HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on preparations for the Final Four in Houston, where two NCAA Tournament semifinals are set for Saturday (all times local):
The NCAA has announced the 10 officials selected to work the Final Four.
John Higgins will officiate in his seventh Final Four, while Tom Eades and Mark Whitehead will be calling their fifth. This will be the fourth Final Four for Michael Stephens and third for Mike Eades and Terry Wymer. Roger Ayers and Jeff Clark will appear in their second Final Four while this will be the first for Brian Dorsey and Tony Padilla.
The officiating assignments for each semifinal game, as well as Monday night's national championship game, will be announced an hour before each game. One official will be the standby for all three games.
Justin Jackson is back home in Texas, but in new surroundings.
While the North Carolina sophomore starter grew up only about 45 minutes from Houston in Tomball, he had never been to the NFL Houston Texans' stadium until the Tar Heels got there this week to start preparing for the Final Four. They play Syracuse on Saturday.
Jackson said his family started buying tickets early.
"They said if we don't make it, they'd just take that loss," he said. "(Final Four) has always been a goal. ... It could have been anywhere else. Being in Houston kind of adds on the excitement and enjoyment of it."
After UNC's first practice session inside the huge stadium, Jackson said it'd really hit him that he is close to home when he finally saw some family and friends.
"It'll kind of add on to it, but right now, to be in the Final Four in general is a great feeling," he said. "But to be here at home, it's pretty cool."
Many March Madness fans are waiting to know what's going to happen with "One Shining Moment." In the meantime, Turner Sports and CBS Sports are trying to spice up the Final Four with some surefire A-listers.
Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar is expected to perform in between the semifinal games on Saturday as the TBS coverage cuts to the March Madness Music Festival. The festival is about 8 miles from where the NCAA Tournament games will be played.
The coverage will also include performances from Pitbull and Maroon 5 during the pregame show.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams takes umbrage to anyone who thinks he's in failing health, which is how he was portrayed in a Washington Post story last week.
"I'm pretty doggone good," he said. "Up until knee surgery this summer, I was working out eight times a week. ... I felt I could play 45 holes of golf a day."
As for all the speculation that he might retire after this season, which has included a steady stream of stories about an ongoing NCAA investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina, Williams said: "When I quit, it will not be because of anything that happens this weekend."
He conceded not everything's perfect.
"I've got a head cold, a sinus infection and two bum knees," he said, "but I've never felt better in my life than I do right now."
Syracuse senior guard Michael Gbinije might have played an NCAA Tournament game in Houston and could have been a part of a national title last year — had he stayed at Duke.
"I had a lot of people tell me, 'Hey, if you would have stayed at Duke, you'd be a champion right now.' That could be true, it may not," Gbinije said Thursday in the Syracuse locker room. "I feel like just transferring was a better decision for me."
The Orange's top scorer started his collegiate career at Duke, appearing in 19 games without a start as a freshman before transferring to Syracuse.
And soon after that the Orange moved to the Big East Conference to the ACC with Duke and North Carolina, which Syracuse plays in the Final Four on Saturday night.
"Yeah, a lot of familiarity," he said.
Gbinije planned later Thursday to get in touch with a couple of his former teammates at Duke, who won their regional in Houston last year on way to the national title.
Congratulations, you made March Madness.
Oh, wait a second. Not really.
The NCAA acknowledged yet another Selection Sunday foul-up, this one involving sending a text message to staff at South Carolina, notifying the Gamecocks that they had made the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks were one of the last four teams left out.
NOLA.com first reported the news Thursday. With the Final Four teams gathering in Houston, NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt released a statement saying that, indeed, did happen. Gavitt took full responsibility for the clerical error and apologized to South Carolina coach Frank Martin and the school's entire community.
The NCAA was already being ridiculed for allowing its bracket to be revealed via social media while the two-hour CBS selection show was ongoing.
Villanova is the first team from the re-invented Big East to reach the Final Four. The conference split up four years ago, with the basketball-focused schools keeping the name and adding schools such as Creighton and Butler.
The 10-team league has received 15 NCAA tournament bids in the three years of its existence, four the first year, six last year and five this season.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright says getting teams in the Final Four was what boosted the first incarnation of the Big East.
"The year St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown all got to Lexington (1985), they were the new. It kind of woke everybody up," Wright said. "We have to prove ourselves, not because we're not a good league, but just because we're new. It's important that we do this, our league does this, and we continue to do this, four our league as much as for our school."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on whether he really does plan to leave at the end of the 2017-18 season, when his contract runs out:
"I have no plans," he said.
Would winning it all this year possibly change those plans, and make him leave earlier — or later?
"I've always thought you should walk away when you can't win anymore," he said. "I don't think you should walk away when you do win."
Villanova coach Jay Wright preaches unselfishness and humility to his players all the time. Then the team gets to Houston for the Final Four and the players are faced with doing the opposite for days leading up to the game.
"A lot of what goes on here is not reality ... you spend two-thirds of your day talking about yourself," Wright said. "We teach these guys all the time, life is not about you, it's what you do for others. We talk about it all the time. Then we come here and all you do is talk about yourself."
He said his time alone with his players is a chance to reinforce his beliefs amid the chaos of the tournament.
"We use the term 'be hungry and humble'. I think it's a great challenge when you're at the Final Four."
The White House says Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, are heading to the Final Four on Saturday.
The Bidens are alums of two of the teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament: the vice president went to Syracuse and his wife went to Villanova.
White House officials say the dignitaries are at the Final Four to promote a campaign to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
Bill Self, who led Kansas to the No. 1 ranking in the final weekly poll and its 12th straight Big 12 title, is The Associated Press Coach of the Year.
The Jayhawks (33-5) were the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost to Villanova in the regional final.
Self received 21 votes from the 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly poll. Chris Mack of Xavier was second with 15 votes and Dana Altman of Oregon received 13.
Self also won the AP Coach of the Year Award in 2009. Roy Williams, in 1992, was the only other Kansas coach to win the award.
The Jayhawks spent a total of five weeks at No. 1 this season and won the Big 12 again to move within one of UCLA's record for consecutive titles.
Voting was done before the NCAA Tournament.
Denzel Valentine of Michigan State is The Associated Press Player of the Year, edging out Oklahoma's Buddy Hield by three votes.
Valentine is the first Spartans player to win the award. He accepted the trophy Thursday in Houston.
Valentine received 34 of 65 votes from the national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25. Hield was the only other player to receive votes. Hield and Valentine were the only unanimous selections to the AP All-America team.
Valentine, a 6-foot-5 senior, led Michigan State (29-6) to a second-place finish in the Big Ten regular season and was the conference player of the year. He averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists.
The Spartans were ranked No. 1 for four weeks and finished second in the final AP Top 25. They lost to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Voting was done before the tournament.
The last time the Final Four was played at Houston's NRG Stadium, Butler ad UConn combined to shoot 26 percent from the field in the championship game and only one team broke 40 percent shooting in any of the three games that weekend.
Oklahoma, Syracuse, Villanova and North Carolina are getting their first shots at those rims today and so far they don't think it'll be a problem.
"It looks huge right now," Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. "But once people start filling in there it will be normal."
The last teams in the NCAA Tournament have arrived and it's time to get ready for the Final Four.
Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Syracuse began preparations in Houston Thursday for two semifinal games on Saturday that will determine the teams that will play for the title.
Coaches and players are speaking to reporters at NRG Stadium, the home of the NFL's Houston Texans. Like many recent Final Fours, players are having to contend with shooting in a football stadium, where the small floor and wide circumference of the grandstands can play tricks on depth perception.
Oklahoma plays Villanova in the first semifinal Saturday night. They'll be followed by North Carolina against Syracuse.
The winners play Monday night for the title.