NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape

718822.jpg

NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape

Its not Mardi Gras but New Orleans will play host to a party this weekend.
On Saturday, archrivals Louisville and Kentucky square off in the first game of the NCAA Final Four, which will be followed by an equally intriguing Ohio State-Kansas matchup.
To help get you ready for college basketballs biggest weekend, heres a breakdown of both Final Four games, from the important to the inane.
Kentucky (36-2) vs. Louisville (30-9)
Saturday 6:09 p.m., CBS
Road to New Orleans: The top seed in the East, Kentucky hasnt truly been challenged yet, beating Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana and Baylor by double digits. Louisville, the No. 4 seed out of the West, is a bit more battle-tested, beating Davidson and New Mexico, before springing a big upset on Michigan State and then holding off a talented Florida squad. Advantage: Louisville.
Coaches: Remarkably, both Kentucky coach John Calipari and Louisville head man Rick Pitino have taken three different teams to the Final Four. Throw in the fact that the two are former friends and current enemies and this has all the makings of a classic duel. Advantage: Both of their egos.
Star attraction: Kentuckys 6-foot-10 center Anthony Davis was just named the Associated Press Player of the Year after averaging 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. Louisvilles Peyton Siva is a nice point guard but, with six guys averaging between nine and 13 points per game, the Cardinals dont have a true go-to-guy. Advantage: Kentucky.
X-factor: Louisvilles Gorgui Dieng has transformed into an excellent center, who will need to have a huge game to slow down Davis and company. As the only senior on Kentucky, Darius Miller may need to calm some nerves if its a close game. Advantage: Kentucky.
Style of play: Both the Wildcats and Cardinals are among the best defensive teams in the nation but the difference is Kentucky has a near-unstoppable transition attack that leads to crippling runs and tons of points in a hurry. Advantage: Kentucky.
Basketball aura: Louisville has won two national titles and been to nine Final Fours but is no match for Kentucky, the winningest program in the history of college basketball. Advantage: Kentucky.
Karma: After going just 10-8 in the Big East, Louisville has enjoyed a magical ride to win the conference tournament and earn this years most surprising Final Four berth. Kentucky has had the best team in the nation all season but its a team thats mostly assembled with one-and-done freshmen. The basketball gods dont look kindly upon that kind of thing. Advantage: Louisville.
Mascot: Yes, a wildcat would hunt down and eat a cardinal but there are simply way too many teams named the Wildcats out there. Advantage: Louisville.
Famous basketball alumni: Pat Riley got his start at Kentucky before becoming one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Wes Unseld was a three-time All-American before his Hall of Fame NBA playing career began. Advantage: Even.
Famous non-basketball alumni: Actress and Wildcats superfan Ashley Judd may be on Kentuckys side but only the Cardinals boast a graduate (Frank Neuhauser), who won the first-ever National Spelling Bee (in 1925) by correctly spelling the word gladiolus in the final round. Advantage: Anyone that just learned how to spell gladiolus.
Philly connection: Longtime Eagles kicker David Akers went to Louisville, while Kentucky alum Joe Blanton helped pitch (and hit) the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title. Advantage: Louisville.
Prediction: While its true Kentucky has all the pressure on it in what should be an epic game between in-state rivals, the Wildcats are just too deep and too talented to lose to a team that barely finished above .500 in conference play. Kentucky 83, Louisville 75.
Ohio State (31-7) vs. Kansas (31-6)
Saturday 8:49 p.m., CBS
Road to New Orleans: The No. 2 seed in the East, Ohio State toppled Loyola (MD), Gonzaga, Cincinnati and top-seeded Syracuse to book its place in the Final Four. Kansas probably had a slightly tougher road, knocking off Detroit, edging Purdue and N.C. State, before upsetting top-seeded North Carolina. Advantage: Kansas.
Coaches: This is a heavyweight battle between Ohio States Thad Matta (20 or more wins in his first 12 seasons as head coach) and Kansass Bill Self (a five-time finalist for Naismith Coach of the Year). Advantage: Kansas.
Star attraction: Kansass Thomas Robinson (17.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and Ohio States Jared Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) are two of the best players in the nation and should engage in a fierce inside battle. Advantage: The viewers.
X-factor: Ohio States Aaron Craft is a terrific perimeter defender, whos fine letting Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas (16.1 ppg) and Will Buford (14.4 ppg) do most of the scoring. Travis Releford plays a similar role for Kansas and will look to slow down Buford and help free up Tyshawn Taylor (16.7 ppg) for good looks. Advantage: Ohio State.
Style of play: The Buckeyes have the personnel where theyre able blend a fast-paced style with a slow-it-down halfcourt offense, depending on what the game calls for. The Jayhawks prefer to get out and run and can go through scoring droughts when theyre not able to. Advantage: Ohio State.
Basketball aura: Kansas holds the longest current streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (23) and is arguably the second-most prestigious program behind Kentucky. Ohio State has a good tradition too but its last and only national title came in 1960. Advantage: Kansas.
Karma: Shortly after Ohio States devastating loss to Kentucky in last years NCAA tournament, Sullinger declared hed be back for at least one more year and has since made the most of it. The Jayhawks somehow made the Final Four despite integrating four new starters and overcoming plenty of other obstacles too. Advantage: Kansas.
Mascot: The Jayhawk is a mythical bird that actually looks kind of adorable much better, at least, than a mascot named after a state nickname thats named after a tree. Sorry, Buckeyes. Advantage: Kansas.
Famous basketball alumni: Kansas alum Wilt Chamberlain is arguably the greatest basketball player ever. Hall of Famers and Ohio State alums John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas were great but not that great. Advantage: Kansas.
Famous non-basketball alumni: Both schools have an insane amount of successful alumni, so were going to arbitrarily matchup horror fiction novelist R.L. Stine (Ohio State) against comedic actor Paul Rudd (Kansas). In honor of Anchorman 2 just being announced, well go with Brian Fantana. Theyve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time. Advantage: Kansas.
Philly connection: Who will go down as the better Philadelphia 76er Chamberlain or ex-Ohio State star Evan Turner? Well give the edge to Wilt for now. Advantage: Kansas.
Prediction: While Kansas-Louisville is getting most of the attention for the rivalry aspect, the nightcap could be a classic game between two very evenly matched teams. In the end though, the Buckeyes will prevail and then upset Kentucky to win the national title. Ohio State 72, Kansas 71.
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

National champion Villanova honored by President Obama

053116-nova-webrefframe_1.jpg

National champion Villanova honored by President Obama

WASHINGTON — For the most successful senior class in the history of Villanova basketball, Tuesday's trip to the White House was the culmination of a championship season and quite possibly the final time the 2016 National Championship team will be together as one.

President Barack Obama praised their poise, which was epitomized by the final play when Ryan Arcidiacono fed Kris Jenkins for the buzzer-beating, championship-winning three-pointer.

"A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken — the Wildcats, they took control, they responded," Obama said. "And on a play called ' 'Nova,' Kris took a pass from Arch and pulled up a few steps behind the line and shot this team into basketball lore. That was a good shot. It was like Christian Laettner-good. It was like a Jimmy-V-running-up-and-down-the-court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which — (laughter) — he doesn’t do very often these days." 

In what has become customary for a championship team's visit, head coach Jay Wright presented the 44th President of the United States with a Wildcat jersey and the number "44." The Wildcats wore the uniform when they played Oklahoma on Dec. 7 of last year in Obama's home state of Hawaii.

"This was an amazing day for us," Wright said. "We not only presented him with the jersey, but with a picture of him that mirrored Kris Jenkins hitting that game-winning shot, because we've got a lot of respect for him as a great leader."

While gracious as guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it was the Wildcats who spoiled Obama's tournament bracket when they knocked off the president's pre-tournament pick, Kansas, in the Elite Eight on their way to the Final Four. At the time he made his picks back in March, Obama mentioned Wright's Wildcats, telling ESPN, "I know eventually they're going to break through." He just wasn't confident enough to see the 'Cats win it all roughly three and a half weeks later.

Obama on Tuesday confirmed he should have listened to his second-in-command, "Joe (Biden) wanted me to remind you that he picked 'Nova to win it all. This is the type of wise counsel that you are looking for from a vice president. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow his counsel and so my bracket was busted.

Wearing a stars-and-stripes bow tie, junior Josh Hart, who decided last week to return to Villanova for his senior season, attended nearby Sidwell Friends School, where he was a classmate with President Obama's oldest daughter Malia.

"We talked a little, not too much," Hart said. "I try to give her some space. She's busy with senior projects and graduation and stuff."

Now Hart will refocus on guiding Villanova to become the first school since the Florida Gators in 2006-07 to win back-to-back National titles, and with that, a return trip to the White House.

Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

us-art-briles.png
USA Today Images

Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

WACO, Texas -- Baylor University's board of regents said Thursday that it will fire football coach Art Briles and re-assign university President Kenneth Starr amid questions over the school's handling of sexual assault complaints against players.

The nation's largest Baptist university said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Briles "with intent to terminate." Starr will leave the position of president on May 31, but the school says he will serve as chancellor.

The university also placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.

Baylor asked a law firm last year to conduct a review of its handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the football program mishandled several cases of players attacking women.

The university's statement said the review revealed "a fundamental failure."

Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.

Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid mounting criticism over the school's handling of the complaints, which erupted under his leadership. He took over as the university's president in 2010, about a decade after the former prosecutor investigated former President Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.

The football team, whose players were at the center of the upheaval, enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles' tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles' program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.

Starr rode the waves of the program's success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school's handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.

In a February statement issued by university, Starr said "our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence." And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake."

Baylor's Board of Regents was recently briefed by a law firm hired to investigate how the school responded to assault incidents, and the school on Thursday released a summary of its findings. Starr initiated the review in 2015, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.

Ukwuachu, who was convicted in 2015, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. Ukwuachu's former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.

Ukwuachu's former coach, Chris Peterson, now the coach at Washington, said he "thoroughly apprised" Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu's dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Peterson and there was no mention of the incident.

The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was "deliberately indifferent" to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.

The uproar following Ukwuachu's conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.

But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.

©2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

052516-josh-hart_720x405_692914755873.jpg

Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

Josh Hart said the decision wasn’t easy.

But he’s happy with it.

After withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to school (see story), Hart is excited to focus on Villanova, graduation and then the NBA dream.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, the student body, the support, my teammates that we have coming back,” the 6-foot-5 guard said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. “So it was a tough one and I just thought at the end of the day, I think going back for my senior year would be in the best interest of my parents and myself.”

As a junior, Hart helped Villanova win its second national championship in program history by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Hart received plenty of feedback from NBA teams. He said shooting and ball handling are what he hopes to improve.

As far as his draft stock …

“There were teams interested maybe in the first [round], and then there were teams that said they would take me in the second,” Hart said. “But there’s a whole month before the draft, a lot of teams didn’t know exactly what they were doing with their picks — whether they were trying to trade up for a pick, trying to trade down, trying to trade a pick for a player. Several teams said that they would take me.”

For more from Hart on the draft and Villanova, watch the video above.