Kenny Boynton

Contenders and Pretenders


A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Out of any season in recent memory, there are more contenders this season than there have been in recent years. There does not appear to be a great team as of now — although Florida is doing everything they can to convince us otherwise — as opposed to a handful of really good teams that have the pieces to win six straight games in the tournament but a fatal flaw that could leave them exposed in the right matchup.

Here are the nation’s five leading contenders and pretenders:

Contender: Florida Gators

We wrote on the Gators earlier today, so I won’t go into too much detail here. The long and short of it is that Florida is as tough defensively as any team we’ve seen in the last decade, and they can just as effective playing man, going zone or throwing on a press, That’s a nightmare to prepare for, especially when they have an offensive attack that rivals Michigan and Indiana.

Pretender: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona is 19-2 on the season and carries with it a No. 7 national ranking. They are a good basketball team that could end up winning the Pac-12. But that gaudy record is the result of some lucky breaks: Nick Johnson’s game-saving block against San Diego State, Sabatino Chen’s game-winner that was incorrectly waved off, Florida playing like a high school JV team in the final minute. There is nothing about the roster makeup of the Wildcats that scares a championship-caliber team.

Contender: Indiana Hoosiers

The Hoosiers have arguably the most talented player in the country on their roster in Cody Zeller, and he isn’t even the MVP of this team. Victor Oladipo is. That’s how good Indiana is. They are still scoring like they did last season, only now they have a defense that ranks in the top 20 and one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in Oladipo.

Pretender: Duke Blue Devils

Duke is currently sitting at No. 4 in the country, but that has as much to do with what they did at the start of the season — rolling through the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they beat Louisville, VCU and Minnesota — than what they have done recently — which includes a 27 point loss to Miami. Duke is missing Ryan Kelly, who is a key piece on both sides of the ball. Duke will be a pretender until he’s back in the lineup.

Contender: Michigan Wolverines

John Beilein’s club is the most potent offensive attack in the country and led by the most dangerous point guard in the country in Trey Burke. The Wolverines have a typical John Beilein-esque roster makeup in terms of their versatility, but instead of having guys like Zak Novak and Stu Douglass on the wings, they have NBA prospects in Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.

Pretender: Kansas Jayhawks

Ugh. It kills me to say this because I picked Kansas to win the title this year, but I just think they have too many concerns offensively. They don’t have a point guard, as Bill Self made quite clear. Their star player can’t create on his own. They don’t have a viable low-post scoring threat. As good as Kansas is defensively, I just see them having issues scoring against good teams.

Contender: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville was the No. 1 team in the country and a popular pick as the best team in college hoops as recently a two weeks ago. But then they went out and lost three games — by a total of 13 points — and dropped to 12th in the country. Three close losses changes that much about how a team is viewed? Louisville’s pressure is unmatched, and as long as they avoid extended droughts offensively, they’ll be fine.

Pretender: Ohio State Buckeyes

Deshaun Thomas may be the best scorer in the country. Aaron Craft may be the best defender in the country. Beyond that, there’s a lot of ‘meh’ when you look at Ohio State’s roster. Craft is too often forced into the role of secondary scorer, and that’s not how you want him to play. No interior scoring presence hurts as well.

Contender: Michigan State Spartans

Typical Tom Izzo. Sparty is big, they are tough and they are physical. They rebound the ball and they defend. Most importantly, they have a pair of guards in Keith Appling and Gary Harris that are a threat to go for 20 on any given night.When Tom Izzo has a good team, you don’t want to get caught betting against him.

Pretender: Gonzaga Bulldogs

This one hurts, too. I really like this Gonzaga team. They are as good as they have been since Adam Morrison was stache-ing it up in Spokane. They have a pair of big men that are an awful lot of fun to watch in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. Kevin Pangos is as good of a shooter as you are going to find. They just don’t defend well enough — especially when Olynyk is on the floor as the same time as Pangos and David Stockton — to stop good teams with elite guards.

Guy V. Lewis, coach of Phi Slama Jama teams, dies at 93

Guy Lewis
Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) Former University of Houston men’s basketball coach Guy V. Lewis, best known for leading the Phi Slama Jama teams of the 1980s, has died. He was 93.

He died at a retirement facility in Kyle, Texas, on Thanksgiving morning surrounded by family, the school said Thursday.

Lewis coached the Cougars for 30 years. He guided Houston to back-to-back NCAA title games in 1983 and ’84 but never won the national championship, losing to N.C. State in the 1983 final on Lorenzo Charles’ last-second shot, one of the NCAA Tournament’s greatest upsets and most memorable plays.

“It feels awful,” Lewis said after that game. “I’ve never lost a game that didn’t feel that way, but this one was terrible.”

Lewis, who helped lead the integration of college basketball in the South by recruiting Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney to Houston, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Known for plaid jackets and wringing his hands with a red polka-dot towel during games, Lewis compiled a 592-279 record at Houston, guiding the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons from 1959-85. He was honored as the national coach of the year twice (1968 and `83) and led Houston to 14 NCAA Tournaments and five Final Fours.

Lewis had mostly avoided the spotlight since retiring in 1986. He suffered a stroke in February 2002 and had used a wheelchair in recent years.

He was known for putting together the “Game of the Century” at the Astrodome in 1968 between Houston and UCLA. It was the first regular-season game to be broadcast on national television. Houston defeated the Bruins in front of a crowd of more than 52,000, which, at that time, was the largest ever to watch an indoor basketball game.

Lewis attended the introductory news conference in December 2007 for Kevin Sumlin, the first black football coach in Houston history. It was a symbolic, significant appearance because Lewis signed Houston’s first two black basketball players and some of the first in the region in Hayes and Chaney in 1964, when programs were just starting to integrate.

Hayes and Chaney led the Cougars to the program’s first Final Four in 1967 but lost to Lew Alcindor’s UCLA team in the semifinal game.

“Basketball in the state of Texas and throughout the South is all due to coach Guy V. Lewis,” Hayes said in 2013. “He put everything on the line to step out and integrate his program. Not only that, he had vision to say: `Hey, we can play a game in the Houston Astrodome.’ Not only that, he just was such a motivator and such an innovator that created so many doors for the game of basketball to grow.”

Along with Hayes, Lewis also coached fellow All-Americans Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The three were included on the NBA’s Top 50 greatest players list in 1996. Lewis and North Carolina’s Dean Smith were the only men to coach three players from that list while they were in college.

Players and CBS announcer Jim Nantz lobbied for years for Lewis to get into the Naismith Hall of Fame. When he finally received the honor in 2013 he made a rare public appearance. It was difficult for him to convey his thoughts in words in his later years because of aphasia from his strokes, so his daughter spoke on his behalf at the event to celebrate his induction.

“It’s pure joy and we’re not even upset that it took so long. … Dad is used to winning in overtime,” Sherry Lewis said.

Lewis announced his retirement during the 1985-86 season, and the Cougars finished 14-14, his first non-winning season since 1958-59.

Guy Vernon Lewis II was born in Arp, a town of fewer than 1,000 residents in northeast Texas. He became a flight instructor for the U.S. Army during World War II and enrolled at the University of Houston in 1946.

He joined the basketball team, averaged 21.1 points and led the Cougars to the Lone Star Conference championship. By the early 1950s, he was working as an assistant coach under Alden Pasche and took over when Pasche retired in 1956.

Funeral services are pending.

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan contributed to this story.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.