Butler, VCU getting more than wins with this Final Four

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Even if Butler or VCU fail to win the NCAA tournament, a Final Four berth will pay huge dividends for years to come. And not just in money, either.

The Bulldogs and Rams figure to reap rewards in recruiting and exposure while the schools can expect massive rises in admissions, advertising and overall revenue.

Not bad for winning four games in March.

When George Mason made the Final Four in 2006, a study conducted by one of the school’s professors estimated the school  reaped more than $677 million in free media coverage. Also, admissions inquiries rose 350 percent, active alumni increased 25 percent and unique viewers to the official athletic department web site shot up 702 percent.

When Butler played in last year’s Final Four, the school estimated it was worth nearly $450 million to the school in advertising. This year could be down a bit because of VCU’s addition, but it’ll still be massive.

The schools can do even better for themselves by taking advantage of the moment in recruiting, too. They won’t start bringing in five-star players, but they’ll be able to attract interest in guys they wouldn’t have before and able to improve their overall class quality.

“Take a peek at what Butler was able to accomplish this last year. They got Kellen Dunham, who’s potentially a Top 100 player,” said Evan Daniels, the national recruiting analyst for Scout.com.

“Now, will it help them get into the recruiting of a different type of player? Sure. Butler was right there with Cody Zeller last year. They didn’t get him, but they were right there until the end.”

Zeller, rated as a five-star center, signed with Indiana. It’s unlikely Butler would’ve even tried recruiting him – or that Zeller would’ve considered it – without that Final Four.

“Visibility is the biggest thing,” Daniels said. “It gives them a quicker in with kids. Maybe a kid in Kentucky, maybe he didn’t know VCU. Maybe them making the Final Four is how he found out about the school. Now [coach] Shaka Smart can get on the phone and the kid’ll listen.”

However, Daniels emphasizes that the Butler and VCU coaching staffs won’t spend all their time chasing after big-name prospects. They’ve already reached the Final Four by identifying players they want for their systems, and won’t completely go away from what’s worked.

Consider what George Mason did with its first recruiting class after the ’06 Final Four. It signed one 3-star recruit in Vlad Moldoveanu and three 2-star players. Two, Cam Long and Isaiah Tate, ended up playing key roles on their season’s CAA championship team. (Moldoveanu transferred after his sophomore year to American, where he averaged nearly 20 points a game the last two years.) But all were from the D.C. area, right by the Mason campus.

After that, the Patriots branched off into New York, Florida and other areas, signed three 3-star players and built what’s become a deep, talented team.

So if Butler and VCU don’t return to the Final Four next season, don’t be surprised. But if it happens in two or three years from now, that’s where the Final Four will have paid off.


You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.