We’re kicking off our Final Four previews with a look at the five story lines that are going to be beaten to death by the time the first Final Four game is tipped off:
1. I hope you don’t mind righteous sanctimony about NCAA violations: Here’s the thing you have to understand about the Final Four: It’s really the only time of the year that those general columnists care about college basketball. Us basketball folk? We’ve been writing and talking about the sport for five months largely because we spend the seven months worth of offseason writing and talking about all that other stuff that goes on in major college athletics. Oh, you know, like the athletes at North Carolina taking advantages of fraudulent classes that were offered by the university and the extra benefits an academic violations that happened nearly a decade ago under Jim Boeheim’s watch.
We write about this stuff when it happens. You’ll get our reaction and opinion pieces every time there is some news coming down, whether it’s a Notice of Allegations arriving, a punishment being given or a school self-imposing a postseason ban. It’s not hard to figure out how I feel about North Carolina’s chances of getting hit with hefty violations or about how badly Syracuse got their punishment wrong last February.
But college basketball is a niche sport. It only dominates the conversation for one month out of the year, so this is when everyone paid to have an opinion will chime in on things of this nature. Throw in the fact that two of the most visible programs currently dealing with the fallout of NCAA violations will actually be playing in the event, and it’s the perfect storm. For us — meaning fans and media a like, people that track this stuff in real time — it’s a topic of conversation that’s been beaten to death. For them, it’s a chance to get on their high horse and let the peons know just how much is wrong the scourge that is college athletics.
(And for the record, I couldn’t care less about these violations. I think that the NCAA’s rules and regulations regarding amateurism are simply wrong, and if a coach feels like he needs to go outside the rulebook in order to win, I don’t have a huge issue with it. Simply put: NCAA violations don’t mean all that much to me.)
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2. It’s Buddy Hield’s world and we’re all just living in it: You saw what he did to Oregon, right? A measly 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting? That was impressive, but it wasn’t as impressive as the 36 points he scored against VCU because 29 of those 36 came in a second half where Hield scored 26 of Oklahoma’s last 31 points as VCU came storming back from a 13-point deficit.
Hield has been the biggest star in the sport this season thanks to his likeable personality and the fact that he can put up scoring numbers that rival those of Jimmer Fredette, J.J. Redick and Doug McDermott. Throw in the fact that he’s a dude that grew up in the Bahamas of all places and entered Oklahoma as someone whose jump shot was, quite frankly, a liability, and what you have is a player that fans will not quickly tire of.
Especially if he puts on another show like he did on Saturday night.
3. Will this be the last we see of Roy Williams?: I’m not going to predict that it will be, but I will tell you this much: It’s a conversation that is going to be had, both publicly and privately, over the course of the next six days. It’s not difficult to connect the dots on this. Williams is old. He’s 64, and like most 64 year olds, he’s dealing with an assortment of health issues. He’s got knees that give him pain, for one, and the vertigo that he’s dealt with for years flared up as recently as February in a game against Boston College. Throw in the NCAA’s investigation into the allegations of academic impropriety — which has worn on Williams — and what the potential for a postseason ban has done for recent UNC recruiting classes, and this year’s team may be the last time for a long time that the Tar Heels will be in a position to win a National Title.
Put all that together, and would it really surprise you if Williams decided to ride off into the sunset on top?
Again, so North Carolina fans don’t yell at me, I am not predicting or reporting that this will happen. Williams has been adamant about the fact that he does not want to leave this program in bad shape. He doesn’t want to do to his replacement what Matt Doherty did to him. But acting like this isn’t a realistic possibility is simply naïve.
4. Three-point shooting and the Dome: NRG Stadium has been the host of some ugly three-point shooting performances in recent NCAA tournament. (I’m not even sure UConn fans want to remember the rock fight between the Huskies and Butler back in 2011.) In total, in 15 games played in that building since 2002, teams have shot 32.2 percent from three, per a study from our buddy Ken Pomeroy. That could be an issue, as three of the teams in this Final Four are heavily reliant on the three-ball. Villanova, Oklahoma and Syracuse all shoot more than 40 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Previously, VCU in 2011 was the only team in the past decade to reach a Final Four firing away from distance at that rate.
5. So our Cinderella is Syracuse?: How wild is that. The fourth double-digit seed to ever get to the Final Four, and it’s Syracuse of all teams. The Orange are an incredible story. A season after their school bans them from the postseason, the Orange go from a team that probably shouldn’t have been in the field of 68 — you can keep telling me I’m wrong, Cuse fans, and I’ll keep telling you about how the Orange had the worst RPI to ever get an at-large bid — to a team that gets to the Final Four following an impressive late-game comeback against Gonzaga and by doing the impossible in erasing a 15-point lead in less than nine points to beat No. 1 Virginia.
This run has been the script of a movie that you wouldn’t believe was real because it was just too out there. It’s not often you get the chance to revel in your program being mentioned in the same breath as George Mason and LSU.
6. Rematches!: Oklahoma blew out Villanova when these two teams played on a neutral court in December. You’re going to hear that a lot, just like you’re going to hear about North Carolina sweeping Syracuse during the regular season and about how hard it is to beat a team three times in one season. Be ready for it!