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”:
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.
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.
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.
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 @mattdoakeshttp://chapelboro.com/columns/oakes-outlook-final-four-breakfast-club/
Two national surveys this week from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling show Ted Cruz making a move in the race for the GOP presidential nomination – and generally favorable views among Americans for all but one Final Four team. (No, not that one.)
Recent polls of Republican voters showed Scott Walker and Jeb Bush beginning to pull away from the rest of the field – but Cruz leapt into the upper tier after officially announcing his candidacy last week. In the latest PPP survey, Walker still leads with 20 percent of the vote and Bush is still in second with 17 percent, but Cruz is only slightly behind with 16 percent – up from just 5 percent a month ago. (That gain is due mostly to a jump for Cruz among voters who identify as “very conservative”: 33 percent of those voters said they favored Cruz, up from 11 percent last month.) Walker’s 20-percent support is down from 25 percent last month.
Two other potential candidates also poll in double digits: Rand Paul and Ben Carson both earned the support of 10 percent of GOP voters (though that’s a sharp drop for Carson: he was at 18 percent a month ago). Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and Rick Perry all trail far behind – though Rubio actually has the highest favorability rating of all the candidates, so PPP director Tom Jensen says he may be poised to make a move later this year.
On a lighter note, PPP also surveyed Americans’ opinions of this year’s Final Four teams, Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Michigan State. In all four cases, only about half of those surveyed had any opinion about the schools one way or the other – but about 30 percent of Americans say they have a positive view of each school. Where they differ is in the negative column: Kentucky turns out to be more disliked than the other three schools (25% to Duke’s 20%, MSU’s 16%, and Wisconsin’s 15%). Jensen says that’s likely a product of Kentucky being such a juggernaut in college basketball this year: everybody likes the underdog.
Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck on Thursday.
Other results from the survey: Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo are the two most popular Final Four coaches; Facebook is the only social media outlet that more Americans like than dislike; Congress’s approval rating is still only 11 percent; Americans have a slightly more positive attitude toward millionaires than toward billionaires; and Americans generally favor making Puerto Rico the 51st state (by a 42-34 margin, with Democrats strongly in favor and Republicans slightly opposed).
The UNC basketball team fell to Wisconsin in this year’s Sweet 16 – but Duke is still alive, set to face Michigan State on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
It’s the Blue Devils’ sixteenth trip to the Final Four (and Mike Krzyzewski’s twelfth, tying John Wooden’s record). How has the game changed since Duke’s first trip back in 1963? What are the players likely thinking as they get ready for their first appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage? And what are Duke’s chances this year, against high-profile programs like MSU, Wisconsin and Kentucky?
Steve Vacendak is a Duke legend: playing under Vic Bubas in the 1960s, Vacendak led the Blue Devils to two Final Fours and won ACC Player of the Year honors in 1966. He went on to play in the ABA before returning to the college ranks to serve as Duke’s associate athletic director and head coach at Winthrop.
Vacendak spoke Friday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.
Duke and Michigan State tip off at 6:09 Saturday. Kentucky and Wisconsin follow, with tip-off set for approximately 8:49; the winners meet on Monday in the national title game.
(Aaron, who grew up in Spartan country, will be rooting for State and Wisconsin while superstitiously avoiding any and all TV screens.)http://chapelboro.com/sports/collegiate/duke-legend-talks-final-four/
CHAPEL HILL – The men’s basketball Final Four is moving to cable.
Beginning next season (2013-2014), TBS will be the only carrier of the Final Four while CBS will host the national championship on its airwaves. However, in 2016 the two networks will begin alternating the title game in an agreement made through 2024.
In 2010, a 14-year broadcast agreement was signed between CBS Sports and Turner Sports. This amendment comes on the heels of the most-watched NCAA tournament in 19 years. According to Nielsen, 10.7 million people watched this year’s tournament, which is 11 percent more than in 2012.http://chapelboro.com/sports/national-sports/final-four-moves-to-cable/