Articles By David Fox

Path: /college-basketball/final-four-recap-kentucky-continues-dramatics-title-game

Let’s take a moment and be thankful this season didn’t turn out for Kentucky the way many predicted.

How boring would all this be if Kentucky were a top seed, a team whose trip to the national championship game felt like a formality?

Instead, Kentucky has given the NCAA Tournament one of the most thrilling runs in NCAA Tournament history. Five games decided by seven points or fewer, the last three on late 3-pointers by Aaron Harrison.

The Wildcats will go to the national championship game as a No. 8 seed to face seventh-seeded UConn. Either way, the national champion will be the lowest-seeded team to win the title since No. 8 Villanova won it in 1985, the first season since the field expanded to 64 teams.

And, no, it’s not enough that Kentucky has defeated three teams from last year’s Final Four, one of which was undefeated and another the Wildcats’ chief rival. It’s not enough that Kentucky defeated a Wisconsin team that missed one free throw all night.

The story had to be better. Aaron Harrison bailed out his twin, Andrew, who had fouled Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson on a 3-point shot. Jackson made two free throws to give the Badgers a two-point lead.

Aaron, though, made sure his brother wouldn’t live in Kentucky lore as the player who cost the Wildcats a shot at the title. With the game on the line, Andrew passed to Aaron, who hit an NBA-range 3 to beat Wisconsin with 5.7 seconds remaining.

Game MVP: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
He scored only eight points, fewest among Kentucky starters, but it’s tough to pick anyone else for this spot. Harrison has hit three consecutive game winners, each one as impressive as the last. Against Michigan, it was a contested 3. Against Wisconsin, it was an NBA-range 3 with a hand in his face. A 4-for-14 night is rarely this satisfying.

Telling stat: 8, points by Frank Kaminsky
Wisconsin got offense from unexpected sources — 11 from Bronson Koenig, 8 from Duje Dukan — but the key matchup in the game went into the favor of Kentucky. Kaminsky was held in check for most of the game. While he was 4-of-7 from the floor with four offensive rebounds, Kaminsky didn’t attempt a shot from 3-point range and finished with eight points.

How Kentucky won:
The Harrison shot will be remembered, but a Kentucky timeout set the Wildcats on a run that ultimately won the game. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker hit a 3-pointer in the first minute of the second half to give the Badgers a seven-point lead. After a timeout, Kentucky scored the next 15 points over a little more than 3 minutes. Wisconsin answered, but the run set Kentucky in motion to win the game.

How Wisconsin lost:
It’s far too lazy to blame the free throw Traevon Jackson missed in the final minute. Jackson was at the free throw line thanks to a mistake by Andrew Harrison, who fouled the Badgers point guard during a 3-point attempt. It also was Wisconsin’s only miss of the night. Not many teams go 19-of-20 from the free throw line and lose, especially while their opponents go 14-of-21. Instead, Wisconsin lost because it struggled in the paint, even against a team missing its best offensive rebounder. Kentucky grabbed 11 offensive boards and outscored Wisconsin 46-24 in the paint. The results aren’t shocking, but they did determine the game.

Key for Kentucky in the national championship game:
Injured or not, Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin struggled against UConn’s guards. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can disrupt opposing guards as well as anyone. The Harrisons were a combined 7-of-22 against Wisconsin. Even if Aaron was the hero again, he’ll be put to the test against the Huskies.

Final Four Recap: Kentucky Continues Dramatics into Title Game
Post date: Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 00:46
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-recap-uconn-shocks-florida-trip-title-game

If all hope looks lost for UConn in the national championship game, don’t believe it.

Don’t say UConn is finished. Don’t change the channel. Don’t leave the arena.

Against Florida, the Huskies clawed through an opponent and dire expectations again and not for the first time in this Tournament. UConn trailed by 16-4 Saturday to a team that had won 30 in a row, but the Huskies continued their improbable run to the national championship game with a 63-53 win over Florida.

A dozen points with nearly 30 minutes to play is nothing. Remember, UConn trailed by 3 with 50 seconds to go in the round of 64 against Saint Joseph’s before winning in overtime. This is a team that lost by 33 to Louisville in the final game of the regular season, a team that was swept by SMU.

But this is a team that seems to thrive on doubts, led by a coach who was on a one-year contract until Dec. 2012.

UConn responded by holding Florida to a season-low 53 points and becoming the first team to top a point per possession against the Gators since Feb. 22.

Game MVP: DeAndre Daniels, UConn
The Huskies aren’t a one-man team despite all the praise that goes to UConn. For the second time in this Tournament, Daniels was the focal point of the Huskies’ offense. The junior scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds while shooting 9-of-14 from the field. Napier scored 13 points, but caused problems for Florida on penetration while bottling up Scottie Wilbekin.

Telling stat: 3 assists for Florida
Florida had its lowest-scoring game of the season in part because of bad shots and ineffective point guard play. The most embarrassing number there was three assists for the Gators, four fewer than Florida’s lowest total of the season.

How UConn won:
UConn fell behind 16-4 early but switched to a small lineup three ball-handling guards — Napier, Ryan Boatright and Terrence Samuel. The change sparked a first-half run and helped shut down Florida’s guards. The Huskies had six steals, including four from Napier.

How Florida lost:
The Gators’ point guards were ineffective. Wilbekin had his worst game of the season, and freshman backup Kasey Hill couldn’t fill in. TBS reports indicated Wilbekin struggled with cramps and had his knees iced in the bench. In any event, Wilbekin, who carried the Gators through the first two weeks, was a mere 2-of-9 from the field with three turnovers and couldn’t get past Napier all night.

Key for UConn in the national championship game:
Is there anything UConn can’t do? The Huskies just shot 55.8 percent against the best defensive team in the country and needed only three baskets from Napier to win by 10. The Huskies played lights out defensively and shot 10 of 13 from the field. UConn probably doesn’t want to try its luck by falling behind by 12 again, but who is going to pick against the Huskies anymore?

Post date: Saturday, April 5, 2014 - 20:20
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-preview-and-picks-wisconsin-badgers-vs-kentucky-wildcats

Kentucky may be the best-positioned No. 8 seed to play for a national title, but 1985 Villanova Big Blue Nation is not.

Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova team is the lowest-seeded program to win the national title, a feat Kentucky can match if the Wildcats can beat Wisconsin and then win Monday night.

But unlike that Villanova team that spent most of the season lurking in the shadows, this year’s Kentucky started at No. 1. With the future pro talent John Calipari added to the roster this season, a trip to the Final Four seemed to be inevitable ... at least until reality set in before December.

The Wildcats lost six games in an underwhelming SEC (and yes, the SEC can have two Final Four teams and be underwhelming at the same time). That makes Kentucky an underdog by seed and record but certainly not by talent and reputation.

The underdog story may be Wisconsin, a No. 2 seed that started the season 16-0. Bo Ryan, 66, is making his first trip to the Final Four as Wisconsin seeks its first national championship since 1941. While Kentucky is awash in McDonald’s All-Americans, Wisconsin has none.

“Frank Sinatra, wasn't that the song? We did it our way?” Ryan said. “Everybody's doing it their way. If you're a coach and here's the landscape, you do it the best way you can. I was always told you can only coach one team.”

Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Approx. 8:50 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr

Wisconsin Teamcast
Announcers: Rob Bromley, Rex Chapman

Kentucky Teamcast
Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Mike Kelley

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Wisconsin 75-71
Braden Gall: Kentucky 78-74
Mitch Light: Wisconsin 68-66
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 75-74
How Wisconsin got here:
Junior Frank Kaminsky was an All-Big Ten performer during the course of the season, but he may be playing himself into NBA Draft consideration this year or next. Kaminsky is the rare 7-footer who can take an outside shot, drive to the basket and score in the post. He’s averaging 16.8 points per game in the Tournament.


How Kentucky got here:
Kentucky is making shots, pure and simple. Guard Aaron Harrison is averaging 16 points per game in the Tournament after averaging 14.1 during the regular season. Kentucky is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range during the Tournament after averaging 33.2 percent during the season as a whole.


Key matchup: Kentucky’s frontcourt vs. Kaminsky
Kaminsky already outdueled Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, so it’s clear he can handle top talent. Kentucky, though, will be another test with the 6-9 Julius Randle and 7-foot Dakari Johnson in the frontcourt. Can Kaminsky’s versatile game continue to thrive against some of the top forwards in the country?


Player to watch: Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein doesn’t want to be declared out for the Final Four, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll play. Cauley-Stein averages nearly three blocks per game and is Kentucky’s top offensive rebounder. Losing that kind of cog will hurt. Johnson will try to step into Cauley-Stein’s shoes on a team that led the nation in offensive rebound rate.


Wisconsin will win the national title if…
The Badgers keep playing Bo Ryan basketball — limiting mistakes, playing strong defense and making big shots in key moments. This is not the typical Badgers team, however. Traevon Jackson controls the tempo at point guard,Kaminsky proves unguardable at times and shooters space the floor to allow Wisconsin to match up with nearly any style of play.

Wisconsin will lose to Kentucky if…
The Badgers are overwhelmed by the bright lights of AT&T Stadium and the Big Blue Nation. Kentucky is making its third trip to the Final Four in four years, while Wisconsin is making its first trip since 2000 and only its third Final Four ever. The Badgers must remain focused, no matter how crazy the circumstances get.

Kentucky will win the national title if…
The Wildcats keep playing like future NBA first-round picks rather than college freshmen. The preseason No. 1 team in the country boasts what some have called the best freshman class since Michigan’s famed “Fab Five.” John Calipari’s team has been maddeningly inconsistent this year, but if Julius Randle continues to own the paint and the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, keep playing with poise, UK could raise its ninth title banner.

Kentucky will lose to Wisconsin if…
The Wildcats get into early foul trouble. Without injured center Willie Cauley-Stein — who is doubtful with an ankle injury — the Wildcats are relatively thin down low. Freshman Marcus Lee came out of nowhere for 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the Elite Eight. But Kentucky needs Randle (and his 24 double-doubles) to stay on the floor.

Athlon editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush contributed to this report.

Final Four Preview and Picks: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Post date: Saturday, April 5, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-preview-and-picks-florida-gators-vs-uconn-huskies

Not many teams can say they’ve defeated every team on their schedule.

If Florida make it to Monday night (and so does Wisconsin), the Gators can say they’ve answered all comers even if they've lost twice this season.

In an odd turn of events, the only two teams that defeated Florida during the course of the season, Wisconsin and Connecticut, are in the Final Four. The third team, Kentucky, is one Florida has faced three times the year. Beat UConn and Wisconsin, and Florida can say it defeated everyone on its schedule at least once.

Before the Gators can try to avenge a loss to Wisconsin or defeat Kentucky for a fourth time, they’ll need to make up for a 65-64 loss to UConn from Dec. 2. In that game, Shabazz Napier hit the buzzer beater in a game in which Florida lacked point guard Scottie Wilbekin for the final minutes and backup point Kasey Hill for the duration of the game.

So if you’re keeping track: Florida, playing without two point guards, lost a road game on a last-second shot to UConn. Everything seems to point to Florida if the outcome is going to change the second time around.

But UConn is in the middle of an improbable run for a No. 7 seed to the Final Four.

“It's a different game; That was four months ago,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We're a different team. I'm a different coach. Billy Donovan's definitely got better understanding his team and what it takes for his team to win. So it's going to be a whole different game.”

Florida vs. Connecticut
Time: 6 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr

Florida Teamcast
Announcers: David Steele, Mark Wise

Connecticut Teamcast
TV: truTV
Announcers: Eric Frede, Donny Marshall

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Florida 73-61
Braden Gall: Florida 69-59
Mitch Light: Florida 71-63
Nathan Rush: Florida 85-80
How Florida got here:
Scottie Wilbekin is playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 16.7 points per game in the Tournament. The Gators, though, are anchored by a stifling defense. In the SEC and NCAA tournaments, only one team has scored more than 60 points against Florida.


How UConn got here:
All-American Shabazz Napier has put the Huskies on his back, averaging 23.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s up from his season average of 18.1 points per game.


Key matchup: Wilbekin vs. Napier
When the two point guards first met in December, Wilbekin didn’t play the final minutes due to an ankle injury. Napier went on to score . The two shot-making guards have been their teams’ focal points all season, and now they’re facing off in a national semifinal. This could be one of the best individual matchups of the entire Tournament.


Player to watch: Florida’s Patric Young
UConn’s frontcourt doesn’t offer a ton offensively outside of DeAndre Daniels, but Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah are two solid defenders. The Huskies allow opponents to shoot only 42.1 percent from 2-point range. Florida’s center Young won’t be outworked or outmuscled. While the backcourt battle will be key, Young will need to contribute.


Florida will win the national title if…
The Gators maintain their current level of play. Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and has looked the part so far. In this one-and-done era, the Gators have a dominant senior class led by Wilbekin, Prather and Young.

Florida will lose to UConn if…
They allow the Huskies to get open looks from beyond the 3-point line like the Gators did during a 65–64 loss in Storrs on Dec. 2. Florida has won 30 consecutive games since losing to UConn on a day Kevin Ollie’s team shot 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from downtown but only 12 of 29 (41.4 percent) from inside the arc.

UConn will win the national title if…
The Huskies continue to get championship-caliber play from Napier, who has been doing his best Kemba Walker impression during the NCAA Tournament — averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals, while shooting 25 of 27 (92.6 percent) from the free throw line, over four games to lead No. 7-seed UConn to the Final Four.

UConn will lose to Florida if…
The Huskies don’t get an outstanding performance from Napier, who scored 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting (including 5 of 8 from 3-point range) and hit the game-winning shot as time expired in the Huskies’ win over the Gators earlier this season. Much like UConn’s 2011 national title team led by Walker, this year’s Huskies rely on Napier to carry them.

Athlon editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush contributed to this report.

Final Four Preview and Picks: Florida Gators vs. UConn Huskies
Post date: Saturday, April 5, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/scouting-final-four-opposing-coaches-break-down-championship-weekend

Coaches in the Final Four by now have completed the scouting process and are starting to implement the game plans they hope will lead to a national championship. If you’re wondering what the coaches are seeing, Athlon Sports hopes to offer some insight. We spoke to coaches who compiled scouting reports for teams that faced the Final Four teams either during the NCAA Tournament or during the season. In exchange for more candor, we quoted the coaches anonymously.

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On Florida

"They’re good defensively at every position. They can get you sped up with their press. They can make it difficult in the halfcourt. And they can throw a zone out there every now and then. They’re a team that can keep you off balance. They just don’t have a weak link. They don’t have rim protection like a (Willie) Cauley-Stein at Kentucky, but they’re a good position defense with multiple looks. If you get a beat on something, they’re going to switch to a couple of different presses and speed up the game or slow down the game depending how they want to do it.

"Scottie Wilbekin has become such a threat offensively to get his own shot. He’s hit some daggers at the end of halves and end of games. In this Tournament, it’s about shot-making. It’s not about plays. It’s not about the offense. Guys are making shots. He’s been making shots for them all season long down the stretch. He can get his own shot and he can do two things: He can get his own shot and get to the rim or he can get his own shot and make a 3. That’s pretty hard to guard. If you back off and try to get take away a drive he’ll hit you with a dagger 3, if you get too close, he’s going to drive right by you. And generally he’s making the right decisions. He’s athletic and strong enough where he can take a hit. That’s what makes him so dangerous. Michael Frazier II depends on offensive rebounding and a kick out, a Wilbekin drive and pitch. He’s more dependent. He’s a terrific shooter, but that’s how he gets his.

"Patric Young is an oak tree. He’s gotten so much better offensively. He can jump hook to both shoulders. He used to be a guy who could only score on penetration and dropoffs or an offensive rebound. Now he has some back to the basket game. You’ve got to decide: is he worth the double team? He gives them an inside threat. He can get you baskets inside, which he couldn’t do all the time last year. He’s always been strong and physical, but he was almost an afterthought last year.

"Prather is a 15-foot-and-in guy and a driver. He can make some close in jump shots. He has an active, live body. But we just backed off him and put a long guy on him. The only thing he was going to do was drive. He’s a terrific layup-maker and he's athletic. The way to play him is to force him into jump shooting. You’ve got to get him in transition. If you give him some space, you’ll be in better shape. I think that’s what happened late in the year. He’s a guardable guy.

"I don’t know if they have a weakness. They’re great on the bench. They have enough bodies. Maybe they don’t score enough, but I don’t know if that’s a weakness. They don’t beat themselves. All the teams that are there don’t beat themselves. They’re not spectacular. They’re just solid."


On UConn

"Shabazz Napier is a rare guy who has three parts to his game. A lot of kids can shoot the 3 and they can get it to the basket, but they don’t have a pull-up (jumper). Some kids have a pull-up but can’t get to the basket. He can do all three. He has unlimited range from 3. He has a great pull-up game when he can get by you and he can finish around the rim. Really, he has a fourth part because if he can get to the rim and get everyone to collapse on him, he can find the open guy. He’s a nightmare to guard. He doesn’t have to have a screen. He can get himself a shot. He’s a nightmare because unless you have quick bigs and can switch on him, he’s going to get some space off he ball screen.

"He’s a better outside shooter than Kemba Walker. If Napier took all open shots from 3, he’d be in the 40 percent-plus range (ed. note: he’s at 39.9 percent now). They’re similar in quickness, similar in leadership. I think he’s a better player than Kemba. He’s a more talented guy, but he’s not as disciplined as Kemba was in his senior year. Kemba didn’t take a lot of bad shots. At times, Shabazz’s downfall is that he’ll give into taking some guarded shots. He hasn’t done that in the Tournament as much, but during the year, he’d do that. You could bait him into take some bad shots. Kemba was a little more disciplined from that standpoint. As a pure talent, Shabazz is a little more talented.

"Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are probably neck and neck (as the next-most dangerous after Napier). They have three legit guys who can score on you. None of them need a screen necessarily, they just need some space. Daniels can shoot it so well from 3, that allows him to be an effective driver. If you’re in help defense and you’re recovering to him, he has an advantage on you. And he’s tall. Guards have to crowd him or he’ll shoot it over top of you and make it. Even a guard who crowds him, he has enough quickness to make a play. Boatright is maybe quicker than Shabazz. He’s not as good a player, but he’s just as quick if not quicker than Shabazz. He’s not always the most disciplined, but when he and Shabazz are disciplined about their shot selection, boy, they’re hard to guard.

"Kevin Ollie made a switch midseason on defense. Early in the year, they were a steal the ball from you and get you spread out kind of defense. They’ve become a help-side oriented defense. They’re more of a pack-line defense than they were earlier in the year. They’ll shoot a passing lane to get the ball. Shabazz and Boatright are dangerous when you have the ball. You’d better pay attention or they’ll take it from you. But they’re much better on the pick and roll now. They were much more spread out before. They have enough big guys they can throw at you even if they aren’t great offensive players. The unsung guy is the German guy (Niels Giffey). He’s a sound, fundamental defender, and he’s going to make every open shot."


On Wisconsin

"They’re always incredibly well-coached and play terrific defense. This team does, too. They go eight deep with guys who can score. They push the ball and they have guys that run to the 3-point line to make shots in transition.

"What makes them so dangerous is that they’re tough to guard at all five positions. If you can help off anybody, it would be Traevon Jackson, but even then you’re taking a chance.

"They’re all good. They’re all smart. And they all know what they can and can’t do, and they don’t do anything outside of that. Ben Brust is a big-time shooter, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the paint. Same with Josh Gasser. Sam Dekker is probably the most dynamic in that he’s tall and athletic and can stretch you out. They were all individually scary matchups.

"Frank Kaminksy is the most different from what we faced all year. In our league there are centers who can shoot the ball very well, but if you stop them from shooting, they can’t create off the bounce. That was the most difficult thing about Kaminsky. He can look at a shot, and if you guard him he’s able to put the ball on the deck and take three or four dribbles and even to get to the rim. We everything we could to stop him from getting 3-pointers, but once you’re on him, you have to dig in and keep your body in front of him. For centers defending him, that’s not something they’re used to doing where he can shoot and then take three or four dribbles. A lot of times he’s turning drives into post moves or he’ll take a dribble or two and put his back to the basket and turn it into post moves. He’s very versatile, and it’s not just that he can pop and shoot. He can pop and drive. He can make plays from everywhere on the court.

"They have an understanding of who they are and they’re all fine with it. They put five really good players on the court who can do a lot of things well. They’re in that swing offense, which is a motion offense where they’re just making reads, and they’re good enough to know how to see the court and where to take advantage. They have the ability to take advantage of each opportunity when it arises."


On Kentucky

"They’re a different team from early in the year for two reasons. They’ve grown up and they trust each other more. In the middle of the year, they could go 15 minutes and just look horrible, look like an AAU team. Individual play, lazy passes, poor decisions, lobs that made no sense, they didn’t guard. For 15 minutes or more, they’d look horrible. Now, that has evaporated. They don’t have those stretches where they lose because of a four- or five-minute stretch where they’re poor.

"I felt sometimes Kentucky had some of their guys had one eye on the bench. I think John Calipari has settled down and let them play through their mistakes a little bit, not all of them, but some of them. They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at.

"Calipari has settled down. ... They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at."
"The biggest thing is how unbelievable they are on the offensive backboards. The time we played them, they were getting 40 percent of their misses. Michigan struggled to keep them off the boards. Our No. 1 focus as a team was to box out and keep them off the boards. And then No. 2 for us was defending without fouling. I’ve never seen anybody draw more fouls by just bowling into people than Andrew Harrison. He’s got unbelievable ability. He just puts his head down and runs into you and gets to the line. It’s almost like he seeks the contact more than he tries to finish the play.

"For us, Julius Randle in the post was a major concern. We did a really good job against him. We tried to crowd him as much as he could. At the time, they weren’t a great 3-point shooting team. I’m guess they’re a little better in the NCAA Tournament. We weren’t really afraid to come off anybody other than James Young to crowd Julius Randle, so we tried to do that every time he caught it.

"Past that, they’re not a great transition team, but still pretty solid. We talked a lot to our guys about getting back in transition and just being physical. They’re young, but they have a lot of physical guys. At the time we played them, they weren’t doing a great job of getting back on defense. We tried to push the pace against them.

"We talked about Willie Cauley-Stein inside and how good a shot blocker he is. He had a pretty good game against us. They overcame his absence against Michigan. If he doesn’t play, that’s a loss for them defensively.

"Against us, they switched a lot of screens, a lot of ball screens. The thing with Kentucky and they way they play, you just pack the lane and make them beat you with 3s."

Scouting the Final Four: Opposing Coaches Break Down the Championship Weekend
Post date: Friday, April 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/how-2014-final-four-teams-were-built

The freshman class will be present and accounted for in the Final Four, even if it’s not in the way anyone would have predicted.

The high school graduating class of 2013 will have more players in Dallas than any other class, but their roles will vary wildly.

Of the 13 freshmen in the Final Four, seven are from Kentucky. Five of those are playing major minutes. The other freshmen, whether three-star rookies for Wisconsin or McDonald’s All-Americans for Florida, are playing supporting roles.

The Final Four again includes teams with varying approaches and results in recruiting. Kentucky’s bench, for example, includes more five-star prospects than Wisconsin has signed in the last four years.

Whether it’s Florida’s veterans, Kentucky’s star power or UConn and Wisconsin’s talent development, each team in the Final Four started its roster in different spots only to end up in the same place Saturday.

As we get closer to tipoff at AT&T Stadium, we examined how the four programs in Dallas assembled their teams for a trip to the Final Four. For the purposes of this piece, we counted only players who played at least two games and 15 total minutes in the first two weeks of the Tourney.

Here’s how the Final Four teams were built:

Star Power

Final Four players by high school class*
2009: 1
2010: 9
2011: 5
2012: 6
2013: 13

Final Four players by star ranking*
Not ranked: 2
Two stars: 1
Three stars: 12
Four stars: 7
Five stars: 12
*includes only players who have logged 15 minutes or more in the NCAA Tournament.
• Of the 33 players Athlon Sports tracked, 12 were five-star prospects according to Seven of them play for Kentucky. Kentucky’s entire starting five is made up of five-star prospects. The rest of the Final Four has only three starters who were five-star prospects (Florida’s Patric Young, UConn’s DeAndre Daniels and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker).

• Two five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans have played fewer than 40 combined minutes — Florida’s Chris Walker and Kentucky’s Marcus Lee.

• Kentucky and Florida are the only schools in the Final Four with McDonald’s All-Americans getting regular minutes.

• With the exception of Dekker, Wisconsin built its foundation on 3-star prospects. Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson — all starters — were three-star prospects.

• Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin is the biggest steal in the NCAA Tournament. He is the only two-star prospect getting regular minutes in the Final Four — and he’s Florida’s top player.

Veterans Rule

• Throw out Kentucky, and the most prolific high school class for the other three teams in the Final Four was the 2010 graduating class.

• How much of an impact is 2010 having on this Final Four? That class included UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser and Ben Brust and the nucleus for Florida’s team (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather).

Homegrown Talent

• For another year, transfers were a major topic in college basketball, but not in the Final Four. The teams in Dallas feature only two transfers in the regular lineup: Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith (from Virginia Tech) and UConn’s Lasan Kromah (from George Washington). Both earn significant minutes, but neither are starters.

Sunshine State Stars

• The Final Four teams culled players from Florida high schools and prep schools more than any other state with 11 players who graduated from Sunshine State schools. Granted, the amount of high school transfers means that number shouldn’t resonate quite the same way as in college football recruiting.

• The number of Florida-based players does not focus solely on the Gators, though Billy Donovan culled the core of his roster from in-state schools. UConn (Amida Brimah and DeAndre Daniels) and Kentucky (Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee) also mined the state of Florida.

• Three players in the Final Four ended their high school careers at Montverde (Fla.) Academy — Florida’s Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II and Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson. All transferred to the Central Florida powerhouse. Hill transferred from Mount Dora (Fla.) Bible School, and Frazier transferred from Tampa (Fla.) Plant. Johnson reclassified from the class of 2014 to the class of 2013 when he transferred to Montverde to follow St. Patrick’s (N.J.) coach Kevin Boyle to Florida.

Who’s Not Here

• Wisconsin has had the least attrition of any of the Final Four teams. The Badgers have lost only three players who signed during the 2010-13 recruiting cycles, according to Two transferred and one, Evan Anderson, left the team in February.

• Kentucky has lost eight players since 2010 who left as underclassmen for the NBA Draft, more than double the other three teams combined. UConn lost two (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb), Florida lost one (Bradley Beal) and Wisconsin lost none.

• As none of the Final Four teams are relying on transfers, none have lost major players due to transfers. The Final Four teams have lost a combined eight players from the last four recruiting cycles to transfers.

• Coincidentally, South Dakota State has a loose connection to the Final Four. Cody Larson, who was dismissed from Florida, transferred to play for the Jackrabbits; he averaged 13.1 points this season for SDSU. In January, George Marshall announced intentions to transfer from Wisconsin to South Dakota State.

How the 2014 Final Four Teams were Built
Post date: Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-final-four-dream-team

The Final Four is a collection of fine players, but like the NCAA Tournament as a whole, the diverse pieces make for a more interesting puzzle.

The stars have been stars on the way to the Final Four, including UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin.

Meanwhile, the four teams in North Texas wouldn’t be here without some players taking the next step (Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison) or those that emerged from nowhere (Kentucky’s Marcus Lee).

Rather than ranking the top prospects or picking the best players, Athlon Sports put together the ultimate Final Four roster from the four teams that will face off Saturday.

Most indispensable: Shabazz Napier, UConn
No player means more to his team than Napier does to Connecticut. Just think of how many categories he could fill on this list below: He is UConn’s clutch shotmaker from inside and out. He’s an 86.6 percent free throw shooter. And he’s an excellent rebounder for a guard with a team-leading 5.9 boards per game. As long as Napier keeps up his 23.3 points per game pace in the Tourney, comparisons to Kemba Walker will only increase if UConn wins another game.

Floor general: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin hasn’t turned the ball over since midway through the first half against Pittsburgh ... in the round of 32. That’s more than two and a half games without coughing up the ball. His assist numbers are down a bit (3.0), but Wilbekin has answered the question of who is going to be Florida’s go-to scorer in the Tournament. He’s averaging 16.8 points in the Tourney, including two buzzer beaters at the end of first halves in four games.

Sharpshooter: Michael Frazier II, Florida
More than three-quarters of Frazier’s attempts from the field have come from 3-point range. Frazier has also been efficient on all those long shots, converting 44.8 percent. That’s significantly better than other jump-shooting specialists in the Final Four, Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (39.2 percent) and Kentucky’s James Young (34.6 percent)

Shotmaker: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Aaron Harrison’s emergence has been one of the keys for the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, allowing Kentucky to start to play like the team the Wildcats were expected to be early in the season. Harrison is leading Kentucky at 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by his game-winner against Michigan. The Wolverines could not have defended Harrison any better, but the 3 fell to send Kentucky to the Final Four.

Matchup nightmare: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Arizona, one of the nation’s best defensive teams with big men Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, were lost against the 7-foot Kaminsky. The revelation of Wisconsin's season has his share of post moves, but he's also the kind of outside shooting threat that befuddles bigger defenders. Kaminsky hit 3 of 5 3-pointers in the win over Arizona in the Elite Eight.

Pure talent: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Of all the superstars in this freshman class, Randle is the only one still playing. Randle will have to wait to find out if his draft stock is significantly improved as a result of the Tournament, but the last two weeks certainly haven’t hurt. Randle has picked up a double-double in every Tournament game, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Mr. Universe: Patric Young, Florida
Young has looked like the most physically dominant player on the court for several seasons. He’s also among the hardest-working players in the Final Four. He’s been quiet on the score sheet, but he had four blocked shots against both Pittsburgh and Dayton. He's also the best recruiting tool for Florida's strength program.

Glue guy: Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Florida’s Patric Young was named the captain of on, but we’ve already slotted the Gators senior elsewhere. On our Final Four Dream Team, we’ll go with another one of Davis’ glue guys in Gasser. The senior is a capable point guard who moved to make room for Traevon Jackson while losing none of his offensive efficiency or perimeter defense.

Mr. Clutch: Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
Perhaps this pick is counterintuitive with players like Napier and Wilbekin on he team, not to mention Aaron Harrison, the owner of the game-winning 3 to beat Michigan. Jackson isn’t quite as dramatic, but just as effective. His free throw shooting late has been critical. Jackson has made 36 of 44 free throw attempts in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer, .

Defensive difference-maker: Ryan Boatright, UConn
Boatright has been more than a complement to Napier in the Huskies, though he’s been solid in the last four games. Boatright has averaged 13.8 points in the Tournament, but his biggest contribution was four steals against Michigan State.

Defensive specialist: Will Yeguete, Florida
The Gators forward averages only five points per game, but he’s also Florida’s best interior defender. Yeguete averages 5.2 rebounds per game, third on the team, but he leads the Gators in defensive rebound rate.

Sixth man: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Hayes is a physical 6-7, 250-pound freshman with a bright future, but Wisconsin has plenty of veterans. Hayes has made the most of his time, though. His 17.7 points per 40 minutes is second only to Kaminsky among Wisconsin regulars.

X-factor: DeAndre Daniels, UConn
UConn is often criticized as a team with a major size disadvantage. That may be true, but it’s not nearly as pronounced when Daniels is playing the way he has during the last month. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds since March 8, including 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Sweet 16 against Iowa State.

Sleeping giant: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The Badgers forward is averaging 9.3 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, scoring only seven points apiece against Baylor and Arizona in the regional. Wisconsin has come this far without Dekker being a major focal point. The Badgers could be national champions if he approaches his season averages.

The 2014 Final Four Dream Team
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/10-amazing-stats-teams-final-four

Not that we really needed it, but the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight weekend showcased why the NCAA Tournament is one of sports’ greatest events.

And not just because six games of the 12 came down to the final seconds.

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, one of the game’s most consistent coaches for 30 years, reached his first Final Four. A day later, UConn’s Kevin Ollie, in only his second season has a head coach anywhere, did the same.

And while Kentucky played in three of the best games of the Tournament against Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, the Wildcats managed to surprise by unleashing a seldom-used five-star forward to beat the Wolverines.

With the field whittled from 68 teams to four, here are some other numerical superlatives and surprises.

18. Seed total of the Final Four teams, making this the fourth-most “upsetting” Final Four since seeding began
The sum of the seed numbers for Final Four teams is one of a handful of odd data kept by the NCAA. In essence, it’s a shorthand way to figure how many upsets occurred (or didn’t) on the way to the Final Four. The sum of the seed numbers for Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky comes to 18 for the fourth-highest total since the NCAA started seeding the Tournament in 1979. Here are the others:

Sum of the seed numbers in the Final Four since 1979
YearSumTeams (champion in bold)
200022No. 1 Michigan State, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin
198021No. 2 Louisville, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 UCLA
200620No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 11 George Mason
201418No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 UConn, No. 8 Kentucky

25. Years separating Bo Ryan’s and Kevin Ollie’s ages at the time of their first Final Four
Perhaps the best illustration of the random and cruel nature of the NCAA Tournament was watching Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and UConn’s Kevin Ollie reaching the Final Four in the same weekend. Ryan, 66, has been coaching college basketball since 1984 and at Wisconsin since 2001 and waiting 30 years to reach his first NCAA Final Four. Ollie, 41, earned his first trip in only his second year as a head coach. If Ollie seems young to reach the precipice of college basketball, he’s not compared to the other two coaches in North Texas. Both Billy Donovan and John Calipari reached their first Final Four in their 30s.

Coaches' ages at the time of their first Final Four
Billy Donovan34Florida, 2000
John Calipari35UMass, 1996
Kevin Ollie41UConn, 2014
Bo Ryan66Wisconsin, 2014

5. Coaches to reach the Final Four in their first or second season as a head coach
Speaking of Ollie, he’s in an exclusive group of coaches who reached the Final Four in either their first or second season of their career as a head coach. Steve Fisher at Michigan in 1989 and Bill Guthridge at North Carolina in 1998 both reached the Final Four in their first seasons as head coaches. Mike Davis at Indiana in 2002 and Shaka Smart at VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four in only their second seasons as head coaches. Two of the five coaches were handpicked successors for legendary coaches — Guthridge for Dean Smith and Ollie for Jim Calhoun. Davis was an assistant for Bob Knight when he was fired in 2000.

16. Top 100 NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four
The Final Four will feature 16 top 100 NBA Draft prospects, . Not surprisingly, Kentucky leads the way with seven top 100 players. Here is the full list and their rank in the top 100:

5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
15. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
17. James Young, Kentucky
28. Chris Walker, Florida
31. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
33. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
35. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
36. Patric Young, Florida
42. Shabazz Napier, UConn
51. DeAndre Daniels, UConn
52. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
61. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
62. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
82. Kasey Hill, Florida
89. Michael Frazier II, Florida
91. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida

1. Team in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on
Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have been a predictor of sorts for the national championship, but that may be put to the test this season. Every national champion since 2003 has ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, in other words, points per possession weighted against the schedule. Five teams are ranked in the top 20 in both, but Florida is the only one remaining in the Final Four. the other four are Arizona, Louisville, Tennessee and Wichita State. Here’s a look at how the Final Four teams rank in Pomeroy’s ratings:

Final Four teams in rankings
 Offensive efficiencyDefensive efficiency

108 minutes, 49 seconds. Game time since Scottie Wilbekin’s last turnover
Wilbekin has been Florida’s top scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 16.8 points per game, but he’s perhaps more impressive as a ball handler. Wilbekin didn’t turn the ball over in the regional against UCLA or Dayton and hasn’t lost the ball since 8:49 remaining in the first half against Pittsburgh in the round of 32.

3-2 Florida’s record against teams in the Final Four
Florida will be familiar with any opponent in the Final Four, starting with UConn on Saturday. The Gators’ only two losses this season have come against two teams in the Final Four — Florida lost 59-53 to Wisconsin on Nov. 12 and 65-64 to UConn on Dec. 2. The Gators swept the series with Kentucky, whom Florida could meet in the national title game, by defeating the Wildcats in Lexington, Gainesville and in Atlanta in the SEC Tournament.

74. Points scored by Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in the NCAA Tournament, 11 more than his entire freshman season
Wisconsin’s 7-foot center has been one of the top surprises this season, continuing with a 28-point performance against Arizona, one of the top defensive teams in the country. In just four games in the Tournament, Kaminsky eclipsed is scoring output from his freshman season (63 points). Kaminsky’s 74 points in four Tournament games is more than half of his total scoring output as a sophomore (133).

5. Field goals by Marcus Lee in the Elite Eight, doubling his output since Nov. 27
This is what happens when you sign the classes John Calipari has over the last few seasons. McDonald’s All-Americans will sit on the bench, and sometimes in one of the last seats on the bench. With Willie Cauley-Stein out with an ankle injury, Kentucky turned to Marcus Lee to fill some of the minutes. Lee did that and more buy grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring at the basket. Lee finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Michigan. Lee was 5 of 14 from the field in Kentucky’s previous 27 games, of which Lee played in only 14. Against Michigan, Lee added eight rebounds

3. Players returning to the Final Four
Wisconsin is in its first Final Four since 2000. Florida’s veterans came up short in three consecutive Elite Eights. And Kentucky’s team is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. All the Final Four experience resides with perhaps the unlikeliest team to reach the Final Four this season. UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander played on the Huskies’ 2011 national title team. It’s worth noting that senior Jarrod Polson was a member of the 2012 title-winning team, but he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.

10 Amazing Stats for Teams in the Final Four
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-final-four-glance
The 2014 Final Four: What You Need to Know
FloridaConnecticut WisconsinKentucky
Albany 67-55
Pittsburgh 61-45
UCLA 79-68
Dayton 62-52
St. Joe's 89-81 (OT)
Villanova 77-65
Iowa State 81-67
Michigan State 60-54
Path to the Final FourAmerican 75-35
Oregon 85-77
Baylor 69-52
Arizona 64-63 (OT)
Kansas State 56-49
Wichita State 78-76
Louisville 74-69
Michigan 75-72
20072011Last Final Four20002012
2006, 20071999, 2004, 2011National titles19411948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012
DefenseShabazzTeam in a word"Buzzcuts"Freshmen
Scottie WilbekinShabazz NapierBest college playerFrank KaminskyJulius Randle
Chris WalkerShabazz NapierBest pro prospectFrank KaminskyJulius Randle
Lexx EdwardsLeon TolksdorfBest nameDuje DukanSam Malone
1212Active NBA players321
Billy DonovanKevin OllieCoachBo RyanJohn Calipari
Rockville Center, N.Y.DallasCoach's hometownChester, Pa.Strickly, Pa.
ProvidenceUConnCoach's alma materWilkes (Pa.)Clarion (Pa.)
Rick PitinoJim CalhounCoach's mentorRob RaineyVance Walberg
Shaka Smart, VCUNone yetCoach's discipleTony Bennett, VirginiaDerek Kellogg, UMass
Vintage logo
18531881School founded18481865
4957US News & World Report Rank41119
6NRPrinceton Review Party School Rank13NR
The Independent Florida AlligatorThe UConn Daily CampusStudent newspaperThe Badger HeraldKentucky Kernel
Albert E. GatorJonathan the Husky XIIIMascot's full nameBuckingham U. BadgerScratch
Joakim NoahRay AllenBest basketball alumMichael FinleyDan Issel
Not at the momentNoIs this a football school?SometimesHuh?
Emmitt SmithCharles NagyBest non-basketball athleteChris CheliosGeorge Blanda
Abby Wambach, soccerDiana Taurasi, basketballBest female athleteNicole Joraanstad, curlingJenny Hansen, gymnastics
Marco RubioRobert DiamondNotable public figureDick CheneyMitch McConnell
Faye DunawayMeg RyanActressJoan CusackAshley Judd
Darrell HammondBobby MoynihanFunny PersonJane KaczmarekJared Lorenzen
John Atanasoff (inventor of first digital electronic computer)David Lee (1996 Nobel Prize winner for physics)Smart PersonFrank Lloyd WrightJohn T. Scopes (defendant in Scopes Monkey Trial)
Cris CollinsworthRebecca LoboSports Media PersonAndy KatzTom Hammond


Post date: Monday, March 31, 2014 - 11:16
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/aaron-harrisons-game-winner-sends-kentucky-wildcats-final-four

Nothing has come easy for Kentucky this season, especially not in the NCAA Tournament.

Sunday featured another Wildcats Tournament game, another thrilling finish.

Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds sent Kentucky to the Final Four with a 75-72 win over Michigan. Despite slipping to the NIT last season Kentucky has played in the Final Four in three of the last four seasons, including the 2012 national title.

The turnaround for the Harrison twins has allowed Kentucky to transform for a team that lost three of four games in the lackluster SEC from Feb. 27 to March 8, the most egregious being a loss to 14-20 South Carolina that saw John Calipari ejected.

Since the SEC Tournament, Kentucky has looked more and more like a team ready to contend for the national title. The Harrison twins have turned around their seasons, with Aaron averaging 16 points per game in the Tournament and Andrew averaging 12.3.

The same team that appeared to have chemistry issues and problems playing to its potential now has answered the call in three hotly contested Tournament games against an undefeated team (Wichita State), its top rival (Louisville) and the Big Ten champions (Michigan).

All of that led to this:

Aaron Harrison's game-winner sends Kentucky Wildcats to Final Four
Post date: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 19:45
Path: /college-basketball/how-does-shabazz-napiers-final-four-run-compare-kemba-walkers

The shadow of Kemba Walker continues to follow Shabazz Napier at Connecticut.

The Huskies senior guard has been primed to step into Walker’s shoes since his sophomore season, a year after Walker led UConn to the national title.

Like Walker, Napier is a guard who can carry the Huskies night in and night out. He can create his own shot to an acrobatic degree, at the end of the shot clock or at the buzzer. And Napier is indispensable when he’s not taking shots, leading his team in rebounds and assists.

With a 60-54 win over Michigan State to lead UConn to the Final Four, Napier will continue to be mentioned along with Walker, who led UConn to the 2011 national championship.

Walker, though, was willing to put Napier in a class on his own.


Napier’s run might need to finish with a national championship for it to stand side by side with Walker's in the hearts of UConn fans, but the younger guard may have had a tougher road to the Final Four.

True, Walker’s hot streak started in the Big East Tournament when the Huskies won five games in five days for the automatic bid. Napier’s team lost by 10 to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference final, but the 2014 Huskies had similar difficulties through the regular season.

UConn started AAC play with back-to-back losses to Houston and SMU on the road and lost all three meetings with Louisville. In other words, UConn didn’t look much like a team capable of a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Unless Napier started to look more like Walker.

UConn started in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed — the 2011 Huskies were a No. 3 — and defeated the Big East regular season champion (Villanova) and the Big 12 and Big Ten Tournament champions (Iowa State and Michigan State) on the way to the national semifinal.

Napier has been the focal point, averaging 23.3 points per game, but how does his run stack up with Walker game-by-game, here’s a look:

Kemba Walker, 2011 Shabazz Napier, 2014
Points-Rebounds-Assists (FGM/FGA)
Points-Rebounds-Assists (FGM/FGA)
No. 14 Bucknell
18-8-12 (5/11)
FirstNo. 10 Saint Joseph’s
24-8-6 (7/22)
No. 6 Cincinnati
33-6-5 (8/20)
SecondNo. 1 Villanova
25-5-3 (9/13)
No. 2 San Diego State
36-3-3 (12/25)
Sweet 16No. 3 Iowa State
19-5-5 (5/11)
No. 5 Arizona
20-4-7 (7/17)
Elite EightNo. 4 Michigan State
25-6-4 (6/14)
No. 4 Kentucky
18-6-7 (6/15)
Final FourNo. 1 Florida
No. 8 Butler
16-9-0 (5/19)
National championship 


How Does Shabazz Napier's Final Four Run Compare to Kemba Walker's?
Post date: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 18:15
Path: /college-basketball/elite-eight-preview-and-picks-michigan-state-spartans-vs-uconn-huskies

Connecticut and Michigan State are proof that patience is a virtue.

The outlook for the Huskies and Spartans, who will meet in the East regional final, could have changed drastically if not key players learning how to recover from disappointments.

Two years ago, UConn was the defending national champion and starting No. 4 in the preseason. Shabazz Napier was expected to take over a team filled with talent — Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drumond and Alex Oriakhi — but that never materialized in a 20-14 season.

Napier could have transferred after that season, given that the coach who build the program, Jim Calhoun, retired. Napier decided to stay for his junior season, saying he owed it to the university.

“I didn't know how to be a leader out there at that point,” Napier said. “I was doing things that I wasn't definitely happy about. I isolated myself a lot when things were down. I didn't learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year (Kemba Walker).”

Now a senior, Napier is the unquestioned focal point on a team a game away from the Final Four.

Michigan State’s adversity wasn’t quite as drawn out, but nearly as devastating. A series of injuries contributed to a 5-7 finish to the regular season. Not until the Big Ten Tournament did the veteran Spartans return to their early season potential.

At one point this season, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson came to blows over a forgotten practice before a game against Penn State.

“It is funny (they are playing well now) because I think at times they were more adversarial,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We had the big Penn State incident, which really wasn't nearly as big as it seemed, but that really started the turnaround. So it's kind of funny how they're having success together, when it all started out they both probably had one of their best games over a little scuffle.”

Michigan State vs. Connecticut
2:10 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Michigan State 72-65
Braden Gall: Michigan State 82-69
Mitch Light: Michigan State 68-66
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 75-70
How Michigan State got here:
Adreian Payne was one of the stories of the round of 64 with 41 points against Delaware, but Branden Dawson has been the key in the last two games. Dawson missed nine games midseason after he suffered a broken hand punching a desk in frustration. He came back for 26 points and nine rebounds against Harvard and 25 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia.

How Connecticut got here:
The Huskies have played solid defense in the NCAA Tournament, forcing 16 turnovers against Villanova and rendering Iowa State’s stars DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim ineffective. While Shabazz Napier is perhaps the most indispensable players in the country, others have taken a bigger role in the Tournament. Napier still accounts for 27.5 percent of UConn’s scoring in the last three games, but Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels have been more involved.

Key for Michigan State to get to the Final Four: Slow down Shabazz Napier
Expect Michigan State to study Louisville’s games against UConn’s superstar guard. The Cardinals held Napier in check (3 of 17 from 3) in the Huskies’ last two losses of the season. Even if UConn has been more than the Shabazz Show in the NCAA Tournament, he’s the focal point of the offense. Limit him, and the Huskies are in a world of trouble.

Key for Connecticut to get to the Final Four: Own everything from the free throw line out
Despite the win over Iowa State, this is still a team that struggles to score around the basket. For the Huskies to beat Michigan State, UConn needs to continue to stay hot from the 3-point line (39.4 percent this season) and free throw line (76.9 percent). Both of these are the territory of Napier.

Player to watch: DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut
Perhaps the absence of Georges Niang for Iowa State played a major role in Daniels’ breakout in the Sweet 16, but he’ll be worth watching again. Daniels erupted for 27 points and nine rebounds against the Cyclones.

Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Michigan State Spartans vs. UConn Huskies
Post date: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/elite-eight-preview-and-picks-michigan-wolverines-vs-kentucky-wildcats

On Selection Sunday, so much of the chatter involves the matchups, seeding and statistical trends that will be key in advancing through the NCAA Tournament.

Those are all at play, but Sunday’s Midwest regional final is a test on the intangibles.

Kentucky has been through one of the most hotly contested games of the Tournament against Wichita State and then a foul-filled game against Louisville that wasn’t settled until the final minutes.

“Everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We're so tired, we don't know. We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game. We just know we won. Let's get something to eat and go to bed.”

Michigan has had its own grind, albeit not over the course of two weeks like Kentucky. The Wolverines jumped to a substantial lead against Tennessee before four consecutive turnovers allowed the Volunteers to narrow the deficit to one point in the final 13 seconds.

On Sunday, all that resets to zero with a Final Four on the line.

Michigan vs. Kentucky
Time: 4:55 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Michigan 78-72
Mitch Light: Michigan 83-80
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 80-78
How Michigan got here:
A year ago, Mitch McGary’s size gave Michigan an element it had been lacking, enabling the Wolverines to reach the national title game. Michigan doesn’t have quite the impact presence of McGary in the frontcourt — though Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have played well. Michigan, though, has been on fire from 3-point range shooting 49.2 percent (32 of 65) from beyond the arc in the Tournament.

How Kentucky got here:
Aaron Harrison has taken the next step in his game. Kentucky’s freshman guard is averaging 17.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, tops for the Wildcats. Aaron Harrison has been solid as well, averaging 13.7 points. The development of Kentucky’s backcourt has transformed the Wildcats from the team that played its way into a No. 8 seed into a title contender.

Key for Michigan to get to the Final Four: Overwhelm Kentucky on offense
John Beilein knows how to coach an offensive basketball game. His team neutralized Tennessee’s size advantage in the Sweet 16 by shooting 11 of 20 from 3-point range. Michigan also can get to the rim, but 3-point shooting is the Wolverines’ bread-and-butter. Kentucky ranks 52nd nationally (31.8 percent) in defending the 3-point line.

Key for Kentucky to get to the Final Four: Own the offensive glass
Kentucky is second in the nation in offensive rebound rate while Michigan ranks  259th. There’s an opportunity for the Wildcats to own the offensive glass on both ends. The only catch: Willie Cauley-Stein likely will not play. He is Kentucky’s best offensive rebounder after Julius Randle.

Player to watch: Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
One of the more anonymous members of Kentucky’s star-studded freshman class, Johnson will be in focus in the Elite Eight. With Cauley-Stein, Johnson’s workload likely will increase. He showed he’s capable of making the most of it with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Louisville.

Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Michigan Wolverines vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Post date: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/frank-kaminsky-becomes-household-name-wisconsin-reaches-final-four

When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points in a November game against North Dakota, the outburst was something for the college basketball hardcores to ponder for a bit.

Kaminsky was a non-factor for the first two seasons of his career, so it certainly came as a surprise. But November games involving Big Sky Conference teams don’t necessarily capture the imagination.

That changed Saturday night.

Kaminsky scored 28 points and 11 rebounds against one of the best defensive teams in the country to send Wisconsin to the Final Four and to become the latest star in college basketball.

The 7-foot junior who had only one other Big Ten scholarship offer out of high school (from Northwestern) was an all-conference performer, but never the star he was against Arizona.

Against an NBA lottery prospect (Aaron Gordon) and the Pac-12’s career leader in blocks (Kaleb Tarczewski), Kaminsky flourished in a 64-63 overtime win even if it didn’t start that way.

This is what TBS analyst Charles Barkley stressed as his points of emphasis for Wisconsin’s offense in the second half:

From there, Kaminsky all the tools that make him a matchup nightmare: He beat Tarczewski and Gordon with his moves around the basket, and he stepped out to make 3 of 5 3-pointers. He made 11 of 20 shots from the field while his team shot 31.7 percent. And he added seven offensive rebounds.

His 43-point performance early in the season may have been the most prolific, but Saturday night made sure he’d be a hero in Madison.

Frank Kaminsky becomes household name as Wisconsin reaches Final Four
Post date: Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 00:25
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/elite-eight-preview-and-picks-arizona-wildcats-vs-wisconsin-badgers

After Saturday, the debate for the top active coach without a Final Four appearance likely will be settled.

It’s one neither Bo Ryan nor Sean Miller want to win.

The coaches at Wisconsin and Arizona have accomplished much in their careers, and both are considered among the best in the game. Yet neither has checked off one box in their careers: A Final Four appearance.

Ryan and Miller are a combined 0-3 in the Elite Eight. That will change Saturday in the West regional final.

"It would mean a lot (to reach the Final Four)," Miller said. "Probably it would mean no more or no less for me than any coach who is coaching in this round. Everybody knows the two words Final Four mean a great deal to programs, universities. I follow like everybody does, the reaction of our fans and fans of other programs, and it's just amazing to see the outpour on campuses when you see a team get closer and closer to a Final Four."

Arizona vs. Wisconsin
Time: 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: West (Anaheim)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Wisconsin 68-65
Braden Gall: Arizona 69-65
Mitch Light: Arizona 78-77
Nathan Rush: Arizona 68-66
How Arizona got here:
Little went right for Arizona early in its Sweet 16 matchup against San Diego State. Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots, and San Diego State owned the boards early in the game. Arizona chipped away before Johnson made his final two shots and 10 of 10 free throws to win 70-64.

How Wisconsin got here:
The Badgers have proven to be one of the most versatile offensive teams left in the Tournament. Consider this: The Badgers have two players averaging 14 points per game in the tournament. One is the 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky and the other is jump shooter Ben Brust.

Key for Arizona to get to the Final Four: Crack the Wisconsin offense
Wisconsin has assisted on 46 of 81 field goals in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by Thursday's showcase against Baylor. Arizona's Nick Johnson is one of the nation’s top perimeter defenders, and Aaron Gordon is an elite athlete. Shutting down the passing lanes will be key to slowing down this Wisconsin attack.

Key for Wisconsin to get to the Final Four: Crack the Arizona defense
Wisconsin picked apart Baylor’s zone with crisp ball movement along with Frank Kaminsky’s moves around the basket. That’s going to be much more different against Arizona’s defense, which prefers man-to-man defense. Wisconsin is fourth nationally in offensive efficiency on, but Arizona is first in defensive efficiency.

Player to watch: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Why was Arizona able to comeback from six points down early in the second half despite a cold shooting night from Johnson? The answer is Gordon. He helped Arizona stay in the game despite opportunities for the Aztecs to pull away late. His highlight reel dunk narrowed the game to 40-38 and Arizona never looked back.

Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Arizona Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Post date: Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/elite-eight-preview-and-picks-florida-gators-vs-dayton-flyers

A team can’t reach six regional finals in nine seasons, including four in a row, without being either the dream crusher or dream maker.

Consider the teams the Gators have faced in the NCAA Tournament since the year of Florida’s first title in 2006: Florida defeated George Mason in the Final Four in 2006 and Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16 in 2013. But the Gators also were one of the victims of Butler on the Bulldogs’ second run to the national title game in 2011.

Now, here comes No. 11 seed Dayton in the Elite Eight. Will the Flyers meet the same fate as George Mason or Dunk City? Or will they following the same path as Butler?

Florida, though, has its own history to make. The Gators have reached four consecutive Elite Eights, coming up short of the Final Four in each of the last three seasons.

“At the beginning of the year, it's our goal to make it here, and the fact that we have this opportunity, we're not going to let the moment get bigger than us, staying locked in and focused on what we need to do,” said Florida center Patric Young, who has been a member of all four Elite Eight teams. “We're just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can put themselves in this opportunity to play for a Final Four again.”

Florida vs. Dayton
Time: 6 p.m., Eastern
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: Memphis (South)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Florida 67-52
Braden Gall: Florida 73-56
Mitch Light: Florida 73-62
Nathan Rush: Florida 80-70
How Florida got here:
The Gators held UCLA to 0.943 points per possession, the Bruins’ second lowest average since Feb. 2. Florida’s defensive prowess has been well-established but deserves to be reinforced: No team has averaged better than a point per possession against the Gators since Feb. 22 against Ole Miss.

How Dayton got here:
Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse in the first weekend with stout defense, but the Flyers proved they could score enough to advance in the field with an 82-72 win over Stanford, a team with a significant size advantage.

Key for Florida to get to the Final Four: Crack Dayton’s perimeter defense
The Flyers held Stanford’s Chasson Randle to 2 of 10 from the field, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis to 0 of 5 from 3-point range and Ohio State to 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. The Flyers will try to do the same to Florida’s Michael Frazier II, who hit five 3-pointers against UCLA.

Key for Dayton to get to the Final Four: Match Florida’s versatility and balance
One of Florida’s best strengths is the Gators' balance and depth. Dayton may be one of the few teams that can match Florida’s numbers. A dozen players attempted a shot in the Sweet 16 win over Stanford, and nine Flyers are averaging more than 11 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, no one averages more than 30 minutes. Dayton will try to stay fresh against a more talented team.

Players to watch: Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Young, Florida
Perhaps the most interesting storyline in Florida’s run to another Elite Eight has been the play of the Gators’ point guards. Wilbekin has been the go-to scorer, putting up 21 points against Pittsburgh and picking up the key buckets to pull away from UCLA. The freshman Young also has become more involved with 10 assists against the Bruins. Together, they have 21 assists to five turnovers in the NCAA Tournament.

Elite Eight Preview and Picks: Florida Gators vs. Dayton Flyers
Post date: Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-virginia-cavaliers-vs-michigan-state-spartans

For Michigan State, reaching the Final Four is almost a birthright.

For Virginia, reaching the Final Four has been a long time coming.

Of course, neither can seal a trip in Friday’s Sweet 16 game, but that’s just an illustration of the different pressures for the two teams meeting in New York City.

Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t want to be the first seniors to play every year for Tom Izzo and miss the Final Four. Meanwhile, Virginia, once a Tournament regular, hasn’t been to the national semifinals since 1984.

With both Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett taking veteran teams into Madison Square Garden for the regional, the sense of history isn’t lost on either group.

“I'm going to have a chance to get to another one unless I get fired this week, but some of the seniors don't have a chance,” Izzo said. “I really believe that's their ownership in it.”

Virginia vs. Michigan State
Time: 10 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Virginia 58-54
Braden Gall: Michigan State 68-66
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-50
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 74-64
How Virginia got here:
If Virginia was seemed like an easy upset pick, either due to the Cavaliers’ lack of recent NCAA Tournament success or the slow pace of play, they didn’t show it in the first week. The Cavaliers demolished Memphis in the round of 32 with a balanced offensive attack that yielded five double-digit scorers.

How Michigan State got here:
Remember all that injury talk from February and early March? Other than Keith Appling’s wrist, that’s not an issue. Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware and Branden Dawson scored 26 against Harvard. Michigan State is in as good a shape as it has been in months. Even if that’s not perfect — Appling's injury is no small matter — the Spartans have been good enough to get this far with an opportunity advance deeper into the Tournament.

Sweet 16 Previews
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Key for Virginia to get to the Elite Eight: Joe Harris in the clutch
One of the great stories for Virginia this season is how the Cavaliers were able to win the ACC even though Joe Harris hasn’t been their top player (that would be Malcolm Brogdon). Harris, though, has averaged 14.8 points in the last five games thanks to timely 3-pointers. If Virginia is indeed a Final Four contender, Harris and Brogdon need to be a 1-2 punch.

Key for Michigan State to get to the Elite Eight: Adreian Payne’s game
Does anyone have an answer for what Adreian Payne can do? The 6-11 senior can post up and hit 3-point shots. Virginia is an elite offensive team, but the Cavaliers and forward Akil Mitchell haven’t faced many mismatches like this. If Payne is anywhere close to his 41-point form from the round of 64, Virginia is going to have trouble.

Player to watch: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling’s wrist remains an issue. The point guard attempted two shots against Harvard, four against Delaware and four in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan. Even if his wrist isn’t full healthy at any point during the NCAA Tournament, his limitations might limit Michigan State’s ability to advance.

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Michigan State Spartans
Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-louisville-cardinals-vs-kentucky-wildcats

Take note, college football, this is what you were missing from your postseason before the playoff took over.

The state of Kentucky is a state of Alabama of sorts for college basketball. Just as Alabama and Auburn accounted for every national title from 2009-12, Louisville and Kentucky have enjoyed a similar, but shorter, streak with the Bluegrass State claiming the last two national championships.

But along the way, Kentucky defeated Louisville in a Final Four game in 2012, and now the two will meet in the Sweet 16. That’s two postseason meetings in the last three seasons. Just ask anyone in Kentucky if that’s diminished the regular season meeting.

“People grieve for a year after the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “People celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work.”

Not now, when the stakes have been higher in the last three seasons, with both teams capable of winning national championships.

“There's no way around it,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “But at the end of the day they're right, it's much bigger than a rivalry. It's a Sweet 16 game.”

Louisville vs. Kentucky
Time: 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 68-62
Braden Gall: Louisville 70-64
Mitch Light: Louisville 68-61
Nathan Rush: Louisville 73-70
How Louisville got here:
Louisville’s two games in the NCAA Tournament haven’t been pretty for a team that has look of the national title contender. Manhattan, coached by Rick Pitino disciple Steve Masiello, was able to counter Louisville possession by possession. The Saint Louis win in the round of 32 was a sloppy, offense-optional 66-51 win.

How Kentucky got here here:
Kentucky is finally starting to look like the kind of team projected as a national title contender in the preseason. James Young started hitting shots, and Andrew and Aaron Harrison played their best game of the season against Wichita State in the round of 32. Continue that, and Kentucky can keep playing in the Tournament.

Sweet 16 Previews
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Key for Louisville to get to the Elite Eight: Russ Smith getting his game together
Rick Pitino was frustrated with his star guard after the first weekend of the Tournament with good reason. Smith turned the ball over 13 times in two games while shooting 6 of 19 from the floor. The senior is only four games removed from scoring 42 points in a game against Houston and six games from 13 assists against UConn. If anyone can turn things around in a matter of days, it’s Smith.

Key for Kentucky to get to the Elite Eight: Prove the Wichita State game wasn’t a fluke
Kentucky underachieved for most of the season before facing an undefeated Wichita State team in the round of 32. The game was as hotly contested as any Elite Eight or Final Four game for most of the second half, and Kentucky was able to escape with the 78-76 win thanks to a handful of non-Julius Randle freshmen playing their best game of the year. Perhaps the best thing to sustain this momentum is to face a rival in the Sweet 16.

Player to watch: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
The Cardinals forward has been on a hot streak since late February, but he’s faced few frontcourts like that of Kentucky. If Harrell can be a double-double type player against Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein — Harrell had only six points and four rebounds in the first meeting — Louisville will have a good chance to win.

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats
Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-iowa-state-cyclones-vs-uconn-huskies

The careers of Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie have been connected nearly from the start.

On Friday, they’ll meet in the Sweet 16, the first trip to the regional semifinal for both coaches.

The pair met in high school when they took a visit to Arizona. Then-coach Lute Olson offered a one scholarship to the first of the pair who would take it. Neither did. Hoiberg went to Iowa State while Ollie went to Connecticut. After their careers, they carved out niches in the NBA as bench players, playing on the same Chicago Bulls team in 2001-02.

When Hoiberg retired and joined the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office, Minnesota signed Ollie in his second-to-last season.

Now, both returned to their alma maters to meet in the NCAA Tournament.

“Listen, Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around, me for 10, him for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was,” Hoiberg said. “That's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step.”

Ollie was just as complimentary, but the two coaches will have to wait until Friday to root for each other again.

“It's always tough coaching against one of your great friends,” Ollie said. “But at the end of the day we are both competitors, we both love our university, and once we get in those lines, you pretty much don't have any friends.”

Iowa State vs. Connecticut
Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: I
owa State 82-77
Braden Gall: Iowa State 77-69
Mitch Light: Iowa State 82-77
Nathan Rush: UConn 70-69
What Iowa State did to get here:
North Carolina collapsed late to help Iowa State to an 85-83 win. Without Georges Niang in the lineup, DeAndre Kane took over to score 24 points against the Tar Heels. Iowa State is generally a versatile offensive team, with guards able to play close to the basket and forwards able to take shots from the perimeter. Niang was a valuable piece in that attack.

What Connecticut did to get here:
Shabazz Napier can take over, earning more Kemba Walker comparisons every time UConn wins another postseason game. He scored 24 points against Saint Joseph’s and 25 against Villanova to power UConn to the Sweet 16.

Sweet 16 Previews
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Key for Iowa State to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on DeAndre Kane
The senior who transferred for his senior year at Iowa State has carried the Cyclones for stretches this season. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer who has also proven to be a key performer in tight moments in the postseason. With Niang out, more is on Kane’s shoulders.

Key for Connecticut to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on Shabazz Napier
Perhaps it’s too easy to distill this game to the two superstar point guards, but that matchup is even more pronounced for UConn. While Melvin Ejim can take charge for Iowa State if Kane’s not the guy, UConn has no such option. It’s Napier or bust in the postseason.

Player to watch: Monte Morris, Iowa State
The Cyclones freshman point guard is one of the most sure-handed players in the Sweet 16 with the ball in his hands. His 5.2-to-1 mark is one of the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’s also learned how to score in recent games with 11 points per game in his last four.

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Iowa State Cyclones vs. UConn Huskies
Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-michigan-wolverines-vs-tennessee-volunteers

Transformation is one of the key words for both Michigan and Tennessee as they reached the Sweet 16.

The top players for both teams have transformed themselves from last season. Michigan's Nik Stauskas added muscle to make him much more than a spot-up jump shooter. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes lost 10 pounds to become a more mobile and versatile big man.

But beyond individuals, both teams had to transform through the course of the season.

Michigan expected to have forward Mitch McGary, a breakout player during last year’s run to the national championship game, but back injuries knocked him out for the season before Big Ten play began. And Tennessee was one of the most inconsistent teams in the SEC before finally putting up results that reflected the Volunteers’ statistical production on both sides of the court.

“That's the great thing about a long season, anything can happen, trying to gel lineups and personnel, getting guys to play better and strengthen your bench,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “There are a lot of things that go on through the course of a season.”

And for Michigan and Tennessee, two teams that started the New Year in different places, those changes mean both are on the same footing for a regional final.

Michigan vs. Tennessee
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox:
Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Tennessee 65-62
Mitch Light: Michigan 77-69
Nathan Rush: Michigan 80-75
How Michigan got here here:
Michigan hasn’t been tested in two NCAA Tournament games against Wofford and Texas. The Wolverines have been most impressive from the 3-point line, shooting a combined 21 of 45 from long range in two games.

How Tennessee got here:
Tennessee closed the regular season playing its best basketball, a trait that has continued from the First Four into the Sweet 16. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds since the start of the Tournament, giving Tennessee the most dominant big man of the first week.

Sweet 16 Previews

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Key for Michigan to get to the Elite Eight: Lights out shooting
Michigan is a strong perimeter team with Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The Wolverines ranked sixth nationally by shooting 39.8 percent while taking a high volume of long-range shots. Beating Tennessee around the rim will be tough, so the outside shots will need to fall.

Key for Tennessee to get to the Elite Eight: Let Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon take over
Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have been solid since Michigan lost Mitch McGary early in the season with a back injury, but they’ll have to take on the top frontcourt duo in the Sweet 16 in Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The pair is a force in the paint that will be tough to contain by Michigan’s smaller lineup.

Player to watch: Josh Richardson, Tennessee
Richardson has emerged to average 19.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-6 guard can also play standout defense, which will be key against Michigan’s guards.

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Michigan Wolverines vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/arizona-overcomes-slow-start-reach-elite-eight

All year, it seems Arizona has been waiting for one thing or another to catch up to the Wildcats to prevent them from making a deep run in the postseason.

First, the injury to veteran forward Brandon Ashley was supposed to hamper Arizona. Then, the Wildcats’ poor free throw shooting was going to be the liability.

If Thursday’s 70-64 win over San Diego State proved anything, Arizona can continue to win under less than perfect conditions all the way to the Elite Eight.

The Aztecs opened the first half in a drastic reversal of the first meeting between these two Western powers, when San Diego State lost 69-60 on Nov. 14.

Dwayne Polee, whom coach Steve Fisher left on the bench in that first game,   scored 13 points. Led by Josh Davis, San Diego State dominated the glass early. The Aztecs had nine offensive rebounds through the entirety of their first meeting, but 10 in the first half of the Sweet 16.

On Arizona’s side, Wildcats star guard Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots from the field, and Kaleb Tarczewski picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. San Diego State led by 4 at the half and by as much as 6 early in the second half.

San Diego State played one of its best games of the year, but Arizona found a way.

An , one of the top freshmen still playing in the Tournament, was part of an Arizona rally that brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit.

Johnson capped the game by making his final two shots, including a 3-pointer. More important, for a team that struggles at the line, Johnson was 10 of 10 on free throws.

Johnson’s free throw prowess was one of the few perfect performances in the Sweet 16 for Arizona, but it was enough.

Arizona Overcomes Slow Start to Reach Elite Eight
Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 01:27
Path: /college-basketball/arizonas-aaron-gordon-has-ridiculous-dunk-against-san-diego-state

Arizona's athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit against San Diego State with this ridiculous alley oop and dunk.



If the video isn't enough, check the still frames.



Post date: Friday, March 28, 2014 - 00:10
Path: /college-basketball/wisconsin-bucking-history-offensive-showcase-sweet-16

The best way for Wisconsin to prove this Badgers team is different was the kind of game that encouraged viewers to tune out.

Wisconsin has struggled to advance in the NCAA Tournament in the past thanks in part to a methodical offense that hit a snag in the second round or Sweet 16.

Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament
YearUW SeedLost in..To..
20135Round of 6412 Ole Miss
20124Sweet 161 Syracuse
20114Sweet 168 Butler
20104Round of 3212 Cornell
200912Round of 324 Xavier
20083Sweet 1610 Davidson
20072Round of 327 UNLV
20068Round of 648 Arizona
20056Elite Eight1 North Carolina
20046Round of 323 Pittsburgh
20035Sweet 161 Kentucky

Not this time. Wisconsin demolished Baylor from beginning to end in a 69-52 win to send the Badgers to their first Elite Eight since 2005. Wisconsin led 18-8 early and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.

Wisconsin hinted at it for most of the season, but the Sweet 16 win was further proof of this year’s Wisconsin team isn’t the same as the ones that stalled in the NCAA Tournament during most of Bo Ryan’s tenure.

Wisconsin picked apart the Baylor zone, the same that stymied Creighton and eventual national player of the year Doug McDermott in the round of 64. When Baylor finally switched to man-to-man in the first half, it made little difference.

Wisconsin’s ball movement was crisp as the Badgers picked up 18 assists on 26 field goals. The Badgers shot 52 percent from the floor, including 8 of 11 by Frank Kaminsky in his matchup against pro prospect Isaiah Austin.

That’s only part of the big picture of the best offensive team of the Ryan era. Wisconsin has topped 70 points per game for the first time since 2007 and hitting its top scoring average since 1994-95.

Entering Thursday, Wisconsin’s 37.6 percent shooting from 3 is the Badgers best since 2005. Wisconsin’s 51.5 percent shooting from 2-point range is its best since 2003. Ryan’s teams rarely turn the ball over, but the Badgers have their lowest turnover rate of the Ryan era.

The next game will be against a strong defensive team — either Arizona or San Diego State — but Wisconsin’s turnaround may lead to something else the Badgers haven’t done in a long time, reach the FInal Four.

Wisconsin Bucking History with Offensive Showcase in Sweet 16
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 22:12
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/star-studded-freshman-class-feeling-incomplete-sweet-16

After Mercer got the best of Duke and Jabari Parker, the Blue Devils’ star freshman he his college career was “incomplete.”

Parker, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, could have picked few words more loaded than “incomplete.”

Beyond Parker, though, incomplete would be the best way to grade the performance of a  class of freshmen that’s the best since at least 2008, and perhaps the best of the one-and-done era.

A senior forward from the state of Montana got the best of Andrew Wiggins. Parker couldn’t find a way to score consistently against the Atlantic Sun champions from Macon, Ga. And Tyler Ennis never found his shot against one of the last teams in the field from the Atlantic 10.

If this was to be the year of superstar freshmen, it sure found an interesting way to stage its endgame.

Fred VanVleet’s 3-point attempt ensured the rookies from Kentucky would continue to advance. Otherwise, the major freshman contributions in this year’s Sweet 16 would be led by Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and a handful of freshmen who aren’t their team’s best two, three or four best players.

One of the major storylines of the season was the cast of talented freshmen across the country — from Duke to Kentucky to Kansas to Arizona. This year’s freshman class occupies the top four spots on and six of the top seven for .

Beyond Kentucky and Arizona, the freshman class didn’t translate draft prospects to postseason success. If this was the Year of Freshmen, the results may not be borne out in the Final Four.

No more Jabari Parker. No Andrew Wiggins. No Tyler Ennis. With a back injury, Joel Embiid didn’t make it to the conference tournament, and his team didn’t last long enough to see if he’d return in time for the Sweet 16. Embiid declared for the NBA Draft before the second weekend of the Tourney even began.

Indeed, if freshmen are to lead teams to the Final Four, it’s more than likely going to be in a secondary role ... unless Kentucky reaches Monday night.

Top Freshmen in Sweet 16 (by minutes played)
1. Aaron HarrisonKentucky32.414.12 apg
2. James YoungKentucky32.314.24.3 apg
3. Andrew HarrisonKentucky31.410.93.8 apg
4. Aaron GordonArizona30.812.47.8 rpg
5. Julius RandleKentucky30.614.810.5 rpg
6. London PerrantesVirginia29.95.53.8 apg
7. Monte MorrisIowa State27.96.63.7 apg
8. Derrick WaltonMichigan26.68.12.8 apg
9. Rondae Hollis-JeffersonArizona25.08.95.7 rpg
10. Zach LaVineUCLA24.49.92.6 rpg


Star-Studded Freshman Class Feeling Incomplete in Sweet 16
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 16:51
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-arizona-wildcats-vs-san-diego-state-aztecs

No one would doubt the coaching credentials for Sean Miller and Steve Fisher. Nor would anyone discount Arizona and San Diego State as two of the nation’s top programs right now West of the Rocky Mountains.

Still, a bit of legitimacy is on the line.

At Xavier and Arizona, Miller had advanced to the Sweet 16 or better five times. All that’s missing is a Final Four, Arizona’s first since 2001. Since taking over in 1999, Steve Fisher has supervised one of the best rebuilding jobs in college basketball by turning San Diego State into an NCAA regular. The next step is the Aztecs’ first regional final.

A win over Arizona, viewed as a national title contender since the preseason, would serve a dual purpose.

“We think we're one of the best teams (in the West),” San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee said. “Now that we've proven that we can hang with the big dogs and not only the West coast but in the nation, I think that we can be mentioned among the Arizonas and UCLAs.”

The two teams have changed a bit since their first meeting, a 69-60 Arizona win on Nov. 14. Arizona has recovered from the season-ending injury to forward Brandon Ashley while Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee II has become one of San Diego State’s most valuable players despite sitting out the first meeting on a coaches’ decision.

What hasn’t changed is both teams’ defensive prowess, as the two teams in Anaheim rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.

Arizona vs. San Diego State
Time: 10 p.m.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: Anaheim (West)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Arizona 67-60
Braden Gall: Arizona 72-59
Mitch Light: Arizona 84-74
Nathan Rush: Arizona 72-66
How Arizona got here:
The Wildcats continued to play stifling defense in the first weekend of the Tournament. Arizona held Weber State to 25 percent shooting from 2-point range in the round of 64 and held Gonzaga to 42.1 percent. Freshman Aaron Gordon locks down the inside while Nick Johnson guards on the outside. Both are among the national elite.

How San Diego State got here:
San Diego State survived a poor shooting day against New Mexico State to beat the Aggies in overtime in the round of 64. The Aztecs came back to make 7 of 16 3-point shots against North Dakota State in the round of 32, led by 30 points from Xavier Thames.

Other Sweet 16 previews:
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Key for Arizona to get to the Elite Eight: Say it again, shoot free throws
Arizona shot 13 of 18 from the line against Gonzaga in the round of 32, helped largely by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson making all eight of his attempts. This is still the worst 3-point shooting team left in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona shoots 65.5 percent from the line.

Key for San Diego State to get to the Elite Eight: Find a way to score on the interior
Let’s assume Thames can’t get 20 points against Arizona. That means forwards Winston Shepard, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien will need to play a bigger role. Arizona holds opponents to 40.1 percent shooting from inside the 3-point line, ranking second nationally. San Diego State ranks 303rd in that offensive category.

Player to watch: Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson will be Arizona’s counterpoint in the key matchup of the game. As one of the country’s best perimeter defender, Johnson will be tabbed with containing the heart of San Diego State’s offense. Xavier Thames averages 17.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. Either by field goal or assist, Thames has accounted for 55.6 percent of the Aztecs’ baskets in the first weekend of the Tournament.

Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Arizona Wildcats vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:00