Rob and Raphielle reflect on Virginia’s collapse in the Elite 8, evolution of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, plus Rob offers reasons why Roy Williams could retire and Final Four picks.
PHILADELPHIA — Thanks to the miracles of technology, Nate Britt was able to watch his brother, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, advance to the Final Four on Saturday night.
The Tar Heels were at a team meal, watching the Wildcats beat No. 1 seed Kansas on a choppy stream on their cell phones.
“Before the meal started, we were watching it in our rooms so we knew it was a close game,” Britt told NBCSports.com. “Once we finished, we had five phones set up, leaning on cups. We had one person that was lagging by two seconds, one was lagging by ten seconds, so everyone was huddled around the one phone that was closest to game speed.”
Kris Jenkins was able to watch his brother, North Carolina’s back-up point guard, reach the Final Four from the front row behind UNC’s bench. And the best part about it? Britt had no idea that Jenkins would be there.
“I looked over in warmups and I only saw my parents,” Britt said. “But I knew my sister was coming so I was like, ‘I don’t see my sister, she has to be here somewhere.’ When we were doing the introductions, the starting five, I saw him sitting there and I was like, ‘Whoa, Kris is here!'”
What else was he supposed to do?
Villanova’s campus is 30 minutes away from the Wells Fargo Center. Was Jenkins really going to sit at home while his brother played an uber ride away?
The story of how these two are connected dates back nearly 12 years. Kris’ mother met the Britts during an AAU tournament in 2004, and the following summer Kris stayed with the Britt family in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, as the two were teammates in the D.C. Assault AAU program. But as Jenkins grew older, his grades started to slip and he started running with the wrong crowd in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, so his mother — Felicia Jenkins, currently an assistant coach for Jackson State’s women’s team — had him move in with the Britts and allowed them legal guardianship.
Jenkins became so close with the Britt family that he continued to live there his senior season his high school, after Nate had transferred out of Gonzaga HS and into prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy.
“It feels like Kris has always been there,” Britt said. “He didn’t move in with me until I was like 12 years old, but when I think about it, it feels like he’s always been a part of our family.”
What made the night all-the-more special is that the two rarely get a chance to see each other play. They have their own practices and their own games while dealing with their own homework assignments and travel issues. The Big East doesn’t have any teams south of D.C., which is a good four hours from Chapel Hill, while the closest that Carolina gets to Philly is a trip to Pittsburgh, which is still nearly five hours away.
Britt was able to get to Brooklyn to see Villanova play over Thanksgiving, but those opportunities are few and far between, the games far less meaningful than a Regional Final.
“It’s amazing,” Jenkins said.
“It was extremely cool he was here for this,” Britt added.
Jenkins also provided some added motivation. More than just the opportunity to potentially compete against each other for a national title, Britt didn’t want to let Jenkins be the only one in the house with a Final Four snapback. They’re brothers, but they’re also competitors. Bragging rights mean everything, whether it’s spades, NBA2K or a trip to Houston for the Final Four.
“I saw him with the hat on, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get one of those hats,'” Britt said.
But here’s the catch: Jenkins wasn’t wearing his Final Four hat. It was just a random black snapback. Bragging rights matter down the road, but on this night, Jenkins didn’t want to step on his brother’s shine.
“This is his night.”
PHILADELPHIA — What is it with coaches injuring themselves during celebrations?
On Friday night, it was Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey that was dealing with a strained calf muscle that he suffered while coaching his team to a win over No. 7 Wisconsin. That came a year after Ron Hunter tore his achilles celebrating a trip to the NCAA Tournament with his Georgia State team.
And on Sunday night, it was Roy Williams, who managed to make himself bleed while cutting down a net.
“I told them I’d do that and I’d do it again,” Williams said, laughing at the press conference as his players gave him a hard time about his apparent inability to handle safely use scissors. “But I did bite my tongue and it was bleeding the whole first half two nights ago. It’s not very pleasant but I was screaming at Brice to get his rear end up off the ground. He’d slipped and fall and took a nap instead of getting up and running back on defense.”
“So, today I was up there cutting the net and I started to take a step back and felt the ladder moved a little bit, and I grabbed, and when I grabbed I grabbed the end of the scissors, started bleeding. I’ve really got very good looking blood. It’s very bright, very deep colors.”
Marcus Paige doesn’t have much experience cutting down nets. That’s why he had his own issues last night.
He’s been here.
He should be able to handle this.
“He should be used to cutting nets,” Paige said. “That’s something he’s done several times in his career. But couple of games ago he was bleeding as well. He came in the huddle and he was, like, guys I’ll bleed for you guys if you keep playing the way you’re playing.”
“It might be good luck.”
Brice Johnson added: “It must be good luck. So keep bleeding, Coach.”
The Tar Heels made sure that didn’t happen on Sunday night.
They just invited him this time, and he could not have possibly been happier about it:
PHILADELPHIA — When Marcus Paige — native Iowan, midwesterner through and through — signed his Letter of Intent to play at North Carolina, the Tar Heels were the No. 1 team in the country. That was the year that Anthony Davis was carrying Kentucky to a national title, when a little itty-bitty broken bone in Kendall Marshall’s wrist was the difference between the Tar Heels getting a shot at cutting down the nets and going as far as Stillman White would carry them.
Paige figured that would be the norm, that he would play a role for two years before starting as a junior and a senior, winning titles and getting to Final Fours and doing everything that you would expect one of the nation’s premier basketball programs to do.
Only, that’s not the way that it played out. The Tar Heels didn’t get out of the first weekend the first two years that Paige was in Chapel Hill. They didn’t get out of the Sweet 16 his junior year. They had never won an ACC title before this year.
And that became a problem when it came time to cut down the net after Carolina’s 88-74 win over No. 6 seed Notre Dame sent the Tar Heels to the Final Four in Houston.
Because Marcus Paige, Leader of Men in Carolina Blue, didn’t know how to put the net around his neck.
“It just looked weird,” junior guard Nate Britt said with a laugh after the game. “I was just like, ‘Flip it! Flip it before the cameras get you!’ He tried to switch it.”
“I don’t think it worked.”
“This is only my second one,”. Paige said. “So I’m getting better.”
“Hopefully by the third time I’ll have it down.”
We knew it was coming. Notre Dame had not only managed to make a miracle comeback to win each of their first three NCAA tournament games, but the win they had landed over then-No. 2 North Carolina back in February had been the result of the Irish erasing a 15-point lead.
That’s what this team does. It ain’t luck when it happens over and over again.
Notre Dame rode the pluck of the Irish to the Elite 8, and you better believe that wasn’t going to change on Easter Sunday.
Which is why no one in the building should have been surprised when Notre Dame, outsized and down 51-40 with star point guard Demetrius Jackson limping around on a freshly rolled ankle, hit the Tar Heels with a 12-0 run to take their first lead of the second half. And if that had been the end of it, if Notre Dame had gone on to upset the No. 1 seed in the East Region, no one would have been surprised.
Because if Notre Dame’s rep was that of the never-say-die scrapper, North Carolina’s M.O. for much of the season — for the majority of the last two years — had been that of a team that couldn’t win a big game. Choke artists may be too strong of a word, but you didn’t have to look hard to find someone criticizing UNC for their inability to win big games. Toughness, the narrative said, was something lacked, both mentally and physically, and a pair of bonehead mistakes — Kennedy Meeks’ turnover when he convinced himself he was a point guard, and Brice Johnson’s decision to get a technical foul — only reinforced what we were all thinking:
The comeback was coming.
And that’s precisely when the Tar Heels answered.
Marcus Paige sparked and Isaiah Hicks, in emphatic fashion, capped a 12-0 run of their own, giving the Heels a 63-52 lead they would never relinquish en route to win that would send the Heels, this senior class, to the Final Four.
“To actually be here, in the moment, is so much better than I imagined,” Paige said after scoring 13 points in the regional final. “This year, when we started losing a couple games, people started questioning us saying basically it’s the same team as last year. We don’t have what it takes. Don’t get too excited. They were overrated to start the season. To fight that, all the toughness remarks, fight all the experts — one out of 31 ESPN experts picking us — it’s been a special ride, man.”
What makes it that much more special for this group is that they’ve been the kids that have had to deal with the torrent of criticism that has come with the NCAA’s investigation into an academic scandal that began before they were born.
The Tar Heels will be at the center of the biggest subplot to this year’s Final Four. Their athletic department had spent 18 years taking full advantage of fraudulent classes that were being offered in the African American studies major, and they’ll square off in the Final Four against a Syracuse program that self-sacrificed last year’s postseason to try and appease their NCAA overlords.
I’m not here to argue about the merits of either investigation or to try and parse through the details regarding the involvement of the two Hall of Fame head coaches that have had their good names tarnished. That’s a different story for a different day. What is inarguable, however, is that the kids on the current rosters have been the ones that have had to deal with it all.
The media scrutiny. The jeers from opposing fans. The pressure, at North Carolina, that comes with potentially being the last Roy Williams’ coached team that will be eligible to make it this far in March.
It’s not something that they signed up for.
Which is what makes this breakthrough so special.
“I didn’t want this for myself,” Roy Williams said, tears in his eyes as he watched workers at the Wells Fargo Center ready a ladder for him to cut down the nets. “I wanted this for Marcus, Brice and Joel. That’s who I wanted it for.”
“They stuck, they trusted me, they believed in me. Not all the BS that’s been around, the sensationalism and everything. I’ve never wanted anything for someone else as much as I wanted this for those guys.”
This dunk capped a 12-0 UNC run that answered a 12-0 from Notre Dame, the latter of which erased a 51-40 UNC lead.
That’s a lot of math. Don’t think about it. Just enjoy the dunk: