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Which Final Four coach do you want? We state our cases

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Any coach who reaches the Final Four qualifies as a pretty good coach. Yes, even Rick Barnes.

But some of the coaches whose teams play in the NCAA tournament’s final weekend are a cut above their peers. They’re the best recruiters, Xs-and-Os guys, savvy managers of egos and smart enough to surround themselves to help them along the way.

That applies to the four guys in New Orleans: Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.

But which one would you want coaching your team for one game? We state our cases for each one.

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John Calipari

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You want John Calipari. He’s got the highest career win percentage of the four coaches, and while he may not have a national title to his credit like Rick Pitino or Bill Self it’s only a matter of time before he does. Of his 13 NCAA tournament teams ten have reached at least the Sweet 16, and that’s not something that happens solely because of the ability to recruit (I don’t worry about vacated records because that’s one of the dumbest punishments in all of sports).

He’s been able to get an immensely talented team to play together with no signs of ego taking over, and more times than not Kentucky ends up in a good position to be successful. The other three coaches may receive more praise for their work with a clipboard, but the judgment of Calipari in that regard seems to be more about perception than reality.

— Raphielle Johnson

*NCAA records. Does not include 42 wins, 2 losses, 2 league titles and 2 tourney titles that were vacated.

Thad Matta

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The youngest coach among the four, Matta’s also probably the most underrated. He’s been a head coach 12 years and won his conference title nine times, including five in the Big Ten, routinely one of the game’s three best leagues. He won an NCAA tournament game with Butler, took Xavier to the Elite Eight and was in the national title game in just his third year at Ohio State. That’s a career for most guys, not just the start of one.

Yet Matta’s proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, developer of talent and has a flair for preparation and in-game tactics, too. His Buckeyes were more than ready for Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone last weekend, shredding it with interior passing. He’s made a football school into one of college basketball’s elite programs. That’s no accident. That’s a testament to how good he is and how his players respond to that excellence.

— Mike Miller

Rick Pitino

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Would it surprise you to hear that, after a 29-point loss to Providence earlier this season, Cardinals fans were more likely to discuss the chances that their team missed the NCAA tournament entirely than that the possibility of winning the Big East tournament and reaching the Final Four? That’s the turnaround that Pitino has orchestrated, and he has done it while dealing with myriad of injuries to key players.

There’s more: Pitino has also proven to have a feel for this team, making in-game adjustments — like switching to a man-to-man defense against Florida — that have helped to spark this run. Most importantly, he has no pressure on him or his team. They are supposed to lose to heavily favored — and heated rival — Kentucky. John Calipari is the one with the pressure. Can you imagine the embarrassment of the best team he’s had getting upset by a rival coached by his personal rival? They always say the most dangerous person is the one with nothing to lose.

— Rob Dauster

Bill Self

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Bill Self and the Jayhawks did it again in 2011-12, despite losing the Morris twins and two more of his top five scorers from last season. They lost two top recruits, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, to eligibility problems. They didn’t have a clear-cut star or go-to guy to begin the season.

He made long-term player development investments, notably Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, which finally paid off this season. In the short-term, as Pat Forde of Yahoo! points out, Self outdueled Roy Williams in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina.

So, for reasons of consistency and the ability to build in both the short-term and long-term, Bill Self is the best coach in the Final Four.

— Daniel Martin

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon won’t pursue pro basketball to become a firefighter

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  Derrick Gordon #32 of the Seton Hall Pirates celebrates after hitting a basket against the Villanova Wildcats during the Big East Basketball Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2016 in New York City. Seton Hall Pirates defeated Villanova Wildcats 69-67.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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After a successful career that included stops at Western Kentucky, UMass and Seton Hall, Derrick Gordon, Division I college basketball’s first openly gay player, will not pursue professional opportunities and will instead become a firefighter.

The 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a senior for the Pirates, helping the team reach the NCAA tournament during his graduate transfer year. By making the NCAA tournament with Seton Hall this past season, Gordon became the first college basketball player to reach the event with three different teams.

A tenacious perimeter defender who could have earned a pro contract if he stuck with basketball, Gordon will instead pursue a career as a firefighter in San Francisco.

“I’ve had an amazing basketball career and want to thank everybody who has always been there supporting me every step on the way,” Gordon said via his Instagram. “But I’m making a change in my career…I will now be working towards becoming a San Francisco Firefighter!! I’m excited about this and looking forward to having a long career!!”

While Gordon likely would have never made the NBA on talent alone, his defensive prowess would have likely given him a shot overseas or in the D League. It’s hard to say why Gordon is making this decision, but given what we saw with all of the attention surrounding Michael Sam when he tried to play in the NFL, Gordon was probably going to face a lot of scrutiny wherever he decided to play.

Hopefully Gordon finds his calling as a firefighter and brings the same energy and leadership that he brought on the floor to helping other people outside of basketball.

Washington guard Markelle Fultz pulls off sick spin and dunk at FIBA U18 Americas

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Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz is going to be one of the premier players in the country next season as his unique game is going to be fascinating to watch.

The 6-foot-5 Fultz is currently playing with the USA U18 team in Chile for the FIBA U18 Americas as he’s second on the team in scoring and first in assists as the Americans play Canada for the title on Saturday.

Against the host country, Fultz had an electric spin move in the paint and finished with an easy dunk. If you’re not willing to stay up late to watch this dude play this year, then set your DVRs, because Fultz is going to have some fun moments during the season.

(H/t: Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report)

POSTERIZED: Class of 2016 forward Chris Seeley has a massive dunk on defender

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The Las Vegas AAU events are all going on this week and it’s the final event for rising seniors.

At the Las Vegas Fab 48, forward Chris Seeley of the Splash City 17U team put down one of the best poster dunks of the summer as he skied over a defender for an emphatic finish.

The Class of 2016 forward attends Central High School in Fresno, California as he’s receiving plenty of buzz for his recent play.

 

 

 

Five-star forward Jarred Vanderbilt cuts list to nine

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Five-star Class of 2017 forward Jarred Vanderbilt has been one of the most sought-after recruits in the country since he was a freshman in high school.

The 6-foot-8 native of Houston is beginning to wind things down in the recruiting process as he cut his list to nine schools on Friday. Vanderbilt’s list includes some of the most storied programs in college basketball and plenty of schools from his home state of Texas.

“I just followed my heart. Went with the schools I liked the most and who I have the best relationships with. Thear were the schools I could see myself playing for,” Vanderbilt told NBCSports.com.

Regarded as the No. 13 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national rankings, Vanderbilt is currently recovering from a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Vanderbilt will see a doctor in three-to-four weeks as he’s currently in a boot to help his foot heal.

Report: Michigan State and Penn State will play at the Palestra

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Head coach Patrick Chambers of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has previously expressed a desire to coach a game at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia and it appears he’ll get his chance in a Big Ten game this season.

According to a report from Brendan F. Quinn of MLive, Penn State will use the Palestra as its home gym for the Jan. 7, 2017 Big Ten game against Michigan State. It is the only time the two teams are scheduled to play during Big Ten season and Penn’s home gym will offer a unique setting for the game.

Since the capacity of the Palestra is 8,722, it should make for a fun atmosphere for both programs since this will be a game both fan bases will likely want to attend.

With Nittany Lions head coach Pat Chambers making Philadelphia a major recruiting priority for his program, a game like this in Philadelphia makes sense while Michigan State has always been open to playing games in unique settings such as aircraft carriers.

The Palestra has been a college basketball mainstay since it was built in 1927 as it hosts all Penn home games and, in the past, hosted a lot of Big 5 Philadelphia college games between La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

Overall, a fun idea that should make for an interesting experience for both programs. It’s not often that a team will change its home venue for a conference game, but it could be the start of something we see other schools look to do.