College Basketballs X-Factors: Cheick Diallo, Thomas Bryant and many more

(Chris Howell/The Herald-Times via AP)

Here are 12 things to keep a close eye on this year, as they are the x-factors that could eventually end up shaping the college hoops season:

Cheick Diallo’s eligibility

This is the most obvious one, right? Not only is Diallo — who is still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA due to issues with his high school transcript — a top ten recruit on a top five team, but he’s the one piece that the talented and deep Jayhawks are missing. They’ve got the quality guard play, they’ve got weapons on the wing and they have both big bodies and versatile scorers in their front court. What they don’t have, however, is a player that can do the things that Diallo excels at. Diallo is raw. He doesn’t have Jahlil Okafor’s post game or Henry Ellenson’s face-up game. He’s not a guy that Bill Self can isolate 1-on-1 and expect positive results; that’s what Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg are for.

[MORE: Top 100 players | CBT Top 25]

But Diallo is 6-foot-9, athletic and aggressive. He’ll run the floor in transition. He’ll play tough, physical defense. He’ll block shots and attack the glass on both ends. He brings an edge, an effort level and a toughness that the Jayhawks have been missing for a few years now. He’s everything that Cliff Alexander was supposed to be last season, and his presence would put Kansas in the conversation as the best team in the country.

Thomas Bryant’s defense

A couple of stats for you from last season. Indiana was ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, according to They were 214th in overall defensive efficiency, 224th in effective field goal percentage defense, 330th in defensive turnover percentage, 188th in defensive rebound percentage, 283rd in in two-point field goal defense and 251st in block percentage. That’s a really long-winded way of saying that IU could light it up offensively last season and, at the same time, would have let me get 20 against them.

Enter Bryant, a 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American known for his motor, his defense and his ability to get on the glass. He’s not going to solve all of Indiana’s defensive issues — their perimeter is a sieve — but he will help erase shots at the rim and clean up the glass defensively. For perspective: Duke earned a No. 1 seed entering the tournament with an elite offense and a defense that ranked in the 60s. Notre Dame reached the Elite 8 with the nation’s second-best offense and a defensive efficiency that ranked 102nd.

Michigan’s health

Michigan’s perimeter attack is absolutely loaded. Caris LeVert could end up being an all-american this season. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are both all-Big Ten-caliber talents. They also all have dealt with serious injuries in 2015. LeVert broke his foot for the second time in a 10 month span midway through last season. Walton saw his season ruined by a sprained toe that limited him for two months before he finally shut it down in late-January. Irvin had offseason back surgery. Even with the front court question marks, Michigan looks like a top 20 team entering the season. That’s assuming their three best players can make it through the next five months without getting hurt.

RELATED: NBCSports All-Americans | Best Freshman | Breakout Stars

Cal’s Jaylen Brown as Draymond Green

Cuonzo Martin has it rolling out in Berkeley right now, putting together the most talented team that he’s ever had as a head coach. The Bears are loaded with perimeter talent, and while they have five-star freshman Ivan Rabb at center, they are limited with front court depth. Enter freshman Jaylen Brown, a top three player in the class. He’s a physical, 6-foot-7 wing that has the athleticism and versatility to play a number of different roles, similar to another Bay Area combo-forward: Draymond Green’s. Green’s ability to defend fours, rebound and stretch the floor offensively is a major reason why Golden State has become the best team in the NBA. If Brown can find success playing the same way this season, Cal may be looking at a Pac-12 title come March.

North Carolina’s point guard play

Perhaps the real question here is whether Marcus Paige can actually stay healthy once he returns from his broken hand, but assuming he does, the key for UNC is to be able to move him off the ball with a point guard that can hit open threes. Joel Berry II may be the best fit. The ideal role for Paige this season would be to play off the ball in transition and on the ball at the end of a clock, meaning that Berry will be asked to handle the point in transition situations while spacing the floor when Paige has the ball in his hands in the half court. If he can do that, the Tar Heels become a much more dangerous team offensively.

Marshall Plumlee as … Brian Zoubek?

This Duke team reminds me quite a bit of the 2010 team that won the national title. Question marks at the point, off-guards handling the ball, future first round pick on a wing and a front line rotation that had yet to be established. Midway through the season, Zoubek, a former McDonald’s All-American that failed to live up to his hype for three and a half years, suddenly turned into a force of nature in the paint, blocking shots and dominating the glass on both ends. His emergence turned Duke into a team that could win the title. Could Plumlee have the same impact as a senior as Zoubek did? If this Duke team is missing anything, it’s a veteran anchor in the paint.

Is Ryan Anderson Arizona’s best player?

Who is going to be Arizona’s leading scorer this season? Who is going to start at the point? Will Kaleb Tarzewski keep the starting center role over Dusan Ristic? Who gets minutes at the two? There are so many questions to be answered with an Arizona team that lost four starters this offseason, but the key may end up being just how good Anderson ends up being. He was productive despite his limited athleticism during his time at Boston College and sat out last season as a transfer. Now he’s a redshirt senior at a new program that has yet to play a game for a team that was relevant nationally. If he’s truly a 15-point, eight-rebound kind of guy, Arizona will have a real chance to win a Pac-12 title. If he’s not, who knows.

Kentucky’s role players

Specifically, I’m talking about Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. Poythress has been snake-bit throughout his career with the Wildcats, being asked to play out of position as a three and tearing an ACL. He’s a senior now and will finally have a chance to thrive as a purely effort guy at the four. That’s his best role. And as for Lee, he’s impressed in his limited minutes over the last two years, but playing well for spurts and proving to be a worthy starter on a team with national title aspirations are two very different things.

AP Photo
AP Photo

Charles Matthews and Isaiah Briscoe can also be lumped in here as well. Matthews has earned a rep for being a gritty, athletic wing defender that will fit will along side Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray quite nicely. If the newly-slimmed down Isaiah Briscoe can embrace that role as well, it will make UK just that much more dangerous. I’m not as high on Briscoe as some others, but I love the idea of him being the fourth option in an offense.

MORE: Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Can Marial Shayok replace Justin Anderson?

Virginia returns quite a bit this season, namely all-american Malcolm Brogdon and head coach Tony Bennett, but the public is undervaluing just how much they’re losing. Darion Atkins was an elite front court defender, one that will be tough to replace. But more notable is the loss of Anderson, who left a year early for the NBA. Anderson was the best shooter and perimeter defender on UVA’s roster last season, and when he broke his thumb it changed the Cavs from a title contender to just another good team susceptible to getting picked off in the Round of 32. Sophomore Marial Shayok, as well as senior Evan Nolte, will be tasked with replacing him this season. They were not consistent in that role last year.

Rasheed Sulaimon the role player: Sulaimon was, more or less, kicked off of Duke because he struggled with the idea of buying into a role for the Blue Devils. They got awesome after he left. He’s going to be asked to do the same thing with the Terps. Will he be OK with being the fourth, and sometimes the fifth, options on the offensive end of the floor? Is he truly volunteering to come off the bench? If he is, he’s such a weapon for Mark Turgeon.

Purdue’s shooting

Purdue’s front line is awesome. A.J. Hammons, when he’s dialed in, is as dominant at the five spot as anyone in the country, Isaac Haas looked really good in spurts last season and Caleb Swanigan may actually be the best of the three. Throw in guys like Vince Edwards and Rapheal Davis, and the Boilermakers are going to be able to overpower just about anyone in college basketball this season. The issue is going to be spacing. Is Swanigan skilled enough on the perimeter to create space for Hammons to operate, or will that force the freshman to play a role where he has less of an impact? Can Edwards and Davis shoot well enough from the perimeter to space the floor, or will Painter be forced to play guys like Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens more minutes? How effective will Johnny Hill be? If it all comes together, Purdue has Final Four potential.

Rodney Bullock and Ben Bentil replacing ‘Buckets’

The toughest job Ed Cooley will have this season is replacing LaDontae ‘Buckets’ Henton. Kris Dunn may be the best player in college basketball, but if he doesn’t get any help from his supporting cast, what is the ceiling for this team? Fifth in the Big East? The Round of 32? Bentil was very good in spurts at the end of last season and Bullock enters this year with all the hype. Dunn needs them to be good if he’s going to make any real impact this season.


  • Utah’s point guard: Who replaces Delon Wright? Can Lorenzo Banum or Isaiah Wright take advantage of Jakob Poeltl’s ability as a roll man in ball-screen actions? Delon made his teammates better. Does that mean we’re overrating them this year?
  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin was promising as a freshman and should have a good sophomore season. But can his ability on the offensive end help make up for the loss of Kameron Woods’ ability on the defensive end of the floor?
  • Texas freshmen: We know how good Isaiah Taylor is and we know how deep the Texas front line is. But if Kerwin Roach, Tevin Mack and Eric Davis can live up to the early hype, the Longhorns could end up being a top 25 team.
  • Kuran Iverson: The Rams are the most talented team in the Atlantic 10, but talent doesn’t always win out at this level. Iverson, a 6-foot-9 wing, was at one point the No. 1 player in his high school class. He’s that skilled. If he accepts his role on this team, they can be scary.
  • Josh Perkins at the point: Gonzaga’s front line is huge, but people are forgetting that they are losing two four-year starters in the back court. In steps Perkins, who missed most of his freshman season with a broken jaw. Kevin Pangos left big shoes to fill.
  • Georgetown’s big men: The Hoyas lost Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins to graduation and Akoy Agau to a torn ACL. They’ve got the perimeter weapons and a handful of versatile four-men. But who plays the five — the Roy Hibbert, Henry Sims role — on this team, arguably the most important spot in JT III’s offense?
  • Rashard Kelly’s development: We know how good Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet are but we don’t know how good Wichita State’s front line is going to be. Kelly, 6-foot-7 forward that had promising flashes as a freshman, is the guy some have pegged to take on a bigger role. Can he be that third option?

Unbeaten Gamecocks, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark star in women’s Final Four


SEATTLE ⁠— An undefeated South Carolina team led by star Aliyah Boston and guided by vaunted Dawn Staley, an Iowa squad that features high-scoring Caitlin Clark and the return of LSU and flashy coach Kim Mulkey headline the women’s Final Four this weekend.

Virginia Tech is the newcomer to the group as the Hokies are making their first appearance in the national semifinals. Hokies coach Kenny Brooks became the third Black male coach to take a team to the Final Four in women’s basketball history.

All of the women’s basketball world will descend on Dallas this week as the Division I, II and III championships will be held there. It’s only the second time that all three divisions will have their title games in the same place.

Staley and the Gamecocks are looking to become the 10th team to go through a season unbeaten and the first to repeat as champions since UConn won four in a row from 2013-16. South Carolina advanced to its third consecutive national semifinals and fifth since 2015 thanks to another superb effort by Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year. The three-time All-American had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Maryland on Monday night.

Next up for the Gamecocks is Iowa and the sensational Clark. She helped the Hawkeyes reach their first Final Four in 30 years with a game for the ages in the regional semifinals on Sunday night. The junior guard had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history in the win over Louisville.

The Gamecocks have the experience edge having reached the Final Four so often with this group. No one on Iowa’s roster was alive the last time the team advanced to the game’s biggest stage. C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of that team in 1993 that reached the Final Four before losing to Ohio State in overtime.

“It is like a storybook, but it’s kind of been like that for us all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I mean, we have had — honestly, we keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen and it is happening. But I’m so happy for Caitlin. I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four. And I’m saying, We can do it together. And she believed me. And so I’m very thankful for that.”

The other game will pit LSU against Virginia Tech. The Tigers are making their first trip to the national semifinals since 2008 when Sylvia Fowles dominated the paint. Now LSU is led by another stellar post player in Angel Reese.

She broke Fowles’ record for double-doubles in a season earlier this year and was key in the Tigers’ win over Miami in the Elite Eight.

Reese, who transferred in this season from Maryland, has made Mulkey’s second season at the school a special one. She came to LSU with a resume headlined by three NCAA titles from her time at Baylor along with some flamboyant sideline looks such as her silver-shimmering jacket with white pants that she wore in the Elite Eight game Sunday.

“What really makes me smile is not cutting that net down,” Mulkey said. “It’s looking around out there at all those LSU people, looking at that team I get to coach experience it for the first time.”

LSU’s opponent is also making its first appearance at the Final Four. The Hokies have had the best season in school history, winning the ACC crown as well under Brooks. He joined former Syracuse Quentin Hillsman and Cheyney State’s Winthrop “Windy” McGriff.

The significance has not been lost on Brooks, who hopes he can inspire other Black male coaches to get more opportunities.

The Hokies run to the national semifinals has been led by star post Elizabeth Kitley and sharpshooter Georgia Amoore. The pair combined for 49 points in the win over Ohio State in the Elite Eight.

Tar Heels’ Caleb Love plans to enter name in transfer portal

caleb love transfer portal
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina guard Caleb Love says he will enter his name into the transfer portal after three seasons with the Tar Heels.

The 6-foot-4 Love announced his decision with a social media post Monday. He had big moments during an unexpected run to last year’s national championship game though he also wrestled with inconsistency for most of his college career.

At his best, Love has game-changing scoring potential and is fearless in taking a big shot. That included scoring 28 points with a huge late 3-pointer to help the Tar Heels beat Duke in the Final Four for the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the rivals and the final game for Blue Devils Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

This season he led the team by averaging 16.7 points. but his shooting percentages all dipped after showing gains in 2022. He never shot 40% from the field for a season and twice failed to shoot 30% on 3s.

UNC returns Armando Bacot, the program’s career leading rebounder and an Associated Press third-team All-American, and guard R.J. Davis at the core of an expected roster revamp. That comes after the Tar Heels became the first team to go from No. 1 in the AP preseason poll to missing the NCAA Tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Texas reportedly reaches deal with Rodney Terry as full-time coach

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Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas ⁠— Texas has reached an agreement with Rodney Terry to be the Longhorns’ full-time head basketball coach, taking the interim tag off his title after he led the program to the Elite Eight following the midseason firing of Chris Beard, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press.

Texas was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by Miami on Sunday, ending its longest postseason run since 2008. Terry and Texas officials reached the agreement Monday, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Financial terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Terry took over the Longhorns as acting head coach when Beard was first suspended on Dec. 12 after a felony domestic violence arrest. Terry was giving the title of interim head coach when Beard was fired Jan. 5.

Texas won the Big 12 Tournament championship and questions about Terry’s future with the program were amplified as the Longhorns kept winning in the postseason. Texas fans wondered what more he needed to prove and Longhorns players publicly advocated for him to get the job.

“It was all about this team. I’ve enjoyed every single day of this journey with this group,” Terry said in Sunday’s postgame news conference as his voice cracked and he held back tears. “It was never about me. It was always about these guys. I love these guys.”

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte had praised Terry’s job handling the team in crisis and gave him a raise, though only through April. He’d also noted Terry inherited a veteran, senior-heavy roster and strong staff of assistants built by Beard.

That lineup could have disintegrated into chaos after Beard’s arrest. Instead, Terry marched the program to a second-place regular season finish in the Big 12 and a No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns went 22-8 under Terry, and their march to the Elite Eight was the program’s first beyond the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend in 15 years.

Terry is the second Black head coach in program history, joining Shaka Smart, who coached Texas from 2015-2021.

Terry, 54, had a previous stint as an assistant at Texas under Rick Barnes from 2002-2011. He also was head coach at Fresno State and UTEP. He left UTEP after three seasons to join Beard’s staff in 2022. He is 185-164 as a head coach.

Former Texas player T.J. Ford, who led the Longhorns to 2003 Final Four and was that season’s Naismith national player of the year, praised the move to keep Terry.

“I’m very excited that the right decision was made to continue this great culture,” Ford tweeted.

The dormant Texas program had all the signs of renewal under Beard, as he mined the transfer portal to build a roster to compete in the rugged Big 12. He had done the same at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to the 2019 national championship game.

Beard was arrested after his fiancée called 911 and told police he choked, bit and hit her during a confrontation at his home. She later recanted that she was choked, but Texas still fired Beard as university lawyers called him “unfit” to lead the program.

The Travis County district attorney eventually dismissed the felony charge, saying they could not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and because of her wishes not to prosecute.

Beard has since been hired at Mississippi.

Caitlin Clark leads Iowa to first Final Four since 1993

Alika Jenner/Getty Images

SEATTLE – Caitlin Clark put on quite a show, having one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history to help Iowa end a 30-year Final Four drought.

She had 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes to a 97-83 win over fifth-seeded Louisville on Sunday night and send the team to its first women’s Final Four in since 1993.

“I dreamed of this moment as a little girl, to take a team to the Final Four and be in these moments and have confetti fall down on me,” said Clark, who is a Iowa native.

The unanimous first-team All-American was as dominant as she’s been all season in getting the Hawkeyes to Dallas for the women’s NCAA Tournament national semifinals on Friday night. The Seattle 4 Region champion will face the winner of the Greenville 1 region that has South Carolina playing Maryland on Monday night.

“I thought our team played really well. That’s what it’s all about. I was going to give it every single thing I had,” said Clark, who was the region’s most outstanding player. “When I came here I said I wanted to take this program to the Final Four, and all you’ve got to do is dream. And all you’ve got to do is believe and work your butt off to get there. That’s what I did, and that’s what our girls did and that’s what our coaches did and we’re going to Dallas, baby.”

Iowa (30-6) hadn’t been to the Final Four since Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer led the team to its lone appearance in 1993. Before Sunday, the team had only been to one other Elite Eight – in 2019 – since the Final Four team.

Clark had the 11th triple-double of her career and the 19th in NCAA Tournament history. She had the first 30- and 40-point triple-double in March Madness history.

“It’s like a storybook, been like that all year long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen. … She’s spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court. A 40-point triple-double against Louisville to go to the Final Four. Are you kidding me? That’s mind-boggling.”

Trailing by five at the half, Louisville cut its deficit to 48-47 before Clark and the Hawkeyes scored the next 11 points as part of a 17-6 run to blow the game open. That brought most of the pro-Iowa crowd of nearly 12,000 fans to their feet.

Louisville was down 22 with just under 6 minutes left before going on a 13-1 run to get within 86-76 with 2:10 left. The Cardinals could get no closer.

Clark left the game with 22.7 seconds left to a loud ovation from the crowd as she hugged her coach. After the game, Clark paraded around the court holding the regional trophy high above her head, delighting the thousands of fans who stuck around to celebrate their Hawkeyes.

Hailey Van Lith scored 27 points and Olivia Cochran had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Louisville (26-12).

Clark hit eight of the Hawkeyes’ season-high 16 3-pointers, including a few from just past the March Madness logo. It was a school record for the Hawkeyes in the NCAA Tournament, blowing past the previous mark of 13 against Gonzaga in 2011.

Louisville scored the first eight points of the game, forcing Iowa to call timeout. Then Clark got going. The 6-foot junior scored the first seven points for the Hawkeyes and finished the opening quarter with 15 points. When she wasn’t scoring, she found open teammates with precision passes.

She also had four assists in the first 10 minutes, accounting for every one of Iowa’s points as the Hawkeyes led 25-21.

Clark continued her mastery in the second quarter, hitting shots from all over the court, including a few of her famous long-distance 3s from near the logo.

Louisville was able to stay in the game, thanks to Van Lith. After scoring the first six points of the game, she went quiet before getting going late in the second quarter. She had 11 points in the second quarter as the Cardinals found themselves down 48-43 at the break.

Clark had 22 points and eight assists in the opening 20 minutes enroute to the fourth-highest scoring total all-time in a NCAA regional.

“She played great, she made some big shots,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of Clark. “She passed the ball well. we turned her over at times.”


Clark has 984 points this season and is looking to join former Hawkeye Megan Gustafson with 1,000 points in a single year. Four other players have done it, including Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist, who accomplished the feat this season. Kelsey Plum, Jackie Stiles and Odyssey Sims were the others to do it.


Van Lith once again played well in her home state. The small-town standout from 130 miles away from Seattle grew into being one of the best prep players in the country, the all-time state high school leader in scoring and now a star for the Cardinals.

Hundreds of fans from her hometown of Cashmere, which has a population of 3,200, took in the game, cheering the Louisville star on.


It was a bittersweet day for Iowa assistant coach Jan Jensen. Her dad Dale died in the morning after battling pancreatic cancer for a year. He was 86.

“He didn’t sound so good the last couple days and I was kind of fretting, ‘When am I going to go if we go to Dallas?’” she said. “I just feel like he knew. He was never a high maintenance guy, he was never a guy who made it complicated with me in anything. So I think, he told my people at home, I’m not ready to go until Jan’s team is done.”

Miller, Wong rally Miami past Texas 88-81 for 1st Final Four

miami texas
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the eve of Miami playing for a place in its first Final Four, the quiet conversation floating through the team hotel did not revolve around all that the Hurricanes had accomplished this season. Instead, they talked about what had happened to bring last season to a close.

The sting of an Elite Eight defeat was fresh to those who were there. And they made everyone else feel it, too.

“That loss sat with me for a really long time,” the Hurricanes’ Jordan Miller said. “It doesn’t go away, and the fact that we had the opportunity to come back and make amends, make it right, that’s what was pushing me.”

Miller responded with a perfect performance against second-seeded Texas in the Midwest Region final Sunday. Along with Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Isaiah Wong and March dynamo Nijel Pack, Miller rallied the Hurricanes from a 13-point second-half deficit for an 88-81 victory that clinched that long-awaited trip to the national semifinals.

“How hard we fought to come back in this game, especially on a stage like this, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Pack, one of Miami’s newcomers. “I know how much these guys wanted to win this game, especially being here last year and losing the Elite Eight, and now being able to take it to the Final Four is something special.”

Miller finished with 27 points, going 7 of 7 from the field and 13 of 13 from the foul line, while Wong scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half against the Longhorns, who had been the top remaining seed in a topsy-turvy NCAA Tournament.

Now, the No. 5 seed Hurricanes (29-7) have a date with No. 4 seed UConn on Saturday night in Houston. Two more Final Four newbies, fifth-seeded San Diego State and No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, will play in the other national semifinal.

It’s the first time since seeding began in 1979 that no team seeded better than No. 4 made the Final Four, so perhaps it is fitting that Miami coach Jim Larrañaga is involved. He took George Mason there as an 11 seed 17 years ago to the day.

Miami was a 10 seed last year when it lost 76-50 to eventual national champion Kansas in a regional final.

“No one wanted to go home,” said Miller, coincidentally a George Mason transfer, who joined Duke’s Christian Laettner as the only players since 1960 to go 20 for 20 combined from the field and foul line in an NCAA tourney game. “We came together. We stuck together. We showed really good perseverance and the will – the will to just want to get there.”

After Miami climbed back from a 64-51 deficit with 13:22 to play, the game was tied at 79-all when Norchad Omier was fouled by the Longhorns’ Brock Cunningham while going for a loose ball. He made both of the foul shots to give the Hurricanes the lead, then stole the ball from Texas star Marcus Carr at the other end, and Wong made to more free throws with 34 seconds remaining to keep them ahead for good.

Miller kept drilling foul shots down the stretch to ice the Midwest Region title for the Hurricanes.

Wooga Poplar scored 16 points, and Pack followed up his virtuoso performance against top-seeded Houston with 15, as the same school that once dropped hoops entirely in the 1970s advanced to the game’s biggest stage.

“You just love when your players accomplish a goal they set out before the season,” Larrañaga said.

Carr led the Longhorns (29-9) with 17 points, though he was bothered by a hamstring injury late in the game. Timmy Allen added 16 and Sir’Jabari Rice had 15 in the finale of a season that began with the firing of Chris Beard over domestic violence charges that were later dropped and ended with interim coach Rodney Terry consoling a heartbroken team.

“These guys more than any group I’ve worked with in 32 years of coaching have really embodied, in terms of staying the course, being a team,” Terry said, choking up so hard on the postgame dais that he could barely speak. “They were so unselfish as a team, and they gave us everything they had. They really did.”

The Longhorns revealed about 90 minutes before tipoff that Dylan Disu, the Big 12 tourney MVP and early star of the NCAA Tournament, would miss the game with a foot injury. He hurt it in the second round against Penn State and only played about 90 seconds in the Sweet 16 against Xavier before watching the rest of that game in a walking boot.

Without their 6-foot-9 star, the Longhorns’ deep group of dangerous guards resorted to potshots from the perimeter against Miami’s porous defense. Rice hit two 3s early, Carr two of his own, and the Longhorns stormed to a 45-37 halftime lead.

On the other end, Texas tried to keep Pack and Wong from producing a sequel to their 3-point barrage against Houston.

Pack, who dropped seven 3s in the regional semifinal, didn’t even attempt one until there were 7 1/2 minutes left in the first half, and his best shot – a looping rainbow as he fell out of bounds – didn’t even count because it went over the backboard.

Wong took as many shots and scored as many points (two) as he had turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes.

The Longhorns’ advantage stretched to 13 in the second half, and tension built on the Miami bench. At one point, Harlond Beverly and Larrañaga got into a verbal spat and the 73-year-old coach yanked the backup guard from the game.

Fortunately for the ’Canes, Pack and Wong were poised, Poplar and Miller seemingly possessed.

Still trailing 72-64 with about eight minutes to play, Pack and Wong joined Miller and Omier in turbocharging a 13-3 run to give the Hurricanes a 77-75 lead, their first since the opening minutes. When Rice answered at the other end for Texas, Miller calmly made two go-ahead free throws to begin his late-game parade to the line.

Carr made a nifty turnaround jumper to tie the game again for Texas, but the Miami momentum never slowed. Omier made two free throws with a minute left, swiped the ball from Carr at the other end, and Miller and Co. finished it off.

“We just all bought into staying together, keeping that hope alive,” Miller said, “and the way we just willed this one through, I think everybody played really well, and I think it really shows the poise of this squad.”