Unique NCAA challenge for Cal

702392.jpg

Unique NCAA challenge for Cal

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- Every pass is a risk. Every basket is an accomplishment. The scoreboard doesn't change very much and may not make it up to 50 until late in the game.

South Florida is bringing its own brand of ugliness to the NCAA tournament.

The Bulls (20-13) got to the First Four because of their ability to make a basket the ultimate challenge. They set a Big East record by allowing only 56.9 points per game this season, reducing high-flying offenses to 40 minutes of futility.

"That's what we want to do," coach Stan Heath said on Tuesday. "We want to disrupt you. We want to smell your breath. We want to get underneath your skin. We want to make life miserable for you."
RELATED: Play Bracket Challenge for a chance to win a TV!

Next on their misery index is California (24-9), a balanced team that has four players in double figures and has never seen anything quite like what they'll face on Wednesday night in the First Four. The Golden Bears have spent the last couple of days watching video of South Florida frustrate one offense after another, no matter what their style.

Like to shoot 3s? Not going to do it. Like to get the ball inside? Forget about it. Eager for some fast-break baskets off rebounds? Might as well just become resigned to walking the ball up the court.

During interviews on Tuesday at the University of Dayton, Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez was asked whether California has faced another defense similar to South Florida. He thought a few seconds and couldn't identify another one. He glanced at teammate Harper Kamp for a suggestion and got none.

The Bulls pose a unique challenge.

RELATED: NCAA Tournament news scoreboard

"I think it's going to be the first (such) team," Gutierrez said. "It's going to be a real challenge on the physical side of the game. We're excited for the challenge, and we'll see what happens."

Hint: It's not going to be pretty.

South Florida held 16 opponents in the 50s in scoring and seven opponents in the 40s during the season, giving up a season-low 43 points in a win over Florida Southern. Their 58-51 win at Louisville on Feb. 29 prompted coach Rick Pitino to later equate facing their defense to getting a root canal.

The Bulls took it as the highest form of praise.

"This is certainly not the first time you've seen a defensive team go out and be successful," forward Ron Anderson Jr. said. "A lot of times nowadays, people are more interested in the flashiness of a game or how high somebody's jumping or how many blocked shots you can get. But when it's all said and done, it boils down to fundamentals.

"Every head coach across the nation, on the first day of practice, they always harp on defense. That's where you start off with. And for us, it's really helped us out, won us most of our games this year."

They need it to compensate for an offense that scores points at the same anemic rate that the defense gives them up. The Bulls don't have even one player with a double-digit scoring average. They've been held in the 40s eight times this season, with their low point a 52-40 loss to Auburn.

The Bulls thought they were ready to reach the NCAA tournament last season, but tumbled to a 10-win season that prompted their coach to reassess. They didn't have a lot of dependable scorers, so he put the emphasis on the other side of the ball.

He challenged the Bulls to embrace ugly games.

"You're trying to get ready for a season and the only thing that coach is talking about is: Listen, we're going to have to sacrifice individualistic play, we're going to have to sacrifice scoring, we're going to have to build our team around toughness, defense and team play,'" Heath said. "And as a player you say to yourself: Do I want to win, or do I want to lose?' And you have to make that decision.

"And those guys made a decision that winning was the most important thing ahead of individualistic things, and that's why we are where we are."

They've grown to love their identity.

"We'll come out of a huddle sometimes and we'll tell each other: All right, the next three times down the court, we want to get three stops,'" Anderson said. "And the five guys on the court, we really pride ourselves in going out there, and getting those three stops. When we get one, we yell it out: Got one stop!'

"That brings energy for the team. That brings the confidence of the team up. And all those things are really vital to winning the game. I think that will probably be the biggest thing."

With this team, it usually is.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

josh-jackson-kansas-ap.jpg

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.