Rob Dauster

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

(Getty Images)
(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.

Final Four Previews: The six story lines you’re going to be sick of hearing about


We’re kicking off our Final Four previews with a look at the five story lines that are going to be beaten to death by the time the first Final Four game is tipped off:

1. I hope you don’t mind righteous sanctimony about NCAA violations: Here’s the thing you have to understand about the Final Four: It’s really the only time of the year that those general columnists care about college basketball. Us basketball folk? We’ve been writing and talking about the sport for five months largely because we spend the seven months worth of offseason writing and talking about all that other stuff that goes on in major college athletics. Oh, you know, like the athletes at North Carolina taking advantages of fraudulent classes that were offered by the university and the extra benefits an academic violations that happened nearly a decade ago under Jim Boeheim’s watch.

We write about this stuff when it happens. You’ll get our reaction and opinion pieces every time there is some news coming down, whether it’s a Notice of Allegations arriving, a punishment being given or a school self-imposing a postseason ban. It’s not hard to figure out how I feel about North Carolina’s chances of getting hit with hefty violations or about how badly Syracuse got their punishment wrong last February.

But college basketball is a niche sport. It only dominates the conversation for one month out of the year, so this is when everyone paid to have an opinion will chime in on things of this nature. Throw in the fact that two of the most visible programs currently dealing with the fallout of NCAA violations will actually be playing in the event, and it’s the perfect storm. For us — meaning fans and media a like, people that track this stuff in real time — it’s a topic of conversation that’s been beaten to death. For them, it’s a chance to get on their high horse and let the peons know just how much is wrong the scourge that is college athletics.

(And for the record, I couldn’t care less about these violations. I think that the NCAA’s rules and regulations regarding amateurism are simply wrong, and if a coach feels like he needs to go outside the rulebook in order to win, I don’t have a huge issue with it. Simply put: NCAA violations don’t mean all that much to me.)

2. It’s Buddy Hield’s world and we’re all just living in it: You saw what he did to Oregon, right? A measly 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting? That was impressive, but it wasn’t as impressive as the 36 points he scored against VCU because 29 of those 36 came in a second half where Hield scored 26 of Oklahoma’s last 31 points as VCU came storming back from a 13-point deficit.

Hield has been the biggest star in the sport this season thanks to his likeable personality and the fact that he can put up scoring numbers that rival those of Jimmer Fredette, J.J. Redick and Doug McDermott. Throw in the fact that he’s a dude that grew up in the Bahamas of all places and entered Oklahoma as someone whose jump shot was, quite frankly, a liability, and what you have is a player that fans will not quickly tire of.

Especially if he puts on another show like he did on Saturday night.

3. Will this be the last we see of Roy Williams?: I’m not going to predict that it will be, but I will tell you this much: It’s a conversation that is going to be had, both publicly and privately, over the course of the next six days. It’s not difficult to connect the dots on this. Williams is old. He’s 64, and like most 64 year olds, he’s dealing with an assortment of health issues. He’s got knees that give him pain, for one, and the vertigo that he’s dealt with for years flared up as recently as February in a game against Boston College. Throw in the NCAA’s investigation into the allegations of academic impropriety — which has worn on Williams — and what the potential for a postseason ban has done for recent UNC recruiting classes, and this year’s team may be the last time for a long time that the Tar Heels will be in a position to win a National Title.

Put all that together, and would it really surprise you if Williams decided to ride off into the sunset on top?

Again, so North Carolina fans don’t yell at me, I am not predicting or reporting that this will happen. Williams has been adamant about the fact that he does not want to leave this program in bad shape. He doesn’t want to do to his replacement what Matt Doherty did to him. But acting like this isn’t a realistic possibility is simply naïve.

4. Three-point shooting and the Dome: NRG Stadium has been the host of some ugly three-point shooting performances in recent NCAA tournament. (I’m not even sure UConn fans want to remember the rock fight between the Huskies and Butler back in 2011.) In total, in 15 games played in that building since 2002, teams have shot 32.2 percent from three, per a study from our buddy Ken Pomeroy. That could be an issue, as three of the teams in this Final Four are heavily reliant on the three-ball. Villanova, Oklahoma and Syracuse all shoot more than 40 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Previously, VCU in 2011 was the only team in the past decade to reach a Final Four firing away from distance at that rate.

5. So our Cinderella is Syracuse?: How wild is that. The fourth double-digit seed to ever get to the Final Four, and it’s Syracuse of all teams. The Orange are an incredible story. A season after their school bans them from the postseason, the Orange go from a team that probably shouldn’t have been in the field of 68 — you can keep telling me I’m wrong, Cuse fans, and I’ll keep telling you about how the Orange had the worst RPI to ever get an at-large bid — to a team that gets to the Final Four following an impressive late-game comeback against Gonzaga and by doing the impossible in erasing a 15-point lead in less than nine points to beat No. 1 Virginia.

This run has been the script of a movie that you wouldn’t believe was real because it was just too out there. It’s not often you get the chance to revel in your program being mentioned in the same breath as George Mason and LSU.

6. Rematches!: Oklahoma blew out Villanova when these two teams played on a neutral court in December. You’re going to hear that a lot, just like you’re going to hear about North Carolina sweeping Syracuse during the regular season and about how hard it is to beat a team three times in one season. Be ready for it!

Jayhawks guard Selden to skip senior season for NBA Draft

Kansas' Wayne Selden Jr. cuts a piece of the net after winning an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia to win the Big 12 conference tournament Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. is skipping his senior season to enter the NBA draft.

Selden and Jayhawks coach Bill Self announced his decision in a statement Tuesday, three days after a season-ending loss to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. Selden plans to hire representation in the coming weeks, which means he won’t be able to pull his name out of the draft.

Selden averaged 13.8 points this past season, helping the Jayhawks win their 12th consecutive Big 12 championship. He shot 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman forward Cheick Diallo has also indicated plans to enter the draft, though he has not hired an agent. That means he could back out of the draft by May 25 and return to school.