Ten things to prepare football fans for college basketball’s stretch run

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1. Which Andrew Wiggins will show up?: We’ve seen how good he can be when it call comes together. That 29-point performance in the win over Iowa State? The 19 points he scored in the first half against TCU? The 26 points and 11 boards he had against Florida? When Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate … he dominates.

The problem is that that Andrew Wiggins doesn’t always show up. He’s just as likely to finish 2-for-12 from the field with a handful of turnovers and blown defensive assignments as he is to dominate a game on both ends of the floor. And here’s the conundrum for Bill Self, Kansas fans and anyone filling out a bracket: Kansas is the most dangerous team in the country when Wiggins shows up, because the combination of improved play from Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden and the overpowering front line of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid is already really good.

But when Wiggins doesn’t show up, he’s a liability. And you just never know when he’s going to decide he wants to play.

2. The Big 12 is going to be a lot of fun: To be honest, I actually kind of enjoy the inconsistency of Andrew Wiggins, as it lends some serious intrigue to a Big 12 race that is going to be as wild as anything we see this season.

There are ten teams in the Big 12 this season, and seven of them look like they have an inside track on making the NCAA tournament. Six of those teams — Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas — are all, for the most part, equivalent. What that means is that on just about a nightly basis, we are going to have a key Big 12 matchup between two tournament-caliber teams playing with a lot on the line. So last night’s three-overtime thriller between the Cyclones and the Cowboys? If all goes to plan, that will be commonplace.

Back to Kansas, they are the overwhelming favorite in the league. But they’re young enough that they can lose on any given night, especially when they’re on the road. Can anyone put together the winning streak needed to catch them?

Ten things to get you caught up on the season

3. Set up for great Elite 8 and Final Four: The way that this season has shaken out, there are a handful of teams that have set themselves apart from the rest of the field. Arizona and Michigan State, before their injuries, looked like the two best teams in the country. Syracuse, the way they’ve played the last two games, may have taken over that title. Florida’s defense is downright abusive, as is San Diego State’s and Cincinnati’s. Wichita State is making a run at perfection, Duke seems to be peaking at the right time and Villanova and Creighton have set themselves apart from the Big East crowd.

All told, there are five or six teams that look like national title contenders and another five or six that look like legitimate Final Four-caliber teams. With the amount of inconsistency throughout the rest of the country, we could be looking at a scenario where the first weekend of the tournament is wild, but where the top of the bracket is strong enough to advance.

That’s what we want, right? A couple of 12 or 13 seeds winning early, a few buzzer-beaters, and the best of the best marching on through to the Elite 8? There’s nothing better than a matchup of two powerhouse programs late in March.

source:  4. Wichita State’s undefeated regular season hinges on this week: The Shockers will pay a visit to Indiana State and Northern Iowa this week, who are probably the second and third best teams in the Missouri Valley. If they can get through this week, they’ll have a great chance at entering Arch Madness without a loss.

I’m rooting for it to happen. I’d love to the Shockers enter the NCAA tournament without a blemish on their record.

5. Syracuse? Not so much: It would be fun to see the Orange enter the tournament without a loss as well, I just don’t see it happening. Five of their last eight games are on the road, which may actually be their five toughest road games of the season: Pitt, Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Maryland. Then there’s the ACC tournament. The Orange are the real deal, but even The Truth can stumble in that stretch.

6. How many bids from Big Ten?: The Big 12 is the most entertaining league.

The Big Ten may be the weirdest.

Think about it like this: two top former five teams played on Sunday, with Ohio State beating Wisconsin as both teams now sit at 4-5 in league play, a half-game behind … fourth-place Northwestern.

Seven teams are in a position to get a bid to the Big Dance. How many will make it?

7. Can anyone catch Dougie McBuckets?: He’s far and away the best player in the country at this point in the season. His numbers are inarguable. His team is ranked in the top 15. He’s a senior dominating in a land of freshmen. Can any of those freshmen put together the late season run needed to catch him?

8. A resurgence in the Bluegrass State: This was supposed to be a season dominated by Kentucky and Louisville. Instead, neither team even looks like the best in their respective conference. Kentucky certainly has the talent to make a run at a national title, but whether or not they actually have the toughness to pull it off is a different story.

And Louisville? Well, they’re front court is depleted, their back court doesn’t seem to be able to get along and they can’t beat a top team in their conference in the Yum! Center. It’s crazy to think that there may not be a real Final Four contender in the Bluegrass State this year.

9. Final Four sleepers: We went over some of the title favorites earlier, but outside of those teams, who has the makeup to put together a run to the Final Four?:

  • When Nik Stauskas is playing like he did for the last month, Michigan is as good as anyone. When he plays like he did against Indiana, they’re very beatable.
  • Iowa State is a matchup nightmare, using their center (Georges Niang) to bring the ball up and posting their point guard (DeAndre Kane). They have the pieces, but they’ll need beneficial matchups.
  • Iowa can make a run as well, they just need to learn how to close out games against elite competition.

10. Not a lot of mid-majors will get at-large bids: Don’t be surprised to see quite a few middle-of-the-pack power conference teams get a bid to the dance as the mid-major ranks are somewhat depleted right now. Outside of Wichita State and Gonzaga, there aren’t many teams from outside one of the top nine conferences that deserve an at-large. Maybe Southern Miss, but that’s it.

In other words, there aren’t many bid-stealers this season.

Like his career, Frank Martin has built South Carolina from the ground up

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NEW YORK — It was after he finished watching South Carolina cut down the Madison Square Garden nets, after he had spent the better part of 30 minutes giving interviews on the court, after he was spotted by the CBS cameras, with a fist raised and tears pooling under his eyes, that the enormity of what he had just witnessed hit Darius Rucker.

“Gosh,” he said to everyone and no one in particular as he left the arena floor and made his way through the bowels of the Garden, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

The ‘that’ that Rucker, South Carolina’s most famous and, quite possibly, biggest fan, was referring to was a 77-70, come-from behind win over No. 4 seed Florida that jettisoned the seventh-seeded Gamecocks through the Elite 8 and into the Final Four. Prior to this season, the Gamecocks hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years. They had been to four NCAA tournaments in the previous 43 seasons, and they had never won back-to-back tournament game.

As in not ever.

“We’re in the Garden, watching the Gamecocks play to go to the Final Four,” Rucker said. “If you’d have told me that ten years ago I’d have told you that you were on crack.”

That’s the program that Frank Martin inherited in 2012, when he left Kansas State following a falling out with his athletic director, John Currie. Like South Carolina, Kansas State was hardly considered a destination job when Martin was at the helm, but he was able to build off of a foundation created by Bob Huggins. Martin had been to four NCAA tournaments in five years with Kansas State when he made the decision to leave. Nothing is more important to Martin than loyalty. “He’s always had a core group of people that he’s counted on,” his agent, Bret Just, said, and Currie was not one of those people.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came during the 2012 NCAA tournament. Kansas State was a No. 8 seed, squaring off with No. 1 seed Syracuse when Martin was informed by Currie that Jamar Samuels, one of his best players, would not be allowed to suit up. The school had stumbled upon information that Samuels had received a wire transfer for $200 from his AAU coach, and he was going to be suspended.

And that was that.

Martin was off to South Carolina.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It was a situation where we had to go,” associate head coach Matt Figger, who has been with Martin for the last decade, said, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest or smartest decision to leave. Most understood why Martin had to make the change that he made — he was offered a hefty raise and he had the chance to leave a place of employment where he did not get along with his boss — but it wasn’t as if Martin was climbing the ladder. If anything, South Carolina was a step backwards, as Martin took over a program with less pedigree and with a significant building job in front of them.

“I didn’t really know until I got into it. It was a much different deal. It looked easier on the surface than what it really was,” Figger said. “The best players transferred. Bruce Ellington, he’s with the 49ers now, he was the one guy that we could trust and he played football half the year. Couple of the guys that were the holdovers, I don’t think they believed in what our vision was. After a year, some of them left.”

“We had to start this from scratch.”

The process was slow in the early stages. Martin replaced Darrin Horn, who had won just 10 games and finished dead last in the SEC in his final season on campus, and didn’t post a .500 record until his third season in Columbia. Even then, that team went just 17-16. He won 15 SEC games in his first three years combined. After a late season swoon cost South Carolina a shot at the 2016 NCAA tournament, there was speculation that another year without a trip to the Big Dance could spell the end of Martin’s time with the Gamecocks.

“It was hard!” Martin’s wife, Anya, said. “You see he’s losing his hair. It’s all turning white. It was tough in the beginning. I had to ask him a couple of times, ‘Why here?’”

The easy answer is that it wasn’t Kansas State, but the truth is more complicated than that.

Martin is not a man that is afraid of a challenge. He’s not intimidated by a job that isn’t easy to do, not when you come from where he’s come from, when you’ve coached on the path that he has coached.

Martin got his first job when he was 12 years old, working at a Dairy Queen to help his mom pay the bills when his dad walked out on them. His coaching career started a year after he graduated high school, when he was just 19 years old.

“I tore my ACL the year before,” Martin said, “and my high school coach asked me to come help him, because the kids in the neighborhood respected me so much.”

He was nothing more than an assistant with the team at Miami Senior High School, helping out when and where he could, when the head coach of the JV team didn’t show up for work one day. Shakey Rodriguez, a legend in the Miami High School basketball community, told Martin he would be coaching that day, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“By his second season,” Martin’s mother, Lourdes, beaming as she held back tears of joy, said, “he was 22-0.”

Even as Martin was coaching, he was still working on the side, most famously as a bouncer in Miami’s nightclub scene. He needed a degree, so he took night classes at Miami-Dade College before enrolling part-time at FIU. His future was capped if he didn’t graduate.

“He made it out,” she added, holding on to her grandson to steady herself as the moment washed over her. “He had many, many jobs, and then God was up there and blessed him.”

Martin would go from the high school ranks to Northeastern, taking a paycut just to get his foot in the door. He spent four years as an assistant and met his wife — “My wife turned me down seven times to go out on a date,” he said. “Seven. Seven. And the day she made the mistake of going out on a date with me, I never let her go.” — before moving on to Cincinnati, where he joined forces with Bob Huggins, spending two seasons with the Bearcats before following Huggins to Kansas State. He replaced Huggins as Kansas State’s head coach a year after joining the program and just seven years after he joined the collegiate coaching ranks. He would take the Wildcats to more NCAA tournaments in his five seasons at the helm than they had been to in the previous two decades combined.

“Frank’s never steered away from a challenge as long as I’ve known him,” Anya said. “He’s overcome any obstacle in his way, just ‘I’m going to make it work.'”

“He’s a builder,” Just said.

And he’s done just that at South Carolina.

“I’m happy as any mom could be,” Lourdes said. “Speechless, but not all the way. I have to talk to him about my air ticket.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Martin spoke many times about the dream of leading this team to this moment, but he didn’t always believe that the dream of taking the Gamecocks to the Final Four was a realistic possibility.

“When we beat Duke, Frank said ‘Why not us?’” Figgers said, a motto that had become something of a rallying cry for the Gamecocks during the East Regional. “That’s the first time we really talked about [winning a title].”

The team and the coaching staff weren’t the only ones that never really gave this possibility much thought. College basketball at large — the fans, the media, opposing coaches — all had the same thought: “South Carolina in the Final Four? The same team that put up 86 points in four overtimes against Alabama? Lulz.”

They showed us.

Over and over again.

South Carolina’s star guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region, mentioned in every press conference this weekend that no one paid attention to or respected the program prior to this run. Martin ranted earlier this year about the lack of local media coverage his team gets, particularly when they play on the road.

At this point in the season, most players get burned out of the media attention they get, answering the same questions over and over and over again.

I don’t blame them.

On Sunday evening, after spending 25 minutes up on the dais for a postgame press conference, Thornwell was finally en route back to the locker room to celebrate with his team when he was pulled aside by a television reporter that needed just a couple more minutes of his time.

Thornwell, decked out in a East Regional Champs shirt and hat with the remnants of a net dangling around his neck, didn’t mind.

“You gotta talk a lot,” Thornwell said, “when you win.”

Drake hires Furman’s Niko Medved to be new head coach

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Drake has hired Furman head coach Niko Medved to the same position, the school announced on Sunday.

The 43-year-old Medved has led the Paladins to back-to-back CIT appearances as he’s been the head coach there for four seasons. Also an assistant coach at Minnesota and Colorado State, Medved is a noted recruiter.

“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be the next men’s basketball coach at Drake University,” Medved said in the release. “Drake University’s tremendous reputation partnered with its strong leadership and the thriving Des Moines community make this a special place.  I was born and raised in the Midwest and have so many strong roots in this part of the country.  My family and I can’t wait to get started.”

Medved was named the Southern Conference’s 2017 Coach of the Year for helping lead Furman to the regular-season title in the league.

The Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference as former head coach Ray Giacoletti was relieved of his duties in January. Drake only has one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1971 (coming in 2008) as the Bulldogs have struggled to remain relevant in a tough league.

VIDEO: North Carolina and Roy Williams dance in locker room after advancing to Final Four

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Watching Roy Williams dance never gets old.

The North Carolina head coach is taking his team back to the Final Four next weekend after the Tar Heels outlasted Kentucky in a thrilling South Regional final.

North Carolina is making its 20th appearance in the Final Four as they are going for the second consecutive season.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.