NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.14 EditionPosted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2014
March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.
- With five freshman starters, Kentucky came into this season ranked #1 despite losing in the first round of the NIT last year. Though the Wildcats were, at one point, arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball, they have righted the ship. This weekend, the world will be able to see if Kentucky really deserved that preseason #1 ranking.
- Kentucky coach John Calipari claims that a “tweak” before the SEC Tournament helped create the force that has been Kentucky basketball over the past month. He won’t say what it is, but insists that there was some change made. “What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, ‘You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,'” Calipari said. “And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so …”
- Instead of “one-and-done,” Calipari is trying to change Kentucky’s mantra to “succeed and proceed.” He doesn’t support the former because he doesn’t see his program as a one-year pitstop before the NBA. As Calipari puts it, “Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business.'”
- For most #8 seeds, a Final Four run is a Cinderella Story that will live on in that program’s history forever. For Kentucky, however, its run to the Final Four is simply “tough” rather than miraculous.
- Texas natives, the Harrison Twins have been the key catalysts for Kentucky’s run back into their home state. Though the Twins seemed immature at times this season, Calipari believed in them in part because of their high character. “The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
- Julius Randle’s NBA draft stock slipped a bit partly because his team wasn’t successful for much of the season, but through Kentucky’s run to the Final Four, Randle is proving that he should be a slam dunk top five NBA Draft pick.
- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has one of the best systems in college basketball, and is known for his ability to develop players, particularly big men. “Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” [Wisconsin big man Frank]Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”
- Wisconsin is often not intimidating and light-hearted, but the Badgers bring it when it’s time to play. “Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test,” [Frank] Kaminsky said. “But it doesn’t matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that — we look like a bunch of white guys — but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
- Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has a father who dominated the Big Ten in the late 80s/early 90s. However, the younger Jackson is creating his own legacy by achieving something that his father never did: a Final Four.
- Even though Kentucky enters today’s game as the 8-seed, is Wisconsin the underdog? With a piping-hot Kentucky team, this may be the case.
- Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is big and “goofy“, but the seven-footer has been the key to the Badgers’ success. He was only a role player over the past two seasons, but this year he made huge strides. “I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years.”
- Though Wisconsin is often characterized as unathletic and slow, it believes that it has the athleticism to hang with Kentucky. Even though the Badgers don’t exactly jump out of the gym, they’re still athletic in their own eyes. “Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?” Ryan said. “Eye-hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: they have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team.”
- Florida will have its hand full with UConn superstar Shabazz Napier, but it knows that the Huskies are more than just him. “Shabazz is a great player, and gets a lot of attention and rightfully so,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “But it’s not a one-man team. It’s not a team where you look at them and say, if you do the job on one guy, you’re going to be in good shape. He’s a terrific player, but he doesn’t do it only by scoring.”
- Florida coach Billy Donovan is knocking on the door of history with his Gators in the Final Four. If the Gators can win it all, he would become just the sixth coach in college basketball history to win at least three National Championships.
- Billy Donovan has arguably come up with his best coaching job yet, as this year’s group doesn’t have the talent that his 2006 and 2007 National Championship teams had. As the Associated Press puts it, he’s gone from “Billy the recruiter” to “Billy the builder.”
- Does Scottie Wilbekin have the advantage over Shabazz Napier? It’ll be a tight match-up, but Tyler Horner likes Wilbekin, mainly because he has a superior supporting cast and won’t be asked to do as much.
- Some players have trouble shooting in big football stadiums, but Florida’s backcourt pair of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II aren’t concerned. To the Gators’ backcourt, a three-pointer is a three-pointer, no matter the backdrop. “It doesn’t really affect me at all,” Frazier said. “It doesn’t really bother me. It’s still the same distance from the hoop.”
- Florida center Patric Young probably could have been a first round pick in the NBA Draft had he left school early, but he doesn’t regret it. Having the chance to do something special in Gainesville outweighed his opportunity to get paid. “Money,” Young said with a smile, “isn’t everything to me.”
- UConn big man DeAndre Daniels has taken a step forward this year thanks in part to more confidence. Although the Huskies’ guards can take over at times, it’s important for Daniels to be willing to assert himself. “I told him the other day, ‘Hey, people aren’t paying much attention to you,'” [former UConn coach Jim] Calhoun said. “He said, ‘After Saturday, they will.’ That’s un-DeAndre-like. He doesn’t say things like that. It’s a big step in the right direction. I want him to believe in DeAndre. He’s really good.”
- Jim Calhoun built UConn into what it is today, but second year coach Kevin Ollie is responsible for maintaining that level of success. So far, he has succeeded, leaving his own mark on the program with a Final Four in just his second year. “I can never fill Coach Calhoun’s shoes,” said Ollie. “I can never build a program to a perennial Top-10 program each and every year. This program has already been built. But I want to sustain it. I want to get it to another level. That level is not about winning championships. It’s about creating great young men, so they can go out there in their community after they leave the Storrs campus and be ambassadors of their family, of their name, of this great university.”
- UConn may be the underdog against No. 1 overall seed Florida, but the Huskies seem confident going into today’s game. “A lot of people were not expecting us to be here, and we are here. A lot of people picked against us, and we’re still here,” the second-year coach [Kevin Ollie] said.
- Though Kevin Ollie is arguably the hottest coach in college hoops at the moment, he still has great respect for his opponent tomorrow, Florida coach Billy Donovan. “I admire Billy Donovan from afar, even when I was playing,” Ollie said. “The different things that he has done at the age of 48, he’s definitely a Hall of Famer. Where he has built the program, a predominantly football school and he took it and made it a basketball school also.”
- With the great Jim Calhoun gone and UConn ineligible for postseason play, All-American point guard Shabazz Napier was unsure of whether he wanted to remain in Storrs going into his junior year. However, retaining then-assistant coach Kevin Ollie was the deciding factor in Napier’s decision to stay. “If they would have changed with someone from outside, I think he would have [left],” [Napier's AAU coach Mo] Vasquez told CBSSports.com.
- Scottie Wilbekin is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, but Billy Donovan recognizes that it will take more than Wilbekin to slow down Shabazz Napier. In order to contain the prolific UConn guard, the Gators need to play great team defense. “Scottie is a great defensive player,” Donovan said. “But Scottie is not going to be able to deal with Shabazz one-on-one. We have been a team that’s played collectively as a group on the defensive end of the floor.”