2015 Final Four

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NCAA VP of men’s basketball championship: Officials did see all angles of controversial out of bounds call

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In No. 1 Duke’s 68-63 win over No. 1 Wisconsin Monday night to claim the program’s fifth national title, there was an out of bounds call in the final minute that certainly sparked conversation.

With Duke leading by five the officials went to the monitor to review who touched the basketball last before it headed out of bounds on the baseline under the Wisconsin basket. Despite seeing multiple angles the officials ruled that the ball should be awarded to Duke, despite many believing that Duke’s Justise Winslow was the last player to touch the ball.

The final angle shown during the replay process made it appear that Winslow was the last to touch the ball, and according to the NCAA director of officiating John Adams it was an angle that the game officials did not have the luxury of seeing. However on Wednesday Dan Gavitt, the vice president of the men’s basketball championship, contradicted Adams’ statement and told ESPN.com that the officials did see the replay angle in question.

“Unfortunately, John misspoke yesterday,” Gavitt told ESPN.com after his OTL appearance. “The officials did indeed have the camera angle that was shown on the CBS broadcast. It was the last angle they did see. They likely did not stay long enough with a review to see that angle magnified. But they made their determination based on the two-minute review and the camera angle that was shown on CBS and with that determined that there wasn’t indisputable evidence to overturn the call. You need to have indisputable evidence by rule to change the call. The facts are they did have the angle the viewers had.”

Well, regardless of what either Adams or Gavitt has to say about the call in question there’s no turning back now. As for Adams, Monday’s game was his last as the NCAA’s director of officiating and the governing body is evaluating possible replacements. According to the ESPN report the NCAA is two weeks away from making a decision.

Hopefully the next person in charge can get college basketball even closer to having a uniform standard for its officials that doesn’t seem to fluctuate from one conference to another. Some leagues have banded together for scheduling alliances when it comes to their game officials in recent years with this goal in mind. Hopefully it has a positive impact on the game in years to come.

Jahlil Okafor’s dad dances with Ninja Turtles (VIDEO)

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Chucky Okafor, the father of Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, is one of my favorite people in the world. This video gives you an idea why.

Turn Down For What? #FinalFour2015

A video posted by Daniel Poneman (@danielponeman) on

(H/T: Dan Poneman)

Wisconsin’s special two-year run is over but this group will be tough to forget


INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin put themselves on the map as a national basketball power these last two seasons as a highly-skilled veteran group with big personalities and hilarious quips. They became the team every casual fan in America rooted for during the 2015 Final Four.

Names like “Kentucky” and “Duke” bring a strong sense of distaste to many college basketball fans and it was easy to jump on the Badger bandwagon because they were likable players on and off the floor. Many college hoops fans cringe at the one-and-done era and its gone-too-soon freshman stars. Those fans could take solace in head coach Bo Ryan taking a team filled with multi-year program guys to back-to-back Final Fours.

The story of Wisconsin only became that much more riveting after the Badgers shocked previously unbeaten Kentucky by outplaying them in a national semifinal win earlier in the weekend. A sea of red converged on Indianapolis as the weekend wore on heading into Monday.

But the near-storybook run for Wisconsin came up short. It wasn’t the ending the Badgers had in mind after playing on college basketball’s biggest stage the last two seasons.

“We were one step closer to our goal [from last year]. To be so close to achieving my goal and to have it end in that fashion. It’s all [upsetting],” Wisconsin sophomore guard Bronson Koenig said.

After the national semifinal loss to Kentucky last season, Wisconsin came back for the 2014-15 season more prepared and more hungry to be the team cutting down the nets in the national title game. Senior center Frank Kaminsky elevated himself to the national player of the year while junior forward Sam Dekker made “the leap” during a great stretch of games in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Senior guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson and forward Duje Dukan also knew they had one more chance to finish off something truly special.

Wisconsin fell short of winning a national championship but that doesn’t mean the team — and the memories formed with this group — won’t stick with these players — and college basketball fans — for a long time.

“It’s tough to say anything right now. These guys are my family, and I mean that literally. I don’t mean that hypothetically,” Kaminsky said. “I’ve never been closer to a group of guys in my entire life, from the coaching staff on down to every single player on this team. It’s just going to be hard to say good-bye.”

Saying good-bye is going to be especially difficult for Ryan. The veteran coach recapped what made this Wisconsin group so special while also taking a swipe at the one-and-done era during the postgame press conference on Monday night. Ryan has coached some of these seniors for five seasons thanks to redshirt years and he’s become attached to the group that gave him his best teams ever.

Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes fondly calls Ryan, “Pops” and the easygoing nature of this team eased Ryan’s way with the media this season. The bitterness of coming up short came out of Ryan a little bit after the loss to Duke. Losing these veteran players is going to be tough on him after coming up just short.

“All the seniors that I’ve had — hard to say the word [good-bye],” Ryan said. “But every player that’s played through the program, okay, we don’t do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That’s okay. If other people do that, that’s okay. I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back. They said what they wanted to do, they put themselves into that position, and they won’t forget this for a long time.”

The media gathering in the Wisconsin locker room tip-toed around the players of a losing team in typical fashion — quietly asking questions while dealing with the delicate emotions of the crushed spirits of college kids.

Dekker sat in front of his locker with his shoes off, looking at the ground and occasionally scanning the room in near shock, his eyes red like the uniform still on his back. Media went about their business interviewing other Wisconsin players as Dekker stared off into space. A media member finally approached Dekker to shake his hand. It wasn’t to ask Dekker questions about the night’s game, or the future, but just a sign of respect from reporter to player after a long season of constant communication.

Other reporters who had grown to enjoy covering the team the last few years came over to pay their respects to Dekker on the memorable two-year run. It was a unique scene in a losing locker room and Dekker handled the situation with grace as he thanked each approaching media member for covering the team.

The dream run for Wisconsin came up short, but the program earned the respect of a nation of basketball fans who enjoyed their unique blend of size and skill. A special group who made a veteran head coach loosen up his personality — and his swing offense — to adapt to the immense talents of this collection of players.

“I hope we made people around the country and around the state proud with what we did,” Koenig said.

Wisconsin could be viewed as a historical afterthought after falling short in the Final Four in back-to-back seasons, but college basketball fans won’t soon forget the talent and personality that shaped a special two-year run.

North Carolina’s Roy Williams leaves empty seat for Bo Ryan’s late father

North Carolina v Wisconsin

The father/son relationship can be a special one, and that was certainly the case for Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan and his father Butch. The two attended the Final Four together every year, but sadly the elder Ryan passed away in August 2013 at the age of 89.

Bo Ryan led Wisconsin to the Final Four last season, and tonight he’s looking to lead the Badgers to their first national title since 1941. And that led to a touching gesture by North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, who made sure that an empty seat was left open in memory of Butch Ryan.

Rob Dauster
Rob Dauster

Duke’s defensive improvement stems from ‘season changing’ players only meeting

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INDIANAPOLIS — The difference between the Duke team that was blown out in back-to-back games by N.C. State and Miami and the one that has beaten the likes of Utah, Gonzaga and Michigan State en route to the national title game is simple: They’re finally playing defense.

And if you ask them what has changed, why they went from a team that gave up 1.25 PPP in those two losses to one that has not given up more than 0.90 PPP in the NCAA tournament and has climbed all the way up to No. 12 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings, they’ll tell you, to a man, that it’s … because they started caring?

Matt Jones said they’re “buying into it more.” Grayson Allen called it “an emotional commitment.” Amile Jefferson referred to their improved “toughness and togetherness”, while Justise Winslow simply said they “just really committed to the defensive end.”

Quite frankly, that sounds like something straight from the handbook of the press conference cliche.

But could it also be accurate?

On Tuesday, I wrote about Duke’s defense after watching every possession that they played during the regional in Houston, and there really isn’t all that much that Duke is doing differently from the start of the year. It’s the same old Mike Krzyzewski defensive scheme, only they’re doing it better than they were two months ago. So I believe. There’s a pride that comes with being a great defensive team. It took awhile for the Blue Devils to figure that out, and it all stems from a players-only meeting that Quinn Cook called after the Miami loss, a meeting that assistant coach Jon Scheyer called, “a season changer”.

“I just called everybody to my house, watched TV, just relaxed and got away from basketball for a minute to make sure everybody was OK,” Cook said with a smile on Sunday, playing coy about the role that meeting played in Duke’s resurgence. “We let two get away from us. If you lose two in a row, your confidence can go elsewhere, and then we had a big game at Louisville that Saturday. I just wanted to make sure the guys’ confidence level was OK and tell everybody we’re fine, we just have to get this win at Louisville.”

It worked.

Playing at Louisville, the Blue Devils used a 2-3 zone to jump out to a huge halftime lead in what amounted to a blowout win. The zone wasn’t much more than a gimmick, a quick fix to a major problem that didn’t have an easy answer, but it gave the Blue Devils their swagger back. It showed them that what Cook was preaching was true: Those two losses were stumbling blocks, but this team still had the pieces to be able to win a national title.

“I thought he did a great job in those meetings,” Jefferson, who is a co-captain with Cook, said. “Just being a voice and really touching everybody and letting everybody know that we have enough. That we are that good. When you lose two straight games, you believe. You start to believe…”

“It was a pivotal moment in our season.”

The Blue Devils play with that pride defensively now. They get offended when someone scores on them, because they know what’s at stake. They know who they are when they’re great defensively and they know what happens when they aren’t emotionally invested in that end of the floor.

It wasn’t a smooth transition. Duke still took some lumps late in the regular season, but you don’t become a great defensive team overnight. This is still a team that starts three freshmen and has four in their rotation. They still had things to learn on that end, and that’s before you consider the fact that the veterans on the roster had played on a team that really struggled defensively last season.

They’ve gotten better as they’ve grown, with everything coming together during this run through the NCAA tournament, but that growth can be tracked back to that players only meeting back in January.

“It’s best when the players do it,” Scheyer said. “There’s certain things where it means more coming from the players, so the fact that Quinn did that, it wouldn’t have meant the same had the coaches done that.”

“It was a season-changer.”

Healthy Sam Dekker hopes to be a factor against Duke the second time around

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(Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Duke already defeated Wisconsin, 80-70, during the 2014-15 season when the two No. 1 seeds matched up in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 4 at the Kohl Center.

But the Badgers didn’t have the benefit of playing with a healthy Sam Dekker the first time around. After spraining his left ankle during practice on Oct. 24, the junior forward was still limited with a lingering ankle issue during the game against the Blue Devils.

Dekker only played 24 minutes against Duke — while never committing a foul in the game — and was limited to five points and four rebounds. He only attempted five field goals and clearly lacked the explosiveness that we’ve seen from him during his tremendous NCAA tournament run.

“I watched part of that game and I just look different, too,” Dekker said of the first Duke game this season. “I was trying to play my game and wasn’t playing well. I looked real slow. Hopefully I can have a better performance and that’s something I want to do.”

The long recovery from the ankle injury also put Dekker in a different place mentally. After the loss to Duke, Dekker pinned the blame on himself, even though a number of his teammates had off-nights as well. A tremendous offseason and preseason from the junior drew rave reviews from scouts and coaches and everything changed when Dekker got hurt. Suddenly, the game that was starting to come so easy to him was slowed down.

“It definitely was a confidence-shaking injury for him,” Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard said. “He was really playing well — phenomenal — during the preseason before we had played any games. He was dominant in practice. Obviously, then he had the injury and he probably came back along a little too soon. He was never fully able to get back in rhythm.

“Sam’s kind of like a track athlete: Everything has to feel good. And I think when he’s feeling good, like he is right now through the last month — and he feels healthier and feels stronger — obviously he’s coming out of the blocks a lot better than November and December.”

Duke also understands that they can’t take Dekker lightly based on how he played in the first matchup. They know he’s a completely different player now. Dekker’s confidence level is very high after career-high scoring totals in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and following that up with some huge plays in the Final Four against Kentucky.

Blue Devil freshman forward Justise Winslow has been watching a fully healthy Dekker tear up the NCAA tournament and he’s anxious for the challenge of playing against him at 100 percent.

“I’ve seen him at full strength and that’s what’s scary about him. It’s his ability to perform, especially on the big stage,” Winslow said. “He was [injured] in our first meeting, so you can’t really take a lot away from that and his performance because he was injured. I’m just looking forward to facing him at 100 percent.”

The personnel for both Duke and Wisconsin has changed since December. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 points for the Blue Devils against the Badgers and he’s no longer with the Duke basketball program. Traevon Jackson had a season-high 25 points for Wisconsin and he’s only playing a few minutes a game now after recovering from a broken foot.

Dekker is the key difference maker the second time around for the Badgers. He’s elevated himself into the NBA lottery conversation and is one of four projected lottery picks, according to Draft Express, playing in the national championship game.

Wisconsin and Dekker are feeling as confident as ever now that he is injury free and elevating his play to a new level.

“Hopefully this time we will be better,” Dekker said. “Justise Winslow is obviously a great defender but it shouldn’t matter who is in front of me; I still expect myself to play well. I just need to play up to my potential in that game and I’m confident I can do it.