty much,” Spangler said. “So he got feedback last year from the NBA saying he had to work on his handles, and I haven’t seen him on the gun since then.”

“Everything that he’s doing in his workouts is coming off ball-screens, double moves, combo-moves, shooting that way. That’s why he’s shooting so good this year. Obviously he can hit his set shots, but if someone wants to come up in him, he can break them off and get his shot, too.”

The end result of that hard work is a handful of National Player of the Year awards, leading Oklahoma to the Final Four and, in all likelihood, a spot in the top ten of the NBA Draft. That would not have been possible without Hield’s ability to get feedback from the NBA.

And in the end, that is what matters the most in this situation.

Because Hield’s deal was different. He didn’t declare for the NBA Draft. He didn’t go through the draft process. He didn’t attend the combine or workout with NBA teams. He simply got some information from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and went to work.

But Hield is a different beast, bordering on the insane. Most of the greats are. You need to have certain physical gifts in order to be a player at that level, but you also have to have a drive that’s almost inhuman. It’s not normal to be as good at something as they are at basketball, and it’s certainly not normal for any player to make a jump like this their senior year.

“He was Player of the Year last year after his junior year,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “If they had a most improved player in the league, he maybe would have won that this year.”

The love of basketball, the desire to get better, has been in Hield since he was still a kid back in the Bahamas. As he tells it, he used to sneak out of his house when his mother would go to church at night, heading up to the park that had a basketball court. He just had to make sure that he would get home before she did to avoid getting in trouble.

That didn’t always happen.

“I heard her van come squeaking and I just ran home through a shortcut,” Hield said, telling the story of one of the nights he lost track of time. “After I got home, I hopped in the shower and acted like I was sleeping. She came in and started beating me. She is short, 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-3, but no matter how short she was she would still start slapping me or get a wire hanger and hit me.”

“It was all worth it, I’m not going to lie.”

That’s who this dude is.

He’s the kid that was so focused on getting better at basketball that he would risk getting hit with a wire hanger just to play.

Not every kid is like that.

Not every kid is going have the drive to take a couple of sentences from an advisory committee and use it to turn a weakness to a strength in the span of a summer.

Most of them are going to need to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

And that’s what makes the chance to test the waters so important.

The way the system is set up is probably not perfect. Do we really need kids having the ability to declare three times before their senior seasons? Once should really be enough, and then they either improve enough to raise their draft stock or they don’t. And the idea of a player going through this process without representation is risky. If he has an agent, and a team promises that they’ll use a second round pick on him and then balks on that promise, there will be repercussions. I’m not sure any team wants CAA mad at them. But if it’s just the kid and his parents? How many NBA teams are going to honor that handshake agreement?

So there are inefficiencies in the process that can be improved upon.

But the point is that there is a process.

And if Buddy Hield showed us anything, it’s that the process may be more valuable than we realized.

Final Four Preview: They won’t win the title because …

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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.

Earlier, we took a look at what it is going to take for each team to win two games in Houston this weekend. This is why the Final Four team will not win the National Title:

North Carolina: The major question mark with North Carolina earlier this season was their toughness, which is something that I think we can safely say has been answered. If the run through the ACC tournament wasn’t answer enough, getting to the Final Four should be.

But the Tar Heels still do have two flaws that could eventually cost them a game this weekend. The most obvious is their inconsistency shooting the ball from the perimeter. Marcus Paige, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson have been better, but every coach in the country will tell you that they’ll live with those guys taking threes as opposed to North Carolina’s big men getting post touches.

The other issue is defending ball-screen actions. Kennedy Meeks is not exactly fleet of foot. Brice Johnson is vertically explosive but he’s not great when he’s asked to move laterally. And the Orange? They like to put Michael Gbinije in ball-screen actions — they’re in the 90th-percentile nationally with 28.9 percent of their possessions ending in a ball-screen action — which can be a problem for the Tar Heels if Gbinije is allowed to turn a corner and get going downhill. With shooters all over the floor and a play maker like Gbinije, that’s an exploitable matchup for the Orange.

Oklahoma: The Sooners score 38.9 percent of their points from three-pointers, which was the 14th-highest total in college basketball this season. Michigan was the only high-major program that was more reliant on the three-ball for points than the Sooners. Two out of every five shots they take from the floor are from beyond the arc. Why does this matter? Because shooting NRG née Reliant Stadium has never been an easy thing to do. In 15 games played in this building since 2002, teams have shot 32.2 percent from distance. Is that just a fluky number? Or is it really that difficult to shoot here?

The Sooners better hope that it is the former, because the achilles’ heel for this team is that if they are not hitting their threes, they don’t really have another way to beat you.

Villanova: There are a couple things that I could see costing Villanova a win, but none is bigger than the fact that they just don’t have the same kind of athleticism as the rest of the teams left in the tournament. Josh Hart is a physical freak that plays like a physical freak, but beyond that, the Wildcats have a pair of guards in Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson that are slow and crafty and a power forward in Kris Jenkins that is a land warrior with a jumper. Some of that is mitigated when Mikal Bridges sees the floor — he does give them so much lineup versatility — but his presence defensively takes away from what is their best offensive lineup.

I’m not sure that will be a huge issue against Oklahoma. I don’t think Ryan Spangler is really a guy that’s built for dominating smaller defenders. But if the Wildcats do end up locking horns with North Carolina in the title game, that’s the matchup that the Tar Heels will be able to take advantage of.

Syracuse: They just don’t have the size inside to deal with North Carolina’s big men. It’s really that simple. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are big enough and physical enough to overpower the Orange front line. It doesn’t help matters that the best lineup that the Orange can put on the floor features a five-man in Tyler Lydon that is generously listed at 200 pounds. Now to be fair, the Orange lost by just five points in the Dean Dome earlier this season, and that happened because they just packed their zone in as much as possible. That could end up working this weekend as well, but the one thing to remember: Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige are hitting threes at a better clip than they were during the middle of the year.

I think the Orange actually match up fairly well with Oklahoma and with Villanova, but the issue is getting past the first game this weekend, which is not going to be an easy task.