spt-120325-KUUK-getty

Storylines to watch in Final Four of four blue bloods

Leave a comment

There’s something in this Final Four for everyone. Well, except fans of the underdog.

After back-to-back Final Fours featuring at least one team from a non-power conference, the 2012 field is much more similar to 2007 or 2008, when it was essentially college basketball bluebloods and former champs. Consider it four teams grandfathers, fathers and sons have all seen at the top at some point.

Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. Those four are already causing quite a stir.

Some stats on the four:

  • They’ve combined for 13 national titles (7 by UK, but everyone has at least 1).
  • All of ‘em have been this far at least nine times, and 49 times total.
  • Kentucky leads in NCAA tournament appearances (52), followed by Kansas (41), Louisville (38) and Ohio State (28).
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino leads in Final Fours (6), followed by Kentucky’s John Calipari (4), Kansas’ Bill Self (2) and Ohio State’s Thad Matta (2). Pitino and Self each have one title.
  • Kentucky tops all NCAA teams in wins (2,088). Kansas is second (2,069), Louisville 16th (1,662) and Ohio State 37th (1,529).
  • In the last 42 years, the Final Four usually includes one of these four schools.

But it’s more than just about numbers. There are plenty of storylines, too. Here are eight to keep an eye on.

Kentucky vs. Louisville and John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino
Look for another post on this later, but it’ll be the week’s big topic. This is one of the game’s heated rivalries and the coaches don’t like each other. Also, the teams are great.

Revenge!
Already did a post on this, but forgot to mention that if Kansas and Kentucky meet in the championship, it’ll be another rematch from this season. That’s all kinds of odd.

Returns pay off for Sullinger, Jones
Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger earned some sweet satisfaction by returning to school and earning a Final Four berth. But he wasn’t the only one. Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones went to the Final Four last season, but passed on the NBA to bolster his status and earn another title shot. Well done, both.

Cheer for Thomas Robinson
Kansas’ junior forward was another guy who passed on the NBA for a season, but he had a little more at stake considering his mother died last season – weeks after he also lost two grandparents. Now Robinson’s a few months away from ensuring his little sister never has to worry about money every again.

Louisville’s amazing run
The Cardinals lost a starter and a key player this season to injuries. They ended the season losing four of their last six. But they’ve won eight straight thanks to the nation’s most efficient defense. This is the underdog of the Final Four.

Big men will rule
Four of the game’s top frontcourt players – Robinson, Sullinger, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng – are still around. They’re either the team’s focal point or the defensive backbone.

Davis’ knee
Kentucky’s freshman phenom banged his knee during Sunday’s win against Baylor, but said he’s fine.

Who runs the show?
The big men are studly, but the point guards might be the reason a team wins or loses. All four – Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, Kentucky’s Marquis Teague and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft – play a ton of minutes and do the primary ball-handling for each team. If they struggle, their teams usually do too.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
Leave a comment

BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Leave a comment

Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
Leave a comment

With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky