Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 95, #2 Oklahoma 51

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways:

Villanova Put Together the Most Dominant Final Four Victory in History (USA Today Images)

Villanova Put Together the Most Dominant Final Four Victory in History (USA Today Images)

  1. This wasn’t going to be a repeat of the December 7 blowout. Any reasonable observer knew not to take too much from Oklahoma’s 23-point win in Pearl Harbor. In that game, Villanova shot an atrocious 4-of-32 from three in a performance that was so bad that even Kobe Bryant would have told them to stop shooting. Tonight they put on a performance that would have made Steph Curry blush. They went 35-0f-49 from the field (71.4%) including 11-of-18 from three (61.1%) while Oklahoma could only muster 19-of-60 (31.7%) and 6-of-27 from three (22.2%). All those numbers led to a record margin of victory in the Final Four (44 points) and the biggest difference in a rematch outcome this millennium (67 points).
  2. Tonight was not Buddy Hield’s night. The RTC NPOY shot only 4-of-12 including 1-of-8 from three-point range for nine quiet points along with just two assists (to his credit he did have seven rebounds). People will point to the dome effect in Houston as a factor, but it’s hard to use that as a crutch when Villanova shot the lights out in the same environment. In the end, this is just what sometimes happens in a single-elimination tournament. Even the best players have bad nights. Unfortunately for Hield, none of the other Sooners stepped up to counter the Wildcats’ performance for the ages. This game shouldn’t (and hopefully doesn’t) diminish what Hield has accomplished in his four years in Norman, nor should it lead to a conversation about the limits of his NBA future. Just take some time to appreciate what he has done for the Oklahoma program and how he conducted himself both on and off the court.
  3. Villanova was relentless. The tenor of the game was a bit unusual. Oklahoma only led for 3:42 with their biggest lead coming just 23 seconds into the game on Hield’s only made three-pointer of the night. After that, it was a series of runs by Villanova that put the game out of reach. The runs weren’t what you saw in some other historic Final Four blowouts like UNLV’s 30-point victory over Duke in 1990; rather, the Wildcats were more methodical in their dismantling of Oklahoma. In the end, Villanova crushed Oklahoma’s spirit, which is not something we expected from such a senior-laden squad.

Star of the Game. Josh Hart. Much like the rest of the Wildcats, Hart was ruthlessly efficient scoring 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting and adding 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals with no turnovers. Hart is Villanova’s star, but was widely overlooked this season when the postseason awards and honors were handed out. Now he may get the last word.

Read the rest of this entry »

Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

Read the rest of this entry »

Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

Read the rest of this entry »

2015-16 RTC National Player of the Year: Buddy Hield

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

This college basketball season was the “year of the senior.” Seniors like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang were all yesterday named to the RTC All-America Teams. They each put together amazing seasons in lifting their teams to outstanding regular season success and NCAA Tournament berths. As excellent as those players were, however, there was one senior who stood out among the pack. That player is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In this era of the one-and-done superstar, it might be cynical to view a senior winning the National Player of the Year award as something approaching a career achievement award. But while Hield put together a successful first three seasons in Norman, he saved his best for last this year. The dynamic shooting guard averaged an incredible 25.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and a very impressive 46.5 percent from three. In an offense completely centered around Hield’s explosive offensive skills, Oklahoma averaged a robust 80.4 points per game.

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Hield put together many sensational games this season, but two performances in particular come to mind as the most memorable. In a January 4 epic triple-overtime Big 12 battle between Oklahoma and Kansas, the casual college basketball fan became acquainted with Hield’s heroics. The All-American finished the evening in Allen Fieldhouse with a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. It was such an amazing effort that Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation, and one that will be remembered in Norman and around the college basketball world for years to come. The other memorably outstanding performance came in the Elite Eight when Hield’s star power led the Sooners past #1 seed Oregon and into the program’s first Final Four in 14 years. The senior contributed 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 8-of-13 from behind the three-point line. Oklahoma will face a staunch test when it takes on Villanova in the Final Four Saturday night, but it would be unwise to discount the Sooners’ chances of advancing whenever a star like Hield is involved.

2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year: Jay Wright

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

The 2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year Jay Wright has been a winner throughout his 15-year tenure at Villanova. He has led the Wildcats to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and the program has taken home four Big East titles under his guidance. Even with all that winning and a Final Four appearance in 2009, the veteran coach has received some criticism in recent years because of several early NCAA Tournament exits. In 2014, Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and was viewed as a dangerous #2 seed. That buzz fizzled out quickly, though, as the Wildcats were sent packing by eventual national champion Connecticut in the Round of 32. The next year it appeared Villanova was in even better shape to make a deep run. Wright’s group compiled a sterling 32-2 regular season that included a 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAAs. That did not matter much, though, as the Wildcats were once again bounced in the Round of 32 — this time at the hands of streaky NC State. With a mostly veteran squad returning this season, Villanova looked once again ready to combine a strong regular season with deep advancement into the NCAA Tournament.

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year  (AP)

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year (AP)

Villanova completed its first mission with relative ease, taking home another Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record as a #2 seed. Wright’s Wildcats easily exorcised their first weekend demons two weeks ago in Brooklyn by routing #15 seed UNC-Asheville and #7 seed Iowa. Even with those two impressive wins, pundits still doubted the team’s legitimacy heading into its Sweet Sixteen game with #3 seed Miami (FL). Villanova easily proved those doubters wrong, as it blew the Hurricanes off the floor en route to a 92-69 victory. But even that rousing victory did the Wildcats no favors with their critics. An Elite Eight victory against overall #1 seed Kansas appeared unlikely, but Wright’s veteran squad took the challenge and battled forward to a 64-59 victory. The regional-clinching win sent the Villanova program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The Wildcats will face a difficult test on Saturday when it faces Oklahoma and NPOY candidate Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma guard is a dynamic scorer with a proven ability to take over a game every time he takes the floor. Villanova is going to have to play a sound defensive game to contain Hield and emerge with the victory. Luckily for Villanova fans, Wright has shown a steady touch with this group all season long and you better believe it will be ready for the challenge. Our RTC National Coach of the Year will know what buttons to push and put his team in a position to win if it executes reasonably well. It is only the latest version of what he has been doing since he began patrolling the sideline at Villanova all those many years ago.

2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

first_team_2016

  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Ten Players Who Will Decide the Final Four

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 31st, 2016

No single player is going to decide either of Saturday’s semifinal games or the ensuing championship tilt on Monday night, but many will have a hand in those results. Some players’ “shining moments” will last longer than others (no matter who sings about it), however, so with that in mind, let’s examine the 10 players likely to make the biggest impact this weekend (in descending order).

Buddy Hield Holds Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Carries Some Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

10. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma

Every team Oklahoma plays focuses its defensive game plan on Buddy Hield with good reason. Other than the presumptive NPOY, however, Cousins has proven especially effective at finding and exploiting the resulting holes in opposing defenses, scoring more than 15 points in 14 different games this season. Opponents place so much attention on Hield that it allows Cousins to locate driving lanes and space to create his own, very effective, offense.

9. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova

It’s not easy to predict how Arcidiacono will affect a game but you can count on him finding some way to do so. He is capable of anything ranging from a hot shooting streak, double-figure assists, complete control of the flow and tempo, or defensive mastery. The bottom line is that Arcidiacono will make plays. It will be up to Oklahoma to limit his overall effect. If at some point in the second half on Saturday, you think, “We haven’t seen much from Arch,” things are probably going pretty well for the Sooners.

Read the rest of this entry »

The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Jim Calhoun

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 31st, 2016

Jim Calhoun is the former head coach at UConn and a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. His coaching career is filled with accolades: 23 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Big East championships, four Final Four appearances and three National Championships. With the Final Four a few days away, we had an opportunity to chat with Calhoun and discuss the upcoming weekend, his thoughts on what it takes to be successful in the NCAA Tournament, and his most memorable experiences as a head coach.

Rush the Court: With regard to preparing for the NCAA Tournament, what do you think was the most common element of your most successful teams?

Jim Calhoun: The thing we try to do, the most important element, is having good players and hopefully some experienced players that have been there before. Because stepping on that big stage — whether it be Madison Square Garden or NRG in front of 79,000 people — is a big deal. But as the season wound down we made sure we cut down on practice. As we got closer to the Tournament and found out the bracket, we tried to prepare for each team. For example with a team that would throw a press on, we would work on that even though we may not be playing them first, but maybe the next game.

Jim Calhoun knows a thing or two about coaching in the Final Four (Photo: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Jim Calhoun knows a thing or two about coaching in the Final Four (Photo: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Rush the Court: During the regular season, did you find yourself preparing by mixing and matching different defenses and offensive schemes as you got closer to the Tournament?

Jim Calhoun: Yeah we did. As we got closer to tournament play, for example in the Big East with a bye where we might play one or two teams, we really scouted both teams. So in the first 20 minutes of practice, we might work against a 1-3-1; we might work against some pressure. I never wanted the kids to face something they hadn’t seen before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Sweet Scoops: McDonald’s All-American Primer

Posted by Sean Moran on March 30th, 2016

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

The 39th McDonald’s All-American game is set to take place tonight at 9PM ET (ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago. Each year this All-Star game gives the college basketball fan a sneak peak into the up and coming stars of next season. It also usually gives fans a first look at the top NBA draft picks for 2017.

Last year, the top two projected draft picks of 2016 competed in the game. Duke freshman Brandon Ingram scored 15 points after a breakout week in practice, while LSU freshman Ben Simmons scored seven points to go along with 10 rebounds. Five-star recruit Cheick Diallo was named MVP after he recorded an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double. After dealing with an early-season NCAA investigation, Diallo managed to score only 81 points on the whole season at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft.

The stars will be out tonight in Chicago. Below is a primer on who and what to watch for during the game:

1. Top Individual Matchup

Small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are arguably the top two players in the country. The 6’8” Tatum will wear #22 for the East while the 6’7” Jackson will suit up as #11 for the West. Tatum is headed to Duke and has a smooth and skilled offensive game. He has the ability to play point forward and loves to emulate Kobe Bryant with a fade-away repertoire. Jackson is still undecided and set to choose from a list that includes Kansas, Arizona, and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an explosive wing with NBA athleticism who will surely be good for a highlight reel dunk or two.

2. Most Unique Player

Keep an eye out for 6’5” point guard Lonzo Ball (#2). Just last week the best passing guard in high school finished a spectacular senior season with a California state championship. His #1 ranked Chino Hills team went 35-0 on the year, breaking 100 points on a near-nightly basis in the process. High hopes and expectations await Ball at UCLA, as the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 15-17 season. Ball has an unorthodox outside shot, but he is still plenty capable of finding the bottom of the net from NBA range. He’s also been known to throw pinpoint three-quarter court passes just as often as does a fundamental bounce pass to a teammate on a look that few other players would see. Ball’s razzle-dazzle game is made for an All-Star event. Read the rest of this entry »

The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ernie Johnson

Posted by Chris Stone on March 30th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

Turner Sports‘ Ernie Johnson is perhaps best known for his role mediating the rambunctious crew on TNT’s Inside the NBA, but this weekend he will host TBS’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four and National Championship. With the event just days away, we had an opportunity to sit down with Johnson to discuss the NCAA Tournament’s first championship on cable, the differences between preparing for the NBA and March Madness, and what advice he has for sports media hopefuls.

Rush the Court: As a longtime employee and icon for Turner, can you give us your thoughts on what it means to have this level of coverage for such a huge event in the college basketball world?

Ernie Johnson: Well, first of all, let’s go with longtime employee and you can hold off on the icon. It means a lot to all of us. It really does. I’ve been there since 1989. I’ve seen this company grow in ways we never thought and then have properties that I didn’t know we’d be covering. We were all excited when we signed the deal with CBS to team up on this for a long time and we knew somewhere down the road this would happen, but now that it’s here, it is very special. It’s certainly a point of pride for all of us that when you want to watch the games Saturday and on Monday night, you’ll be watching it on TBS. Turner’s got the championship game in the NCAA Tournament. We are pumped about that.

ernie johnson 1

Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four this weekend. (Credit: CSE)

Rush the Court: You also have the Team Streams as well, right?

Johnson: Yeah. They’re going to have the homer broadcasts, for lack of a better word. My hope is that everybody gets that stream, but I know that not everybody will because somebody will think, “OK, let’s watch the game on TNT,” and expect to hear Jim Nantz and Grant Hill and Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on there and they’re going to get somebody that yells and they’re going to be cheering like mad for Villanova and they’re from Oklahoma and they’re ticked. It happened last year, too. We had people on social media going nuts saying, “What are these guys doing? Why don’t they just wave their pom-poms?” Hey, you’re watching the wrong channel. So really, right down the middle, the standard broadcast, TBS. If you’re anywhere but TBS and you’re watching the game, you’re going to hear some cheerleading.

Rush the Court: As we head into the Final Four, we’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to March Madness, so we were curious what storylines you are most interested in now that we’re down to just four teams.

Read the rest of this entry »

Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Final Four Fact Sheet: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, Oklahoma. 

How Oklahoma Got Here

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

West Region Champions. After sleepwalking for the better part of the afternoon in their opener against Cal State Bakersfield, the Sooners found themselves down a single point with 15 minutes remaining. From there, a familiar story played out – one that would be repeated often on Oklahoma’s run to Houston: Buddy Hield took over. In the remainder of the game, Hield threw in 16 of his game-high 27 points to drag his team to the second round. From there it was a repeat performance, as Hield went off for a 29-point second half against VCU, including 22 points in the final 11 minutes after the Rams had come back from 13 down to tie the game. A Sweet Sixteen victory over Texas A&M allowed Hield to “only” go for 17 points (along with 10 boards in his sole double-double of the season) in a game that was never particularly close. But Buddy bounced back in a big way, scorching Oregon for 37 phenomenal points (including eight threes) to earn the Sooners’ first trip to the Final Four since 2002.

The Coach

Lon Kruger. This is Kruger’s 30th season of coaching a Division I basketball program. He started at Texas-Pan American in 1982, taking the independent program to a 20-win season in his fourth year. After getting hired by Kansas State in 1986, he brought on a little-known coach named Dana Altman from Moberly Area Community College — someone who happened to have a kid named Mitch Richmond on his team. The future Hall of Famer followed Altman to Manhattan and the Wildcats subsequently went to an Elite Eight in Richmond’s senior season. A coaching star was officially born. Kansas State went to the NCAAs in all four seasons Kruger spent in Manhattan, and he turned that run into a coaching upgrade at Florida in 1990. In his fourth season with the Gators, Kruger took Andrew DeClercq, Dan Cross and Craig Brown to the 1994 Final Four, the only other time he made it to his sport’s final weekend. Since then, Kruger spent time at Illinois, the Atlanta Hawks and UNLV, before settling in Norman five seasons ago. He’s taken five Division I teams to the NCAA Tournament, four to the Sweet Sixteen, three to the Elite Eight, and now two to the Final Four.

Read the rest of this entry »