Articles By David Fox
Coaches in the Final Four by now have completed the scouting process and are starting to implement the game plans they hope will lead to a national championship. If you’re wondering what the coaches are seeing, Athlon Sports hopes to offer some insight. We spoke to coaches who compiled scouting reports for teams that faced the Final Four teams either during the NCAA Tournament or during the season. In exchange for more candor, we quoted the coaches anonymously.
Florida | UConn | Wisconsin | Kentucky
"They’re good defensively at every position. They can get you sped up with their press. They can make it difficult in the halfcourt. And they can throw a zone out there every now and then. They’re a team that can keep you off balance. They just don’t have a weak link. They don’t have rim protection like a (Willie) Cauley-Stein at Kentucky, but they’re a good position defense with multiple looks. If you get a beat on something, they’re going to switch to a couple of different presses and speed up the game or slow down the game depending how they want to do it.
"Scottie Wilbekin has become such a threat offensively to get his own shot. He’s hit some daggers at the end of halves and end of games. In this Tournament, it’s about shot-making. It’s not about plays. It’s not about the offense. Guys are making shots. He’s been making shots for them all season long down the stretch. He can get his own shot and he can do two things: He can get his own shot and get to the rim or he can get his own shot and make a 3. That’s pretty hard to guard. If you back off and try to get take away a drive he’ll hit you with a dagger 3, if you get too close, he’s going to drive right by you. And generally he’s making the right decisions. He’s athletic and strong enough where he can take a hit. That’s what makes him so dangerous. Michael Frazier II depends on offensive rebounding and a kick out, a Wilbekin drive and pitch. He’s more dependent. He’s a terrific shooter, but that’s how he gets his.
"Patric Young is an oak tree. He’s gotten so much better offensively. He can jump hook to both shoulders. He used to be a guy who could only score on penetration and dropoffs or an offensive rebound. Now he has some back to the basket game. You’ve got to decide: is he worth the double team? He gives them an inside threat. He can get you baskets inside, which he couldn’t do all the time last year. He’s always been strong and physical, but he was almost an afterthought last year.
"Prather is a 15-foot-and-in guy and a driver. He can make some close in jump shots. He has an active, live body. But we just backed off him and put a long guy on him. The only thing he was going to do was drive. He’s a terrific layup-maker and he's athletic. The way to play him is to force him into jump shooting. You’ve got to get him in transition. If you give him some space, you’ll be in better shape. I think that’s what happened late in the year. He’s a guardable guy.
"I don’t know if they have a weakness. They’re great on the bench. They have enough bodies. Maybe they don’t score enough, but I don’t know if that’s a weakness. They don’t beat themselves. All the teams that are there don’t beat themselves. They’re not spectacular. They’re just solid."
"Shabazz Napier is a rare guy who has three parts to his game. A lot of kids can shoot the 3 and they can get it to the basket, but they don’t have a pull-up (jumper). Some kids have a pull-up but can’t get to the basket. He can do all three. He has unlimited range from 3. He has a great pull-up game when he can get by you and he can finish around the rim. Really, he has a fourth part because if he can get to the rim and get everyone to collapse on him, he can find the open guy. He’s a nightmare to guard. He doesn’t have to have a screen. He can get himself a shot. He’s a nightmare because unless you have quick bigs and can switch on him, he’s going to get some space off he ball screen.
"He’s a better outside shooter than Kemba Walker. If Napier took all open shots from 3, he’d be in the 40 percent-plus range (ed. note: he’s at 39.9 percent now). They’re similar in quickness, similar in leadership. I think he’s a better player than Kemba. He’s a more talented guy, but he’s not as disciplined as Kemba was in his senior year. Kemba didn’t take a lot of bad shots. At times, Shabazz’s downfall is that he’ll give into taking some guarded shots. He hasn’t done that in the Tournament as much, but during the year, he’d do that. You could bait him into take some bad shots. Kemba was a little more disciplined from that standpoint. As a pure talent, Shabazz is a little more talented.
"Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are probably neck and neck (as the next-most dangerous after Napier). They have three legit guys who can score on you. None of them need a screen necessarily, they just need some space. Daniels can shoot it so well from 3, that allows him to be an effective driver. If you’re in help defense and you’re recovering to him, he has an advantage on you. And he’s tall. Guards have to crowd him or he’ll shoot it over top of you and make it. Even a guard who crowds him, he has enough quickness to make a play. Boatright is maybe quicker than Shabazz. He’s not as good a player, but he’s just as quick if not quicker than Shabazz. He’s not always the most disciplined, but when he and Shabazz are disciplined about their shot selection, boy, they’re hard to guard.
"Kevin Ollie made a switch midseason on defense. Early in the year, they were a steal the ball from you and get you spread out kind of defense. They’ve become a help-side oriented defense. They’re more of a pack-line defense than they were earlier in the year. They’ll shoot a passing lane to get the ball. Shabazz and Boatright are dangerous when you have the ball. You’d better pay attention or they’ll take it from you. But they’re much better on the pick and roll now. They were much more spread out before. They have enough big guys they can throw at you even if they aren’t great offensive players. The unsung guy is the German guy (Niels Giffey). He’s a sound, fundamental defender, and he’s going to make every open shot."
"They’re always incredibly well-coached and play terrific defense. This team does, too. They go eight deep with guys who can score. They push the ball and they have guys that run to the 3-point line to make shots in transition.
"What makes them so dangerous is that they’re tough to guard at all five positions. If you can help off anybody, it would be Traevon Jackson, but even then you’re taking a chance.
"They’re all good. They’re all smart. And they all know what they can and can’t do, and they don’t do anything outside of that. Ben Brust is a big-time shooter, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the paint. Same with Josh Gasser. Sam Dekker is probably the most dynamic in that he’s tall and athletic and can stretch you out. They were all individually scary matchups.
"Frank Kaminksy is the most different from what we faced all year. In our league there are centers who can shoot the ball very well, but if you stop them from shooting, they can’t create off the bounce. That was the most difficult thing about Kaminsky. He can look at a shot, and if you guard him he’s able to put the ball on the deck and take three or four dribbles and even to get to the rim. We everything we could to stop him from getting 3-pointers, but once you’re on him, you have to dig in and keep your body in front of him. For centers defending him, that’s not something they’re used to doing where he can shoot and then take three or four dribbles. A lot of times he’s turning drives into post moves or he’ll take a dribble or two and put his back to the basket and turn it into post moves. He’s very versatile, and it’s not just that he can pop and shoot. He can pop and drive. He can make plays from everywhere on the court.
"They have an understanding of who they are and they’re all fine with it. They put five really good players on the court who can do a lot of things well. They’re in that swing offense, which is a motion offense where they’re just making reads, and they’re good enough to know how to see the court and where to take advantage. They have the ability to take advantage of each opportunity when it arises."
"They’re a different team from early in the year for two reasons. They’ve grown up and they trust each other more. In the middle of the year, they could go 15 minutes and just look horrible, look like an AAU team. Individual play, lazy passes, poor decisions, lobs that made no sense, they didn’t guard. For 15 minutes or more, they’d look horrible. Now, that has evaporated. They don’t have those stretches where they lose because of a four- or five-minute stretch where they’re poor.
"I felt sometimes Kentucky had some of their guys had one eye on the bench. I think John Calipari has settled down and let them play through their mistakes a little bit, not all of them, but some of them. They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at.
"Calipari has settled down. ... They can play through their mistakes without getting yanked or screamed at."
"For us, Julius Randle in the post was a major concern. We did a really good job against him. We tried to crowd him as much as he could. At the time, they weren’t a great 3-point shooting team. I’m guess they’re a little better in the NCAA Tournament. We weren’t really afraid to come off anybody other than James Young to crowd Julius Randle, so we tried to do that every time he caught it.
"Past that, they’re not a great transition team, but still pretty solid. We talked a lot to our guys about getting back in transition and just being physical. They’re young, but they have a lot of physical guys. At the time we played them, they weren’t doing a great job of getting back on defense. We tried to push the pace against them.
"We talked about Willie Cauley-Stein inside and how good a shot blocker he is. He had a pretty good game against us. They overcame his absence against Michigan. If he doesn’t play, that’s a loss for them defensively.
"Against us, they switched a lot of screens, a lot of ball screens. The thing with Kentucky and they way they play, you just pack the lane and make them beat you with 3s."
The freshman class will be present and accounted for in the Final Four, even if it’s not in the way anyone would have predicted.
The high school graduating class of 2013 will have more players in Dallas than any other class, but their roles will vary wildly.
Of the 13 freshmen in the Final Four, seven are from Kentucky. Five of those are playing major minutes. The other freshmen, whether three-star rookies for Wisconsin or McDonald’s All-Americans for Florida, are playing supporting roles.
The Final Four again includes teams with varying approaches and results in recruiting. Kentucky’s bench, for example, includes more five-star prospects than Wisconsin has signed in the last four years.
Whether it’s Florida’s veterans, Kentucky’s star power or UConn and Wisconsin’s talent development, each team in the Final Four started its roster in different spots only to end up in the same place Saturday.
As we get closer to tipoff at AT&T Stadium, we examined how the four programs in Dallas assembled their teams for a trip to the Final Four. For the purposes of this piece, we counted only players who played at least two games and 15 total minutes in the first two weeks of the Tourney.
Here’s how the Final Four teams were built:
Final Four players by Rivals.com star ranking*
Not ranked: 2
Two stars: 1
Three stars: 12
Four stars: 7
Five stars: 12
*includes only players who have logged 15 minutes or more in the NCAA Tournament.
• Two five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans have played fewer than 40 combined minutes — Florida’s Chris Walker and Kentucky’s Marcus Lee.
• Kentucky and Florida are the only schools in the Final Four with McDonald’s All-Americans getting regular minutes.
• With the exception of Dekker, Wisconsin built its foundation on 3-star prospects. Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson — all starters — were three-star prospects.
• Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin is the biggest steal in the NCAA Tournament. He is the only two-star prospect getting regular minutes in the Final Four — and he’s Florida’s top player.
• Throw out Kentucky, and the most prolific high school class for the other three teams in the Final Four was the 2010 graduating class.
• How much of an impact is 2010 having on this Final Four? That class included UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser and Ben Brust and the nucleus for Florida’s team (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather).
• For another year, transfers were a major topic in college basketball, but not in the Final Four. The teams in Dallas feature only two transfers in the regular lineup: Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith (from Virginia Tech) and UConn’s Lasan Kromah (from George Washington). Both earn significant minutes, but neither are starters.
Sunshine State Stars
• The Final Four teams culled players from Florida high schools and prep schools more than any other state with 11 players who graduated from Sunshine State schools. Granted, the amount of high school transfers means that number shouldn’t resonate quite the same way as in college football recruiting.
• The number of Florida-based players does not focus solely on the Gators, though Billy Donovan culled the core of his roster from in-state schools. UConn (Amida Brimah and DeAndre Daniels) and Kentucky (Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee) also mined the state of Florida.
• Three players in the Final Four ended their high school careers at Montverde (Fla.) Academy — Florida’s Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II and Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson. All transferred to the Central Florida powerhouse. Hill transferred from Mount Dora (Fla.) Bible School, and Frazier transferred from Tampa (Fla.) Plant. Johnson reclassified from the class of 2014 to the class of 2013 when he transferred to Montverde to follow St. Patrick’s (N.J.) coach Kevin Boyle to Florida.
Who’s Not Here
• Wisconsin has had the least attrition of any of the Final Four teams. The Badgers have lost only three players who signed during the 2010-13 recruiting cycles, according to Rivals.com. Two transferred and one, Evan Anderson, left the team in February.
• Kentucky has lost eight players since 2010 who left as underclassmen for the NBA Draft, more than double the other three teams combined. UConn lost two (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb), Florida lost one (Bradley Beal) and Wisconsin lost none.
• As none of the Final Four teams are relying on transfers, none have lost major players due to transfers. The Final Four teams have lost a combined eight players from the last four recruiting cycles to transfers.
• Coincidentally, South Dakota State has a loose connection to the Final Four. Cody Larson, who was dismissed from Florida, transferred to play for the Jackrabbits; he averaged 13.1 points this season for SDSU. In January, George Marshall announced intentions to transfer from Wisconsin to South Dakota State.
The Final Four is a collection of fine players, but like the NCAA Tournament as a whole, the diverse pieces make for a more interesting puzzle.
The stars have been stars on the way to the Final Four, including UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin.
Meanwhile, the four teams in North Texas wouldn’t be here without some players taking the next step (Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison) or those that emerged from nowhere (Kentucky’s Marcus Lee).
Rather than ranking the top prospects or picking the best players, Athlon Sports put together the ultimate Final Four roster from the four teams that will face off Saturday.
Most indispensable: Shabazz Napier, UConn
No player means more to his team than Napier does to Connecticut. Just think of how many categories he could fill on this list below: He is UConn’s clutch shotmaker from inside and out. He’s an 86.6 percent free throw shooter. And he’s an excellent rebounder for a guard with a team-leading 5.9 boards per game. As long as Napier keeps up his 23.3 points per game pace in the Tourney, comparisons to Kemba Walker will only increase if UConn wins another game.
Floor general: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin hasn’t turned the ball over since midway through the first half against Pittsburgh ... in the round of 32. That’s more than two and a half games without coughing up the ball. His assist numbers are down a bit (3.0), but Wilbekin has answered the question of who is going to be Florida’s go-to scorer in the Tournament. He’s averaging 16.8 points in the Tourney, including two buzzer beaters at the end of first halves in four games.
Sharpshooter: Michael Frazier II, Florida
More than three-quarters of Frazier’s attempts from the field have come from 3-point range. Frazier has also been efficient on all those long shots, converting 44.8 percent. That’s significantly better than other jump-shooting specialists in the Final Four, Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (39.2 percent) and Kentucky’s James Young (34.6 percent)
Shotmaker: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Aaron Harrison’s emergence has been one of the keys for the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, allowing Kentucky to start to play like the team the Wildcats were expected to be early in the season. Harrison is leading Kentucky at 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by his game-winner against Michigan. The Wolverines could not have defended Harrison any better, but the 3 fell to send Kentucky to the Final Four.
Matchup nightmare: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Arizona, one of the nation’s best defensive teams with big men Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, were lost against the 7-foot Kaminsky. The revelation of Wisconsin's season has his share of post moves, but he's also the kind of outside shooting threat that befuddles bigger defenders. Kaminsky hit 3 of 5 3-pointers in the win over Arizona in the Elite Eight.
Pure talent: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Of all the superstars in this freshman class, Randle is the only one still playing. Randle will have to wait to find out if his draft stock is significantly improved as a result of the Tournament, but the last two weeks certainly haven’t hurt. Randle has picked up a double-double in every Tournament game, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Mr. Universe: Patric Young, Florida
Young has looked like the most physically dominant player on the court for several seasons. He’s also among the hardest-working players in the Final Four. He’s been quiet on the score sheet, but he had four blocked shots against both Pittsburgh and Dayton. He's also the best recruiting tool for Florida's strength program.
Glue guy: Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Florida’s Patric Young was named the captain of Seth Davis’ annual all-glue team on SI.com, but we’ve already slotted the Gators senior elsewhere. On our Final Four Dream Team, we’ll go with another one of Davis’ glue guys in Gasser. The senior is a capable point guard who moved to make room for Traevon Jackson while losing none of his offensive efficiency or perimeter defense.
Mr. Clutch: Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
Perhaps this pick is counterintuitive with players like Napier and Wilbekin on he team, not to mention Aaron Harrison, the owner of the game-winning 3 to beat Michigan. Jackson isn’t quite as dramatic, but just as effective. His free throw shooting late has been critical. Jackson has made 36 of 44 free throw attempts in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Defensive difference-maker: Ryan Boatright, UConn
Boatright has been more than a complement to Napier in the Huskies, though he’s been solid in the last four games. Boatright has averaged 13.8 points in the Tournament, but his biggest contribution was four steals against Michigan State.
Defensive specialist: Will Yeguete, Florida
The Gators forward averages only five points per game, but he’s also Florida’s best interior defender. Yeguete averages 5.2 rebounds per game, third on the team, but he leads the Gators in defensive rebound rate.
Sixth man: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Hayes is a physical 6-7, 250-pound freshman with a bright future, but Wisconsin has plenty of veterans. Hayes has made the most of his time, though. His 17.7 points per 40 minutes is second only to Kaminsky among Wisconsin regulars.
X-factor: DeAndre Daniels, UConn
UConn is often criticized as a team with a major size disadvantage. That may be true, but it’s not nearly as pronounced when Daniels is playing the way he has during the last month. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds since March 8, including 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Sweet 16 against Iowa State.
Sleeping giant: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The Badgers forward is averaging 9.3 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, scoring only seven points apiece against Baylor and Arizona in the regional. Wisconsin has come this far without Dekker being a major focal point. The Badgers could be national champions if he approaches his season averages.
Not that we really needed it, but the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight weekend showcased why the NCAA Tournament is one of sports’ greatest events.
And not just because six games of the 12 came down to the final seconds.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, one of the game’s most consistent coaches for 30 years, reached his first Final Four. A day later, UConn’s Kevin Ollie, in only his second season has a head coach anywhere, did the same.
And while Kentucky played in three of the best games of the Tournament against Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, the Wildcats managed to surprise by unleashing a seldom-used five-star forward to beat the Wolverines.
With the field whittled from 68 teams to four, here are some other numerical superlatives and surprises.
18. Seed total of the Final Four teams, making this the fourth-most “upsetting” Final Four since seeding began
The sum of the seed numbers for Final Four teams is one of a handful of odd data kept by the NCAA. In essence, it’s a shorthand way to figure how many upsets occurred (or didn’t) on the way to the Final Four. The sum of the seed numbers for Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky comes to 18 for the fourth-highest total since the NCAA started seeding the Tournament in 1979. Here are the others:
|Sum of the seed numbers in the Final Four since 1979|
|Year||Sum||Teams (champion in bold)|
|2000||22||No. 1 Michigan State, No. 5 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin|
|1980||21||No. 2 Louisville, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 UCLA|
|2006||20||No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 LSU, No. 11 George Mason|
|2014||18||No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 UConn, No. 8 Kentucky|
25. Years separating Bo Ryan’s and Kevin Ollie’s ages at the time of their first Final Four
Perhaps the best illustration of the random and cruel nature of the NCAA Tournament was watching Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and UConn’s Kevin Ollie reaching the Final Four in the same weekend. Ryan, 66, has been coaching college basketball since 1984 and at Wisconsin since 2001 and waiting 30 years to reach his first NCAA Final Four. Ollie, 41, earned his first trip in only his second year as a head coach. If Ollie seems young to reach the precipice of college basketball, he’s not compared to the other two coaches in North Texas. Both Billy Donovan and John Calipari reached their first Final Four in their 30s.
|Coaches' ages at the time of their first Final Four|
|Billy Donovan||34||Florida, 2000|
|John Calipari||35||UMass, 1996|
|Kevin Ollie||41||UConn, 2014|
|Bo Ryan||66||Wisconsin, 2014|
5. Coaches to reach the Final Four in their first or second season as a head coach
Speaking of Ollie, he’s in an exclusive group of coaches who reached the Final Four in either their first or second season of their career as a head coach. Steve Fisher at Michigan in 1989 and Bill Guthridge at North Carolina in 1998 both reached the Final Four in their first seasons as head coaches. Mike Davis at Indiana in 2002 and Shaka Smart at VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four in only their second seasons as head coaches. Two of the five coaches were handpicked successors for legendary coaches — Guthridge for Dean Smith and Ollie for Jim Calhoun. Davis was an assistant for Bob Knight when he was fired in 2000.
16. Top 100 NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four
The Final Four will feature 16 top 100 NBA Draft prospects, according to rankings by ESPN’s Chad Ford. Not surprisingly, Kentucky leads the way with seven top 100 players. Here is the full list and their rank in the top 100:
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
15. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
17. James Young, Kentucky
28. Chris Walker, Florida
31. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
33. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
35. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
36. Patric Young, Florida
42. Shabazz Napier, UConn
51. DeAndre Daniels, UConn
52. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
61. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
62. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
82. Kasey Hill, Florida
89. Michael Frazier II, Florida
91. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
1. Team in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com
Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have been a predictor of sorts for the national championship, but that may be put to the test this season. Every national champion since 2003 has ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, in other words, points per possession weighted against the schedule. Five teams are ranked in the top 20 in both, but Florida is the only one remaining in the Final Four. the other four are Arizona, Louisville, Tennessee and Wichita State. Here’s a look at how the Final Four teams rank in Pomeroy’s ratings:
|Final Four teams in KenPom.com rankings|
|Offensive efficiency||Defensive efficiency|
108 minutes, 49 seconds. Game time since Scottie Wilbekin’s last turnover
Wilbekin has been Florida’s top scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 16.8 points per game, but he’s perhaps more impressive as a ball handler. Wilbekin didn’t turn the ball over in the regional against UCLA or Dayton and hasn’t lost the ball since 8:49 remaining in the first half against Pittsburgh in the round of 32.
3-2 Florida’s record against teams in the Final Four
Florida will be familiar with any opponent in the Final Four, starting with UConn on Saturday. The Gators’ only two losses this season have come against two teams in the Final Four — Florida lost 59-53 to Wisconsin on Nov. 12 and 65-64 to UConn on Dec. 2. The Gators swept the series with Kentucky, whom Florida could meet in the national title game, by defeating the Wildcats in Lexington, Gainesville and in Atlanta in the SEC Tournament.
74. Points scored by Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in the NCAA Tournament, 11 more than his entire freshman season
Wisconsin’s 7-foot center has been one of the top surprises this season, continuing with a 28-point performance against Arizona, one of the top defensive teams in the country. In just four games in the Tournament, Kaminsky eclipsed is scoring output from his freshman season (63 points). Kaminsky’s 74 points in four Tournament games is more than half of his total scoring output as a sophomore (133).
5. Field goals by Marcus Lee in the Elite Eight, doubling his output since Nov. 27
This is what happens when you sign the classes John Calipari has over the last few seasons. McDonald’s All-Americans will sit on the bench, and sometimes in one of the last seats on the bench. With Willie Cauley-Stein out with an ankle injury, Kentucky turned to Marcus Lee to fill some of the minutes. Lee did that and more buy grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring at the basket. Lee finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Michigan. Lee was 5 of 14 from the field in Kentucky’s previous 27 games, of which Lee played in only 14. Against Michigan, Lee added eight rebounds
3. Players returning to the Final Four
Wisconsin is in its first Final Four since 2000. Florida’s veterans came up short in three consecutive Elite Eights. And Kentucky’s team is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. All the Final Four experience resides with perhaps the unlikeliest team to reach the Final Four this season. UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander played on the Huskies’ 2011 national title team. It’s worth noting that senior Jarrod Polson was a member of the 2012 title-winning team, but he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.
|The 2014 Final Four: What You Need to Know|
|St. Joe's 89-81 (OT)|
Iowa State 81-67
Michigan State 60-54
|Path to the Final Four||American 75-35|
Arizona 64-63 (OT)
|Kansas State 56-49|
Wichita State 78-76
|2007||2011||Last Final Four||2000||2012|
|2006, 2007||1999, 2004, 2011||National titles||1941||1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012|
|Defense||Shabazz||Team in a word||"Buzzcuts"||Freshmen|
|Scottie Wilbekin||Shabazz Napier||Best college player||Frank Kaminsky||Julius Randle|
|Chris Walker||Shabazz Napier||Best pro prospect||Frank Kaminsky||Julius Randle|
|Lexx Edwards||Leon Tolksdorf||Best name||Duje Dukan||Sam Malone|
|12||12||Active NBA players||3||21|
|Billy Donovan||Kevin Ollie||Coach||Bo Ryan||John Calipari|
|Rockville Center, N.Y.||Dallas||Coach's hometown||Chester, Pa.||Strickly, Pa.|
|Providence||UConn||Coach's alma mater||Wilkes (Pa.)||Clarion (Pa.)|
|Rick Pitino||Jim Calhoun||Coach's mentor||Rob Rainey||Vance Walberg|
|Shaka Smart, VCU||None yet||Coach's disciple||Tony Bennett, Virginia||Derek Kellogg, UMass|
|49||57||US News & World Report Rank||41||119|
|6||NR||Princeton Review Party School Rank||13||NR|
|The Independent Florida Alligator||The UConn Daily Campus||Student newspaper||The Badger Herald||Kentucky Kernel|
|Albert E. Gator||Jonathan the Husky XIII||Mascot's full name||Buckingham U. Badger||Scratch|
|Joakim Noah||Ray Allen||Best basketball alum||Michael Finley||Dan Issel|
|Not at the moment||No||Is this a football school?||Sometimes||Huh?|
|Emmitt Smith||Charles Nagy||Best non-basketball athlete||Chris Chelios||George Blanda|
|Abby Wambach, soccer||Diana Taurasi, basketball||Best female athlete||Nicole Joraanstad, curling||Jenny Hansen, gymnastics|
|Marco Rubio||Robert Diamond||Notable public figure||Dick Cheney||Mitch McConnell|
|Faye Dunaway||Meg Ryan||Actress||Joan Cusack||Ashley Judd|
|Darrell Hammond||Bobby Moynihan||Funny Person||Jane Kaczmarek||Jared Lorenzen|
|John Atanasoff (inventor of first digital electronic computer)||David Lee (1996 Nobel Prize winner for physics)||Smart Person||Frank Lloyd Wright||John T. Scopes (defendant in Scopes Monkey Trial)|
|Cris Collinsworth||Rebecca Lobo||Sports Media Person||Andy Katz||Tom Hammond|
Nothing has come easy for Kentucky this season, especially not in the NCAA Tournament.
Sunday featured another Wildcats Tournament game, another thrilling finish.
Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds sent Kentucky to the Final Four with a 75-72 win over Michigan. Despite slipping to the NIT last season Kentucky has played in the Final Four in three of the last four seasons, including the 2012 national title.
The turnaround for the Harrison twins has allowed Kentucky to transform for a team that lost three of four games in the lackluster SEC from Feb. 27 to March 8, the most egregious being a loss to 14-20 South Carolina that saw John Calipari ejected.
Since the SEC Tournament, Kentucky has looked more and more like a team ready to contend for the national title. The Harrison twins have turned around their seasons, with Aaron averaging 16 points per game in the Tournament and Andrew averaging 12.3.
The same team that appeared to have chemistry issues and problems playing to its potential now has answered the call in three hotly contested Tournament games against an undefeated team (Wichita State), its top rival (Louisville) and the Big Ten champions (Michigan).
All of that led to this:
The shadow of Kemba Walker continues to follow Shabazz Napier at Connecticut.
The Huskies senior guard has been primed to step into Walker’s shoes since his sophomore season, a year after Walker led UConn to the national title.
Like Walker, Napier is a guard who can carry the Huskies night in and night out. He can create his own shot to an acrobatic degree, at the end of the shot clock or at the buzzer. And Napier is indispensable when he’s not taking shots, leading his team in rebounds and assists.
With a 60-54 win over Michigan State to lead UConn to the Final Four, Napier will continue to be mentioned along with Walker, who led UConn to the 2011 national championship.
Walker, though, was willing to put Napier in a class on his own.
Best PG in the country. Shabazz Napier— Kemba walker (@KembaWalker) March 30, 2014
Napier’s run might need to finish with a national championship for it to stand side by side with Walker's in the hearts of UConn fans, but the younger guard may have had a tougher road to the Final Four.
True, Walker’s hot streak started in the Big East Tournament when the Huskies won five games in five days for the automatic bid. Napier’s team lost by 10 to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference final, but the 2014 Huskies had similar difficulties through the regular season.
UConn started AAC play with back-to-back losses to Houston and SMU on the road and lost all three meetings with Louisville. In other words, UConn didn’t look much like a team capable of a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Unless Napier started to look more like Walker.
UConn started in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed — the 2011 Huskies were a No. 3 — and defeated the Big East regular season champion (Villanova) and the Big 12 and Big Ten Tournament champions (Iowa State and Michigan State) on the way to the national semifinal.
Napier has been the focal point, averaging 23.3 points per game, but how does his run stack up with Walker game-by-game, here’s a look:
|Kemba Walker, 2011||Shabazz Napier, 2014|
|No. 14 Bucknell|
|First||No. 10 Saint Joseph’s|
|No. 6 Cincinnati|
|Second||No. 1 Villanova|
|No. 2 San Diego State|
|Sweet 16||No. 3 Iowa State|
|No. 5 Arizona|
|Elite Eight||No. 4 Michigan State|
|No. 4 Kentucky|
|Final Four||No. 1 Florida|
|No. 8 Butler|
Connecticut and Michigan State are proof that patience is a virtue.
The outlook for the Huskies and Spartans, who will meet in the East regional final, could have changed drastically if not key players learning how to recover from disappointments.
Two years ago, UConn was the defending national champion and starting No. 4 in the preseason. Shabazz Napier was expected to take over a team filled with talent — Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drumond and Alex Oriakhi — but that never materialized in a 20-14 season.
Napier could have transferred after that season, given that the coach who build the program, Jim Calhoun, retired. Napier decided to stay for his junior season, saying he owed it to the university.
“I didn't know how to be a leader out there at that point,” Napier said. “I was doing things that I wasn't definitely happy about. I isolated myself a lot when things were down. I didn't learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year (Kemba Walker).”
Now a senior, Napier is the unquestioned focal point on a team a game away from the Final Four.
Michigan State’s adversity wasn’t quite as drawn out, but nearly as devastating. A series of injuries contributed to a 5-7 finish to the regular season. Not until the Big Ten Tournament did the veteran Spartans return to their early season potential.
At one point this season, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson came to blows over a forgotten practice before a game against Penn State.
“It is funny (they are playing well now) because I think at times they were more adversarial,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We had the big Penn State incident, which really wasn't nearly as big as it seemed, but that really started the turnaround. So it's kind of funny how they're having success together, when it all started out they both probably had one of their best games over a little scuffle.”
Time: 2:10 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan State 72-65
Braden Gall: Michigan State 82-69
Mitch Light: Michigan State 68-66
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 75-70
Adreian Payne was one of the stories of the round of 64 with 41 points against Delaware, but Branden Dawson has been the key in the last two games. Dawson missed nine games midseason after he suffered a broken hand punching a desk in frustration. He came back for 26 points and nine rebounds against Harvard and 25 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia.
How Connecticut got here:
The Huskies have played solid defense in the NCAA Tournament, forcing 16 turnovers against Villanova and rendering Iowa State’s stars DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim ineffective. While Shabazz Napier is perhaps the most indispensable players in the country, others have taken a bigger role in the Tournament. Napier still accounts for 27.5 percent of UConn’s scoring in the last three games, but Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels have been more involved.
Key for Michigan State to get to the Final Four: Slow down Shabazz Napier
Expect Michigan State to study Louisville’s games against UConn’s superstar guard. The Cardinals held Napier in check (3 of 17 from 3) in the Huskies’ last two losses of the season. Even if UConn has been more than the Shabazz Show in the NCAA Tournament, he’s the focal point of the offense. Limit him, and the Huskies are in a world of trouble.
Key for Connecticut to get to the Final Four: Own everything from the free throw line out
Despite the win over Iowa State, this is still a team that struggles to score around the basket. For the Huskies to beat Michigan State, UConn needs to continue to stay hot from the 3-point line (39.4 percent this season) and free throw line (76.9 percent). Both of these are the territory of Napier.
Player to watch: DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut
Perhaps the absence of Georges Niang for Iowa State played a major role in Daniels’ breakout in the Sweet 16, but he’ll be worth watching again. Daniels erupted for 27 points and nine rebounds against the Cyclones.
On Selection Sunday, so much of the chatter involves the matchups, seeding and statistical trends that will be key in advancing through the NCAA Tournament.
Those are all at play, but Sunday’s Midwest regional final is a test on the intangibles.
Kentucky has been through one of the most hotly contested games of the Tournament against Wichita State and then a foul-filled game against Louisville that wasn’t settled until the final minutes.
“Everybody says that game was the best game ever played and this game was also a classic,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We're so tired, we don't know. We have no idea if it was a good game, bad game. We just know we won. Let's get something to eat and go to bed.”
Michigan has had its own grind, albeit not over the course of two weeks like Kentucky. The Wolverines jumped to a substantial lead against Tennessee before four consecutive turnovers allowed the Volunteers to narrow the deficit to one point in the final 13 seconds.
On Sunday, all that resets to zero with a Final Four on the line.
Time: 4:55 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Michigan 78-72
Mitch Light: Michigan 83-80
Nathan Rush: Kentucky 80-78
A year ago, Mitch McGary’s size gave Michigan an element it had been lacking, enabling the Wolverines to reach the national title game. Michigan doesn’t have quite the impact presence of McGary in the frontcourt — though Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have played well. Michigan, though, has been on fire from 3-point range shooting 49.2 percent (32 of 65) from beyond the arc in the Tournament.
How Kentucky got here:
Aaron Harrison has taken the next step in his game. Kentucky’s freshman guard is averaging 17.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, tops for the Wildcats. Aaron Harrison has been solid as well, averaging 13.7 points. The development of Kentucky’s backcourt has transformed the Wildcats from the team that played its way into a No. 8 seed into a title contender.
Key for Michigan to get to the Final Four: Overwhelm Kentucky on offense
John Beilein knows how to coach an offensive basketball game. His team neutralized Tennessee’s size advantage in the Sweet 16 by shooting 11 of 20 from 3-point range. Michigan also can get to the rim, but 3-point shooting is the Wolverines’ bread-and-butter. Kentucky ranks 52nd nationally (31.8 percent) in defending the 3-point line.
Key for Kentucky to get to the Final Four: Own the offensive glass
Kentucky is second in the nation in offensive rebound rate while Michigan ranks 259th. There’s an opportunity for the Wildcats to own the offensive glass on both ends. The only catch: Willie Cauley-Stein likely will not play. He is Kentucky’s best offensive rebounder after Julius Randle.
Player to watch: Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
One of the more anonymous members of Kentucky’s star-studded freshman class, Johnson will be in focus in the Elite Eight. With Cauley-Stein, Johnson’s workload likely will increase. He showed he’s capable of making the most of it with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Louisville.
When Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points in a November game against North Dakota, the outburst was something for the college basketball hardcores to ponder for a bit.
Kaminsky was a non-factor for the first two seasons of his career, so it certainly came as a surprise. But November games involving Big Sky Conference teams don’t necessarily capture the imagination.
That changed Saturday night.
Kaminsky is on another planet right now. pic.twitter.com/V37pjnMSkG— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) March 30, 2014
Kaminsky scored 28 points and 11 rebounds against one of the best defensive teams in the country to send Wisconsin to the Final Four and to become the latest star in college basketball.
The 7-foot junior who had only one other Big Ten scholarship offer out of high school (from Northwestern) was an all-conference performer, but never the star he was against Arizona.
Against an NBA lottery prospect (Aaron Gordon) and the Pac-12’s career leader in blocks (Kaleb Tarczewski), Kaminsky flourished in a 64-63 overtime win even if it didn’t start that way.
This is what TBS analyst Charles Barkley stressed as his points of emphasis for Wisconsin’s offense in the second half:
Charles Barkley obviously does not know how to spell Kaminsky because he spelled it three different ways pic.twitter.com/5rnhFCJjhM— Keaton Maisano (@002kfm) March 30, 2014
From there, Kaminsky all the tools that make him a matchup nightmare: He beat Tarczewski and Gordon with his moves around the basket, and he stepped out to make 3 of 5 3-pointers. He made 11 of 20 shots from the field while his team shot 31.7 percent. And he added seven offensive rebounds.
His 43-point performance early in the season may have been the most prolific, but Saturday night made sure he’d be a hero in Madison.
After Saturday, the debate for the top active coach without a Final Four appearance likely will be settled.
It’s one neither Bo Ryan nor Sean Miller want to win.
The coaches at Wisconsin and Arizona have accomplished much in their careers, and both are considered among the best in the game. Yet neither has checked off one box in their careers: A Final Four appearance.
Ryan and Miller are a combined 0-3 in the Elite Eight. That will change Saturday in the West regional final.
"It would mean a lot (to reach the Final Four)," Miller said. "Probably it would mean no more or no less for me than any coach who is coaching in this round. Everybody knows the two words Final Four mean a great deal to programs, universities. I follow like everybody does, the reaction of our fans and fans of other programs, and it's just amazing to see the outpour on campuses when you see a team get closer and closer to a Final Four."
Time: 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: West (Anaheim)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Wisconsin 68-65
Braden Gall: Arizona 69-65
Mitch Light: Arizona 78-77
Nathan Rush: Arizona 68-66
Little went right for Arizona early in its Sweet 16 matchup against San Diego State. Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots, and San Diego State owned the boards early in the game. Arizona chipped away before Johnson made his final two shots and 10 of 10 free throws to win 70-64.
How Wisconsin got here:
The Badgers have proven to be one of the most versatile offensive teams left in the Tournament. Consider this: The Badgers have two players averaging 14 points per game in the tournament. One is the 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky and the other is jump shooter Ben Brust.
Key for Arizona to get to the Final Four: Crack the Wisconsin offense
Wisconsin has assisted on 46 of 81 field goals in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by Thursday's showcase against Baylor. Arizona's Nick Johnson is one of the nation’s top perimeter defenders, and Aaron Gordon is an elite athlete. Shutting down the passing lanes will be key to slowing down this Wisconsin attack.
Key for Wisconsin to get to the Final Four: Crack the Arizona defense
Wisconsin picked apart Baylor’s zone with crisp ball movement along with Frank Kaminsky’s moves around the basket. That’s going to be much more different against Arizona’s defense, which prefers man-to-man defense. Wisconsin is fourth nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com, but Arizona is first in defensive efficiency.
Player to watch: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Why was Arizona able to comeback from six points down early in the second half despite a cold shooting night from Johnson? The answer is Gordon. He helped Arizona stay in the game despite opportunities for the Aztecs to pull away late. His highlight reel dunk narrowed the game to 40-38 and Arizona never looked back.
A team can’t reach six regional finals in nine seasons, including four in a row, without being either the dream crusher or dream maker.
Consider the teams the Gators have faced in the NCAA Tournament since the year of Florida’s first title in 2006: Florida defeated George Mason in the Final Four in 2006 and Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16 in 2013. But the Gators also were one of the victims of Butler on the Bulldogs’ second run to the national title game in 2011.
Now, here comes No. 11 seed Dayton in the Elite Eight. Will the Flyers meet the same fate as George Mason or Dunk City? Or will they following the same path as Butler?
Florida, though, has its own history to make. The Gators have reached four consecutive Elite Eights, coming up short of the Final Four in each of the last three seasons.
“At the beginning of the year, it's our goal to make it here, and the fact that we have this opportunity, we're not going to let the moment get bigger than us, staying locked in and focused on what we need to do,” said Florida center Patric Young, who has been a member of all four Elite Eight teams. “We're just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can put themselves in this opportunity to play for a Final Four again.”
Time: 6 p.m., Eastern
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: Memphis (South)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 67-52
Braden Gall: Florida 73-56
Mitch Light: Florida 73-62
Nathan Rush: Florida 80-70
The Gators held UCLA to 0.943 points per possession, the Bruins’ second lowest average since Feb. 2. Florida’s defensive prowess has been well-established but deserves to be reinforced: No team has averaged better than a point per possession against the Gators since Feb. 22 against Ole Miss.
How Dayton got here:
Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse in the first weekend with stout defense, but the Flyers proved they could score enough to advance in the field with an 82-72 win over Stanford, a team with a significant size advantage.
Key for Florida to get to the Final Four: Crack Dayton’s perimeter defense
The Flyers held Stanford’s Chasson Randle to 2 of 10 from the field, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis to 0 of 5 from 3-point range and Ohio State to 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. The Flyers will try to do the same to Florida’s Michael Frazier II, who hit five 3-pointers against UCLA.
Key for Dayton to get to the Final Four: Match Florida’s versatility and balance
One of Florida’s best strengths is the Gators' balance and depth. Dayton may be one of the few teams that can match Florida’s numbers. A dozen players attempted a shot in the Sweet 16 win over Stanford, and nine Flyers are averaging more than 11 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, no one averages more than 30 minutes. Dayton will try to stay fresh against a more talented team.
Players to watch: Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Young, Florida
Perhaps the most interesting storyline in Florida’s run to another Elite Eight has been the play of the Gators’ point guards. Wilbekin has been the go-to scorer, putting up 21 points against Pittsburgh and picking up the key buckets to pull away from UCLA. The freshman Young also has become more involved with 10 assists against the Bruins. Together, they have 21 assists to five turnovers in the NCAA Tournament.
For Michigan State, reaching the Final Four is almost a birthright.
For Virginia, reaching the Final Four has been a long time coming.
Of course, neither can seal a trip in Friday’s Sweet 16 game, but that’s just an illustration of the different pressures for the two teams meeting in New York City.
Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t want to be the first seniors to play every year for Tom Izzo and miss the Final Four. Meanwhile, Virginia, once a Tournament regular, hasn’t been to the national semifinals since 1984.
With both Tom Izzo and Tony Bennett taking veteran teams into Madison Square Garden for the regional, the sense of history isn’t lost on either group.
“I'm going to have a chance to get to another one unless I get fired this week, but some of the seniors don't have a chance,” Izzo said. “I really believe that's their ownership in it.”
Time: 10 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Virginia 58-54
Braden Gall: Michigan State 68-66
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-50
Nathan Rush: Michigan State 74-64
If Virginia was seemed like an easy upset pick, either due to the Cavaliers’ lack of recent NCAA Tournament success or the slow pace of play, they didn’t show it in the first week. The Cavaliers demolished Memphis in the round of 32 with a balanced offensive attack that yielded five double-digit scorers.
How Michigan State got here:
Remember all that injury talk from February and early March? Other than Keith Appling’s wrist, that’s not an issue. Adreian Payne scored 41 against Delaware and Branden Dawson scored 26 against Harvard. Michigan State is in as good a shape as it has been in months. Even if that’s not perfect — Appling's injury is no small matter — the Spartans have been good enough to get this far with an opportunity advance deeper into the Tournament.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Iowa State-UConn | Louisville-Kentucky
Key for Virginia to get to the Elite Eight: Joe Harris in the clutch
One of the great stories for Virginia this season is how the Cavaliers were able to win the ACC even though Joe Harris hasn’t been their top player (that would be Malcolm Brogdon). Harris, though, has averaged 14.8 points in the last five games thanks to timely 3-pointers. If Virginia is indeed a Final Four contender, Harris and Brogdon need to be a 1-2 punch.
Key for Michigan State to get to the Elite Eight: Adreian Payne’s game
Does anyone have an answer for what Adreian Payne can do? The 6-11 senior can post up and hit 3-point shots. Virginia is an elite offensive team, but the Cavaliers and forward Akil Mitchell haven’t faced many mismatches like this. If Payne is anywhere close to his 41-point form from the round of 64, Virginia is going to have trouble.
Player to watch: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling’s wrist remains an issue. The point guard attempted two shots against Harvard, four against Delaware and four in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan. Even if his wrist isn’t full healthy at any point during the NCAA Tournament, his limitations might limit Michigan State’s ability to advance.
Take note, college football, this is what you were missing from your postseason before the playoff took over.
The state of Kentucky is a state of Alabama of sorts for college basketball. Just as Alabama and Auburn accounted for every national title from 2009-12, Louisville and Kentucky have enjoyed a similar, but shorter, streak with the Bluegrass State claiming the last two national championships.
But along the way, Kentucky defeated Louisville in a Final Four game in 2012, and now the two will meet in the Sweet 16. That’s two postseason meetings in the last three seasons. Just ask anyone in Kentucky if that’s diminished the regular season meeting.
“People grieve for a year after the game,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “People celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work.”
Not now, when the stakes have been higher in the last three seasons, with both teams capable of winning national championships.
“There's no way around it,” Louisville guard Russ Smith said. “But at the end of the day they're right, it's much bigger than a rivalry. It's a Sweet 16 game.”
Time: 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 68-62
Braden Gall: Louisville 70-64
Mitch Light: Louisville 68-61
Nathan Rush: Louisville 73-70
Louisville’s two games in the NCAA Tournament haven’t been pretty for a team that has look of the national title contender. Manhattan, coached by Rick Pitino disciple Steve Masiello, was able to counter Louisville possession by possession. The Saint Louis win in the round of 32 was a sloppy, offense-optional 66-51 win.
How Kentucky got here here:
Kentucky is finally starting to look like the kind of team projected as a national title contender in the preseason. James Young started hitting shots, and Andrew and Aaron Harrison played their best game of the season against Wichita State in the round of 32. Continue that, and Kentucky can keep playing in the Tournament.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Iowa State-UConn | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Louisville to get to the Elite Eight: Russ Smith getting his game together
Rick Pitino was frustrated with his star guard after the first weekend of the Tournament with good reason. Smith turned the ball over 13 times in two games while shooting 6 of 19 from the floor. The senior is only four games removed from scoring 42 points in a game against Houston and six games from 13 assists against UConn. If anyone can turn things around in a matter of days, it’s Smith.
Key for Kentucky to get to the Elite Eight: Prove the Wichita State game wasn’t a fluke
Kentucky underachieved for most of the season before facing an undefeated Wichita State team in the round of 32. The game was as hotly contested as any Elite Eight or Final Four game for most of the second half, and Kentucky was able to escape with the 78-76 win thanks to a handful of non-Julius Randle freshmen playing their best game of the year. Perhaps the best thing to sustain this momentum is to face a rival in the Sweet 16.
Player to watch: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
The Cardinals forward has been on a hot streak since late February, but he’s faced few frontcourts like that of Kentucky. If Harrell can be a double-double type player against Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein — Harrell had only six points and four rebounds in the first meeting — Louisville will have a good chance to win.
The careers of Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie have been connected nearly from the start.
On Friday, they’ll meet in the Sweet 16, the first trip to the regional semifinal for both coaches.
The pair met in high school when they took a visit to Arizona. Then-coach Lute Olson offered a one scholarship to the first of the pair who would take it. Neither did. Hoiberg went to Iowa State while Ollie went to Connecticut. After their careers, they carved out niches in the NBA as bench players, playing on the same Chicago Bulls team in 2001-02.
When Hoiberg retired and joined the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office, Minnesota signed Ollie in his second-to-last season.
Now, both returned to their alma maters to meet in the NCAA Tournament.
“Listen, Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around, me for 10, him for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was,” Hoiberg said. “That's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step.”
Ollie was just as complimentary, but the two coaches will have to wait until Friday to root for each other again.
“It's always tough coaching against one of your great friends,” Ollie said. “But at the end of the day we are both competitors, we both love our university, and once we get in those lines, you pretty much don't have any friends.”
Time: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Region: East (New York)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Iowa State 82-77
Braden Gall: Iowa State 77-69
Mitch Light: Iowa State 82-77
Nathan Rush: UConn 70-69
North Carolina collapsed late to help Iowa State to an 85-83 win. Without Georges Niang in the lineup, DeAndre Kane took over to score 24 points against the Tar Heels. Iowa State is generally a versatile offensive team, with guards able to play close to the basket and forwards able to take shots from the perimeter. Niang was a valuable piece in that attack.
What Connecticut did to get here:
Shabazz Napier can take over, earning more Kemba Walker comparisons every time UConn wins another postseason game. He scored 24 points against Saint Joseph’s and 25 against Villanova to power UConn to the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 Previews
Michigan-Tennessee | Louisville-Kentucky | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Iowa State to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on DeAndre Kane
The senior who transferred for his senior year at Iowa State has carried the Cyclones for stretches this season. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer who has also proven to be a key performer in tight moments in the postseason. With Niang out, more is on Kane’s shoulders.
Key for Connecticut to get to the Elite Eight: Rely on Shabazz Napier
Perhaps it’s too easy to distill this game to the two superstar point guards, but that matchup is even more pronounced for UConn. While Melvin Ejim can take charge for Iowa State if Kane’s not the guy, UConn has no such option. It’s Napier or bust in the postseason.
Player to watch: Monte Morris, Iowa State
The Cyclones freshman point guard is one of the most sure-handed players in the Sweet 16 with the ball in his hands. His 5.2-to-1 mark is one of the national leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’s also learned how to score in recent games with 11 points per game in his last four.
Transformation is one of the key words for both Michigan and Tennessee as they reached the Sweet 16.
The top players for both teams have transformed themselves from last season. Michigan's Nik Stauskas added muscle to make him much more than a spot-up jump shooter. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes lost 10 pounds to become a more mobile and versatile big man.
But beyond individuals, both teams had to transform through the course of the season.
Michigan expected to have forward Mitch McGary, a breakout player during last year’s run to the national championship game, but back injuries knocked him out for the season before Big Ten play began. And Tennessee was one of the most inconsistent teams in the SEC before finally putting up results that reflected the Volunteers’ statistical production on both sides of the court.
“That's the great thing about a long season, anything can happen, trying to gel lineups and personnel, getting guys to play better and strengthen your bench,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “There are a lot of things that go on through the course of a season.”
And for Michigan and Tennessee, two teams that started the New Year in different places, those changes mean both are on the same footing for a regional final.
Time: 7 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony
Region: Midwest (Indianapolis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Michigan 78-71
Braden Gall: Tennessee 65-62
Mitch Light: Michigan 77-69
Nathan Rush: Michigan 80-75
Michigan hasn’t been tested in two NCAA Tournament games against Wofford and Texas. The Wolverines have been most impressive from the 3-point line, shooting a combined 21 of 45 from long range in two games.
How Tennessee got here:
Tennessee closed the regular season playing its best basketball, a trait that has continued from the First Four into the Sweet 16. Jarnell Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds since the start of the Tournament, giving Tennessee the most dominant big man of the first week.
Sweet 16 Previews
Iowa State-UConn | Louisville-Kentucky | Virginia-Michigan State
Key for Michigan to get to the Elite Eight: Lights out shooting
Michigan is a strong perimeter team with Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The Wolverines ranked sixth nationally by shooting 39.8 percent while taking a high volume of long-range shots. Beating Tennessee around the rim will be tough, so the outside shots will need to fall.
Key for Tennessee to get to the Elite Eight: Let Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon take over
Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan have been solid since Michigan lost Mitch McGary early in the season with a back injury, but they’ll have to take on the top frontcourt duo in the Sweet 16 in Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The pair is a force in the paint that will be tough to contain by Michigan’s smaller lineup.
Player to watch: Josh Richardson, Tennessee
Richardson has emerged to average 19.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. The 6-6 guard can also play standout defense, which will be key against Michigan’s guards.
All year, it seems Arizona has been waiting for one thing or another to catch up to the Wildcats to prevent them from making a deep run in the postseason.
First, the injury to veteran forward Brandon Ashley was supposed to hamper Arizona. Then, the Wildcats’ poor free throw shooting was going to be the liability.
If Thursday’s 70-64 win over San Diego State proved anything, Arizona can continue to win under less than perfect conditions all the way to the Elite Eight.
The Aztecs opened the first half in a drastic reversal of the first meeting between these two Western powers, when San Diego State lost 69-60 on Nov. 14.
Dwayne Polee, whom coach Steve Fisher left on the bench in that first game, scored 13 points. Led by Josh Davis, San Diego State dominated the glass early. The Aztecs had nine offensive rebounds through the entirety of their first meeting, but 10 in the first half of the Sweet 16.
On Arizona’s side, Wildcats star guard Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots from the field, and Kaleb Tarczewski picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. San Diego State led by 4 at the half and by as much as 6 early in the second half.
San Diego State played one of its best games of the year, but Arizona found a way.
An athletic dunk by Aaron Gordon, one of the top freshmen still playing in the Tournament, was part of an Arizona rally that brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit.
Johnson capped the game by making his final two shots, including a 3-pointer. More important, for a team that struggles at the line, Johnson was 10 of 10 on free throws.
Johnson’s free throw prowess was one of the few perfect performances in the Sweet 16 for Arizona, but it was enough.
Arizona's athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit against San Diego State with this ridiculous alley oop and dunk.
If the video isn't enough, check the still frames.
WHAT?! pic.twitter.com/K0MP8IBPnQ— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 28, 2014
The best way for Wisconsin to prove this Badgers team is different was the kind of game that encouraged viewers to tune out.
Wisconsin has struggled to advance in the NCAA Tournament in the past thanks in part to a methodical offense that hit a snag in the second round or Sweet 16.
|Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament|
|Year||UW Seed||Lost in..||To..|
|2013||5||Round of 64||12 Ole Miss|
|2012||4||Sweet 16||1 Syracuse|
|2011||4||Sweet 16||8 Butler|
|2010||4||Round of 32||12 Cornell|
|2009||12||Round of 32||4 Xavier|
|2008||3||Sweet 16||10 Davidson|
|2007||2||Round of 32||7 UNLV|
|2006||8||Round of 64||8 Arizona|
|2005||6||Elite Eight||1 North Carolina|
|2004||6||Round of 32||3 Pittsburgh|
|2003||5||Sweet 16||1 Kentucky|
Not this time. Wisconsin demolished Baylor from beginning to end in a 69-52 win to send the Badgers to their first Elite Eight since 2005. Wisconsin led 18-8 early and led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin hinted at it for most of the season, but the Sweet 16 win was further proof of this year’s Wisconsin team isn’t the same as the ones that stalled in the NCAA Tournament during most of Bo Ryan’s tenure.
Wisconsin picked apart the Baylor zone, the same that stymied Creighton and eventual national player of the year Doug McDermott in the round of 64. When Baylor finally switched to man-to-man in the first half, it made little difference.
Wisconsin’s ball movement was crisp as the Badgers picked up 18 assists on 26 field goals. The Badgers shot 52 percent from the floor, including 8 of 11 by Frank Kaminsky in his matchup against pro prospect Isaiah Austin.
That’s only part of the big picture of the best offensive team of the Ryan era. Wisconsin has topped 70 points per game for the first time since 2007 and hitting its top scoring average since 1994-95.
Entering Thursday, Wisconsin’s 37.6 percent shooting from 3 is the Badgers best since 2005. Wisconsin’s 51.5 percent shooting from 2-point range is its best since 2003. Ryan’s teams rarely turn the ball over, but the Badgers have their lowest turnover rate of the Ryan era.
The next game will be against a strong defensive team — either Arizona or San Diego State — but Wisconsin’s turnaround may lead to something else the Badgers haven’t done in a long time, reach the FInal Four.
After Mercer got the best of Duke and Jabari Parker, the Blue Devils’ star freshman told reporters he his college career was “incomplete.”
Parker, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, could have picked few words more loaded than “incomplete.”
Beyond Parker, though, incomplete would be the best way to grade the performance of a class of freshmen that’s the best since at least 2008, and perhaps the best of the one-and-done era.
A senior forward from the state of Montana got the best of Andrew Wiggins. Parker couldn’t find a way to score consistently against the Atlantic Sun champions from Macon, Ga. And Tyler Ennis never found his shot against one of the last teams in the field from the Atlantic 10.
If this was to be the year of superstar freshmen, it sure found an interesting way to stage its endgame.
Fred VanVleet’s 3-point attempt ensured the rookies from Kentucky would continue to advance. Otherwise, the major freshman contributions in this year’s Sweet 16 would be led by Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and a handful of freshmen who aren’t their team’s best two, three or four best players.
One of the major storylines of the season was the cast of talented freshmen across the country — from Duke to Kentucky to Kansas to Arizona. This year’s freshman class occupies the top four spots on DraftExpress’ top 100 and six of the top seven for ESPN’s Chad Ford.
Beyond Kentucky and Arizona, the freshman class didn’t translate draft prospects to postseason success. If this was the Year of Freshmen, the results may not be borne out in the Final Four.
No more Jabari Parker. No Andrew Wiggins. No Tyler Ennis. With a back injury, Joel Embiid didn’t make it to the conference tournament, and his team didn’t last long enough to see if he’d return in time for the Sweet 16. Embiid declared for the NBA Draft before the second weekend of the Tourney even began.
Indeed, if freshmen are to lead teams to the Final Four, it’s more than likely going to be in a secondary role ... unless Kentucky reaches Monday night.
|Top Freshmen in Sweet 16 (by minutes played)|
|1. Aaron Harrison||Kentucky||32.4||14.1||2 apg|
|2. James Young||Kentucky||32.3||14.2||4.3 apg|
|3. Andrew Harrison||Kentucky||31.4||10.9||3.8 apg|
|4. Aaron Gordon||Arizona||30.8||12.4||7.8 rpg|
|5. Julius Randle||Kentucky||30.6||14.8||10.5 rpg|
|6. London Perrantes||Virginia||29.9||5.5||3.8 apg|
|7. Monte Morris||Iowa State||27.9||6.6||3.7 apg|
|8. Derrick Walton||Michigan||26.6||8.1||2.8 apg|
|9. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson||Arizona||25.0||8.9||5.7 rpg|
|10. Zach LaVine||UCLA||24.4||9.9||2.6 rpg|
No one would doubt the coaching credentials for Sean Miller and Steve Fisher. Nor would anyone discount Arizona and San Diego State as two of the nation’s top programs right now West of the Rocky Mountains.
Still, a bit of legitimacy is on the line.
At Xavier and Arizona, Miller had advanced to the Sweet 16 or better five times. All that’s missing is a Final Four, Arizona’s first since 2001. Since taking over in 1999, Steve Fisher has supervised one of the best rebuilding jobs in college basketball by turning San Diego State into an NCAA regular. The next step is the Aztecs’ first regional final.
A win over Arizona, viewed as a national title contender since the preseason, would serve a dual purpose.
“We think we're one of the best teams (in the West),” San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee said. “Now that we've proven that we can hang with the big dogs and not only the West coast but in the nation, I think that we can be mentioned among the Arizonas and UCLAs.”
The two teams have changed a bit since their first meeting, a 69-60 Arizona win on Nov. 14. Arizona has recovered from the season-ending injury to forward Brandon Ashley while Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee II has become one of San Diego State’s most valuable players despite sitting out the first meeting on a coaches’ decision.
What hasn’t changed is both teams’ defensive prowess, as the two teams in Anaheim rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.
Time: 10 p.m.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: Anaheim (West)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Arizona 67-60
Braden Gall: Arizona 72-59
Mitch Light: Arizona 84-74
Nathan Rush: Arizona 72-66
The Wildcats continued to play stifling defense in the first weekend of the Tournament. Arizona held Weber State to 25 percent shooting from 2-point range in the round of 64 and held Gonzaga to 42.1 percent. Freshman Aaron Gordon locks down the inside while Nick Johnson guards on the outside. Both are among the national elite.
How San Diego State got here:
San Diego State survived a poor shooting day against New Mexico State to beat the Aggies in overtime in the round of 64. The Aztecs came back to make 7 of 16 3-point shots against North Dakota State in the round of 32, led by 30 points from Xavier Thames.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA
Key for Arizona to get to the Elite Eight: Say it again, shoot free throws
Arizona shot 13 of 18 from the line against Gonzaga in the round of 32, helped largely by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson making all eight of his attempts. This is still the worst 3-point shooting team left in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona shoots 65.5 percent from the line.
Key for San Diego State to get to the Elite Eight: Find a way to score on the interior
Let’s assume Thames can’t get 20 points against Arizona. That means forwards Winston Shepard, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien will need to play a bigger role. Arizona holds opponents to 40.1 percent shooting from inside the 3-point line, ranking second nationally. San Diego State ranks 303rd in that offensive category.
Player to watch: Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson will be Arizona’s counterpoint in the key matchup of the game. As one of the country’s best perimeter defender, Johnson will be tabbed with containing the heart of San Diego State’s offense. Xavier Thames averages 17.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. Either by field goal or assist, Thames has accounted for 55.6 percent of the Aztecs’ baskets in the first weekend of the Tournament.
Perhaps it’s inevitable Wisconsin and Baylor would meet in the Sweet 16 with the way the season has gone.
Both teams started on hot streaks — Wisconsin at 16-0 and Baylor at 12-1 — before falling apart early in conference play.
In the last month or so, both teams have rediscovered the magic from early in the season, powering the Badgers and Bears to a Sweet 16 game Thursday. Meanwhile, both have arrived here in unexpected ways: Wisconsin scoring 85 points in a win over Oregon, Baylor blowing out Creighton 85-55.
“You don't beat Creighton by 30, but it happened,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That's a pretty formidable foe. But every team that's in it now has done some things during the year. They played well towards the end of the year. We think we have. So it's two teams that get a chance.”
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: West (Anaheim)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-71
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 79-76
Mitch Light: Baylor 78-72
Nathan Rush: Wisconsin 65-64
This Wisconsin team is flipped from the typical Bo Ryan squad, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency and 55th on defense. The Badgers can score in a variety of ways, from Frank Kaminsky around the basket to Ben Brust and Josh Gasser on the outside. In Wisconsin’s 85-77 win over Oregon, the highest-scoring NCAA Tournament game, all five starters scored in double figures.
How Baylor got here:
Isaiah Austin is playing like a potential NBA Draft pick, and point guard Kenny Chery is expertly guiding the Baylor attack. Baylor has lost once in March — to Iowa State in the Big 12 title game — and drilled both of its NCAA Tournament opponents in Nebraska and Creighton by a combined 44 points.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Wisconsin to get to the Elite Eight: Shooting against the zone
Baylor handled Creighton, the nation’s best offensive team, with the zone defense. That will put pressure on Badgers guard Ben Brust, and to a lesser extent Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, to hit 3-point shots. If Creighton couldn’t do it, Wisconsin might struggle, too.
Key for Baylor to get to the Elite Eight: Score from the perimeter
Chery’s return from a toe injury has been one of the keys to Baylor’s turnaround late in the season. The junior college transfer will try to take advantage of Wisconsin’s poor perimeter defense. Against Oregon, guard Jason Calliste scored 20 points, partly due to an 11-for-11 performance from the free throw line.
Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Baylor’s Isaiah Austin has been one of the most improved players in the country in the last few weeks. The 7-foot-1 center anchored Baylor’s zone against Creighton. The 7-foot Kaminsky may be able to challenge Austin in a way the Bluejays could not.
Florida and UCLA are as familiar as two teams from opposite ends as the the country can be.
The Gators and Bruins will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2006, each at a different stage. Florida defeated UCLA in the 2006 title game, the 2007 Final Four and the 2011 round of 32. Moreover, Florida and UCLA could have met again in the round of 32 had the Bruins defeated Minnesota in Ben Howland’s last game.
This Sweet 16 matchup will be different, perhaps, from the other three, primarily due to a coaching change on the other bench.
Steve Alford took over for Howland this season and has brought the Bruins to their first regional semifinal since 2008. The biggest difference will be UCLA’s offensive approach as the Bruins excel at grabbing quick baskets in transition. The matchup may be the toughest defensively for Florida since non-conference play.
“The name on the jersey happens to be the same one that we've maybe played three different times in the NCAA Tournament, but everything else is really a lot different,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don't think the last time we played UCLA in the NCAA Tournament any of our guys were even on that team.”
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 62-59
Braden Gall: Florida 75-53
Mitch Light: Florida 78-67
Nathan Rush: Florida 68-60
The Gators responded to a sluggish game against No. 16 seed Albany with a 61-45 thumping of Pittsburgh in the round of 32.
How UCLA got here:
The Bruins are one of the least turnover-prone teams in the country and proved it against Stephen F. Austin with only three giveaways (compared to 22 assists on 29 field goals). Kyle Anderson is UCLA’s MVP, but Jordan Adams has been on a hot streak. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Adams has averaged 19.7 points per game going back to the Pac-12 final against Arizona.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Florida to get to the Elite Eight: Solve the matchup with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams
Florida is one of the top defensive teams in the country, but they’ll have two tough matchups against Kyle Anderson and Adams leading an explosive UCLA offense. Anderson is a 6-9 guard starts UCLA on the fast break while averaging 8.7 rebounds. Adams is another big guard at 6-5, 220 pounds
Key for UCLA to get to the Elite Eight: Beat Florida in transition
If there’s a spot where UCLA matches Florida strength for strength on offense, it’s the Bruins’ game in transition. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country in scoring out of the fast break while Florida is adept at making teams work for their shot. Transition baskets could be the equalizer for UCLA.
Player to watch: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin is embracing his role as Florida’s go-to player. He scored 21 points against Pittsburgh, with no one else scoring more than 10. That’s a rarity for this balanced Florida team. UCLA was below average defensively in Pac-12 play.
The first game of the Sweet 16 is a classic example of why bubble talk is so captivating.
All a team has to do is get into the field and anything can happen.
In early March, neither Stanford nor Dayton were assured of spots in the field. Only a late push by both landed these teams in the NCAA Tournament, and now they’ve taken out Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico.
For only the second time in Tournament history, a No. 10 seed will face a No. 11 in the Sweet 16 (the other was VCU’s win over Florida State in 2011 on the way to the Final Four).
And now one of them will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday
Time: 7 p.m.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Dayton 62-58
Braden Gall: Stanford 60-58
Mitch Light: Stanford 67-66
Nathan Rush: Dayton 65-55
Stanford’s defense has been outstanding in two games. The Cardinal baffled Kansas with 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, preventing Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks’ athletic forwards to get good looks. New Mexico struggled in a round of 64 loss to get outside shots against Stanford as well (4 of 21 3-point shooting).
How Dayton got here:
Both Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis had the ball in their hands with a chance to beat Dayton, and neither were able to capitalize. Maybe Dayton’s a little lucky, but the Flyers proved during the regular season they could compete with major programs.
Other Sweet 16 previews:
Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State
Key for Stanford to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Dayton on the perimeter
Despite the results against New Mexico, Stanford was not a great team defending 3-point line during the season. If Jordan Sibert, Khari Price and Devin Olver get hot from outside, Stanford will be in trouble.
Key for Dayton to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Stanford’s size advantage
Dayton can score in a handful of ways, but the Flyers have few regulars taller than 6-7. With Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis, Stanford will have a significant size advantage.
Player to watch: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Stanford has the big forwards, but an undersized point guard leads the Cardinal attack. Randle scored 23 points against New Mexico and 13 against Kansas, but the key will be the 3-point shot. Stanford went 0-of-9 from long range against Kansas. It’s tough to see Stanford advancing if it extends that drought into the Sweet 16.
The NCAA Tournament will go on without Mike Krzysewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.
At least as far as the Final Four is concerned, that means new blood.
Of the 16 coaches left in the NCAA Tournament, only six have been to the Final Four. Some of the others are young coaches making their first major impression (Dayton’s Archie Miller, UConn’s Kevin Ollie), but the Sweet 16 is more notable for the coaches who have accomplished nearly everything they can in their career without reaching the Final Four.
Bo Ryan and Sean Miller may be on anyone’s top 10 or 20 coaches in the country, but neither have reached the Final Four. That may change, perhaps in a meeting between the two of them in the Elite Eight.
As the NCAA Tournament moves into the regionals, we’d be shocked if one coach does not reach his first Final Four, though it’s certainly possible all of them get left out yet again.
Suffice to say, no one wants to be on this list next season.
Top 20 active coaches who have never been to the Final Four
1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Closest call: Wisconsin lost to North Carolina in the 2005 Elite Eight.
Ryan’s approach is consistent as they come, going back to when he won four Division III titles at Wisconsin-Platteville. Thanks to unflinching player development and disciplined defensive play, Ryan's teams have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten. Success in the NCAA Tournament has eluded him. Ryan’s Wisconsin teams have made it out of the first weekend three times since 2005 and stalled in the Sweet 16 each time. With a No. 2 seed, only the second time he’s been seeded this high, Ryan may have his best chance to reach the Final Four of his career.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but he’ll have to go through Scott Drew (2-0 in the Sweet 16) and either Sean Miller or Steve Fisher to do it.
2. Sean Miller, Arizona
Closest call: Arizona lost by 65-63 to Connecticut in the 2011 Elite Eight, and Xavier lost to UCLA in the 2008 Elite Eight.
In 10 seasons as a head coach, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight twice with two schools. He has restored Arizona to its place as one of the premier programs in the West and should reach the Final Four sooner rather than later. At 45, Miller's first Final Four probably won’t be his last.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, with a No. 1 seed, Miller’s Arizona team will be the favorite in the region.
3. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Closest call: A No. 1 seed in 2009, Pitt lost on a buzzer-beating layup by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in the Elite Eight.
Dixon has been remarkably consistent at Pittsburgh in the Big East and the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament only once in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Dixon’s two best teams, though, lost in heartbreakers in the NCAA Tournament. His 2009 team lost on a buzzer-beater by Villanova in the Elite Eight. And two years later, Pittsburgh committed two late fouls that enabled eighth-seeded Butler to hit the free throws to advance to the Sweet 16.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not. Pitt may be heading into another rebuilding year with Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna leaving next season.
4. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Closest call: An Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team lost in a 73-71 heartbreaker to UCLA in the 2006 Sweet 16.
Gonzaga was a Tournament darling when the Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight under Dan Monson in 1999. Now, Gonzaga may be more well known for busting your brackets. The Bulldogs’ first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed was marred in 2013 when Gonzaga lost to Final Four-bound No. 9 seed Wichita State. Few has reached the Sweet 16 only once since 2006.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not, and it will take a special group to get him there. Gonzaga has been seeded higher than seventh only twice since 2006.
5. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Closest call: Tennessee lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the 2010 Elite Eight.
Pearl’s second exile from coaching ended a week ago when the former Tennessee coach was hired at Auburn. He’ll have an uphill battle at one of the SEC’s least successful programs over the last 10 years, but if Pearl can’t win at Auburn, few coaches could. Pearl has reached the Sweet 16 four times in his career, three times at Tennessee and once at Milwaukee.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No, but making Auburn relevant in basketball may be a bigger challenge anyway.
6. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Closest call: Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013, where the Golden Eagles lost 55-39 to Syracuse.
After missing the postseason for the first time in five seasons at Marquette, Williams decided to try his had at the ACC by taking one of the league’s toughest jobs at Virginia Tech. Williams has a style all his own, with a focus on on advanced statistics and finding players with chips on their shoulders. Given Williams’ own background, he’ll grab more players from the junior college ranks than the typical major-program coach.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. Virginia Tech went from a perennial bubble team to winning six ACC games in two seasons under James Johnson.
7. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Closest call: Bennett led Washington State to the Sweet 16 in 2008 where the Cougars lost to top-seeded North Carolina.
Bennett led Washington State to its first regional semifinal in 67 years and Virginia to its first regional semifinal in 19 years. He can coach, but running a slower offense doesn’t always translate to NCAA Tournament success, as Bo Ryan can attest.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but his toughest game will be in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.
8. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Closest call: Iowa State lost on a late basket by Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in the round of 32 in 2013.
The Mayor returned to Ames to revitalize Iowa State basketball, leading the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. This year’s team is Iowa State’s best since 2001 when the Cyclones lost to 15th-seeded Hampton in the first round.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? It will be tough. Iowa State looked like a Final Four contender at the end of the season, but that was before Georges Niang was lost for the remainder of the year.
9. Dana Altman, Oregon
Closest call: Oregon lost 77-69 to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
Altman has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament and failed to win 20 games only once since 1999. Though he wasn’t the first choice at Oregon, he’s breathed new life into the program in the last two seasons.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe. Oregon is still a notch below Arizona and UCLA, but Oregon is the kind of program that could catch fire in a season or Tournament to reach the Final Four.
10. Scott Drew, Baylor
Closest call: Baylor lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012
Drew is a divisive coach for some reason, despite taking over one of the toughest situations in college basketball and creating a viable Big 12 program. Drew has twice led Baylor to the Elite Eight where the Bears lost to the eventual champions (Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012)
Can he reach the Final Four this season? Sure. Baylor has the talent to compete with Arizona and Wisconsin in its bracket and just blew out Creighton.
The next 10:
11. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Iowa is the fourth program McCaffery has taken to the Tournament, which has yielded two wins, both at Siena.
12. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
One of the best offensive Xs and Os coaches in the league, Stallings may have missed a window for a deep Tournament when John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli left.
13. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin needed four seasons to pull the Bearcats out of the cellar, but he’s reached four consecutive Tourneys since.
14. Matt Painter, Purdue
Like Stallings, Painter may have missed a window when his nucleus of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t stay healthy.
15. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Hamilton has seven NCAA appearances at Miami and Florida State, two programs not used to going to the Tournament.
16. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Have we mentioned how much luck is involved in going to the Final Four? This was Boyle’s best team until Spencer Dinwidde got hurt.
17. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Miles is a rising star who has built Colorado State and Nebraska into NCAA contenders.
18. Steve Alford, UCLA
Alford wrestled some demons by defeating lower-seeded teams from Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin. Beating Florida is another matter.
19. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
If only NCAA Tournament games were played in Fayetteville...
20. Bob McKillop, Davidson/Rick Byrd, Belmont
Two great coaches in one-bid leagues continue to pile up wins, but their ceilings are limited. Unless Stephen Curry happens to be on the roster.