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Gonzaga is still the best story of the Final Four


GLENDALE, Ariz. — The best story of this Final Four wasn’t North Carolina’s redemptive run to a national title or South Carolina getting to the final weekend of the college basketball season 44 years after the last time that they won a tournament game. It wasn’t Isaiah Hicks’ star turn, where he went from playing like he was shaving points to scoring the biggest basket on Monday night, or Joel Berry II’s parents embracing the tattoo they never wanted him to get in the first place.

The results didn’t matter.

The best story of the Final Four was Gonzaga, college basketball’s ultimate rags-to-riches tale.

There is never going to be another Gonzaga. It’s not possible. The blueprint that they’re built from is irreplicable. When Mark Few joined the program nearly 30 years ago as a graduate assistant, the Zags were coming off of a season where they won four games. It was the worst job in the WCC, and it wasn’t particularly close. Why would anyone choose to go to college in the eastern-most corner of Washington when they could play at, say, Loyola Marymount or Pepperdine?

“This wasn’t even possible,” Few said. When he was first hired by the school, he made $1,500. When he was first promoted to assistant coach, he lived with Dan Monson because Monson, who only made $45,000 at that time, actually owned a house. Bill Grier, the third assistant on that staff at the time, lived there and “would pay as much rent as we could afford,” Few said.

“In no way shape or form could you ever envision what we [built], from that to right now. It has changed, I don’t know, it’s 500 percent different from the school, how we travel, how we’re treated. We have a new arena. I mean, everything is. We have expectations. We’re expected to win. And we’re expected to advance. Heck, we’re expected to get to a Final Four, and if we don’t get to a Final Four it’s a disaster and we’re a failure.”

Gonzaga was then what, say, Southern Utah is now, buried in the bottom of a conference with teams at the top that have had some tournament success and have sent some players to the NBA. It’s not an enviable position to be in, and the Zags were able to dig out of it because they lucked into a head coach that is one of the best in the business that never wanted to leave.

That’s the way it works at that level. When you have some success, when you make a run in March and prove your chops as a coach, you bounce for a job in a bigger league, with better facilities, a bigger paycheck and a chance to recruit better players. Few never did that.

“Mark made Gonzaga his next job,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. Marshall would know. He’s done the same at Wichita State, even going as far as to leverage opportunities to leave for a power conference gig to help get Wichita State into a position where they may end up joining the American Athletic Conference. At Gonzaga, Few’s worked with the same athletic director, Mike Roth, for all 18 years that he’s been the head man in Spokane. They’ve paid him more. They built a $25 million, 6,000-seat arena and broke ground on a state-of-the-art practice facility. They’ve given him the funding to pay for a good staff, making Gonzaga a destination job for assistants. They’ve given him the resources to afford flying private to road games and for recruiting.

“I’ve been lucky to keep Mark over these years,” Roth said. “He’s wanted to stay. We’ve been doing the right things to make sure we give him the things he needs.”

“And I’m not talking about contracts. That’s easy stuff. I’m talking about facilities, supporting the program, how we travel, how we provide him opportunities to recruit, those types of things.”

The Zags continued to build and continued to win and continued to keep Few, who has heard overtures from programs like Indiana, UCLA and Oregon, where he’s an alum that grew up 15 minutes from campus. That kind of continuity is typically reserved for the biggest and the best programs. It’s not only allowed them to build the basketball program into what it is, at worst a top 15 program in the sport, but it has helped turn Gonzaga basketball into a family that bridges generations.

On Sunday, before the Zags were to square off with North Carolina, Few paraded in some 50 former members of the team, the players that built the foundation of what this program has turned into. Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf. They received a standing ovation from the players currently on the roster, a group that is chock-full of kids that may only spend one season on Gonzaga’s campus. Most expect five-star recruit and former McDonald’s All-American Zach Collins to head to the NBA as the first one-and-done player to come through Gonzaga. He may not be the only one to declare for the draft, either, as All-American point guard Nigel Williams-Goss seems likely to at least test the waters. Jordan Mathews, who hit the game-winning shot for Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 win over West Virginia, was a grad transfer.

He left California, where he averaged 14 points for the Golden Bears his last two seasons, to play a lesser role with the Zags. Williams-Goss was a former McDonald’s All-American and first-team all-Pac 12 point guard at Washington, Gonzaga’s in-state rival, before transferring to the other side of the state. Zach Collins picked the Zags over the likes of Arizona and Oregon, happy to play his role as the first big man off the bench if it meant he got a shot to play for a national title.

“That’s what makes this culture so special those guys, those former players — the Pendos, the Turiafs, Olynyk, the Morrisons, the Dickaus, the Pangoses, and Bells — these guys know it,” Few said. “They’re still connected to these guys even though they never played together. And our culture is just so strong. And this was a culture statement and I couldn’t be prouder.”

It’s also a statement of where Few’s program is.

“I was young and naive,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, who has been at Gonzaga for 16 seasons, said of when he first got the job. “I thought why can’t we recruit NBA players. Let’s go do it. Let’s sell these guys on what we believe in. I was all in but I was 23 years old. It was my first job. I thought I could do anything. Mark was the same way. Being naive was a good thing then.”

It’s not naive anymore.

Gonzaga was one rolled ankle from Williams-Goss, one blown out-of-bounds call on North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks, from having having the ball in the final minute with a chance to take the lead in the national title game, and doing so with the only one-and-done player in a Final Four with three power conference schools, two of whom entered the season as top six teams.

“I thought over this run of 20 years we probably had three or four — probably three teams that could have made it here,” Few said. “And, you know, just from the luck of the draw or that particular night, or I think of Wichita that year, or the one year we had a great team with Pangos and Bell, but we just ran into Duke in Houston in the Elite Eight.”

“So certainly felt, my stance all along was you just gotta be good enough and then eventually it’s going to happen. We wanted to stay nationally relevant. And I think we’ve done that year after year after year. And that’s probably what I’m most proud of. And then eventually you’ll kick the door down and break through.”

“We did this year.”

No Haas, no problem: No. 2 Purdue sneaks past No. 10 Butler, into Sweet 16

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No Haas, no harm.

Playing without Isaac Haas, their senior 7-footer who fractured his elbow in an opening round win over Cal St.-Fullerton, the Boilermakers shot 11-for-24 from three and got a valiant effort from their other 7-footer, freshman Matt Haarms, in a 76-73 win over No. 10-seed Butler.

The second-seeded Boilermakers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. They’ll take on No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the East Region semifinals on Friday evening in Boston.

Purdue was led by 20 points from Vincent Edwards, Purdue’s senior leader, who scored 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting as his partner in crime, sophomore Carsen Edwards, shot just 4-for-17 from the floor and finished with 13 points. The biggest shot of the night came from another senior, Dakota Mathias, who buried a three with 14 seconds left that put Purdue up five.

But the real story here was Haarms.

The freshman will be thrust into a critical role for the Boilermakers throughout the rest of this tournament, and I don’t think that it’s crazy to say that the Boilermakers will go as far as he allows them to go. Haarms is the only big man currently on the Purdue roster that played any kind of meaningful minutes this season. Purdue played roughly 100 possessions during the regular season without Haas or Haarms on the floor, and it’s probably safe to assume that the majority of those possessions were played during garbage time, when the walk-ons were on the floor.

Haarms finished with seven boards, six boards and a pair of blocks in 27 minutes, doing a good enough job in the role that he was asked to play to keep Butler from lighting up the Boilermakers in pick-and-roll actions and in protecting the rim. He is certainly a better defender than Haas, particularly in space, but he is no where near the threat that Haas is on the offensive end of the floor. It limits what Purdue can do offensively, and with a game coming up against one of college basketball’s best defensive teams, a group that prides themselves on their ability to run teams off the three point line, we could be looking at a situation where Purdue really needs that interior presence.

What Haarms can provide will be a difference-maker.

I hope he’s ready for it.

VIDEO: Jordan Poole got a hero’s welcome in Michigan’s locker room

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Jordan Poole hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three to send Michigan into the Sweet 16.

And as you might expect, when he made his way back into the Wolverine, he was greeted with a wall of water:

Let’s see that from another angle:

I can never see enough of these videos, but perhaps this is the best part: Two weeks ago, after Michigan won the Big Ten tournament, John Beilein was absolutely drenched in the locker room, having to go to his press conference sopping wet, cold and wearing a towel around his shoulders.

So on Saturday night, he did the smart thing. He wore a poncho and goggles and went on the offensive:

Sunday’s betting lines, point spreads, over-unders

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Here is the full TV schedule, with spreads, over-unders and betting lines, for every game for final day of the first week of the NCAA tournament.

Detroit: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce

  • 12:10 p.m.: No. 2 Purdue (-3.5) vs. No. 10 Butler, CBS (143.5)
  • 2:40 p.m.: No. 3 Michigan State (-9) vs. No. 11 Syracuse, CBS (129.5)

Charlotte: Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson

  • 5:15 p.m.: No. 2 North Carolina (-6.5) vs. No. 7 Texas A&M, CBS (151.5)
  • 7:45 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas State -10) vs. No. 16 UMBC, CBS (135.5)

Nashville: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl

  • 6:10 p.m.: No. 2 Cincinnati (-8) vs. No. 7 Nevada, TNT (136.5)
  • 8:40: No. 1 Xavier (-5.5) vs. No. 9 Florida State, TNT (159)

San Diego: Carter Blackburn, Debbie Antonelli, John Schriffen

  • 7:10 p.m.: No. 4 Auburn (-1.5) vs. No. 5 Clemson, TBS (146.5)
  • 9:40 p.m.: No. 5 West Virginia (-12.5) vs. No. 13 Marshall, TBS (159.5)


Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: An evening full of buzzer-beaters and monster performances

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No. 5-seed Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 13-seed Buffalo, and the star of the show was the guy that’s been Kentucky’s best player for three months: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He finished with 27 points, six boards, six assists and a pair of steals on 10-for-12 shooting while making both of his threes and 5-of-7 free throws.

That’s a ridiculous line, one that makes me wonder whether or not we were premature in saying that this Kentucky team does not have a superstar that can take a game over.


  • ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga: Two days after hitting a game-winning shot against No. 13-seed UNC Greensboro, Norvell went for 28 points, 12 boards, four assists and two steals — sidenote: !!!!! — as the Zags beat No. 5-seed Ohio State.
  • ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall: 24 points, 23 boards, five assists, career over. Salute, sir. It’s been a pleasure.
  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Evans finished with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting to lead the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 with a win over Florida.


You make the call here.

Was it Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three for No. 3-seed Michigan:

Or Clayton Custer hitting Loyola-Chicago’s second game-winner in the span of three days?:


The buzzer-beater that didn’t matter … did.

Myles Powell, with Seton Hall down 83-76, hit this running three at the buzzer. It meant that the final score was 83-79, meaning that Seton Hall covered the 4.5 points that Kansas was favored by. It also meant that the Pirates covered the second half line (Kansas -1.5) and Seton Hall’s wild last minute rally meant that this game also hit the over:

Bad beats everywhere.


No. 1-seed Kansas was +21 in the 22 minutes that Udoka Azubuike played on Saturday. They were -17 in the 18 minutes he didn’t play.

No. 1-seed Villanova shot 17-for-41 from three in an 81-58 win over Alabama to get to the Sweet 16.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter overwhelmed No. 7-seed Rhode Island as No. 2-seed Duke is now a Sweet 16 team.

VIDEO: Jordan Poole’s last-second three sends No. 3-seed Michigan into the Sweet 16

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For the first time in this NCAA tournament, we have a buzzer-beater.

After Devin Davis missed a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds left, No. 3-seed Michigan went the length of the court and Jordan Poole, a freshman who was scoreless on the night, buried a three as time expired to send the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win:

When asked after the game how a freshman was able to make that shot, Michigan head coach John Beilein said he has “an overdose of swag.”

Poole’s three bailed out Michigan in what was an otherwise ugly performance.

John Beilein’s club shot 35.6 percent from the floor, 8-for-30 from three and looked stagnant and bogged down offensively for 39 minutes and 56.4 seconds before Poole saved their season.

No. 6-seed Houston got 23 points from Rob Gray, who was again sensational and certainly deserved a chance to extend his career for another game. He had 39 points in a win over No. 11 San Diego State in the opener and was the best player in the West Region for the first weekend of the tournament.