UNC On Brink of a National Title After 83-66 Win Over Syracuse

Entering this college basketball season, the 2016 Tar Heels found themselves atop the national rankings carrying massive expectations–despite never having reached the game’s biggest stage.

After the top-seeded Tar Heels’ knocked off Syracuse 83-66 in the National Semifinals on Saturday night in Houston, the team head coach Roy Williams said is his favorite of all-time is now one game from fulfilling all of its preseason promise.

Ever since the start of March, after the Tar Heels beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium to clinch the ACC regular season crown, UNC has been on a death march of sorts.

Kennedy Meeks had 15 points to go along with Brice Johnson's 16--as UNC's front-line had its way with Syracuse's zone. (Todd Melet)

Kennedy Meeks had 15 points to go along with Brice Johnson’s 16–as UNC’s front-line had its way with Syracuse’s zone. (Todd Melet)

First the Tar Heels won the conference tourney in Washington D.C., and now over the last three weeks they seem fully intent on taking what they believe is rightfully theirs—the national championship.

Joel Berry powered through the Syracuse zone with ease on his way to a near triple-double (eight points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds) while UNC’s lovable big man tandem of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson wreaked havoc in the middle—combining for 31 points and 17 rebounds— as the Tar Heels have now won every NCAA tournament game by at least 14 points on their way to the finals.

“Couldn’t be prouder for a team than I am for this team right here,” Williams said during the postgame press conference. “We beat a Syracuse team that had been great down the stretch, and is very difficult for us to play.

“These guys up here were sensational,” the coach continued, referring to Berry, Johnson, and Meeks—who were next to him at the table. “I couldn’t be having a more fantastic ride than I’m having right now.”

It was also known at the beginning of the year that the Tar Heels would struggle with their perimeter shooting. The truth is though, not even an 0-for-10 start from beyond the arc could stop them on Saturday.

Berry’s ball penetration created a number of good looks inside and helped the Tar Heels build a comfortable double-digit halftime lead.

Syracuse, however did manage to cut its deficit to just seven points after taking off on a 10-0 run midway through the second half.

Justin Jackson (left) tied Johnson with a team-high 16 points in what was a balanced scoring night for UNC. (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson (left) tied Johnson with a team-high 16 points in what was a balanced scoring night for UNC. (Todd Melet)

Of course, then the man picked as UNC’s Player-of-the-Year candidate in the preseason—Marcus Paige—put a stop to that run with the Tar Heels’ first three of the night.

“I got a little excited on the sideline at that,” Williams said of Paige’s shot. “If you think about it, and if I had time to reflect, I’d say ‘Yes,’ that it couldn’t be more appropriate that it was Marcus Paige that did that.”

Following Paige’s big play, sophomore wing Theo Pinson stepped up and drilled a three of his own, as UNC then marched easily to victory—showing that when this Tar Heel team makes its shots from beyond the arc they’re basically unbeatable.

Pinson–the team’s Energizer Bunny who finished with five points–and senior forward Joel James—the bench celebration leader who had four points–each made solid contributions as substitutes in a balanced effort where no player shot the ball more than 12 times.

Johnson’s 16 points and 9 rebounds topped the stat sheet, but all he wanted to talk about afterwards were the team’s unsung heroes.

“Theo stepped up and really made some big-time shots,” Johnson said. “And Joel [James] too. Joel played some terrific minutes in the first half.

“That’s how we wanna play,” he continued. “We just wanna play together. It’s a team sport. We don’t really care who gets the most points. We’d rather it be spread out the way it was today.”

Theo Pinson (2) and the rest of the Tar Heels have shown they're willing to do whatever it takes to win a national title. (Todd Melet)

Joel James (42) and the rest of the Tar Heels have shown they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win a national title. (Todd Melet)

And that’s the thing. This special group of Tar Heels has proven all season long that they’re everything everyone thought they might be—and then some.

They’re talented, experienced, and unselfish—playing for something bigger than themselves.

Now only Villanova stands between UNC and its sixth national championship–and for Williams his third since returning to Chapel Hill in the summer of 2003.

It’s been an emotional run filled with all the clichés you can think of, but now they’re here one game away—which is why the coach took some time afterward to thank those that have inspired it.

“I really wish Stuart Scott was here tonight,” Williams said, referencing the late ESPN anchor and Tar Heel alum. “And I really wish [former UNC head coaches] Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge and my best friend in Chapel Hill, Ted Seagroves, were here.

“The last year and a half’s been awfully difficult because of all that,” he continued. “But they’re up there somewhere smiling and having a good time—and Stuart’s saying ‘Boo-yah.’”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will take on the Villanova Wildcats for the title starting at 9:09 p.m. It’ll be yet another late tip time for UNC, but at least this time it’ll be with the biggest prize of them all on the line.

Game Notes:

  • After his fourth rebound in the game, Brice Johnson broke the UNC all-time single season record for rebounds, which he now holds at 408.
  • Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim went to the full-court press defensive strategy that helped his team claw out of a 16-point deficit in the Elite Eight against Virginia, but UNC quickly put an end to it by making a couple of easy fast break layups.
  • Monday will be the 10th time UNC has played for a National Championship.
  • UNC is now 31-1 this year when scoring at least 30 points in the paint (50 on Saturday).




First Final Four as UNC AD for Bubba Cunningham

The North Carolina Tar Heels are preparing for a matchup against Syracuse on Saturday night in the Final Four.

It will be the first time UNC is playing in a Final Four game since winning the national championship in 2009, so this will be the first Final Four experience for many of those associated with the Tar Heel program, including athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

Cunningham told WCHL’s Art Chansky in Houston that he is enjoying the lead up to tipoff on Saturday night.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Cunningham said. “But you know what makes it so great are the students. [Thursday] night we were at the salute dinner, and the four seniors of all the teams were there and Marcus was our representative.

“With Marcus and Brice and Joel, that senior class is truly what college athletics is all about.”

Cunningham said Paige’s speech at the salute dinner may not have been quite as emotional as his senior night speech – how could it be really? – but said that UNC is “a better place because Marcus attended.”

As far as the matchup with Syracuse on Saturday night, the third time the Tar Heels and Orange have played this season, Cunningham said he likes what he has seen from UNC so far in Houston and the preparation from head coach Roy Williams.

“These kids seem to be loose,” Cunningham said. “They seem to be playing at the best as they’ve played all year. You just kind of wait and see what happens.”

Cunningham said that this experience is great for the university as a whole.

“We also have the band and the cheerleaders and there’s so many students – we have over 700 students coming down for the game,” Cunningham said. “That’s what sports does; it bring communities together.

“This is another great example of what sport can do for a university.”

Cunningham said, even though the game is being played in Houston, he expects a large Tar Heel turnout.

“Every time we travel – and it doesn’t matter if it’s New York, Chicago, LA [or] Hawaii – fans turn out in Carolina blue,” Cunningham said. “It’s some of the fans that live in North Carolina and some fans live remotely and cheer on the Tar Heels. I expect the same thing here in Houston.”

Tar Heel fans everywhere will be tuning in Saturday night to see if Carolina can knock off Syracuse for the third time this season.

The winner of the game will take on the winner of the other semifinal between the two remaining No. 2 seeds Oklahoma and Villanova in the national championship game on Monday.

Tipoff between the Tar Heels and the Orange is scheduled for 8:49 Saturday night.


Art Chansky’s Texas Roundup

The national sports spotlight is shining brightly on Houston, Texas, as the college basketball season is nearing another dramatic finish in the Final Four.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are the only No. 1 seed left in the tournament with a matchup against Atlantic Coast Conference foe No. 10 Syracuse on Saturday night.

The winner of that semifinal will play the winner from the other side of the bracket from two No. 2 seeds in Villanova and Oklahoma.

Art’s Angle: Back-To-Back

The health of Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams has been a major storyline in Houston after Williams took issue with a Washington Post article that quoted two of his former assistants and portrayed the Tar Heels head coach as struggling physically. Williams responded to the article during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show earlier this week.

WCHL’s Art Chansky is in Houston covering the Tar Heels and spoke with Patrick about the appearance that made national headlines.

Patrick said that he “didn’t know how [Williams] would react, but I had to ask him about his health.” Patrick went on to say that it wasn’t his intention for that to be the main talking point, but that the response from Williams was “honest radio” adding “some times you have somebody on and you get something different than you thought, and that was one of those cases.”

Listen to Art Chansky’s full conversation with Dan Patrick below:


Chansky also spoke with former UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour. This is the first Final Four appearance for the Tar Heels since Baddour announced that he would be retiring retired in 2011.

Baddour said it’s nice to be at a Final Four without the pressures associated with leading the athletic department, and that he was looking forward “to enjoy it, at least, differently than I have. And when you get a victory, it’s just all-over enjoyment.”

Listen to Art Chansky’s full conversation with Dick Baddour, in which Baddour also offers condolences after the passing of Sandy McClamroch, below. 


Adam Rapp, of the Houston-based The Rapp Show, was a special guest with the Dan Patrick Show on Friday and told Chansky that he is pulling for the Tar Heels because of a friendship he developed with Malik Taylor, also known as Phife Dawg from the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, who recently passed away.

“His passion for [UNC] and college basketball in itself really was just infectious,” Rapp said. “He would come on the show. And there would be up years and down years for the Heels, but he was always a die-hard fan.”

Listen to Art Chansky’s full conversation with Adam Rapp below:


Remembering Final Fours of Years Past

Final Fours can cause nightmares and daydreams.

Just ask Phil Ford.

Ford has a unique perspective on these Final Four trips. After a career as one of the best players in Carolina history, Ford was also part of trips deep into the NCAA Tournament as a member of the Tar Heel coaching staff.

Ford says that the loss to Marquette in the 1977 national championship game is “the only game in my entire career that I still have nightmares about.”

Ford says one moment always sticks out to him when thinking about the ‘77 title game.

“I remember having a shot from the baseline, and it kind of rimmed out,” Ford remembers. “I think it would have put us up three or four or something, and we maybe could’ve played four corners.

“But I make it some times in my dreams. Some times I still miss it.”

Ford continues to give coach Dean Smith credit for getting the walking wounded version of the Tar Heels to that NCAA finals game.

“My elbow was hyper extended. Walter Davis’ finger was broken. Tommy LaGarde wasn’t even dressing out because he had a knee injury and had an operation,” Ford lists.

Listen to the full conversation with Phil Ford and WCHL’s Ron Stutts:


Ford says that the Final Four “changed completely” from his time as a player to his six trips as a member of the Carolina coaching staff

“It had turned into a big show,” Ford recalls. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Ford pointed to the fact that the ’77 Final Four was played at The Omni in Atlanta, which had a seating capacity of just over 16,000 for basketball games. For comparison’s sake, this year’s Final Four venue, NRG Stadium, is home to the National Football League’s Houston Texans and has a capacity that approaches 72,000 for football games.

Listen to an interview with longtime broadcaster Bob Holliday and WCHL’s Ron Stutts:


Ford did get a national championship ring as an assistant coach on the 1993 UNC squad.

“The best memory is in New Orleans in ‘93 when we beat Michigan for the title,” Ford says. “That was an extraordinary team; I’m not sure one-on-one or player-for-player we were quite as good as Michigan. But as far as a team and with Coach Smith, we were able to pull out a really close victory against a very good team.”

Ford admits that he is “a nervous wreck” when he watches the Tar Heels play now, and he credits UNC coach Roy Williams for holding this year’s edition of the Tar Heels together through some ups and downs.

Ford says after all of the adversity this year’s Carolina team has faced, the team deserves “all the best.”

“I’ll be pulling as hard for this team as I’ve ever pulled for any team, that’s for sure.”

Listen to an interview with longtime ACC basketball commentator Barry Jacobs and WCHL’s Ron Stutts:


UNC, the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament, will face No. 10 Syracuse on Saturday night. The winner will face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 2 seeds Oklahoma and Villanova for the national championship.


Ginyard: The Final Four is Different

NANTES, France – And then, there were Four…

First, I would like to congratulate my basketball program on its awesome journey to Houston! I know just how hard the guys have worked and what an opportunity like this means to them. As always, I have been in front of my computer many times, at 3am, wrapped in blanket, muffling my cheers to a whisper as not to cause a disturbance in the building. Those nights turned into a few sick days, but having an extra bounce in my step after some big wins have made it all worth it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing my passion for Carolina with teammates and friends from all over the world.

2009 Final Four

2009 National Champions. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Ginyard)

I was blessed to experience the Final Four two years in a row, from two distinct points of view, with two very different outcomes. Reaching the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio was somewhat of a dream for us. Quentin Thomas was the only member of the team who had experienced being at a Final Four, and for the rest of us, it was quite an adjustment. We were used to being in the local and national spotlight, but the Final Four is, well, different. And 2009, of course, was an overwhelming landslide in our favor, but much in part because of our experience the year before.

The story starts, however, in 2007. Immediately after our disappointing loss to Georgetown in the Elite 8, in the locker room, we all knew that the pain we were feeling would fuel us to the Final Four the next season. It was in our minds every second from then on, and we trained harder than ever to prepare ourselves for our place in San Antonio. We defended our ACC regular season and tournament championships, while suffering just two defeats. Punching our ticket to the Final Four, in Charlotte, was a moment I will never forget. All the anger, pain, hard work and struggle pushing us to the point of an indescribable triumph. We earned our place among the last four standing.

We were buried with Final Four sweat suits, even more exclusive Jordan’s, the adulation (RW taught me that word) from half the world, and of course tracked down by the aunts and uncles we had never met until then. I remember my dad buying me a new suit, making sure I was looking sharp like Carolina always did. I’ll never forget the never-ending lights; the police escort, the camera flashes stepping off the bus at our hotel, tens of thousands more at open practice, and the blaring lights of TV cameras in the locker room. For most people who haven’t experienced it, they’ll say, “Come on man, it’s normal. They do that all time these days, especially for a team like Carolina.” And they would be right. But trust me, it’s different.

For a split second, our world was turned upside down. We had just reached one of the greatest achievements in college basketball, after waiting over a year to have our place in the Final Four, and we lost sight of the bigger picture, beyond the Final Four, beyond being ONE of the best teams that season. All that was good, but for just a moment we forgot that we wanted more than that. And in that moment, we were caught off guard by an extremely talented Kansas team. By the time we woke up, we were too far behind.

2009 Regional Champions

2009 Regional Champions. Marcus Ginyard (left), Danny Green, Mike Copeland, Bobby Frasor, and Tyler Hansbrough. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Ginyard)

Once again, after the game, there was no doubt what would happen the next year. This time we knew exactly what to expect when we made it to the top of the mountain. What I didn’t expect was to watch the majority of the journey from the sideline. I was expecting to recover from surgery in October of 2008 in just 8-10 weeks, but my foot had different plans. When the time came to decide to redshirt, I knew that I wanted to come back for another year, but it was difficult to leave my classmates, especially because we all knew we would take the championship.

We captured another ACC regular season title, and earned another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. At this point in the season, I was back to full strength and fulfilled my role as a practice player. I did my very best to create tough, game like situations for the guys to be at their best during the games. Afterward, it was easy to be the biggest supporter of my team!

Marcus Ginyard

After recovering from surgery, Marcus Ginyard found ways to contribute to the Tar Heels’ 2009 National Championship. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Ginyard)

Our performance in the NCAA tournament was a work of art. We were determined to destroy every team in our way. We didn’t take any chance to let off the gas, a lesson we learned the hardest way possible just a year before. As a result, we took the championship with a decisive 121-point accumulated differential over 6 games. Bittersweet? Of course, but believe me, there was a lot more sweetness than bitterness. We achieved the ultimate goal, together, as a team.

I’ll be setting my alarm earlier this Sunday morning, around 1:45 am, so there’s plenty of time to prepare breakfast before tip off. I’ll be in my usual spot, wearing my Carolina gear, but I won’t be keeping quiet!



(Marcus Ginyard now plays professionally in France)


Fans Send Tar Heels to Final Four

UNC fans gathered outside of the Dean E. Smith Center on Wednesday evening to wish the Tar Heels luck as they prepare to take on the No. 10 Syracuse Orange in the Final Four in Houston this weekend.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are the only No. 1 seed remaining in the NCAA Tournament.

Carolina is heading to the Final Four for a record 19th time.

The Tar Heels have been led by one of the best seasons in UNC history from Brice Johnson; the senior forward has been named first-team All-America by the Associated Press, US Basketball Writers Association and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Johnson is also one of five players who have been invited to Los Angeles for the Wooden Award presentation on April 8; the award is given annually to the nation’s most outstanding basketball player.

UNC will face Syracuse in the second game on Saturday night after the festivities get started with a matchup of two No. 2 seeds, Villanova and Oklahoma.


UNC Basketball Final Four Send-off Set for Wednesday

The Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four in Houston.  Fans can see the UNC basketball team off at 6:30 PM on Wednesday.

The team will be at Entrance D in front of the Dean Smith Center.  Starting at 5 PM, parking will be available in the Williamson, Bowles and Manning Lots surrounding the Smith Center.

The Smith Center will also be home to a Final Four viewing party.  Fans are invited to watch both Final Four games.  Oklahoma and Villanova are scheduled to play in the first game at 6:09 PM.  UNC will play Syracuse at approximately 8:49 PM.

UNC students, faculty, and staff will allowed into the Smith Center through Entrance A starting at 5 PM.  The general public will be allowed through Entrance A of the Smith Center starting at 5:30 PM.

Both games will be displayed on a large projection screen and the Smith Center video boards.  Concessions and Carolina merchandise will also be on sale.  Parking in the Manning, Bowles, Craige and Ramshead lots will be $5.

The Carolina Basketball Museum will also be open from 9 AM until 6 PM on Saturday.

The Tar Heels punched a ticket to their 19th Final Four with a 88-74 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday.


Final Four Bound! UNC’s Win Over Notre Dame Provides Much-Needed Relief

After his team’s 88-74 victory in Philadelphia over No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the East Regional Final on Sunday night—it’s safe to say that UNC head coach Roy Williams might finally be able to get some sleep.

His top-seeded Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The last four years have been a long–often draining–journey for Williams and his team, as they’ve dealt with issues both on and off the court.

Despite not having won a championship of any kind entering the year, this group of Tar Heels—led by seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige–seems destined to win them all this season.

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC's roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC’s roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

That, more than anything else, is what has made this such an emotional run thus far for Williams.

“I’ve never wanted anything in my life for someone else as much as I wanted to get this bunch to the Final Four,” Williams said after the game.

“I’m corny. I’m old fashioned. I’m anything you want to say, but fortunately for me I was very lucky to have had some big time players,” the coach added–referring to his seven previous Final Four trips.

In the first half on Sunday, Johnson was the only big-time player Williams needed against the Fighting Irish—as the rangy 6-foot-10 forward showed off a wide array of NBA-level post moves and jumpers, scoring 15 of his team-high 25 points in the period.

The second half, though, provided an example of how Johnson has helped age Williams significantly in recent years.

After stretching a five-point halftime lead to 11, the Tar Heels allowed Notre Dame to take the lead with a 12-0 run—highlighted by Johnson’s technical foul, which he got for tossing the ball in frustration after being called for another foul he didn’t like.

Williams benched Johnson for a few minutes, but put him back in to help his teammates score on 13 consecutive possessions following the technical—a run dominant enough to put Notre Dame away for good.

“It was really dumb on my part to put my team in a situation like that,” Johnson said, following an apology. “Being a leader on this team I don’t want to do that and have myself not be in the game and hurting [the team] at the same time by getting a tech.

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

“But my teammates did a good job of just playing,” he added. “They really stepped up in a time of need.”

Each of the Tar Heels’ starting five scored in double figures for the second straight outing, as they rolled to yet another double-digit tournament victory—the team’s fourth in as many games this year.

That surely has made it easy on Williams, their notoriously invested coach with two bad knees, since he often likes to jump and squat during pressure-packed moments.

Instead he was able to give his players even more.

Lovable sophomore Theo Pinson finally got the press conference seat he so badly desired after he made a number of big hustle plays down the stretch, while Johnson and Paige each were taken out of the game to large ovations.

“With 34 seconds left I started tearing up,” Paige said. “Everyone was getting real excited, I was looking over at the bench and guys were jumping around, and my family was right behind the bench.

“I was just so overwhelmed and excited that I’m glad Coach took me out,” he continued. “Because I probably would have done something stupid.”

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

It was fitting in the postgame celebrations that Williams cut open his hand just like he cut open his tongue when he bit it during the first half of Friday’s game against Indiana.

He literally bled for his team to be able to get to the Final Four and experience what college basketball nirvana feels like—which in a way, is something he’s been doing for four years now.

And with just two more wins, this could go down as the best coaching job the 65-year-old has ever done.

“It’s been a tough four years in Chapel Hill,” Paige said. “But to come out on top with this group—how much scrutiny we’ve gotten, even as a one-seed, how many people have doubted us to not make it out of the first weekend or not be tough enough to win the ACC. A lot of people didn’t even have us in the Final Four, a lot of the experts and stuff.”

“We love Coach and Coach loves us,” he added. “We don’t ever want it to stop. It’s been a special ride.”

Up Next: 

A Final Four date with a fellow ACC team, the  No. 10 seed Syracuse Orange, awaits the Tar Heels in Houston. That game will be played Saturday April 4 at 8:47 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Roy Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance puts him in fourth place on the all-time list behind only John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (12), and Dean Smith (11).
  • Brice Johnson’s 25 points and 12 rebounds gave him his 23rd double-double of the year–breaking Billy Cunningham’s school record for most in a single season.
  • Johnson also nearly matched the Fighting Irish’s rebounding total, as Notre Dame recorded just 15 the entire game thanks to UNC’s 61.5 percent shooting performance.
  • UNC is the only team remaining in the NCAA Tournament to have won all its games by double digits. The Tar Heels are also the last top seed left.





How Do We Measure the Value of a Basketball Coach?

Sadly, the UNC administration has chosen to reward the flawed leadership of basketball coach Roy Williams with a new contract.

Let’s address the values expressed by this contract in a university whose mission is to advance scholarship, research, and creativity. There are seven performance bonuses in the contract.

In this UNC world where college sports are actually professional sports it is fair to note the monetary values assigned to these bonuses. In the same way that LeBron James earns more than his teammate, former Carolina player Brendan Haywood, or a Lexus costs more than a Corolla, it is important to look at what is relative value in this new contract.

The highest bonus, a quarter of a million dollars, goes to Coach Williams if his players win the NCAA title. There is no mention, by the way, of financial rewards for these players. He amasses bonuses of $200,000 if his teams reach the Final Four or even the Elite 8. Winning even one game in the tournament is good for $100,000 and simply earning a spot in the field reaps a cool $25,000.

What, you might ask, is the value assigned to academic performance?

The Academic Progress Rate or APR is a quirky measure fabricated by the NCAA which basically tracks eligibility, a tiny step on the long path to a real education. The APR reflects the fact that the NCAA and Big Time college sports and the UNC scandal are driven by keeping players eligible, not by providing the opportunity for an education. Even with such a low bar as an educational measure, an acceptable APR is worth only $75,000, less in bonuses to Roy Williams than is making the NCAA tournament.

In a professional sports league, the bonus structure makes sense; in a university committed to scholarship, research and creativity, it does not. From an economic perspective, UNC has made it clear how it values academics for its Big Time Sports behemoth.

This is from The Commentators as heard on WCHL. You can listen to this and more here.


Oakes’ Outlook: Final Four ‘Breakfast Club’

We’re at the ultimate destination of the college hoops season. The Final Four. With all its mystique, tradition, unforgettable moments and hype, it rarely disappoints.

I don’t think we need to worry about a letdown in 2015 either. Out of the vast array of possible permutations and calculations, the bracketology gods have delivered us a shining gem.

You say it’s the stars on these rosters – Jahlil Okafor at Duke. The freshman sensation plays a brand of offense rarely seen in the history of the sport. He gets two feet in the paint and it’s lights out – basket. It’s as automatic as the rising sun.

Not to mention, we’ve got the National Player of the Year frontrunner – Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The guy plays with a versatility that has opposing coaches scratching their heads. In Kaminsky, you have a physical seven-footer who can even pop threes. Not to mention, he’s as tough as nails and cool under pressure. The higher the stakes, the better he plays. Now that’s the total package.

Oh yeah, but we haven’t even mentioned the brightest star of all. The Kentucky Wildcats, collectively, have eight of the best players in all of college basketball on one roster. The platoon system hasn’t got as much play as we thought at the beginning of the year, but man, the Wildcats could make a run to the Final Four with two separate teams. No joke. It’s an embarrassment of riches led by Willie Cauley-Stein. Length, athleticism, poise, speed. Yikes!

And we’re not even scratching the surface to the immeasurable talent that will be on display at the Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.

But whoa! Hold your horses. Who’s holding the reigns to these thoroughbred athletes? You got it.

Good coaches get good players and in turn, coach those good players to big wins. This game’s not a mystery, folks.

And so, it should come as no huge surprise we’ve got four coaching legends ready to wage battle this weekend in Indianapolis on the game’s grandest stage.

It’s what has me most intrigued about this Final Four – the coaching matchups. The common thread is success at the highest level. But there’s no one set prototype for the man it takes to achieve that success. You need look no further than this year’s quartet to validate that claim. It’s “Breakfast Club: Pt. II”:

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Bo Ryan (WISC) AKA ‘The Teacher’ – This isn’t Bo’s first rodeo. The guy’s been around the block. But frankly, I’ve always thought he’s never got the credit he deserved. He’s been racking up significant victories since 2001 at Wisconsin. But back-to-back Final Fours last year and now this season have him in the national spotlight. But Bo isn’t in this business for the spotlight like some of his peers. Bo’s more of a throwback. He merely likes to coach, or should I say ‘teach’, his kids. The basketball court becomes a classroom for Bo. And wow, his students are ALWAYS prepared for their exams. He’s always had air-tight, disciplined teams who A) don’t turn the ball over and B) take intelligent, high-percentage shots. That’s a good combo. And now that he’s secured the offensive firepower to go along with his trademark teachings, the sky’s the limit for Bo’s Badgers.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

John Calipari (UK) AKA ‘The Recruiter’ – We all know about this guy. Love him or hate him, get used to him. Now that he’s at Kentucky – the nation’s premier job – he’s not going anywhere? And why should he? Even before he got the name brand to go along with it, Calipari has always stockpiled talent like he’s preparing for the apocalypse. He took Memphis to the Final Four for crying out loud. Anybody heard of Memphis lately? Calipari has single-handedly transformed the landscape of college basketball. It’s like an arms race now, except UK is the USA – that’s trouble for everybody else. Each year, Calipari promises young high school kids an irresistible deal – come to one of the best college basketball programs in the land, play for the best fan base in the country, win a national championship and then ink your multi-million dollar deal in the NBA. Who would be dumb enough to turn that down? Not to mention, Coach Cal is a charismatic closer who connects with kids in this business – he knows what makes them tick…pop culture, fame, winning and money.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) AKA ‘The General’ – Coach K needs no introduction. He’s built a program into national prominence, so much so, that Duke basketball has become synonymous with college hoops excellence. They are the standard. Year in. Year out. Coach K is the reason why. Schooled by Bob Knight in his time at Army, Coach K learned how to run a tight ship. He’s demanding. He controls Cameron Indoor – his players, his staff, his fans and some would say, even the officials, with a strategic whip. Each game, he enters the arena with a brisk, methodical march that indicates he’s ready for battle. But in the process, he has earned the respect of his peers and players. He accepts only one thing – winning. Losing is not an option. You do as he says. His players have no problem following his orders. Why? They want to win too. They know K prepares his troops for battle better than anybody. Yes, K has changed a bit – he’s started to adopt Coach Cal’s ‘one-and-done’ model. He’s even been using a lot more zone defense. I know these things must have pained him. But if the rules change to the game, you have to adapt to win. K loves to win.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Tom Izzo (MSU) AKA ‘The Boxer’ – Izzo’s like Rocky. Everybody seems to love the guy for his big heart and his relentless fighting spirit. He doesn’t have the talent like most of his competitors, but yet he finds a way to squeeze the most out of what he’s got. That’s admirable. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always pulled for Izzo. The true underdog that really shouldn’t ever be an underdog in the first place. Izzo sports a remarkable 13-9 record in the NCAA Tournament with the lower seeded team – that’s a record. It’s hard to quantify the intangibles. Izzo’s teams always have plenty of that – heart, pride and toughness in spades. Sometimes, I feel like Izzo could coach anybody, and I mean anybody to the Final Four. He makes young men believe. Truly believe. That’s half the battle right there. I had a coach who told me competition is 80% mental and just 20% talent. Izzo no doubt prescribes to that doctrine. Backed into the corner with his kids? No problem. That’s where they like it. Izzo and company will come out swinging, and you can bet they’ll get their money’s worth this weekend.

So this year, the Final Four has gone to the coaches starring in a stirring sequel to “The Breakfast Club”. I’m not complaining. I can hear the iconic ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ running through my head now. Enjoy it. In an age of college basketball dominated by ‘one-and-dones’ and NBA talk, it’s refreshing to see it’s the coaches – a teacher, a recruiter, a boxer and a general – who’ll take center stage again.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattdoakes