Articles By David Fox
Move over Dizzy Bat, now we have Dizzy Punt.
What’s Dizzy Punt, you ask? Coaches at Dakota State, an NAIA program in Madison, S.D., show us, and we’re pretty much going to keep it on a loop for a few minutes.
Georgia Tech is making sure it commemorates its first win over rival Georgia in six years.
The Yellow Jackets also went on to win the Orange Bowl, defeating Mississippi State 49-34 and earning a bowl championship ring.
One side of the Orange Bowl championship ring commemorates the Yellow Jackets' ACC Coastal title. The other salutes the Georgia “State Champs.” Georgia Tech also defeated Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern 42-38.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tim Byerly shared an image of the ring during his stint as a guest Tweeter for @GTStudents on Thursday.
We finally got the Orange Bowl Rings!! Just as much yours as they are ours. Thx for the support all year Jacket fam!! pic.twitter.com/wPLxXdwNWz— GTStudents (@GTStudents) April 15, 2015
For now, public shaming will need to be part of the rebuilding process of the North Carolina defense.
Even in spring, there’s plenty of it to go around.
Gene Chizik is in Chapel Hill to fix one of the worst defenses in school history, a unit that has kept Carolina hovering around .500 the last two seasons. Many coaches will spend spring practice preaching physicality. The new defensive coordinator for the Tar Heels is making it part of his central platform.
“We point guys out in meetings that aren’t physical,” Chizik told Athlon Sports. “We’ll point them out and call them out. They know that if they’re not physical and taking the mentality of the physical defense, it’s going to be hard for them to play in it.”
At the same time, hiring Chizik, the former national championship coach at Auburn, to repair the North Carolina defense is as clear a signal as anything in that meeting room.
Cleaning house on the entire defensive coaching staff was a bold move for North Carolina, and one coach Larry Fedora had to make.
Just as players are going to have trouble staying on the field if they’re not playing with the edge Chizik desires, Fedora may have trouble staying at Carolina if Chizik’s defense doesn’t deliver.
There’s no way around it: North Carolina’s defense was historically bad last season. The Tar Heels couldn’t hide it.
• Three times North Carolina scored 35 points or more and lost because the Tar Heels gave up 70 (East Carolina) and 50 (Clemson and Notre Dame) in those games.
• The Tar Heels’ 497.8 yards allowed per game was the fourth-worst in ACC history and second-worst in UNC history.
• North Carolina was last in the ACC pass defense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense and yards allowed per carry. The Heels gave up 67 touchdowns last season, 22 more than the next worst team in the ACC.
• Opponents converted on 49 percent of third downs and scored touchdowns on 72.2 percent of red zone trips, both were among the five worst rates in the nation.
That is the situation Chizik is charged with repairing in his first coaching job since he was fired at Auburn after the 2012 season. With numbers like that, the problems are many — personnel, scheme, leadership, attitude, technique. Chizik keeps going back to square one this spring.
“The biggest thing we have to do is we got to change the mental picture and mindset of these guys,” Chizik said. “You can’t play a style of football without physicality being the No. 1 goal. I don’t feel like we’re there yet at all. They’ve got to learn how to play physical football and bring it every day.”
That much may be true, but Chizik is also changing the scheme at North Carolina, moving from Vic Koenning’s 4-2-5 defense to a more traditional 4-3. That leaves Chizik trying to figure out how last season’s personnel fit in the new look.
“It was recruited as a different defense,” Chizik said. “We’re trying to take some of the spots that are in-between guys. When you have a 4-2-5 you have some guys that are ‘tweener players, so we’ve got to find spots for those guys.”
Middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer is already one of the top players on the defense, and as a former walk-on safety, he should be plenty comfortable in coverage when North Carolina goes to the Tampa 2 look.
The defensive line has some promise, but the player with the highest ceiling is a true freshman in end Jalen Dalton, a top-100 prospect from Clemmons, N.C. The defensive backs return almost entirely intact, but this was a group torched for an ACC-record 31 touchdown passes.
This is the area where Chizik may need to thrive the most. His secondaries were the foundation of a national championship team at Texas in 2005 and an undefeated team at Auburn in 2004. Chizik coached three consecutive Thorpe Award winners from 2004-06 — Carlos Rogers at Auburn and Michael Huff and Aaron Ross at Texas.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 ACC Preview
Beyond the personnel, there’s the problem of his defenses getting off the field.
No ACC defense has been on the field in the last two seasons than North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense played 76.2 snaps per game in 2014 and 76.4 per game in 2013, both the highest rates in the conference in each of the last two seasons.
Opposing offenses aren’t going to change, and neither will Fedora’s up-tempo spread. So the defense has to change to stay off the field for 80 snaps in a game, as happened in four consecutive games at one point last season.
Chizik says the problem isn’t with conditioning, but if the Tar Heels get into a potential shootout, they’re going to need to be more mindful with substitutions.
“If it does become an 85-play game on defense, we’re going to have a great rotation plan with depth particularly early in the season,” Chizik said. “We can’t be afraid to substitute early in the game.”
Given his track record as a defensive coordinator, Chizik is pretty close to a sure-bet to fix North Carolina. He hasn’t been a coordinator since 2006, but he had a top-25 defense in each of his last four seasons as a DC at Texas and Auburn.
In six seasons as a head coach at Auburn and Iowa State, however, Chizik had as many winning seasons as seasons that finished 3-9 or worse.
There was also a consistent cloud of NCAA issues at Auburn from over-the-top recruiting practices that were eventually banned to pulling assistants off the recruiting trail to the Cam Newton saga that hounded Auburn throughout the the 2010 national championship season.
North Carolina has its own issues with an ongoing academic scandal that may or may not bring NCAA sanctions.
An independent report detailing academic fraud at UNC predates Fedora’s tenure and wasn’t limited to football, but that doesn’t mean the head football coach won’t spend time dealing with the fallout — among other issues.
Part of Chizik’s job, as he puts it, is to take the defense so Fedora doesn’t have to worry about the day-to-day issues on that side of the ball.
“Mack Brown used to tell me all the time: You have no idea the things that are behind the scenes that never get to you because it’s my job to put them out before they do,” Chizik said. “And I know that’s what Larry does. That’s why I want to take all the defensive issues off is plate to the best of my ability so that he can do his duties.”
That means a ton of long days from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., the kinds of days Chizik left behind when he was out of coaching for two seasons. During that time, he worked with the SEC Network and SiriusXM Radio and spent time with his family — his family still lives in Auburn while his daughter finishes school there.
“I hadn’t had many 17-hour days in the last two years,” Chizik said. “I haven’t had any. But I’ve had several in the last couple of months.”
And Chizik hopes eventually some of them will start to involve more praising his defense rather than calling out players.
The NBA Playoffs begin Friday, meaning the NBA coaching carousel is about to get started.
In most years, this is of secondary concern to the college ranks. The checkered track record of college coaches in the NBA, not to mention the wildly different job descriptions, have kept GMs and ADs in their own playgrounds.
The NBA and college coaching ranks have been a little more interchangeable than usual in recent years. Two new college hires for 2015-16 have been NBA head coaches (Alabama’s Avery Johnson and Nevada’s Eric Musselman). The success of former Butler coach Brad Stevens with the Celtics may earn some college coaches another look.
Then there are the usual college coaches with NBA ties who might see the allure in returning to the league, if not this season then perhaps in coming seasons.
With a recent report pegging Florida’s Billy Donovan as a potential candidate for the Oklahoma City Thunder (should they part ways with Scott Brooks), here are five coaches who might earn a look from the NBA in the coming years.
Billy Donovan, Florida
The rumors of Donovan taking a renewed look at the NBA have kicked up in recent months, and Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski names a potential destination of Oklahoma City. Donovan’s contract, extended by one year to 2020, contains a mere $500,000 buyout if he leaves for the NBA. There’s little more for him to accomplish at Florida with two national titles and four Final Fours and an almost certain induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Following the 2007 national title, Donovan was hired as the head coach for the Orlando Magic for a matter of days before having second thoughts and returning to the Gators.
John Calipari, Kentucky
Calipari’s 72-112 stint with the New Jersey Nets from 1996-99 was the least successful period of his career. For a coach as stubborn as Calipari, the opportunity to atone for that failed stint in the pros might be tough to resist. In coach years, that NBA stint was an eternity ago. He’s gone to four Final Fours, won a national title and sent dozens of players to the NBA since then. He could, presumably, land with a team that contains multiple players he coached in college. Calipari had already been offered a sweet deal by the Cleveland Cavaliers before this year’s 38-1 season.
Kevin Ollie, UConn
Ollie was already well-respected in NBA circles before leading the Huskies to the 2014 national championship. He’s a rising star in the profession and would have immediate credibility in an NBA locker room after 12 seasons in the league. The NBA would have to pry him away from his alma mater where he was the handpicked successor to Jim Calhoun.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Hoiberg has returned his alma mater to national prominence, taking the Cyclones to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history. He’s considered one of the sharpest offensive minds in college basketball in part because of his knack for analytics. His exposure to that was honed in the NBA when he worked in the front office for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Like Ollie, he’d have credibility as a former NBA player. Hoiberg is undergoing open heart surgery during the offseason to replace his aortic valve, a procedure related to the surgery that ended his playing career 10 years ago.
Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Like Ollie and Hoiberg, Krystkowiak comes from NBA stock, playing in the league for more than a decade. Unlike the other two, he’s been an NBA head coach before, going 31-69 in two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. Also unlike Ollie and Hoiberg, Krystkowiak isn’t an alum of his employer. His work at Utah can’t be denied as he’s led the Utes to progressive improvement during the last four seasons, culminating with their first Sweet 16 since 2004.
When Ohio State plays its spring game Saturday, the Buckeyes will be a long way from deciding their biggest offseason question as they head into 2015.
National championship quarterback Cardale Jones will start for one squad. Sophomore Stephen Collier will start for the other.
The spring game won’t include 2013 starter Braxton Miller and 2014 starter J.T. Barrett, who are sitting out this spring due to shoulders.
Naturally, coach Urban Meyer doesn’t expect to make his decision on a starting quarterback until closer to the season.
“I think the middle of training camp because I think every one of them deserve that opportunity and right now two of them aren’t getting it,” Meyer said. “I think by training camp you have to have a handle on that thing.”
Miller was lost for the 2014 season in August to a right shoulder injury. Barrett stepped in and set school records for touchdown passes and total offense before sustaining a shoulder injury of his own against Michigan. Jones then started the Big Ten championship game, the Sugar Bowl semifinal and the national championship game.
All three stayed at Ohio State when Miller could have transferred and been eligible immediately as a graduate transfer. Jones was eligible for the NFL Draft.
“The quarterbacks have continued to amaze me,” Meyer said. “The power of the unit is incredible in that room. Cardale has had a great spring. J.T. has had a very good spring. Braxton is right in the middle of it. You never knew how that dynamic would work out.”
The college basketball coaching carousel has slowed down with all but a handful of mid-major and low-major jobs filled.
Unless a college coach makes a leap to the NBA in the coming weeks and months, every major job is filled. All in all, this was a quiet year in the carousel, though three head coaches with Final Four experience took new jobs.
Only five jobs in the Power 5 conferences — Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas — opened this season. That, of course, doesn’t include notable openings at VCU, St. John’s and DePaul.
How did the most important hires grade out in 2015-16? Here’s a look at 13 of the key hires in college basketball this offseason.
Shaka Smart, Texas
Hired from: VCU
Replaced: Rick Barnes, hired at Tennessee
Texas needed to make a bold move to replace Barnes, a coach who ultimately fell victim to the expectations he raised in Austin. Smart certainly qualifies a bold hire. Smart resisted overtures from major programs since leading VCU to the Final Four in 2011, and now he'll be expected to challenge Kansas in the Big 12. The 38-year-old Smart brings energy, buzz, a defined style and a track record of success. VCU reached the NCAA Tournament in five of six years under Smart and three times finished second in conference play (once in the Colonial and twice in the more competitive Atlantic 10).
Ben Howland, Mississippi State
Hired from: N/A
Replaced: Rick Ray, hired at Southeast Missouri State
Howland’s track record is impeccable, including three consecutive Final Fours and four Pac-10/12 regular season titles at UCLA. Howland’s program tailed off after 2008 thanks to a few recruiting classes that didn’t pan out, but he still won a regular season title in his final year. Perhaps just as relevant to Mississippi State fans is Howland’s track record at Pitt, a moribund program that reached back-to-back Sweet 16s under his watch. Howland might not have produced enough for UCLA, but this is a home run hire for Mississippi State.
Avery Johnson, Alabama
Hired from: N/A
Replaced: Anthony Grant, hired as Florida assistant
A handful of former NBA coaches have tried their hand at college coaching in recent years. Few bring as successful a pro track record as Johnson, who went 194-70 in four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. Johnson has been an NBA coach of the year and reached the NBA Finals. Alabama ultimately failed in wooing Gregg Marshall from Wichita State, but the Crimson Tide still landed a coach who can hold his own against other recent SEC hires Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland.
Rick Barnes, Tennessee
Hired from: Texas
Replaced: Donnie Tyndall, fired
Barnes was out of work for all of two days before Tennessee hired the former Texas coach. His tenure, though, can be a bit divisive. He has missed the NCAA Tournament only once since 1996 and has 604 career wins. Yet he also left TExas fans wanting more. Since the 2003 Final Four, Barnes had three preseason top 10 teams fail to reach the Sweet 16 and at least seven Big 12 losses in each of the last four seasons. At Tennessee, he’ll recruit and he’ll lend a stabilizing hand to a program in desperate need of one.
Bill Carmody, Holy Cross
Hired from: N/A
Replaced: Milan Brown, fired
Carmody ultimately couldn’t get Northwestern over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament. He did make Northwestern more competitive with four consecutive NIT bids, which was an accomplishment itself. before Northwestern, Carmody was wildly successful at Princeton, going 27-2 and earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 1997-98. There’s little reason to believe he won’t be successful in the Patriot League.
Steve Donahue, Penn
Hired from: N/A
Replaced: Jerome Allen, fired
Donahue lasted only four seasons at Boston College, but he’s returning to the stage were he had success. Donahue rebuilt a dormant Cornell program into a three-time Ivy League champion and a team that reached the Sweet 16 in 2010. Penn, an NCAA regular under Fran Dunphy from 1993-2006, believes it is getting a sure thing.
Will Wade, VCU
Hired from: Chattanooga
Replaced: Shaka Smart, hired at Texas
This was a natural move for VCU as Wade was an assistant for four seasons under Smart before taking the head coaching position for two seasons at Chattanooga. The Mocs improved from 8-10 in Southern Conference the year before he arrived to 12-4 in his first year to 15-3 in his second. He arrives in a pressure-packed situation in following the most successful coach in a run of three consecutive successful coaches. The 32-year-old Wade is the only one of the last four Rams coaches — Anthony Grant and Jeff Capel were the other two — to arrive at VCU with head coaching experience.
Eric Musselman, Nevada
Hired from: LSU (associate head coach)
Replaced: David Carter, fired
Nevada hopes the well-traveled Musselman will give a jolt to program that slipped from one of the best mid-majors to 9-22 last season. Musselman, a former NBA, Continental Basketball Association and international head coach, has been working to rebuild his career after a DUI arrest during the preseason of his final year with the Sacramento Kings. When he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors for two seasons in 2002-04, he was considered an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. He’s spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Arizona and LSU.
Chris Mullin, St. John’s
Hired from: Sacramento Kings front office
Replaced: Steve Lavin, fired
Mullin’s place in St. John’s history is secure. He’s one of the best players in school history, the program’s all-time leading scorer and a three-time Big East Player of the Year. He’s a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist. Now, St. John’s hopes he’s the guy who can return the program to glory. He’s never been a coach, spending his post-playing career in NBA front offices. Does the Mullin name connect with recruits? Perhaps not, but few will be better able to articulate the potential of the program like Mullin. Hiring assistants from Kentucky (Barry Rohrssen) and Iowa State (Matt Abdelmassih) is a good sign for recruiting.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State
Hired from: Buffalo
Replaced: Herb Sendek, fired
One could argue the most impressive Hurley brother in the mid-major ranks between Dan at Wagner and Rhode Island and Bobby at Buffalo. Bobby, though, has the NCAA Tournament appearance with Buffalo last season. He’s also spent his entire coaching career in the Northeast, so his assistant hires at Arizona State will be key.
Brian Wardle, Bradley
Hired from: Green Bay
Replaced: Geno Ford, fired
Wardle was never able to get Green Bay to the NCAA Tournament, but his tenure was nonetheless impressive. The Phoenix were one of the nation’s top mid-majors the recent years, winning 24 games in each of the last two seasons for their best two-year total total since Dick Bennett was the coach in the early 90s. The 35-year-old Wardle played and coached under Tom Crean at Marquette and went to high school in the Chicago area. That should serve him well in Peoria. One concern: Wardle was accused in 2013 of player mistreatment but ultimately retained his post at Green Bay.
Dave Paulsen, George Mason
Hired from: Bucknell
Replaced: Paul Hewitt, fired
After a short-lived tenure by a former high-major coach, George Mason returned to the approach it had when it hired Jim Larranaga in 1997 by hiring a consistent coach coach from the lower levels. Paulsen coached seven seasons at Bucknell, winning a Patriot League title in four of the last five seasons. Paulsen also won a Division III national title at Williams College in 2003.
Dave Leitao, DePaul
Hired from: Missouri (assistant coach)
Replaced: Oliver Purnell, fired
DePaul can at least it hired a coach it knows can win at DePaul. That description doesn’t apply to many active coaches. Leitao is the last coach to take DePaul to the NCAA Tournament — back in 2004. Leitao went 63-60 in his last head coaching gig at Virginia from 2005-09. For a program in desperate need of energy, this hire did not check that box.
New Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock didn’t receive a ringing endorsement from one of his former teammates at Iowa.
“I thought he had a little more fight in him,” defensive end Drew Ott said on Wednesday’s Big Ten spring teleconference. “But maybe an opportunity (arose) over there at Michigan.”
Rudock started 25 games in two seasons at Iowa last season, but was slated to back up C.J. Beathard in 2015. As a graduate student, Rudock was permitted to transfer and play at his new destination without sitting out a year.
Listen: Early 2015 Big Ten preview
In a departure from what most program have done in the past, Iowa allowed Rudock to transfer anywhere, including within the Big Ten.
Rudock is expected to compete for the Michigan starting quarterback job with junior Shane Morris, redshirt freshman Wilton Speight and freshman Alex Malzone when in the fall. Michigan formally announced Rudock’s arrival Thursday.
Ott is a defensive player, so his insight on Rudock wouldn’t be quite as revealing as a wide receiver, for example, but he was asked his opinion anyway.
What kind of player is Michigan getting?
“A smart football player,” Ott said. “He’s going to run an offense and know what to do.”
Is he a leader?
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask someone else.”
Rudock completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,436 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Iowa will not play Michigan during the regular season in 2015.
Texas coach Charlie Strong and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin would like to coach against each other. Presumably as the coaches of Texas A&M.
Strong and Sumlin both told ESPN.com’s Chris Low they’d like to see one of the best rivalries in college football resume. The series was among several great rivalries ended due to conference realignment.
"That game is so much a part of this state," Strong told ESPN.com. "Over 100 years, we've played that game. Why stop it now because we're in different conferences? At some point, when it's right for everybody with the different schedules, I would love to play Texas A&M again."
The rivalry, which was played nearly every year between 1915 and 2011, ended when Texas A&M departed the Big 12. The move of the Aggies and Missouri to the SEC and Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 put the existence of the Big 12 in jeopardy.
The Big 12 stabilized its 10-team membership with the addition of West Virginia and TCU in 2012. The league’s status may be further solidified as the NCAA appears to have softened its stance on the rule prohibiting 10-team leagues holding a conference championship game.
"Now, moving into Year 4 (of SEC membership) and listening to our former students and our alumni base and knowing a lot of Texas alums, it's important that we play again," Sumlin told ESPN.com. "I think it will happen somewhere down the road.”
The question is scheduling. The next time both teams have a vacancy on their schedules is 2019. The relationship between the two schools has been frigid since conference realignment, but both schools have new athletic directors — Steve Patterson at Texas and Eric Hyman at Texas A&M — since 2012.
Thanksgiving hasn’t been the same since the Texas A&M and Missouri started hanging out with the SEC. Or since West Virginia and Pitt started rolling with the Big 12 and ACC, respectively.
Conference realignment ended a handful of traditional rivalries, either because of scheduling conflicts or acrimonious relationships.
In other words, no more Texas-Texas A&M. No more Backyard Brawl. No more Border War.
Rivalry week isn’t what it used to be, and, frankly, we’d wish everyone would just get along. Here’s a look at what conference changes have cost the sport in terms of history and tradition.
Last played: 2011
Played on Thanksgiving in most years, this heated rivalry ended when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC. The 2012 season maked the first time since 1915 that A&M and Texas haven’t been in the same league — both were charter members of the Southwest Conference and then the Big 12. Few rivalries run as deep in the traditions of each school. Both fight songs mention the other (“Goodbye to Texas University. So long to the Orange and White” in the Aggie War Hymn, “And it’s goodbye to Texas A&M” in Texas Fight). Bevo has been kidnapped through the course of the rivalry, so has Reveille. Long in the shadow of the Longhorns, Texas A&M broke with Texas to join the SEC this season. For now, the best chance of a game between the two may be the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Last played: 2011
Separated by 80 miles, the Backyard Brawl was turned up a notch when Pittsburgh stopped playing its other top rival, Penn State. With both teams in the Big East and the game taking place in the final week of November in all but one year since 1997, the rivalry took a new look. The most significant game in the rivalry, though, was in 2007 when a then-No. 2 West Virginia team lost its bid to the national championship thanks to a monumental 13-9 upset to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team.
Last played: 2011
Just because the Border War (now the Border Showdown) doesn’t rise to the same level of national attention as Michigan-Ohio State or the Iron Bowl, that doesn’t make it any less nasty across all sports. Before Missouri left for the SEC, Kansas-Missouri was the oldest rivalry West of the Mississippi. The series has included brawls, conniving and upsets over the years. But now it’s just a Cold War. While he won’t be the final say, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self has indicated he wouldn’t mind of the Jayhawks never played Missouri again.
Last played: 2010
Consider this: there’s a whole generation out there that never watched Nebraska and Oklahoma face off on Thanksgiving. As the Big Eight’s preeminent powers during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, one program in the rivalry was a consistent foil for the other. At one point, the winner of this game won the Big Eight in 31 of 36 seasons, including the 1971 Game of the Century between the No. 1 Cornhuskers and No. 2 Sooners. The formation of the Big 12 ended this game as an annual event, and Nebraska’s departure for the Big Ten ended regular meetings altogether. A sliver of good news, though: The series has been scheduled for a non-conference home-and-home in 2021-22.
Last played: 2014
The Michigan-Notre Dame series has been marked by lulls from 1944-77 and 1910-41, but the two teams have met nearly every year since 1978. The series was an apparent casualty from Notre Dame’s agreement to face four or five ACC schools every season. It remains to be seen how the arrangement will affect Notre Dame’s other traditional games against Michigan State and Purdue. Notre Dame has indicated its top rivalries to preserve would be those with USC, Navy and Stanford.
Last played: 2000
This used to be the biggest rivalry game for both schools, but it was at its best in the late 1970s and 80s when Pitt was a national title contender under Jackie Sherrill and Johnny Majors. Penn State coach Joe Paterno was not the biggest fan of Sherrill, and Pittsburgh was not the biggest fan of the Eastern football league Paterno hoped to establish. Pitt joined the Big East instead. When Penn State joined the Big Ten, it all but ended the series.
Last played: 2008
Once the longest running series in the Sunshine State ended when the SEC moved to an eight-game schedule. The Gators kept their annual series with Florida State, set in motion by the state legislature (Miami also continued to play FSU every year well before both were in the ACC). Florida and Miami played every year from 1938-87, ending just as both programs achieved national prominence. The two teams met intermittently since, but they’ve played only five times since the series ended.
Last played: 2014
The two programs have played only three times in the regular season since Arkansas left the Southwest Conference in 1992. The most recent meeting was a 31-7 Arkansas win in the Texas Bowl last season. The rivalry was at its best when the top two coaches for each school — Darrell Royal at Texas and Frank Broyles at Arkansas — overlapped from 1958-78. In 1969, No. 1 Texas defeated No. 2 Arkansas 15-14 on Dec. 2 of that season. In that famous game, President Richard Nixon attended and declared the Longhorns national champions.
Last played: 2013
Perhaps the biggest basketball casualty due to realignment is the end of Georgetown-Syracuse with the Orange joining the ACC in 2013-14. By the time Syracuse and Georgetown helped launch Big East basketball in 1979-80, Jim Boeheim had already begun to build his program. The advent of the league also coincided with the rise of John Thompson with the Hoyas. One of the first meeting of the two as Big East members — a Georgetown victory at Syracuse’s Manley Field House to end the Orange’s 57-game home winning streak — set the tone for the rest of the rivalry.
Last played: 2014
Back before Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech joined, ACC basketball was iconic. Maryland was on a virtual island, isolated from the heart of ACC country on Tobacco Road. The Terrapins still tabbed Duke as their top rivalry, though the Blue Devils spent more time agonizing over what was going on in Chapel Hill instead. When both programs were at the top of their games, however, when Gary Williams faced off against Mike Krzyzewski, this series was tough to beat.
College baseball can be a strange sport. Aluminum bats, suspect pitching and liberal scheduling of double headers all lead to some strange scores and comebacks.
This one, though, stands apart: Minnesota State 41, Bemidji State 20.
Just another day in Division II baseball between two in-state foes in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. This game remarkably didn’t set a record. Division Robert Morris (Ill.) defeated St. Francis (Ill.) 71-1 in a game in 1996 for the highest scoring NCAA baseball game.
This game was the second of a double header and the second of four games between the two schools on Saturday and Sunday. Minnesota State won the series 10-9, 41-20, 14-4 and 23-1. The double headers, it seems, are a norm for Minnesota State, which has had nine of them since March 20.
The box score is a work of art. Here are some of the best highlights:
• The listed attendance was 125. That’s about two runs per fan.
• Minnesota State needed only 35 hits for those 41 runs thanks to six errors, eight walks and three hit batsmen.
• The first plate appearance in the top of the first inning? A hit by pitch.
• The first plate appearance in the top of the second? A throwing error by the third baseman.
• Minnesota State led 22-18 to start the seventh inning and 27-20 to start the eighth before a 14-run final inning. The game ended due to the mercy rule.
• Pitchers combined for five bases loaded walks, two by the team that won.
• Bemidji State’s WHIP was 5.375.
• Bemidji State pitcher Derek Masberg faced 10 batters in the eighth without recording an out.
• Bemidji State Collin Eckman came into the game as a pinch hitter in the second and still finished 4-of-4 with seven RBI and five runs.
• Minnesota State batted around in the second and third and twice in the eighth
• Bemidji State batted around in the second and sixth. Bemidji State went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth to end the game.
Here are the Minnesota State’s live tweets from the game:
Celebrating before the goal line is something we’ve seen all too often in college football.
Apparently, this happens in track, too. Oregon senior Tanguy Pepiot was close to wrapping up the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Pepsi Invitational on Saturday when he motioned for the home crowd in Eugene to cheer.
Washington junior Meron Simon made up ground on his showboating rival to win the race by a tenth of a second. Oregon, though, still won the meet.
Remember, kids, don’t showboat until after you’ve crossed the finish line or goal line or what have you.
ESPN’s Saturday College Football Final will have a new look during the 2015 season.
Analyst Lou Holtz and ESPN have parted ways by a “mutual agreement,” SI.com’s Richard Deitsch reported Sunday night. Holtz, the 78-year-old former Notre Dame coach, appeared on much of ESPN’s college football programming, including the Saturday College Football Final and the network’s Thursday night game.
In May, Holtz told 247Sports.com that he intended to retire after the 2014 season.
Holtz’s departure is the second from the Saturday night recap show. Host Rece Davis will host College GameDay, replacing Chris Fowler. Mark May is the only remaining member of the three-man team on College Football Final.
Presumably the Dr. Lou segment, the halftime pep talk and Final Courtroom courtroom arguments are gone from ESPN for good.
As a example of what we'll all miss, here’s Holtz going crazy with a cowbell for some reason:
Kentucky’s NBA Draft prospects left little room for drama. Seven Wildcats announced — simultaneously — that they’d head for the NBA Draft on Thursday, less than a week after their what would be their final game for Kentucky.
At this rate, it’s easier to note who will be back at Kentucky for 2015-16. Let's start with point guard Tyler Ulis, junior forward Marcus Lee and injured senior Alex Poythress.
Those three, plus an incomplete recruiting class that already ranks No. 1 in the country, is enough for a competitive team next season. Athlon Sports ranked the Wildcats No. 2 in its early top 25 for 2015-16.
The draft announcements were just one domino as John Calipari assembles his roster for 2015-16. Kentucky has three commitments for the 2015 and should add a few more blue chip prospects as recruiting continues into the summer.
So how might this shake out for Kentucky next season. First, let’s take a look at the roster how it stands:
PG Tyler Ulis, 5-9/155, Soph.
SG Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3/200, Fr.
SF Alex Poythress, 6-8/238, Sr.
PF Marcus Lee, 6-9/220, Jr.
C Skal Labissiere 6-10/200, Fr.
G Charles Matthews, 6-6/172, Fr.
G Dominique Hawkins, 6-0/195, Jr.
F Derek Willis, 6-9/220, Jr.
That’s already a solid group that may be the favorite in the SEC. The 5-9 Ulis is not the typical Calipari point guard, both in stature and experience. He’s also mighty efficient. Despite coming off the bench, Ulis ranked 71st nationally in offensive rating on KenPom.com, better than anyone else on Kentucky besides Karl-Anthony Towns. Ulis led Kentucky in assist rate and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Poythress played only eight games last season due to a torn ACL. He’s standout defender on the wing who averaged 11.2 points per game as a freshman in 2012-13. Lee hasn’t been able to get regular minutes on Kentucky’s last two teams. He’s a springy forward whose claim to fame is seven offensive rebounds against Michigan in last year’s Elite Eight while Willie Cauley-Stein was injured.
Center Skal Labissiere of Memphis is the highlight of the recruiting class, and he’ll fit right into Calipari’s tradition of highly drafted big men. He’ll open the season in the discussion for the No. 1 overall draft pick, but looming NCAA issues could cost him a few games.
Kentucky, of course, is in on a few major recruits. Here’s quick run down:
• Combo guard Malik Newman, a McDonald’s All-American, could play in the off guard role similar to Devin Booker, but he could produce at greater volume without a platoon system at Kentucky next season. He’s also considering Mississippi State, LSU and Kansas. Newman’s father, Horatio Webster, played basketball at Mississippi State.
• Forward Jaylen Brown has as many as eight schools on his final list, which he announced Tuesday. He’s the No. 2 prospect in the class behind LSU’s Ben Simmons, according to 247Sports.com.
• Power forward Thon Maker is a seven-footer from Toronto looking to reclassify to the 2015 class. His recruitment has been a bit bizarre.
• Center Stephen Zimmerman is another McDonald’s All-American big man who is considering Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona, Kansas and UNLV (Zimmerman goes to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman).
Not all national champions are created equal, especially in college basketball.
With 64 teams — and now 68 — competing for a national title, the odds for a random result in the postseason is almost certain.
In some ways, that makes sustained greatness through the course of the season even more impressive. Only one team since the field expanded has gone wire-to-wire as a No. 1 team in the country, far fewer than the number of great teams that didn’t win a title.
Thanks to the three weeks of the NCAA Tournament, a handful of teams that won a national title might not end up on a list of the top 40 or 50 teams of the era. Instead, they got hot that the right time, caught the right matchups or got lucky that upsets in the bracket helped clear the way for a title.
In ranking the top national champions of the 64-team era, starting in 1985, we attempted to look at the entire picture — chiefly, how the team performed from beginning to end during the season, who each team had to beat in the Tournament and the overall talent on the roster.
Check back after Monday’s title game to find where this year’s winner ranks — and if that team is able to claim the No. 1 spot.
1. 1992 Duke
Record: 34-2, 14-2 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Michigan 71-51
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Duke won the national title a year earlier, vanquishing undefeated UNLV in the Final Four. That was only the beginning. The Blue Devils went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country, ending the season with a rout of the Fab Five in the championship game. Before that, national player of the year Christian Laettner hit the the greatest shot in NCAA history for the Blue Devils to defeat Kentucky in overtime in the Elite Eight. In the next game, Mike Krzyzewski had to out-duel mentor Bob Knight in an 81-78 win over Indiana in the Final Four.
2. 1996 Kentucky
Record: 34-2, 16-0 SEC
Championship game: Defeated Syracuse 76-67
Coach: Rick Pitino
“The Untouchables” outscored opponents by 22 points, and their only regular season losses came to teams that reached the Final Four. Kentucky atoned for one of those losses by defeating UMass, national player of the year Marcus Camby and coach John Calipari in the national semifinal. Led by Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker, Kentucky finished off Syracuse in the title game for the Wildcats’ first national title since 1978.
3. 2001 Duke
Record: 35-4, 13-3 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Arizona 82-72
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
The Blue Devils featured two national players of the year in Shane Battier and Jay Williams, who won the award a year earlier. Duke spent the entire season in the top five but needed the biggest comeback in Final Four history to that point to advance to the title game. Duke trailed Maryland by 22 in the first half before rallying for a 95-84 win to face Glibert Arenas and Richard Jefferson for Arizona in the title game.
4. 2012 Kentucky
Record: 38-2, 16-0 SEC
Championship game: Defeated Kansas 67-59
Coach: John Calipari
Perhaps the Kentucky team with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe a year earlier was more talented, but this squad was pretty darn close. Anthony Davis won pretty much every award in the sport before being the No. 1 overall draft pick. Despite the two losses, Kentucky defeated every team it faced — the Wildcats lost in the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt, a team it had defeated twice during the regular season, and then atoned for its one-point loss to Indiana in December with a 102-90 win over the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16. Teammates Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the top two picks in the following NBA draft.
5. 2009 North Carolina
Record: 34-4, 13-3 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Michigan State 89-72
Coach: Roy Williams
Led by national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, North Carolina was a dominant team for most of the season but especially in the postseason. The Heels’ 72-60 win over Blake Griffin and Oklahoma was their closest game in the NCAA Tournament.
6. 1990 UNLV
Record: 35-5, 16-2 Big West
Championship game: Defeated Duke 103-73
Coach: Jerry Tarkanian
The 1991 team that went to the Final Four with a 34-0 record was the better UNLV team of the two during this stretch, but the 1990 squad won the national title behind the play of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony. The Rebels stunned Duke 103-73, setting the stage for the Blue Devils’ win over UNLV the following year in the Final Four.
7. 2005 North Carolina
Record: 33-4, 14-2 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Illinois 75-70
Coach: Roy Williams
North Carolina’s first championship team since 1993 and Roy Williams’ first title-winning team spent most of the season in the shadow of 37-2 Illinois. The Tar Heels settled that once and for all with a 75-70 win over the Illini in the national title game. In the following NBA draft, four Tar Heels (Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants) were lottery picks.
8. 2008 Kansas
Record: 37-3, 13-3 Big 12
Championship game: Defeated Memphis 75-68 (OT)
Coach: Bill Self
Kansas’ first championship team in 20 years wasn’t quite a sure thing, even though the Jayhawks spent all but one week of the season ranked in the top five. To reach a Final Four that included all No. 1 seeds, Kansas had to survive Stephen Curry-led Davidson with a 59-57 win in the Elite Eight and then needed a Mario Chalmers miracle shot and missed free throws from Memphis to clinch the title.
9. 1999 UConn
Record: 34-2, 16-2 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Duke 77-74
Coach: Jim Calhoun
After knocking on the door several times, UConn won the national title in its first trip to the Final Four. Led by Rip Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin, the Huskies spent the entire season ranked in the top four before defeating Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Duke in the national title game.
10. 2004 UConn
Record: 33-6, 12-4 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Georgia Tech 82-73
Coach: Jim Calhoun
Calhoun’s second national title team was loaded with NBA Draft picks. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were selected second and third overall, respectively, in the 2004 draft, and Charlie Villanueva followed as a first-round pick in the 2005 draft. Josh Boone and Marcus Williams, late first-rounders in 2006, were both freshmen on this team.
11. 1987 Indiana
Record: 30-4, 15-3 Big Ten
Championship game: Defeated Syracuse 74-73
Coach: Bob Knight
The first season with the 3-point shot was indeed a game-changer as this Final Four was marked more by run Rick Pitino’s Providence team made to the national semifinal. Knight’s team, led by Steve Alford, showed plenty of ability to adjust, defeating UNLV 97-93 in the semifinals and Syracuse 74-73 in the title game.
12. 2015 Duke
Record: 35-4, 15-3
Championship game: Defeated Wisconsin 68-63
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
This Duke team will be remembered for what it accomplished for Krzyzewski — his fifth national title and his 1,000th career win, among other records broken this season. It was also one of his most unique teams, starting three freshmen and playing zone from time to time. The Blue Devils spent all season in the top five and lost twice after Jan. 13, both to the same Notre Dame team that took Kentucky to the wire in the Elite Eight. All-American Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow could be top-five picks, and Tyus Jones could be a first-rounder.
13. 1991 Duke
Record: 32-7, 11-3 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Kansas 72-65
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
The Blue Devils made up for a 30-point loss to UNLV in the title game a year earlier by spoiling UNLV’s undefeated season in the Final Four. Though this was a team amid a run of five Final Fours and on the front end of back-to-back titles, this Duke team spent most of 1990-91 chasing UNLV, Ohio State, Arkansas and Indiana in the rankings.
14. 2007 Florida
Record: 35-5, 13-3 SEC
Championship game: Defeated Ohio State 84-75
Coach: Billy Donovan
The second of Florida’s back-to-back champions had the tougher mountain to climb, not just because the Gators were the preseason No. 1. This Florida team needed to defeat Aaron Brooks-led Oregon in the Elite Eight, UCLA in the Final Four and then a Greg Oden/Mike Conley Ohio State team in the championship game.
15. 1994 Arkansas
Record: 31-3, 14-2 SEC
Championship game: Defeated Duke 76-72
Coach: Nolan Richardson
Arkansas and the 40 Minutes of Hell won the first title for the SEC since 1978, going through Michigan (with four of the Fab Five still remaining), Arizona and Duke (led by Grant Hill).
16. 1993 North Carolina
Record: 34-3, 14-2 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Michigan 77-71
Coach: Dean Smith
Smith’s final national championship run had to go through four coaches who would finish their careers with national titles or Hall of Fame inclusion or both: Nolan Richardson, Bob Huggins, Roy Williams and Steve Fisher. The title game would end on Chris Webber’s infamous timeout blunder.
17. 2002 Maryland
Record: 32-4, 15-1 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Indiana 64-52
Coach: Gary Williams
This might not be the most memorable national champion for a handful of reasons. Juan Dixon lost out on national player of the year to Duke’s Jay Williams, and the team had few other prominent players (Steve Blake ended up as this team’s best pro). The Terrapins lost only one ACC game (at Duke) during the regular season before defeating Kentucky, UConn, Kansas and Indiana in the Tournament.
18. 1995 UCLA
Record: 31-2, 16-2 Pac-12
Championship game: Defeated Arkansas 89-78
Coach: Jim Harrick
UCLA’s championship team and the only Bruins title team not coached by John Wooden was saved in the second round by a layup from Tyus Edney for a come-from-behind win over Missouri.
19. 2013 Louisville
Record: 35-5, 14-4 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Michigan 82-76
Coach: Rick Pitino
The 2013 Cardinals were the rare national champion to endure a three-game losing streak at some point during its championship season (to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown in January). The Cards also faced only one top-three seed (No. 2 Duke in the Elite Eight) in its Tourney run.
20. 1998 Kentucky
Record: 35-4, 14-2 SEC
Championship game: Defeated Utah 78-69
Coach: Tubby Smith
For Kentucky’s second title in three seasons, the Wildcats needed to overcome double-digit deficits in each of their final three games.
21. 2010 Duke
Record: 35-5, 13-3 ACC
Championship game: Defeated Butler 61-59
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Duke has had better championships teams and better teams that didn’t win a title. That said, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler gave us a classic title game that was also one of the sport’s great what-if moments when Gordon Hayward’s final shot attempt fell short.
22. 1989 Michigan
Record: 30-7, 12-6 Big Ten
Championship game: Defeated Seton Hall 80-79
Coach: Steve Fisher
One of the truly bizarre national championship runs in the history of the sport. Michigan was a preseason top-three team and then went through a 5-5 stretch in the conference season. All of that was before athletic director Bo Schembechler replaced coach Bill Frieder, who had accepted the job at Arizona State, with Steve Fisher for the NCAA Tournament.
23. 2003 Syracuse
Record: 30-5, 13-3 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Kansas 81-78
Coach: Jim Boeheim
One may ask why a Syracuse team led by Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is this low. Before the Tournament, this was was not one of Boeheim’s best teams. Those three great players lost to Rutgers in January and spent the first two months of the season unranked.
24. 1997 Arizona
Record: 25-9, 11-7 Pac-10
Championship game: Defeated Kentucky 84-79 (OT)
Coach: Lute Olson
Even with Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson, Arizona didn’t have many guarantees entering the 1997 Tournament. They lost seven conference games during the regular season but defeated three No. 1 seeds and a handful of future pros on the way to the title — Kansas (with Paul Piece and Raef LaFrentz), North Carolina (with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison) and Kentucky (with Scott Padgett, Ron Mercer and Nazr Mohammed)
25. 2000 Michigan State
Record: 32-7, 13-3 Big Ten
Championship game: Defeated Florida 89-76
Coach: Tom Izzo
This was the high point of Izzo’s magic touch in March. The Spartans won the Big Ten and earned a No. 1 seed, but they were hardly a dominant team all season. They also had a draw that included a No. 8 seed and a No. 5 in the Final Four.
26. 2006 Florida
Record: 33-6, 10-6 SEC
Championship game: Defeated UCLA 73-57
Coach: Billy Donovan
Between his first Final Four and his first national title, Donovan was snakebit for several years in the first weekend of the Tournament. This run from a team that lost six games in the SEC was a major surprise.
27. 1988 Kansas
Record: 27-11, 9-5 Big 8
Championship game: Defeated Oklahoma 83-79
Coach: Larry Brown
How can a team coached by a Hall of Famer and led by a national player of the year, Danny Manning, be this low? Danny and the Miracles were 18-11 and unranked entering the NCAA Tournament.
28. 1986 Louisville
Record: 32-7, 10-2 Metro
Championship game: Defeated Duke 72-69
Coach: Denny Crum
A great nickname (“Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison) and an upset of Duke in the title game made this Tournament run memorable. Otherwise, Louisville spent only three weeks of the season ranked in the top 10.
29. 2011 UConn
Record: 32-9, 9-9 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Butler 53-41
Coach: Jim Calhoun
The Big East was loaded in 2010-11, so that .500 league record has to be taken in context. Still, UConn went 4-7 in its last 11 games before the Big East Tournament. Kemba Walker caught fire in the postseason before a dud of a national title game against Butler.
30. 2014 UConn
Record: 32-8, 12-6 American
Championship game: Defeated Kentucky 60-54
Coach: Kevin Ollie
A pedestrian regular season became special when Shabazz Napier led UConn to wins over No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 1 Florida and No. 8 Kentucky. The latter was the last time the Wildcats lost a game.
31. 1985 Villanova
Record: 25-10, 9-7 Big East
Championship game: Defeated Georgetown 66-64
Coach: Rollie Massimino
A Big East team winning a title wasn’t a surprise in a year when Georgetown and St. John’s spent time as the No. 1 team in the rankings. Villanova, led by top-10 draft pick Ed Pinckney, remains the lowest-seeded team to win the national championship (eighth).
A champion has been crowned in college basketball, and while the shining moment will continue in Durham, the rest of the sport is starting to look to 2015-16.
Some programs are under more pressure than others in the coming days and weeks. Underclassmen will start to consider the NBA Draft, recruits will commit, and transfers will come and go.
We don’t have the most clear picture yet of what the start of 2015-16 will look like, but we’re nevertheless curious.
Here’s our first look at the top 25 for 2015-16, a list that’s certain to change based on the draft, recruiting or more time for thought on our part about the year ahead.
*indicates underclassmen who haven’t declared for the draft, but are still projected to be high first-round draft picks.
1. North Carolina (26-12, 11-7 ACC)
Returnees: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, F Isaiah Hicks, G Nate Britt, G Joel Berry
Outlook: The Tar Heels’ roster returns virtually intact with each of the top 10 scorers returning to Chapel Hill. After years of roster turnover and un-North Carolina-like results in the ACC, the fortunes should be ready to turn. Paige will be a National Player of the Year candidate and the cast around him continues to improve.
2. Kentucky (38-1, 18-0 SEC)
Losses: F Karl-Anthony Towns*, C Willie Cauley-Stein*, G Aaron Harrison*, G Andrew Harrison*, F Trey Lyles*, G Devin Booker*
Returnees: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, C Dakari Johnson, F Marcus Lee
New arrivals: C Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews
Outlook: Expectations may be tempered after the last two seasons, especially if everyone who could leave for the NBA Draft does. Ulis is a playmaker, and at 5-foot-9, he’s not going pro. As usual, Kentucky adds the No. 1 recruiting class, though this one includes “merely” two top-20 recruits in Labissiere and Briscoe so far. Kentucky is still in on as many as five top-10 recruits who are likely waiting to see who goes to the draft for the Wildcats or other teams.
3. Virginia (30-4, 16-2 ACC)
Losses: F Darion Atkins
Returnees: G Malcolm Brogdon, G Justin Anderson, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes
Outlook: The Cavaliers will be loaded with seniors after back-to-back ACC regular season titles. The biggest question will be if Anderson takes a look at the NBA Draft. Virginia lost three of its last five (albeit to teams that made the Sweet 16 or better in Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan State), but the Cavs should continue to be contenders.
4. Duke (35-4, 15-3 ACC)
Losses: G Quinn Cook, C Jahlil Okafor*, F Justise Winslow*
Returnees: G Tyus Jones, F Amile Jefferson, G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen
New arrivals: F Chase Jeter, G Luke Kennard, F Sean Obi
Outlook: The biggest decision will be that of point guard Tyus Jones, who may be a late first-rounder. If he returns, Duke will be among the national elite. As usual, Duke has talent waiting in the wings and arriving to the program. Obi is a Rice transfer who will be a key big man after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
5. Maryland (28-7, 14-4 Big Ten)
Losses: G Dez Wells, G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz
Returnees: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Jared Nickens, G Dion Wiley
New arrivals: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter jr.
Outlook: Maryland was one of the biggest surprises in 2014-15, finishing second in the Big Ten. Next season will bring legitimate expectations. That’s because standout freshmen Melo Trimble and Jake Layman will be sophomores and because landing the top-10 prospect Stone was a major coup for Mark Turgeon. Forward Robert Carter Jr. also will be eligible after averaging 11.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14.
6. Michigan State (27-12, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Travis Trice, F Branden Dawson
Returnees: G Denzel Valentine, G Bryn Forbes, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling, F Marvin Clark Jr., G Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
New arrivals: G Eron Harris
Outlook: Michigan State will miss Trice’s scoring punch and Dawson’s rebounding. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game for West Virginia in 2013-14, will help the former. Tum Tum Nairn will hold down the point guard spot and take over leadership of the team as just a sophomore.
7. Kansas (27-9, 13-5 Big 12)
Losses: G Kelly Oubre
Returnees: F Perry Ellis, G Frank Mason, F Cliff Alexander, G Wayne Selden, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
New arrivals: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Kansas’ prospects depend quite a bit on potential NBA Draft departures, most notably the decision of Ellis. Even if the superstars are gone, are you going to be against Bill Self in the Big 12? Kansas is still on a couple of top 10 recruits for next year’s class.
8. Iowa State (25-9, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue
Returnees: F Georges Niang, G Monte Morris, F Jameel McKay, F Abdel Nader
New arrivals: G Hallice Cooke, G Deonte Burton
Outlook: The Cyclones are in good hands with Niang and Morris still on board. As usual, transfers — Cooke from Oregon State, and Burton, a point guard from Marquette — will round things out.
9. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 West Coast)
Losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Byron Wesley, G Gary Bell Jr.
Returnees: F Kyle Wiltjer, C Przemek Karnowski, F Domantas Sabonis, G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan
Outlook: Replacing Pangos at point guard will be no small issue. Otherwise, this is a team built for another run. The replacements include a handful of players who saw few if any minutes last season — McClellan (who was dismissed from Vanderbilt before landing at Gonzaga), Josh Perkins (who missed all but five games with a broken jaw) or redshirt Bryan Alberts.
10. Notre Dame (32-6, 14-4 ACC)
Losses: G Jerian Grant, G Pat Connaughton
Returnees: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson, G Steve Vasturia, F Bonzie Colson
Outlook: The departures of Grant and Connaughton probably mean Notre Dame won’t come within a hair of the Final Four again, but there are plenty of pieces for Notre Dame to make noise in the ACC. Colson is a future star.
11. NC State (22-14, 10-8 ACC)
Losses: G Ralston Turner
Returnees: G Trevor Lacey, G Cat Barber, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F Caleb Martin, F Beejay Anya
Outlook: Perhaps another year of Lacey and Barber and the rest of them playing together will help NC State hit its ceiling more often. That will be the expectation.
12. Wisconsin (36-4, 16-2 Big Ten)
Losses: F Frank Kaminsky, F Sam Dekker*, G Traevon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, F Duje Dukan
Returnees: F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter
New arrivals: G Brevin Pritzl
Outlook: Hayes’ decision regarding the NBA Draft will be closely watched. His return means Wisconsin will remain in the Big Ten race. The Badgers lose a ton of experience from this year’s Final Four team, but rest assured Bo Ryan has something up his sleeve.
13. Indiana (20-14, 9-9 Big Ten)
Returnees: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon Jr., F Troy Williams, G Robert Johnson, G Nick Zeisloft, F Hanner Mosquera-Perea
New arrivals: F Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan
Outlook: Tom Crean could be well-positioned to return to the good graces of Indiana fans next season. Nearly everyone is back, and the frontcourt will get some desperately needed help from the 6-10 Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American who committed to IU last week.
14. Arizona (34-4, 16-2 Pac-12)
Losses: F Stanley Johnson*, G T.J. McConnell, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley
Returnees: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York
New arrivals: F Ryan Anderson, G Allonzo Trier, F Ray Smith, G Justin Simon, C Chance Comanche
Outlook: McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson are big losses as would be Johnson when he makes it official. Sean Miller continues to reload with 247Sports’ No. 2 recruiting class featuring four top-50 prospects and Anderson from Boston College (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg in 2013-14).
15. Villanova (33-3, 16-2 Big East)
Losses: G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston, G Dylan Ennis
Returnees: G Josh Hart, G Ryan Arcidiacono, F Daniel Ochefu
New arrivals: G Jalen Brunson
Outlook: Hilliard was the closest thing Villanova had to a star player last season, but this was a balanced team with six guys averaging nine or more points per game. Losing Ennis, a graduate transfer, hurts. Nova adds the five-star point guard Brunson to a team that will already have a senior point guard in Arcidiacono.
16. Oklahoma (24-11, 12-6 Big 12)
Losses: F TaShawn Thomas
Returnees: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodward
Outlook: The Sooners’ prospects hinge on whether or not Hield returns. If he’s back, Oklahoma is a senior-laden squad capable of challenging for a Big 12 title. If not, Oklahoma may be a fringe NCAA team.
17. Wichita State (30-5, 17-1 Missouri Valley)
Losses: F Darius Carter, G Tekele Cotton
Returnees: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, F Shaquille Morris, G Evan Wessel
Outlook: Wichita State already survived a tense moment when Alabama courted Gregg Marshall. Now, the Shockers will wait out Baker’s decision on the NBA Draft. If he returns, the Shockers can’t be dismissed as long as VanVleet and Baker are in the backcourt.
18. Utah (26-9, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Delon Wright
Returnees: G Brandon Taylor, G Jordan Loverage, F Jakob Poeltl, G Dakari Tucker, F Brekkott Chapman
Outlook: Wright could have the biggest impact of any single departure in the country. He’s a lockdown defender and an efficient point guard, two things not easily replaced. The return of big man Poeltl is critical for Utah’s hopes to contend in the Pac-12.
19. SMU (27-7, 15-3 American)
Losses: C Yanick Moreira
Returnees: G Nic Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Ben Moore
New arrivals: G Shake Milton
Outlook: SMU has been knocking on the door of postseason relevance for two seasons. First came a snub to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and then the questionable goaltending call in a loss to UCLA in the round of 64. Moreira is a substantial loss, but SMU returns enough to contend for another AAC title.
20. LSU (27-11, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Jarell Martin, F Jordan Mickey
Returnees: G Keith Hornsby, G Tim Quarterman, G Josh Gray, G Jalyn Patterson
New arrivals: F Ben Simmons, G Antonio Blakeney
Outlook: LSU underachieved in the Martin/Mickey era, reaching one NCAA Tournament and losing in a second-half collapse to NC State. The Tigers will be expected to contend in the SEC next season after adding Simmons, the top prospect in the 247Sports rankings. Blakeney is also a five-star prospect. LSU’s supporting cast of Hornsby, Quarterman and Patterson is solid.
21. Vanderbilt (21-14, 9-9 SEC)
Losses: F James Siakam
Returnees: C Damian Jones, G Riley LaChance, G Wade Baldwin IV, F Luke Kornet, G Matthew Fisher-Davis, F Jeff Roberson, F Shelton Mitchell
New arrivals: G Nolan Cressler
Outlook: The Commodores were an awfully young team last season and improved as the year went along. Jones’ decision to stay in school was huge. The one major departure is made up for by the arrival of Cressler, who averaged 16.8 points per game as a sophomore at Cornell.
22. Butler (23-11, 12-6 Big East)
Losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods
Returnees: G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Charbascz
New arrivals: G Tyler Lewis
Outlook: Dunham and Jones will be seniors, and 5-11 NC State transfer Lewis should take over the point guard spot. More important, Butler locked up coach Chris Holtmann with a contract extension. The gap between Butler and Villanova in the Big East is narrowing.
23. Louisville (27-9, 13-6 ACC)
Losses: G Terry Rozier, F Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear
Returnees: G Quentin Snider, F Chinanu Onuaku, F Mangok Mathiang, G Anton Gill
New arrivals: F Raymond Spalding, G Donovan Mitchell, F Deng Adel
Outlook: Rick Pitino will have his youngest team in quite some time, losing each of his top three scorers (four, if you count Chris Jones) and every player who averaged at least 20 minutes per game. The three-man freshman class is ranked fourth on 247Sports.com
24. Texas (20-14, 8-10 Big 12)
Losses: F Jonathan Holmes, F Myles Turner
Returnees: G Isaiah Turner, G Javan Felix, C Cameron Ridley, G Demarcus Holland
New arrivals: G Eric Davis, G Kerwin Roach, C Shaquille Cleare
Outlook: How much of a difference can first-year coach Shaka Smart make? Many of the same pieces of a team that was picked to challenge for the Big 12 title last season will return. Adding two four-star freshmen in Davis and Roach and Maryland transfer Cleare means the pieces are in place for Texas to contend for an NCAA spot or more.
25. Michigan (16-16, 8-10 Big Ten)
Returnees: G Caris LeVert, G Zak Irwin, G Derrick Walton, G Spike Albrecht, G Aubrey Dawkins
Outlook: Michigan was a preseason top 25 team before everything went wrong, chiefly an injury to star Caris LeVert. Before falling to .500, Michigan reached an Elite Eight and a national championship game. Let’s give John Beilein another chance at this.
Others of Note
Arkansas (27-9, 13-5 SEC)
Losses: G Rashad Madden, F Alandise Harris
Returnees: F Bobby Portis, G Michael Qualls, G Anthlon Bell
New arrivals: G Dusty Hannahs, F Ted Kapita
Outlook: If Portis returns, Arkansas will contend for the SEC title. If not, Arkansas slides to the middle of the pack.
Baylor (24-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Kenny Chery, F Royce O’Neale
Returnees: F Taurean Prince, F Rico Gathers, F Johnathan Motley
Outlook: Not much was expected out of Baylor last season, but they made a nice run before losing to Georgia State in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears need to find a replacement for Chery at point guard to go with that solid front line.
Cincinnati (23-11, 13-5 American)
Returnees: F Octavius Ellis, G Troy Caupain, G Farad Cobb, F Gary Clark, G Kevin Johnson, F Shaquille Thomas
Outlook: Cincinnati’s roster returns essentially intact, but the Bearcats hope to have coach Mick Cronin for the season after he missed most of 2015 with a medical issue.
Florida State (17-16, 8-10 ACC)
Returnees: G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G Brandon Montay, G Devon Bookert, G Phil Cofer
New arrivals: G Dwayne Bacon, G Malik Beasley
Outlook: A pick for a sleeper? Florida State returns nearly everybody to a mediocre team and adds two top-25 prospects at guard.
Oregon (26-10, 13-5 Pac-12)
Losses: G Joseph Young, G Jalil Abdul-Bassit
Returnees: F Elgin Cook, F Dillon Brooks, F Dwayne Benjamin, F Jordan Bell
New arrivals: G Tyler Dorsey
Outlook: The Ducks will need to find someone to replace the scoring that Young provided the last two seasons, but the Ducks got major contributions from last year’s freshman class. Oregon adds a top-30 point guard in a class with three top-100 freshmen
Purdue (21-13, 12-6 Big Ten)
Losses: G Jon Octeus
Returnees: C A.J. Hammons, G Rapheal Davis, F Vince Edwards, G Kendall Stephens, C Isaac Haas, G Dakota Mathias
Outlook: The seven-footer Hammons could enter the draft. If he returns, the Boiler makers lose only one of their top seven scorers.
Texas A&M (21-12, 11-7 SEC)
Losses: F Kourtney Roberson, G Jordan Green
Returnees: G Danuel House, G Jalen Jones, G Alex Caruso,
New arrivals: C Tyler Davis, F D.J. Hogg
Outlook: The Aggies were NIT bound after a disastrous SEC Tournament, but they were on the fringe for most of the season. They hope a standout recruiting class puts them over the top.
West Virginia (25-10, 11-7 Big 12)
Losses: G Juwan Staten
Returnees: F Devin Williams, F Jonathan Holton, G Jevon Carter, G Daxter Miles Jr.
Outlook: The Mountaineers, who are still smarting from a 39-point loss in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky, will have to replace the point guard Staten, but they return nearly every other key player from a surprise team in 2014-15.
In a postgame interview with CBS, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was critical of the officiating in his team's national championship game loss to Duke.
In comments to CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, Ryan said the game had more body contact than in any game Wisconsin played all year.
The statistics, at least, were at odds with Wisconsin’s foul numbers all season as Duke went 16-of-20 from the free throw line, including 12-of-16 in the second half alone. Entering game, Wisconsin gave up the fewest free throws per field goal attempt in the country.
Here are Ryan’s comments to Wolfson after the game:
“It was just a situation were you just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking and all the body contact. There was more body contact in this game than in any game we played all year. And I just feel sorry for my guys that all of the sudden a game was like that. They’re struggling with that a little bit. We missed some opportunities and they hit some tough shots. It’s just a shame that it had to be played that way. ...
“You look at our offensive efficiency and that says a lot about a group of people who are willing to share the ball and I think we set the record for offensive efficiency. It might not look that way our last 10 possessions there tonight. There might have been some reasons for that. I’m proud of them that way. We led the Big Ten in defense, fewest turnovers, fewest fouls — until tonight.”
Duke has needed to answer in tight spots before, but no pressure situation this season was quite like this.
The answer was, again, the same. Let Tyus Jones take over. In a rare Duke year ruled by freshmen, the rookies led the way for the Blue Devils’ 68-63 national championship victory.
Duke trailed by as many as nine in the second half and didn’t take a second-half lead until the final 5:32. In a game contested between veterans and young players, Duke's freshman stars — some expected and unexpected — carried the load, scoring 60 of 68 points against Wisconsin for Mike Krzyzewski's fifth national championship.
MVP: Tyus Jones
With Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in and out of the game with foul trouble, Jones came up with the big shots like he did in some of Duke's biggest games this season. Jones finished with 23 points, including the dagger with 1:24 to go. Jones had 19 points in the second half alone, including 2-of-3 from 3 and 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
Duke led merely 61-58 at the 3:22 mark, notable in part because Jahlil Okafor was on the bench for meaningful stretches due to foul trouble. Duke put Okafor back into the game at this point and he responded with two field goals and an offensive rebound.
Unsung Hero: Amile Jefferson
Jefferson had only two points, but his defense on Wisconsin’s frontcourt was key. Frank Kaminsky had 21 points, but he went 5-of-12 from 2-point range.
Key Stat: 16-6
Duke’s scoring margin from the free throw line. Fouls caught Wisconsin by surprise on both ends of the court. Wisconsin gave up an average of 11 free throws per game entering Monday night. Duke went to the line 20 times. Conversely, Wisconsin averaged 19.4 free throws per game and went 6-of-10 against Duke.
Needed More From:
Sam Dekker had a rough night from the field. He got the putbacks off Wisconsin’s offensive rebounds, but his hot shooting cooled. Dekker went 0-of-6 from the 3-point line.
Already excited for 2015-16:
Duke is certain to lose several players to the NBA Draft — Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones potentially among them — plus Quinn Cook. Guard Grayson Allen gave the Blue Devils a flash of the future as he scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He averaged fewer than nine minutes per game entering Monday, but he’s hardly a flash in the pan. Allen was a McDonald’s All-American as a recruit and will take on a major role next season.
How much Duke and Wisconsin can glean from their matchup in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge back in December may be negligible.
Some tendencies and stylistic traits may be similar, but consider the personnel. In that meeting in Madison — an 80-70 Duke win — two of the top scorers in the game may not be impact players in Monday night’s national championship game.
Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon certainly won’t be. He scored 14 points against Wisconsin earlier this season but was dismissed from the team in January. Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson scored a game-high 25 points. He missed more than two months with a foot injury and has played only 28 minutes in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Justise Winslow and Sam Dekker scored five points apiece in that meeting, and now they’ll be two of the best players on the court Monday night.
Who are the best of the best? We’ll try to take a look, obviously tilting toward each player's college production and performance in this NCAA Tournament.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
The National Player of the Year contender is coming off a 29-point performance against Arizona and a 20-point performancea gainst Kentucky. He scored 17 points on Duke back in December.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor had his most ineffective two-game stretch of the season in the regional against Utah and Gonzaga but bounced back with 18 points against Michigan State in teh Final Four. Okafor has spent most of the season as the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick with good reason. His matchup with Kaminsky in the title game will be a classic.
3. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has spent most of the season splitting headlines with Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. In the NCAA Tournament, though, Winslow has been Duke’s best player in the regional. Winslow is averaging 15 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and better than 1.4 steals and blocks per game in the last five games.
4. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The junior had the best games of his career in the West regional against North Carolina and Arizona, twice setting career highs with 23 and 24 points. He had only six career 20-point games entering this Tournament, but he’s averaging 20.6 points in the last five games.
5. Tyus Jones, Duke
Jones has been the playmaker in the Tournament he was all season. He’s averaging 11 points and 5.2 assists in the last five games, while playing his most efficient basketball all of the year (3.7 assists per turnover).
6. Quinn Cook, Duke
The emotional and senior leader for Duke, Cook is averaging a career-high (by far) 15.6 points per game this season.
7. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
8. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Koenig averaged 11.6 points per game after starting point guard Traevon Jackson was hurt in January. He averaged 4.9 points per game before then.
9. Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Gasser has scored in double figures once since Feb. 3, but he’s a glue guy who gives the Badgers a little bit of everything.
10. Matt Jones, Duke
Jones has moved into the starting lineup after the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon. He’s a complementary player, but he’s proven he can hit the big 3 when necessary (4-of-7 from 3 against Gonzaga).
Every NCAA Tournament loss stings.
When the loss marks the end of an attempt to go 40-0 and that team is Kentucky, well, the final defeat stings more than most.
Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison had to apologize after his choice remarks were caught on a hot mic. This fan, however, probably speaks for all of Big Blue Nation:
Other Kentucky fans were less constructive. As many as 29 people were arrested on State Street in Lexington, Ky., and at least three were taken to the hospital, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
That said, the celebration after a potential win Monday night might have been just as eventful.
Here was the scene on State Street on Saturday night and early Sunday morning:
And, finally, the obligatory Ashley Judd/Villanova piccolo girl meme:
Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison apologized for obscene language directed toward Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky caught on a live microphone during Saturday’s postgame press conference.
After a question directed toward Karl-Anthony Towns about Kaminsky, Harrison can be heard uttering an obscenity and a racial slur under his breath in front of the hot mic.
Here’s the video as it was captured on ESPN.
Warning: Bad Language Ahead.
By Sunday, Harrison apologized for the incident and apologized to Kaminsky:
First i want to apologize for my poor choice of words used in jest towards a player I respect and know.— Andrew Harrison (@DrewRoc5) April 5, 2015
When I realized how this could be perceived I immediately called big frank to apologize and let him know I didn't mean any disrespect— Andrew Harrison (@DrewRoc5) April 5, 2015
When I realized how this could be perceived I immediately called big frank to apologize and let him know I didn't mean any disrespect— Andrew Harrison (@DrewRoc5) April 5, 2015
The most serious bid for 40-0 to date is complete and unsuccessful.
At the hands of Wisconsin’s 71-64 win over Kentucky, the Wildcats will be merely the only team in college basketball history to go 38-0 in a season. That season ended at 38-1.
History — at least for that round, undefeated number and the first unbeaten season since 1976 — will have to wait.
On Saturday, Kentucky lost for the first time since last year’s national championship game. What this loss means is tough to say. It was not a massive upset. It wasn’t the most unexpected result.
The word is probably significant. Kentucky was the most significant team to lose in the NCAA Tournament since the last bid for an undefeated season ended in UNLV’s 79-77 loss to Duke in the 1991 Final Four.
This is one of Kentucky’s greatest teams in program history, but the Wildcats’ most lasting note in the history of college basketball will be alongside that UNLV team — a great team ultimately doomed to find the one team that could be better on one particular Saturday.
Kentucky and its bid to go undefeated were the main draws for this season, but the final game of 2014-15 shouldn’t be defined by Kentucky’s absence. Wisconsin and Duke will meet Monday night for their own legacies.
Only two decades ago, Wisconsin was an afterthought, and finally this program is seeking its first national title since 1941.
Dick Bennett took the Badgers to one Final Four in 2000. Bo Ryan has taken Wisconsin to two more with this group. If he wins Monday night, the four-time Division III champion at Wisconsin-Platteville will become the first coach in NCAA history to win titles in two divisions.
T-shirts get made for attempts at 40-0, but Wisconsin’s record as far as Kentucky is concerned is far more important.
This Badgers team is an offensive force. Think about what Wisconsin has done the last two games. Arizona and Kentucky are two of the nation’s best defensive teams, and Wisconsin sliced through them. Against Arizona, Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 in the second half, including 10 3-pointers. No team in two years had scored 80 points on Arizona. Wisconsin scored 85.
Kentucky allowed more than one point per possession three times entering the NCAA Tournament and never more than 1.069. Wisconsin averaged 1.246. Kentucky hit more than 50 percent of its shots for most of the game and finished shooting 48.1 percent and still lost.
Wisconsin is that good.
Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating on KenPom.com is 128.5. The previous high since 2002 was last year’s Michigan team at 124.1. That qualifies as shattering a record.
On the other side, Duke’s bid for a championship is just as significant.
This year alone, Mike Krzyzewski has surpassed 1,000 career wins, passed Dean Smith for career ACC wins and tied John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances. A championship Monday would give him five titles, putting him in sole second place all time behind Wooden’s 10 championships.
This would also be Duke’s first title since Krzyzewski embraced the one-and-done era. His last championship team in 2010 was dominated by juniors and seniors. This year’s team starts three freshmen.
After the game, Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein likened this Tournament to a movie when the main character suddenly dies.
This much is true about this championship game. The supporting cast, though, is ready for its moment.
As Kentucky lost its first game of the season Saturday night, the comparisons to the 1991 NCAA Tournament were apparent.
That year, 34-0 UNLV, a team mthat like this year’s Kentucky seemed unstoppable. lost to Duke 79-77 in the Final Four.
Both Wisconsin and Duke in 2015 hope history repeats itself.
If this year’s Final Four looks like the one 24 years ago, Duke will hope it’s because the Blue Devils will win a national title.
If this year’s Final Four looks like the 1991 semifinals, Wisconsin will hope it’s because the team that toppled the unbeaten — in this case, the Badgers — will win the national title.
This may not be the national championship game that many envisioned, mainly because Kentucky is back in Lexington, but the championship game has plenty of storylines to make it a classic.
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is going for his fifth title, putting him in sole second place behind John Wooden, and to do it, he’ll have to win a championship starting three freshmen. And Wisconsin will go for its first title since 1941. Bo Ryan is also going for his fifth title, but his first outside of Division III.
Duke is here with nine McDonald’s All-Americans. Wisconsin is here with none. Duke is all business. Wisconsin may as well be a comedy troupe.
By Monday night, only one will be a champion.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Time: 9:15 p.m. ET, Monday
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker vs. Duke’s Justise Winslow
The championship game will match up the two hottest players in the NCAA Tournament, potentially with Most Outstanding Player on the line. Winslow is averaging 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and three assists per game in the Tournament, but his defense (1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game) will be the key against Dekker. The 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 20.6 points and shooting 61.3 percent in the Tournament.
Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor
Okafor had a quiet regional, scoring 15 total points against Utah and Gonzaga. The All-America center roared back for 18 points against Michigan State. He’ll need more of that Monday night. The question, though, might be more on the defensive end. Wisconsin was able to solve Kentucky’s size by getting Kaminsky into better matchups away from Willie Cauley-Stein. Duke held Kaminsky to 17 points and 5-of-12 shooting in the matchup back in December, but Wisconsin has shown an ability to adjust.
Trending: Duke's defense
Duke is playing its best defensive basketball of the season in the last five games, and the Blue Devils will need it against the Badgers. Duke’s opponents are shooting 41.2 percent from 2-point range in the Tournament (compared to 46.3 percent during the season as whole) and 26.9 percent from 3 (compared to 31.4).
Number of Note: 5-of-11
That’s combined 3-point shooting for Arizona (2-of-6) and Kentucky (3-of-5) against Wisconsin. The Badgers don’t give their opponents many looks at 3-point shots, and they don’t put their opponents at the free throw line very often, either. Duke will have to score around the basket, or the Blue Devils will have to do what Arizona and Kentucky couldn’t and hit shots from beyond the arc.
Duke will win if...
The Blue Devils get an all-around offensive effort. John Calipari was astounded. His team shot 48.1 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line, it turned the ball over only six times and still lost. Wisconsin did everything right in the margins — the Badgers got 12 offensive boards and had more than twice as many 3s. Wisconsin is a historically efficient team, so Duke will have to make every trip down the court count.
Wisconsin will win if...
The ride isn’t over. Wisconsin now feels like the team Kentucky once was, only the wave the Badgers are riding is on the offensive end rather than the defensive end. Wisconsin has averaged better than 1.1 points per possession in 12 consecutive games and 1.25 points per possession in the NCAA Tournament. Kaminsky and Dekker are both averaging better than 20 points per game, and they’re doing it against two of the best defensive teams in recent years. This is a historical run.
Athlon Sports Staff Predictions
David Fox: Wisconsin 78-75
Braden Gall: Duke 73-70
Mitch Light: Duke 77-73
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 76-72
In many ways, Kentucky-Wisconsin isn’t a rematch.
The coaches are the same, the jerseys are the same and many of the players are the same from the Wildcats’ 74-73 win in last year’s Final Four. But at the same time, these are two different teams meeting in the national semifinal.
The most obvious change is with Kentucky. The Wildcats reached last year’s Final Four without an injured Willie Cauley-Stein and before freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Tyler Ulis arrived.
And for Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes — now one of Wisconsin’s top three players — logged only seven minutes in last year’s Final Four game.
Even the returners are different, says Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“I just saw (Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky) out in the hallway, and I said, ‘Look, I'm so tired of looking at your tape right now,’” Calipari said. “I said to Bo how much better he's gotten in a two-year period is almost scary. He and (Sam) Dekker both. They both have a swagger about them, they both have a high belief in their teams. They know how they're going to play.”
The development of Kaminsky and Dekker and the presence of Cauley-Stein and Towns sets up one of the most anticipated Final Four matchups in several years.
The nation’s top offensive team and top defensive team in terms of efficiency will face off Saturday, and only one of those teams hopes history repeats itself.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Time: 8:49 p.m. ET, Saturday
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Kentucky by 5
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker vs. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein
Wisconsin has two big guys who can run the floor, play the perimeter and score down low. Kaminsky and Dekker are a combined 87-of-236 (37 percent) from 3 this season. Cauley-Stein, though, is different from most defenders. He’s a seven-footer who can defend the perimeter. Kaminsky and Dekker were a combined 7-of-11 from the field with 23 points in last year’s meeting, and that was when Cauley-Stein didn’t play.
Player on the Spot: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns had a miserable game against West Virginia — scary, considering Kentucky still won by 39 — and John Calipari didn’t let it slide. Towns responded to his one-point performance with a dominating 25-point game against Notre Dame. Towns finished 10-of-13 from th efield and 5-of-6 from the line with four assists, to boot.
Trending: Wisconsin’s offense
Anyone who says Wisconsin can’t score is not paying much attention. No, the Badgers aren’t one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, but they are the most efficient this season (a year after they ranked fourth). Ask Arizona if Wisconsin can score. Arizona is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and the Badgers shredded the Wildcats in the second half of the Elite Eight. Wisconsin shot 15-of-19 from the field and 10-of-12 from 3 in the final 20 minutes against the Wildcats.
Number of Note: 439
Free throw attempts for opponents against Wisconsin. The Badgers are one of the most stingy fouling teams in the country. Opponents get 4.5 field goal attempts for every free throw against the Badgers, the best rate in the country. Kentucky is a good free throw shooting team (72.5 percent), especially from its big men. If the game is close, Kentucky’s trips to the line will be watched closely.
Kentucky will win if...
Aaron Harrison hits big shots. Harrison hit the key shots against Wichita State, Louisville and Wisconsin in last year’s Tournament, and he did it again against Notre Dame. Wisconsin allows its share of open 3s. Teams shoot 37. 1 percent from 3 against the Badgers, ranking 301st nationally. But those shots are earned. Wisconsin allows 3-pointers at the sixth-best rate of any team this season.
Wisconsin will win if...
The Badgers can stretch the Kentucky defense. This game is between the No. 1 team in offensive efficiency and the No. 1 team in defensive efficiency. The difference may be from 3-point line. Kaminsky and Dekker against Cauley-Stein and Towns will be a game-long battle. If Wisconsin can stretch the court and hit 3s, Kentucky may have to ease up on Kaminsky, Dekker and Nigel Hayes. Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser are a combined 11-of-27 from 3 in this Tournament. If that’s going to change, it will happen against the best 3-point defending team in the country (26.7 percent).
Athlon Sports Staff Predictions
David Fox: Kentucky 68-63
Braden Gall: Kentucky 72-70
Mitch Light: Kentucky 72-66
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 68-62
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is trying to play coy that his team was not a Final Four contender from the start.
True, this was a Blue Devils team that lost three of six during a stretch in January, including a loss to Miami at home. But this was also a preseason top-four team that only solidified those credentials with 10-point wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin by early December, both away from Durham.
“I don't know who expected us to be here,” Krzyzewski said. “We have eight guys and four freshmen. I think at times you expect a program to be here instead of looking at a team.”
That’s not entirely true, but if Krzyzewski is going to try to play up the underdog card, he’s going to have a tough time pulling it against Michigan State.
Last year’s Spartans team was the one that seemed preordained to go to the Final Four. Every senior who played four years for Tom Izzo to that point had reached the Final Four, and Izzo had two seniors who had never been to the Final Four.
The trend ended with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling reaching merely the Elite Eight. This team lost Payne, Appling and Gary Harris and lost five games before the new year, including a home game against Texas Southern.
Nevertheless, Michigan State has put it together in the last few weeks and now the Spartans are where they’d be expected to be many years — in the Final Four.
“Maybe it wasn't as expected — we had a little rougher run during the year,” Izzo said. “When you get your program to a certain level, I think that's our expectations, that's what we want our kids' expectations, the media and fans.”
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Duke
Time: 6:09 p.m. ET, Saturday
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Duke by 5
Matchup to Watch: Michigan State’s Travis Trice vs. Duke’s Quinn Cook
This is a question of which senior guard is going to get baskets at critical times. Of course, this is a more pressing matchup for Trice, who does not have the luxury of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow (though Spartans Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are very good). Trice is averaging 19.8 points per game in the tournament (more than four points better than his season average). Cook is averaging 14.5 points per game in the Tournament and hitting 12-of-14 from the free throw line in the last two games.
Player on the Spot: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor
Opponents in the regional did a good job of containing the damage from Okafor. Mind you, that’s at the expense of Winslow having his way on both ends of the court against Utah and Gonzaga. Okafor scored a combined 15 points in two games last week and shot 7-of-16 from the field. Okafor averaged 17.5 points and shot nearly 67 percent during the season. He’ll need to approach that if Duke is going to win a title.
Trending: Michigan State’s free throw shooting
The Spartans free throw shooting was the weak link during the season, and history suggests that it will bite them during the Tournament. Yet Michigan State recently found its stride at the line. The Spartans hit 6-of-6 free throws in crunch time against Oklahoma and then went 15-of-20 against Louisville. Michigan State shoots 63.2 percent from the line this season, ranking 338th overall.
Number of Note: 22-to-6
Justise Winslow has raised his game during the NCAA Tournament, but let’s not overlook point guard Tyus Jones. The freshman has 22 assists and six turnovers during the Tournament. He’s averaging 3.7 assists per turnover in the last four games compared to 2.8 during the regular season. He’s also thrown in two steals per game in the Tourney.
Michigan State will win if...
Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello play out of their minds against Okafor. Michigan State’s big men aren’t the first names anyone considers when it comes the Spartans this season. Now, they’re in the critical spot against Okafor. Can they contain him like Utah and Gonzaga did and can they get some baskets agains Okafor’s suspect defense? Michigan State needs that to pull the upset.
Duke will win if...
Michigan State’s time is up. The Spartans are a great story and deserve credit for beating the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the East region. But this is a No. 7 seed that didn’t hit its potential until late in the year. Duke perhaps hasn’t played its best game of the Tournament and still ended up beating Gonzaga by 14, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-10 in the final 10 minutes.
Athlon Sports Staff Predictions
David Fox: Duke 70-61
Braden Gall: Duke 78-62
Mitch Light: Duke 68-57
Jake Rose: Duke 73-70
For a sport that’s supposed to be in a state of crisis, college basketball has given us a doozy of a final weekend.
Criticism of the sport has been almost as big as the season itself in 2014-15. The game is too slow. The final minutes of the game stretch on forever. The officiating is inconsistent. The game has few household names actually playing the game.
All of these will be lingering issues, but not until Tuesday.
For now, we have an epic Final Four to watch.
This year’s Final Four is poised to give the sport a final weekend for the ages, perhaps approaching the legendary status of 1979, 1985, 1991 or 2008.
We’ve counted down the ways this will be possibly the greatest Final Four of all time — 31 ways to be exact, one for each Final Four since the field expanded to 64 in 1985.
Kentucky already has The Unforgettables and The Untouchables. The Wildcats are looking to add The Unbeatables. No team in college basketball has been 38-0. No team since UNLV in 1991 has made it to the Final Four undefeated (34-0). And no team since Indiana in 1976 has finished a season undefeated (32-0). Kentucky is chasing basketball immortality.
2. Wire-to-wire great teams
The NCAA Tournament is random, and even teams that were great all season lose before the final weekend. It’s a statistical improbability that four of the best teams during the season actually make it to the Final Four. Three No. 1 seeds are in the Final Four for the first time since all four made it in 2008 and only the fifth time since seeding began in 2008. Not only are Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin No. 1 seeds, they have been consensus top-five teams for most of the season. Kentucky has been No. 1 all year. Duke has been in the AP top five all year. And Wisconsin spent one week ranked seventh this season and never lower than that.
3. A Kentucky-Duke title game
Not that we’re rooting for a Kentucky-Duke national championship game — upsets of either would be monumental on their own — but the prospect of an all-blue title game is tough to resist. They’re two of the most polarizing teams in the country. Someone will surely pit John Calipari’s vacated Final Fours against Mike Krzyzewski’s “doing things the right way” (even though Coach K has had his share of one-and-dones). The game has the baggage of Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot in overtime of the 1992 Elite Eight.
4. People are watching
The game is still facing an existential crisis in terms of year-round popularity and the quality of product. That said, it’s tough to call the game “unwatchable” when so many people are watching. Kentucky-Notre Dame was the highest rated college basketball game in cable history. An increase of 2 percent compared to last season was still enough to give the NCAA Tournament its biggest audience since 1993. Maybe it’s Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin. Maybe it’s the availability of every Tournament game on basic cable. Maybe it’s the ever-increasing access to streaming games. Whatever the reason, the Final Four is viable water cooler conversation.
5. The Big Men
The national semifinal is going to give us Frank Kaminsky trying to navigate the stout defense of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. And the winner of that battle may draw Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in the national championship game. A Towns-Okafor matchup in the title game would be the first time the top two picks in the draft met in the national championship game. UCLA’s Bill Walton and NC State’s David Thompson faced each other in the 1974 title game but were selected No. 1 overall in separate drafts. The top two picks (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) in the 2012 draft played in the same title game, they just played for the same team (Kentucky).
6. Pro Prospects
Beyond Okafor and Towns as the consensus top two picks, the Final Four is full of future pros. As many as nine players in the Final Four are in DraftExpress’s most recent first-round projection and five in the lottery: No. 1 Towns, No. 2 Okafor, No. 5 Justise Winslow of Duke, No. 6 Cauley-Stein of Kentucky, No. 10 Kaminsky, No. 16 Sam Dekker of Wisconsin, No. 17 Devin Booker and No. 19 Trey Lyles of Kentucky, No. 26 Tyus Jones of Duke.
There’s plenty of star power here with three first-team All-Americans in the Final Four in Okafor, Kaminsky and Cauley-Stein. This is only the third time in the last decade three first-team All-Americans have played in the Final Four.
8. The coaches
Every coach in the Final Four has won a national championship — Bo Ryan’s came in Division III, but more on that later. Still, we’ve got a combined 2,532 career wins, 203 NCAA Tournament wins, 27 Final Fours and six Division I championships in this group. All four coaches were ranked in the top 10 of Athlon’s preseason coach rankings, including each of the top three.
9. Coach K’s historic year
The big number for Krzyzewski is 1,000 as he became the first men’s college basketball coach to 1,000 career wins with a Jan. 25 victory over St. John’s. The season has been historic in a handful of other ways. He’s now tied with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (12), moving ahead of Dean Smith’s 11. A championship would give him five titles, breaking his tie with Adolph Rupp and moving him to No. 2 to Wooden’s unbreakable 10 titles. He’s also tied Jim Boeheim for the most Tournament appearances (31), and he passed Smith’s record for career ACC wins (432).
10. The Hall of Fame
The two coaches facing each other Saturday — in their second consecutive Final Four — are both up for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s not certain either or both will get in, but they will get in eventually. Krzyzewski is already in. Izzo is a virtual lock, meaning this Final Four in history’s eyes will have four Hall of Famers. The last time we can guarantee such a thing was 2001 when Krzyzewski, Izzo, Arizona's Lute Olson and Maryland's Gary Williams were in the Final Four.
11. Bo Ryan’s bid for history
To think, there was a time when the knock on Ryan was that he couldn’t win in the Tournament, never mind that he won four Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville from 1991-99. If Ryan wins a Division I national title, he’ll be the first coach in NCAA history to win championships in multiple divisions.
12. Michigan State is the underdog
No Final Four is complete without an unlikely team, and in this group of three No. 1 seeds and power teams, Michigan State gives the national semifinal an appropriate underdog. The Spartans have only one McDonald’s All-American (Branden Dawson) and few highly rated pro prospects. Remember, last year’s team with Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling seemed destined for a Final Four. This Michigan State team was on the bubble at one point his year.
13. Tom Izzo
College athletics need more big-time coaches who don’t take themselves too seriously and aren’t afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve. In just the last year, Izzo dressed like Gene Simmons at Midnight Madness and crumpled in embarrassment when his team missed free throws in a win over Indiana.
Tom Izzo gave up on life here and I can't stop laughing. pic.twitter.com/cHb7h7kACQ— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 7, 2015
14. Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein is a defensive whiz, the most experienced player on a potential 40-0 team and an eminently quotable college basketball player. He’s also a rarity in the sport. He’s an All-American averaging 9.1 points per game, making him the first All-American to average fewer than 10 points per game since 1944-45. That player? Notre Dame’s Bill Hassett, who averaged 8.6 points per game that year.
15. Kentucky’s unselfishness
Not only is Cauley-Stein a rare All-American in terms of scoring, the entire Kentucky team would be an oddity if the Wildcats win a national title. Since the field expanded in 1985, only six national champions didn’t have a 15-points per game scorer. The lowest-scoring top scorers on a title team in the 64-team era are Kansas’ Brandon Rush in 2008 and Florida’s Taurean Green in 2007, both at 13.3 points per game. At 11 points per game, Kentucky’s top scorer Aaron Harrison would shatter that mark.
16. Aaron Harrison’s clutch shots
No one was more emblematic of Kentucky’s title game run last season than Aaron Harrison, who hit game-winning shots in the final seconds against Wisconsin in the Final Four and Michigan in the Elite Eight and a go-ahead shot against Louisville in the Sweet 16. With a go-ahead shot against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight this season, Harrison has proven he still has it.
17. Quinn Cook’s humility
Kentucky’s players aren’t the only ones who had to learn to put ego aside to reach the Final Four. Quinn Cook had been Duke’s starting point guard for two seasons before Krzyzewski recruited Tyus Jones. In essence, Coach K was asking his senior point guard to move to shooting guard to make room for a freshman. Cook did it without complaint and both have flourished as a result. The result was moments like this:
18. Justise Winslow’s emergence
He’s managed to upstage Okafor and Jones as Duke’s best freshman in the Tournament. His all-around play hasn’t been a revelation necessarily — he’s been a great scorer, rebounder and defensive presence all year — but it has been the critical piece of the puzzle for Duke.
19. Sam Dekker’s emergence
It wouldn’t be fair to say Dekker hadn’t reached his potential at Wisconsin, but he never was an overwhelming player for the Badgers, either. That has changed as Dekker has twice set career highs (23 points against North Carolina, 27 against Arizona) in the regional. The 6-9 forward was unstoppable in the second half against the Wildcats with 5-of-5 3-pointers.
20. Tyler Ulis
At 5-foot-9, Tyler Ulis is already one of the smallest players for a major program. Playing on a team with Kentucky’s size only makes his stature more pronounced. He doesn’t back down, though, as evidenced by this exchange with Auburn’s 7-2 center Trayvon Reed.
21. Nigel Hayes
Every Tournament introduces America to a character who happens to play college basketball. Nigel Hayes is that year’s player. Hayes messed with a stenographer and got caught on a hot mic admiring a lady in the room.
22. Karl-Anthony Towns
A potential No. 1 overall pick who photobombs his coach? Sure.
23. Wisconsin’s laid-back team
Seriously, this is just about every press conference for this team. No one is having more fun than Wisconsin right now.
I don’t know. I just don’t know how such a tight, gravely serious team like Wisconsin will be ready for Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/UGBDIEkGlu— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) March 31, 2015
24. An All-Big Ten title game?
A Wisconsin-Michigan State championship game would require two upsets on Saturday, which on its own would be monumental. Those upsets would also set up a title game involving two teams from the same conference, something that’s happened only twice in the 64-team era (Kansas over Oklahoma in 1988, Villanova over Georgetown in 1985). It would be the first all-Big Ten final since Indiana beat Michigan in 1976.
25. Travis Trice’s mom
Do you hear that banshee-like scream when Michigan State’s opponents are attempting free throws? That’s Travis Trice’s mom.
26. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
That’s the name of Michigan State’s freshman guard. His given name Lourawls is from his father, who was named for the 60s-70s singer Lou Rawls. “Tum Tum” is from a character the 1992 kids movie 3 Ninjas. That’s how you end up with a Louralws “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr.
27. The NCAA has a social conscience
The NCAA and its members are still trying to tackle many issues, from violence against women to compensation for players and more. Credit the NCAA for leaving no wiggle room on its position on Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. On the eve of the Final Four taking place in Indianapolis, the NCAA was one of the first of many national entities to condemn the law and threaten to move events to other states.
28. Bill Raftery
Bill Raftery is one of the nation’s most beloved college basketball color commentators, but for various reasons, he’s never called a Final Four until this season. Send it in...
The matchups don’t need any more juice than they already have, but there’s plenty of familiarity here. Kentucky beat Wisconsin 74-73 in the Final Four a year ago. The Wildcats lost to Michigan State in Chicago early in the 2013 season. Duke beat Michigan State 81-71 in November. Of course, Wisconsin and Michigan State are conference foes, but they played an epic overtime bout in the Big Ten championship game.
30. Vicarious wins
Congratulations, Texas Southern, Rutgers and Miami, you beat teams in the Final Four.
We’ve got Ashley Judd (Kentucky), Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn (Wisconsin), Magic Johnson (Michigan State) and members of the Dallas Cowboys (Duke) sharing the arena with guys like this...