New Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing went on the Sports Junkies on Wednesday and said that he is not allowed to hire his son to his staff because of a nepotism clause in his contract.
Which is ironic considering where he is working.
John Thompson Jr. has been running that program for 45 years. He was in charge for 27, he had his top assistant hired as his replacement in 1999 and his son took over from him in 2004. After John Thompson III was let go last month, the Hoyas hired Ewing, Big John’s most important recruit.
But yeah, allowing Ewing to bring his son on staff would be a problem.
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.”
For North Carolina, ‘Redemption’ has never been so sweet
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joel Berry II’s parents didn’t like the tattoo, not at first.
On Monday night — a night they spent watching their son score 22 points and dish out six assists, a night where Berry’s steadfast belief in himself, in his teammates, paid off with a national title win over Gonzaga — they both had that same tattoo in the same spot on their arm.
The Berry family motto is ‘Believe’. Has been as long as Joel II can remember. “Believe in what you want,” Kathie, Joel’s mother, said. “Believe you can win. That’s just what we live.” It’s what Joel II has lived, too, never more so than in the 364 days since his dream was snatched from his fingers in the 4.7 seconds it took Ryan Arcidiacono to find Kris Jenkins for that game-winning, title-snatching three.
It would have been easy for Joel II to give up, to assume that his one shot at hanging a banner in the Dean Dome was gone. That’s why he got the word tattooed on the inside of his left bicep right before the start of this season.
“It’s something that I want to be able to down and see, no matter what,” Joel II said. “Look, I’m not a big fan of tattoos. If I get a tattoo, I want it to mean something to me. This right here has got me throughout this whole season. To be here right now, it’s just all because of believing in myself and believing in my teammates, believing in what the coaches want us to do.”
“That word. It just means so much.”
His parents knew that, which is why they, along with Berry’s four brothers and sisters, inked up the inside of their left bicep with an identical, removable tattoo for Monday’s game. They just had to find a way to show it to him.
Joel II can hear that whistle anywhere, man. Even in domed football stadium packed to the gills with more than 77,000 buzzed, sunburnt fans that spent a little too much time tailgating outside on a beautiful, 85 degree day in the desert, Berry can hear that whistle.
“My mom has been doing that whistle since I was five years old,” Berry said. “Sometimes that whistle is because I’m in trouble, and sometimes it’s because she’s trying to get our attention. I can hear it from anywhere.”
On Monday night, he heard it right before the start of the game. When he turned around, the entire Berry clan was flexing their arm, pointing to their left bicep.
“It almost made me cry right then.”
That wasn’t the only time that Berry cried on the University of Phoenix Stadium floor.
After he gobbled up a loose ball with 15 seconds left, after he found Justin Jackson for a dunk that put the Tar Heels ahead 70-65 with 12 seconds left, after Kennedy Meeks picked off a Gonzaga pass with nine seconds left, Berry headed to the free throw line, game in hand, redemption complete.
And emotionally, he couldn’t handle it.
“I was about to cry at the free throw line,” Berry said. “It was just a relief. I couldn’t believe it. I told the ref, ‘sir, i need a timeout,’ and I went to the sideline. ‘Look, I needed that, I’m about to lose it.’ Coach was like, ‘don’t lose it yet. Just knock these free throws in, then we can celebrate.’ And I went up there and I missed the first one.”
“I knocked in the second one and I was running down the court and I was crying.”
He wasn’t alone. Theo Pinson was crying before the final buzzer sounded. Isaiah Hicks copped to having to struggle to hold back tears. Justin Jackson didn’t bother holding them back. “Tears of joy started falling and I couldn’t control it,” he said.
This moment was cathartic for the Tar Heels. A year ago, at this same time, they were the ones left in tears following one of the most memorable plays in basketball history, a title-winning, buzzer-beating three from Kris Jenkins. After that shot went down, Williams said, “the feeling of inadequacy in the locker room last year is the worst feeling I’ve ever had.”
That is what North Carolina has been carrying with them all season long. It’s part of the reason Berry got that tattoo on his arm. It’s why the team’s group text has been named ‘Redemption’. It’s why the screen-saver on Pinson’s phone is a picture of him immediately after last year’s title game loss. It’s all hokey and cliché and narrative-driven, and it’s all too painfully accurate. Williams told his team that they had a chance to do this at the team’s first meeting back in August, that this was a group that had the pieces on their roster to avenge last year’s loss, to allow them to experience what it was like to be in a title-winning locker room.
But that didn’t always help.
“Every time I tried to think about us winning it I thought about the outcome of last year,” Nate Britt II said.
The other subplot of the Tar Heel season is the looming investigation that is being held over the head of the university. We’re approaching a two years since North Carolina first received a Notice of Allegations for violations committed in a wide-reaching academic scandal that has forever tarnished the sterling reputation of North Carolina. Not the basketball program, the school.
I understand why it would be hard for a neutral to be happy for North Carolina. Not only is there the skepticism that the NCAA would ever actually hammer one of their flagship programs, but UNC also has the money to fund an elite legal defense team that will make every effort to ensure that this is the most difficult investigation the NCAA will ever do.
I can’t blame anyone for that.
But understand, the scandal at North Carolina, the one that has muddied Williams’ name and could eventually result in a national title banner coming down, had nothing to do with any of the players on the floor tonight. They didn’t reap the benefits of any fake classes. Most of them came to North Carolina despite the fact that this investigation is ongoing.
“I wish it got no attention here, because this should be about the kids,” Williams said. “I wish it got no attention. But I know it’s out there. But the last three or four years have been very hard. I told you, people have questioned my integrity, and that means more to me than anything.”
“I know that we did nothing wrong. I know that I did nothing wrong. I’ve been investigated 77 times, it seems like. And everybody came to that conclusion. But there were some mistakes made at my university that I’m not happy about, either.”
It’s debatable — and probably inaccurate — to say that Williams did nothing wrong, but it’s 100 percent correct to say as much about the players. Their life in the public eye has been made that much more annoying by the fact that they have to answer questions about it. More importantly, they’re the ones that took last year’s loss, and the ones that will celebrate this year’s win, the hardest.
“After the Oregon game,” Berry recalled of a conversation he had with home roommate on the road, Pinson, “we had just talked about we get another shot at this, and we’re not going to let it get away from us.”
“Even if i have to steal that trophy from Gonzaga,” Pinson said back, “I’m not leaving that gym without the trophy.”
“We made that dream come true. I can forget about that shot from last year,” Berry said. “When we wake up in the morning it’s going to be us on the front of the newspaper.”
All it took was a title to get over last year’s heart break.
Things are going to be different in the Britt household from now on.
Nate II took last year’s loss particularly hard. Kris Jenkins, the man responsible for all of that heartbreak, is his brother. Jenkins lived with the Britts in the Washington D.C. area, moving in with the family in 2007 when they became his legal guardians, which seemed like a great idea until big brother hit the shot that gave him a ring and left little brother in tears. Imagine being reminded of that moment every time you walk by your brother’s room. Imagine being reminded of that moment every time he wears his national title hat or his national title t-shirt. Hell, imagine being reminded of that moment every time you see your brother.
“I’ve got balance in my house now,” Nate Sr. said.
And this time, it was Nate II that made Jenkins’ eyes water.
“I didn’t cry last year,” Jenkins said, moments after getting a bear hug from Ramses, the North Carolina mascot, while wearing a Nate Britt t-shirt jersey.
“I cried a little bit tonight.”
Isaiah Hicks, the unlikely hero, leads North Carolina to title-game win
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The coldest man in college basketball was the hero on Monday night.
North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks had missed 15 of the first 17 shots that he took in the Final Four. He made the last four, including a basket with 25 seconds left on the clock to give North Carolina a 68-65 lead. One possession earlier, with 1:25 left in the game, Gonzaga’s star point guard and all-american Nigel Williams-Goss rolled his right ankle. On the ensuing possession, after the Zags used a time out, he missed a pull-up jumper and after Hicks bucket, Williams-Goss had a shot blocked by Kennedy Meeks. On the previous two possessions, Williams-Goss had scored.
North Carolina would go on to win 71-65, earning a national title almost a year to the day after they had their hearts broken by Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating, title-winning three.
“It felt like last game I was trying and nothing was going in. Everybody was saying I was frustrated; thought I was frustrated and everything,” Hicks said. “But I really wanted it. It’s all about the next thing. And tonight I just really wanted to get after it.”
The story of the game ended up being the referees. There were 43 fouls called on the night, 26 of them coming in the second half. Both teams were in the bonus with 14 minutes left in the second half, a half where there were 23 fouls called in the first 15 minutes and every big man on the floor played their way into foul trouble. It took all the rhythm out of the game and played a pretty big role in why neither team was able to find a groove offensively. At one point, with seven minutes left in the half, the two teams had combined to shoot 11-for-42 from the floor.
“It’s a very difficult game to call. I’m sitting over there, I’m not thinking the officials are doing a terrible job. I swear to goodness, that’s not what I’m thinking. I’m thinking our offense stinks,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “I mean, serious. I told them don’t worry about what the referee is doing, he missed a call, but, my God, we missed four free throws in a row, missed layups. So we were at fault just as much as anybody else.”
Hicks changed the game in the second half. He had spent the first 60 minutes of the Final Four playing abysmal basketball, shooting 2-for-17 from the floor while shooting with the kind of confidence that Karl Malone with have. Three minutes into the second half, he committed an awful turnover that ended an 8-0 North Carolina run and set the Zags up for an 8-0 run of their own, a surge that ended what felt like a game-changing swing of momentum at the start of the second half.
But Hicks finally found the rhythm down the stretch. He had three huge buckets midway through the half, a stretch where North Carolina’s offense went ice cold, and scored the bucket to put the Tar Heels up three with 25 seconds left.
“Isaiah made, I think, I don’t have the stat — I have a stat sheet but I don’t have play-by-play. Things have been swirling around,” Williams said. “But, I think Isaiah made two big baskets in the last three minutes. And I think that that was just a youngster willing the ball in the hole, because he had stunk it up for the last couple of weeks most of the time.”
Josh Perkins was averaging 5.2 points and shooting 34.8 percent from the floor in the first five games of the NCAA tournament, but his play buoyed Gonzaga in the first half, scoring 13 points — more than he’s scored in any game since Feb. 23rd, a total he eclipsed just twice since Christmas — and helping Gonzaga jump out to an early nine-point lead, but the Zags, overall, did not play all that well in the first 20 minutes. They entered the break up just 35-32 despite the fact that Berry and Jackson combined to shoot just 5-for-16 from the floor; Jackson was 0-for-6 from three.
As a team, the Tar Heels posted their second-worst shooting first half of the season at 30.6 percent; the loser was their blowout loss at Miami in February.
“26-for-73, you’re not going to win many games; 57 percent from the free-throw line you’re not going to win many games,” Jackson said. “But those last three minutes I think we made plays that ended up calling the game. And for us we’re just happy we came out on top, and this is an amazing feeling.”
North Carolina did, however, win the battle of the big men in the first half, as both Karnowski and Collins picked up two fouls in the first 20 minutes. Karnowski went 0-for-4 in the half, turning the ball over three times, while Collins lasted all of eight minutes before getting into foul trouble. Meeks, fresh off his 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Oregon in the Final Four, had just four points and five boards and Hicks’ struggles continued, as he went 1-for-5 in the half, but getting the Gonzaga bigs out of the game is what opened up the offensive glass and allowed UNC to get back into the game. The Tar Heels had three offensive boards in the first 16 minutes; they had five in the final four and took the lead back within the first 30 seconds of the second half.
The NCAA’s deadline to withdraw from the NBA Draft for early entry candidates that have not signed with an agent came and went last night, and while a few of the decisions took us right up to the deadline, it mostly played out the way it was expected to.
Some big names returned. Some surprising names left.
Next season’s top 25 is awful uninspiring. There also isn’t anything close to a clear-cut No. 1 team, although the consensus at this point seems to be that Michigan State, Arizona and Kansas, despite their flaws, are the three best teams in the country in some order.
Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.
Here is the top 25:
Who’s gone: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson
Who do they add: Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O’Connell, Trevon Duval, Jordan Tucker
Projected starting lineup: Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter
I totally get why people are going to push back against this, but think about it: Duke has the Class of 2017’s top power forward who doubles as the best player in the class and a potential No. 1 pick in 2017 in Bagley, 2017’s top point guard in Duval, 2017’s second-best center in Carter and a fourth five-star in Trent that some rank as 2017’s best shooting guard. All of that is before you factor in senior and former all-american Grayson Allen, who Coach K has told us is finally healthy. They’re still flawed — I’m not sold on Duval as the point guard they need — but to me they’re the best team in the country.
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward
I like this Michigan State team a lot. Nick Ward was a beast last year and Jaren Jackson is the perfect sidekick. Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will both take a step forward. The key, however, is that a potential Player of the Year in Miles Bridges opted to return to school.
Who’s gone: Lauri Markkanen, Kadeem Allen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche
Who do they add: Deandre Ayton, Emmanuel Akot*, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Dylan Smith
The Wildcats add the most talented big man in the class in Deandre Ayton, as well as Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. The reason they’re a top five team, however is the return of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins.
Who’s gone: Frank Mason II, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas
Who do they add: Malik Newman, Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Sam Cunliffe
Projected starting lineup: Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Billy Preston, Udoka Azuibuike
The Jayhawks are going to have a lot to replace, but they do have some players coming in. With Devonte’ Graham back, I think he’ll be a star and all-Big 12 player at the point, and he’ll be joined by a former top 10 prospect in Malik Newman and a current top ten prospect in Billy Preston.
Who do they add: Hamidou Diallo, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jemarl Baker
Projected starting lineup: Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo*, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, Nick Richards
Kentucky is a tough team to peg for next season. They should be really good defensively — Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt are elite defenders — and insanely athletic, but it’s going to be another year where we don’t know who shoots it for Kentucky. Adding Knox is big.
Who’s gone: Davon Reed, Kamari Murphy
Who do they add: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg
Projected starting lineup: Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker, Anthony Lawrence, Dewan Huell
Losing Reed and Murphy will hurt, but Bruce Brown was one of the best-kept secrets last year, Lonnie Walker is a big-time scorer and Dewan Huell is a former top 30 prospect in line for a big bump in minutes this year. Jim Larrañaga is exactly the coach to take advantage of this guard-heavy lineup, too.
Who’s gone: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon, Devin Robinson
Who do they add: Isaiah Stokes, Egor Koulechov, Chase Johnson, DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Jalen Hudson, Dontay Bassett
Projected starting lineup: Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, John Egbunu
Coming off of a trip to the Elite 8, the Gators bring back most of their key pieces while adding a talented recruiting class and two players that redshirted last season. Two keys to this team’s ceiling: The health of John Egbunu, who missed the second half of last season, and the development of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza.
Who’s gone: Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell
Who do they add: Brian Bowen, Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas
Projected starting lineup: Quentin Snider, VJ King, Deng Adel, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud
Louisville has a chance to be very, very good next season, particularly now that Deng Adel is back and Brian Bowen is in the mix. If guys like VJ King, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud take a step forward, the Cardinals might compete for an ACC title. That says a lot this year.
The Wildcats are going to take a major hit with Josh Hart finally graduating, but the good news is that Jay Wright is still around, as is Jalen Brunson. Omari Spellman getting eligible will help, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks Donte DiVincenzo has a chance to develop into an all-Big East player.
10. Wichita State
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard
The Shockers finished the season ranked in the top ten at KenPom, but ended up with a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament because they struggled to get used to each other early on in the season. With everyone returning from last year’s team, don’t be surprised to see Gregg Marshall’s team as a Final Four contender.
Who do they add: Derek Culver, Brandon Knapper, D’Angelo Hunter, Teddy Allen, Wesley Harris
Projected starting lineup: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Sagaba Konate
At this point, I’m just going to assume that Bobby Huggins is going to put a good team on the floor regardless of the situation. The names don’t even matter, although Jevon Carter is back for what feels like his 17th season in college hoops while Esa Ahmad seems primed for a monster year.
Who’s gone: Charles Buggs
Who do they add: Derryck Thornton, Charles O’Bannon, Jordan Usher
Projected starting lineup: Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu
There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu, Stewart and Boatwright are all returning. The Trojans will push Arizona for the Pac-12 title if they decide to defend.
Who’s gone: Akeem Springs
Who do they add: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris, Davonte Fitzgerald
Projected starting lineup: Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch
The Golden Gophers bring everyone back from last season, a year where they were one of the most surprising teams in the country. Minnesota could win the Big Ten.
Who’s gone: Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton
Who do they add: Jaylen Hands, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill, Chris Smith
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bruins move on from the Lonzo Ball era. It will also be interesting to see how LaVar Ball handles the fact that LiAngelo Ball isn’t Lonzo. Jaylen Hands and Aaron Holiday will be an elite back court.
Who’s gone: Troy Caupain, Kevin Johnson
Who do they add: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme, Cane Broome
Projected starting lineup: Cane Broome, Jarron Cumberland, Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington
The Bearcats return a lot of important pieces from a team that won 30 games last season. Broome averaged 23 points for Sacred Heart as a sophomore.
Who do they add: Jaleek Felton, Cameron Johnson, Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman, Andrew Platek, Garrison Brooks
Projected starting lineup: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Garrison Brooks
The Tar Heels are coming off of back-to-back national title game appearances, but they lose three key seniors from that team as well as Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley. Berry will be a National Player of the Year contender and Luke Maye will move into the starting lineup. Will Cam Johnson be eligible to play?
Who’s gone: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins
Who do they add: Jacob Larsen, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert, Jesse Wade
Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams III, Killian Tillie
With Nigel Williams-Goss gone, the key to Gonzaga’s season will be the development of Josh Perkins. Can he play the point full-time and do it successfully?
Who’s gone: Sanjay Lumpkin, Nathan Taphorn
Who do they add: Anthony Gaines, Aaron Falzon, Rapolas Ivanauskas
The Wildcats, a year removed from their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, bring back essentially everyone from last season and get Aaron Falzon healthy. Bryant McIntosh will contend for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Who’s gone: Nick King, Jimmie Taylor, Shannon Hale, Corban Collins
Who do they add: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Daniel Giddens
Projected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, John Petty, Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Daniel Giddens
The Crimson Tide bring back a talented young core and add two five-star guards, including Collin Sexton, who could lead the conference in scoring.
22. Notre Dame
Who’s gone: Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem
Who do they add: DJ Harvey, Nikola Djogo
Projected starting lineup: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben
At this point, I’m fine betting on Brey to have Notre Dame in the mix every year. They’re going to need Rex Pfleuger and Temple Gibbs to take a step forward, but Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell can carry the Irish.
23. Virginia Tech
Who’s gone: Seth Allen, Zach LeDay
Who do they add: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Khadim Sy
The Hokies return all five starters from last season despite the fact that the team graduates their top two scorers. A healthy Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear will help.
24. Saint Mary’s
Who’s gone: Joe Rahon, Dane Pineau
Who do they add: Kristers Zoriks, Malik Fitts, Cullen Neal
He and Roy Williams have been friends and rivals and gambling buddies for years, and even if the pair were mortal enemies, Few is not the kind of person that would sit on the dais in the one of the biggest press conferences of the year in college basketball and start firing shots at anyone, let alone the man he will be coaching against on Monday night.
But when Few was asked where there was a clear advantage for Gonzaga against North Carolina, two teams that matchup with each other almost too perfectly, his answer was simple, concise and direct: “Coaching,” he deadpanned.
The room erupted in laughter, and Williams himself would chuckle and grin when the story was recounted to him an hour later, the irony being that the general public wouldn’t get the joke.
Williams never get mentioned among the greatest coaches of all-time. He’s not on the same level as Dean Smith, or John Wooden, or Adolph Rupp, or even his Tobacco Road counterpart, Mike Krzyzewski. He’s not a great basketball mind, his critics will tell you, he’s a recruiter that wins because he gets the best players and rolls the ball out.
Only one of those statements is factual.
What makes Roy Williams great, the reason that he may very well be the greatest college basketball coach of this generation, is that he’s good enough at what he does that he can just roll the ball out and let his guys go.
All you need to do to know just how good, and just how under-appreciated, Roy Williams is as a head coach is to look at the numbers that he’s put up in his career.
He’s been to nine Final Fours. Only Wooden, Krzyzewski and Smith have been to more. Monday night will be the sixth national title game that he’s played in, and if the Tar Heels win, it will be the third national title that he’s won. Only wooden, Rupp and Krzyzewski have won more than him. He’s won eight of the last 13 ACC regular season titles; Krzyzewsi has won two in that time frame. He’s been a head coach for 29 seasons, and he’s won a regular season title — ACC, Big 12 or Big Eight — in 17 of them.
Williams has more NCAA tournament wins than anyone since 2000, and it’s really not all that close. He has 55. John Calipari has 40. Bill Self has 42. Tom Izzo has 43. It would take the Tar Heels losing on Monday and in the first round of the tournament for the next two seasons while Duke wins back-to-back national titles for Krzyzewski, who is second on that list with 44 tournament wins, to surpass him.
Williams also has the second-highest winning percentage of any active head coach, and the only guy that is ahead of him on that list is Few, who is terrific in his own right but whose numbers are inflated by playing in the talent-deficient WCC.
“You don’t do that if you can’t coach,” Sean May, who won a title with Williams before becoming a member of his coaching staff, said.
Which is why the knock on him is that he’s a recruiter, a guy that simply goes out and gets the best players, relying on their natural ability to lead him to glory, except that’s not exactly the way that this thing has worked. Williams hasn’t had a one-and-done player since 2007, and it may be hard for you to figure out who, exactly, that player is. (Brandan Wright.) Marvin Williams, who bounced after winning a title in 2005, is the only other one and done that has spent time in Chapel Hill under Williams’ watch.
“Coach always says when he was at Kansas, they said he could coach and couldn’t get elite guys,” said former Tar Heel Marcus Paige. “And now he’s at Carolina, and he can recruit, he’s just not as good of a coach.”
His bread and butter are the kids that are elite prospects but that fall just short of that one-and-done threshold, the four- and five-star kids that need a couple of years on campus before they turn into NBA-caliber prospects. Think Justin Jackson, a top 15 player that needed to develop the confidence and the strength to be able to play on the wing in the NBA. He may end up being a lottery pick once his junior year comes to an end. Brice Johnson was a four-star recruit who grew into a late-first round pick and an all-american after four years of schooling under Williams. Marcus Paige, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Tyler Zeller, John Henson.
“He’s arguably been the best coach of the past 15 years if you go off of success,” Paige said, “instead of just media perception.”
And it’s that media perception that keeps Williams out of the conversation for being one of the very best to ever do it.
Which is silly.
Because the very thing that is used to criticize him is what makes him great.
North Carolina’s offense is fairly unique in the college ranks. They don’t run many set plays at all; players and staff estimate that about 70 percent of their half court possessions are what the Heels call ‘freelance,’ which is exactly what it sounds like: “Everybody does what they want,” Paige said.
But freelance is so much more complicated than simply showing up and playing, like walking into the Dean Dome is the same thing as picking your five, calling next and getting on the court at the park on a Saturday afternoon.
“It’s definitely not just a roll the ball out and let the guys play kind of deal,” Nate Britt said. “It’s not like we’re playing pickup.”
Freelance, typically, starts out of North Carolina’s secondary break. When the Tar Heels gain possession on the defensive end, the first thing they are going to look to do is beat their opponent down the floor, a layup or an open three before the defenses gets being the goal. This is scripted. The shooting guard sprints to the right wing. The small forward sprints to the left wing. The four-man sprints to the block, what’s called a rim-run, and Berry, who is drilled to receive the outlet with his momentum taking him up the floor, first looks to see if one of those three will be open or if he can get all the way to the rim for a layup of his own.
That’s the primary break. The secondary break offense that Williams is famous for comes out of that. Plays aren’t scripted. Every player on the floor has a read to make based off of what a teammate does. Within the system, there are actions designed to create ball-screens, or pin-downs, or post-ups, or whatever.
But the calls are seldom made from the sideline.
It all is based off of where Berry’s first pass goes, where he cuts to after making that pass and how the defensive is playing. From there, North Carolina gets into their freelance, continuity offense.
The coaching doesn’t come in the game.
The coaching comes when he’s drilling into these players what is and what isn’t a good shot in this offense.
“You have to teach the system,” May said. “It’s hard [to learn], but once you get it? I can go right now and run everything these guys run because I played in it, but you still have to go out there and teach guys how to make the right plays, how to be in the right spots at the right moments. All that is coaching. That doesn’t just happen because you’re there.”
“As much as it looks like we may be in freelance and doing our own thing,” added Jackson, “Coach has taught us the principles that we need to use for that.”
That’s part of the reason North Carolina is so hard to guard. Scouting at this level has reached the point where every team knows every set and every call for whoever they’re playing. There are no secrets.
With North Carolina, there also isn’t a blueprint. You don’t really know what they’re going to do because they don’t even know what they’re going to do.
It’s not an easy thing to coach against, but it may be more difficult to coach.
Williams is turning over the decision-making power to his players, and that’s not an easy thing to do in a sport where coaches tend to be control freaks. But he does that knowing that he’s put in the work in practice, that he’s taught them — coached them — to do more than run a basketball play.
He’s turned them into basketball players.
And that’s why he can have success a higher rate than anyone else since the turn of the century by simply rolling the ball out.