Arizona’s freshmen all the talk, but its veterans are key

Leave a comment

NEW YORK – The way to win championships at the college level is through success on the recruiting front.

Regardless of whether a coach wins by bringing in a crop of top 50 recruits every season or through identifying the under-the-radar players who will thrive in their system, the key to winning games is bringing the right kids into the program.

Since he’s been at Arizona, Sean Miller has been a powerhouse recruiter, landing in eight four-star recruits and four five-star recruits once the Class of 2012 is included. You want a good gauge of how much talent has he brought into Tucson? Two four-star recruits — Momo Jones and Daniel Bejarano — have transferred out because they were recruited over. Perhaps more impressive is that both Derrick Williams, who was probably the best player in the country last season not named Jimmer or Kemba, and Kevin Parrom, who may be Arizona’s MVP this year, were three-star recruits coming out of high school.

So its no wonder that this year’s incoming class of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson were the guys that got the majority of the headlines for Arizona over the past two months.

But the reason that Arizona is 4-0 right now, the reason they were able to overcome a 19-4 run that whipped St. John’s fans into a frenzy at Madison Square Garden — the Johnnies home-away-from-home — that put Arizona in a late 66-58 hole, was Miller’s veterans.

Only one freshman, Johnson, was playing during crunch-time on Thursday night. It was the play of Miller’s veteran leaders that sparked a game-winning, 18-2 run in Arizona’s 81-72 victory in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

“Tonight we were more of a function of a couple of our veteran guys having been in the winner’s circle from a year ago,” Miller said after the game. “Finishing the game showed a lot of toughness.”

“We depended on our veteran and veteran leadership at the end of the game.”

There no question that Arizona has talent on their roster this year, but the knock on them, at least at this point in the season, is that they don’t have a go-to player. There is no star on this team. They don’t have that one guy that you can rely on to get a bucket in a crucial moment. There isn’t one player that can simply be isolated and asked to make a play to end a run or at the end of a game.

Tonight re-enforced that theory. There isn’t one star on this roster. Instead, Miller has three or four veterans that are capable of rising to the occasion.

The Wildcats looked like they were ready to take control of this game midway through the second half. After Turner threw Johnson a back-door alley-oop for a thunderous dunk, Arizona had a 54-47 lead with 14 minutes left and all the momentum in their favor. But Phil Greene answered with seven straight points, and after Chol gave Arizona the lead back on a lay-in, St. John’son scored 12 of the next 14 points to take an eight point lead and what appeared to be control of the game.

That’s when Arizona’s upperclassmen took over.

Kyle Fogg got into the middle of the St. John’s zone and found Johnson for a three. After a breakaway dunk by Turner, Fogg against broke down the zone and found Solomon Hill for a dunk. On the next possession, Jesse Perry made a nice move for a layup along the baseline and Hill followed that up with an offensive rebound, drawing a foul and hitting both free throws. All of a sudden, the Wildcats had the lead back.

The next three possessions were much of the same. Parrom found Fogg for an open three, Perry tipped in his own miss and Johnson found Parrom for yet another open three (Arizona made 14 of them), and with just 2:26 remaining, Arizona had a 77-70 lead and cruised to the nine point win.

“Very important,” Miller said when asked how valuable having multiple veterans capable of thriving when the lights are the brights. “That’s why I can’t understate the importance of Kevin Parrom because he’s now yet another very experienced player for us and, without him, we’re not nearly the same team.”

“Kyle looked like a seasoned, experienced player out there, and he is. He’s been in the Sweet Sixteen his freshman year, he’s been in the Elite Eight his junior year, he’s started now since I’ve been the coach at Arizona almost every game that he’s played, and you can feel that. Here we are in November of his senior year and he stepped up.”

Parrom and Fogg shot just 5-17 combined, but they had 11 assists to just a single turnover. Hill and Perry combined for 26 points and 17 boards, with seven coming on the offensive end of the floor.

With performances like that from his veterans, Sean Miller is going to win a lot of games this season.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

VIDEO: South Carolina celebrates Final Four trip by dousing Frank Martin in water

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/846124174259118080/video/1

VIDEO: Darius Rucker tears up as South Carolina advances to the Final Four

Leave a comment

Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

This isn’t really a secret.

Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:

You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:

Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.

VIDEO: Did South Carolina get away with a blatant travel after risky full-court pass?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
1 Comment

South Carolina is heading to its first Final Four in school history after a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida in the East Region on Sunday.

But the No. 7 seed Gamecocks’ historic win also came with some late controversy.

With South Carolina clinging to a 70-68 lead with 53.7 seconds left, the Gamecocks opted to make an extremely risky full-court pass on an inbounds play. The pass was caught at the other end of the floor by South Carolina’s Duane Notice.

Then Notice took about four or five steps before he was fouled by Florida’s Chris Chiozza to send him to the line.

It looks like Notice had a pretty blatant travel on the play. It’s a ridiculous catch in traffic that has to make South Carolina football fans proud, but Notice is clearly walking after getting the ball. Notice knocked down two free throws after Chiozza’s foul to make it a two-possession game as it became 72-68 with 50 seconds left.

Florida was obviously flat in the second half and didn’t deserve to win on Sunday. But it makes you wonder what might have happened if a travel was called on Notice. The Gators would have had a chance to tie with under a minute left instead of it being a two-possession game.

South Carolina advances to first Final Four in program history with win over Florida

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

South Carolina entered this year’s NCAA tournament, their first NCAA tournament since 2004 and their fifth NCAA tournament in the last 43 years, having never won two consecutive tourney games in the history of the program.

On Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to their fourth straight win and their first trip to the Final Four.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 26 points in the final 10 minutes, leading No. 7 seed South Carolina back from a 40-33 halftime deficit for a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida. P.J. Dozier added 17 points and Chris Silva finished with a critical 13 points and nine boards, coming up with some huge offensive rebounds and hustle plays defensively in the second half.

After shooting 7-for-12 from three in the first half, Florida missed their all 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second 20 minutes. South Carolina’s defense, which is second nationally this season, according to KenPom, and which allowed 40 points to the Gators in the first half, buckled down in the final minutes, forcing turnovers and taking the Gators out of what they wanted to do offensively. They shot just 11-for-35, or 31.4 percent, from the floor after halftime and didn’t get a clean look at the rim in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s how South Carolina plays. That’s who they are. It’s physical and it’s ugly and it’s just so effective when they’re able to make shots at the other end of the floor. And that is where this team has changed in March. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games heading into the NCAA tournament, failing to score more than 1.00 points-per-possession in five of those six losses.

But the story of this game isn’t how this South Carolina team has changed.

The story is how the program has changed.

The Gamecocks were a 10-win team that went 2-14 in the SEC the year before they Frank Martin away from Kansas State, a hire that was made thanks to a falling out with his athletic director, and boy, does that look like a coup now. He was responsible for leading Kansas State, which isn’t exactly a program known for basketball success, to their only Elite 8 since 1988. He’s now led South Carolina to their first Final Four in the history of the program.

South Carolina will advance to Phoenix to take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2 Comments

For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.