The Details: In an NCAA Tournament that has been all about the underdog and the cinderella story, a matchup of Kentucky and North Carolina gives the traditional college hoops fan their dose of blueblood.
The Wildcats and the Tar Heels have already played once this season. UNC won at home, beating Kentucky by two points on a night that Terrence Jones shot 3-17. North Carolina is a very different team than the one that played that night, thanks in large part to the play of Kendall Marshall. But Kentucky is a different team as well. Instead of relying entirely on their talented freshmen to carry them, John Calipari’s team has gotten tremendous play and leadership out of the trio of upperclassmen that see playing time.
Key Matchups: Big men in transition
Tyler Zeller has developed into a very good low post scorer. He has a nice little jump hook that he’s put some range on, he’s a decent face-up shooter, and he can score on the offensive glass. But where Zeller has become the most dangerous is in transition.
I cannot remember the last big man that I’ve seen run the floor as well as Zeller. He routinely beats slower footed post players to the rim, getting easy dunks off of makes and misses. It helps that Kendall Marshall is like a quarterback running the show, throwing sensational outlet passes. John Henson can get out and run the floor as well.
That’s going to be an issue for Kentucky. Josh Harrellson is not the most fleet afoot. He can get beat down the floor. The lack of depth that Kentucky has in their front court won’t help Harrellson stay fresh, either.
Key Stats: Terrence Jones scoring
Jones has not shown up for the NCAA Tournament. He has 30 points and 20 rebounds in three games. He’s taken all of 23 shots in those three games, has grabbed just three offensive boards, and taken just 10 free throws.
Keep in mind, this is the Terrence Jones that some thought had an outside shot at winning national player of the year early in the season. He’s a muscular, 6’9″ lefty with the ability to score in the post, off the dribble, or on the perimeter. The issue with Jones has been that he tends to be a ball hog, and Kentucky certainly does not need him to become a black hole on offense. But they will need him to become a scoring threat.
X-factors: DeAndre Liggins vs. Harrison Barnes
Slowly but surely, DeAndre Liggins has become one of the most important glue guys in the country. On the one hand, he is a terrific defender. He’s got length, he’s got size, and he moves his feet well. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Barnes, who is one of the most talented offensive players in the country. There isn’t much that Barnes cannot do on the offensive end of a basketball court, and he’s played his best basketball of the season down the stretch.
Liggins has also become a valued weapon offensively this year. He’s knocking down threes. He’s putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. He’s finding assists. Coach Cal has shown that he trusts Liggins quite a it late in the season.
And the winner is?: North Carolina
I picked Kentucky in my bracket (so please don’t kill me, Big Blue Nation), but the more I think about it the more I like this matchup for the Tar Heels. I don’t think that Jones and Harrellson are going to be able to stay with UNC’s bigs in transition.
Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.
But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.
So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.
Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.
Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement
Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.
During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.
As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.
UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”
The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.
A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”
Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.
Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.
The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.
Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).
But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.
All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?
Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.
The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.
With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.
The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.
Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.
Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.
But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?
These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.
After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.
By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.
Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.
Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.
Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.