Category Archives: College Basketball

Take Me Home

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The Big Ten Conference was the last power conference to get on the conference tournament bandwagon in men’s basketball. The inaugural Big Ten Tournament took place in 1998 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois and it was won by the Michigan Wolverines. From 1998-2016, the Big Ten Tournament alternated between Chicago and Indianapolis which gave it that classic Midwestern vibe. But recently the Big Ten decided to extend its brand by adding three schools in the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Maryland Terrapins, and Rutgers Scarlet Knights to become a 14-school conference as they’ve expanded to the Eastern Region of the United States with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. To accommodate this, Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany decided to have this year’s conference tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., while next year it will be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And although that there is money in both of these cities for the Big Ten, it might be time from them to rethink this.

Aside from Michigan’s improbable run to the Big Ten Tournament Title, this year’s edition of the tourney lacked a spark due to the fact that the fan bases for the majority of these schools were not out in full force as there were some empty seats at the Verizon Center. Although that Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis would theoretically pose an advantage for the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers, it’s always common to see the folks who support the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Spartans make the trek to Indy. The same can be said for the United Center which would pose an advantage for the Illinois Fighting Illini and Northwestern Wildcats, but the people who support Michigan and the Iowa Hawkeyes will always be out in full force in the Windy City. And with Rutgers and the Penn State Nittany Lions losing in the second round of this year’s edition of the Big Ten Tournament, while local favorite Maryland was knocked out in the quarterfinals, the bubble for Delany had burst.

These mega conferences have thrown out the tried and true normalcy of conferences being a regional thing as it more about capitalizing on big media markets in order to secure larger television deals. And I understand that conference commissioners are attempting to make it as fair as possible for all of their members, but at some point you are simply stretching yourself too far.

Maryland and Rutgers knew what they were getting into when school administrators at these respective institutions prostituted themselves to get more money for their universities, and more importantly themselves. Rutgers has always been that school in Northern New Jersey that could never cut it in the Big East Conference as they always struggled to keep local high school talent to remain in the Garden State. Maryland was always the little brother of the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they knew how to hang in there and compete.

Maryland has had success on the hardwood in the Big Ten as they’ve made the NCAA Tournament in each year that they have been affiliated with the conference. But why should the Big Ten have to accommodate Maryland for the conference tournament when they are going out of their way to make the majority of their road trips during the season as a few night during the month of March in Chicago or Indianapolis won’t hurt them, while the same can be said about Rutgers.

When you think of the Big Ten, the Midwest region comes to mind. And although that the Big Ten was late to the conference tournament party, they’ve gone on to produce one of the best which is due to the energy that is involved.

Hopefully after next year’s trip to the Big Apple for the Big Ten Tournament, Delany and the school presidents within the conference will sit back and decide to go back to their Midwestern routes as opposed to chasing the almighty dollar. However recent years have shown what college athletics are all about the money more than ever. And since that is the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see the Big Ten have its conference tournament in Los Angeles.

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Ballin

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As point guard Lonzo Ball was tearing up the high school basketball scene in the State of California, he could have attended any basketball powerhouse that he chose to. As a high school senior, Ball took home numerous accolades which included him being a McDonald’s All-American, the State of California’s Mr. Basketball, and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year as he averaged 23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. Ball would ultimately decided to put his basketball skills to use for the UCLA Bruins which has been beneficial for all parties involved. As a freshman, Ball is averaging 15 points and 6.3 rebounds, while his 7.6 assists per contest are leading the nation, and he is a big reason why UCLA is once again in the national spotlight.

When the Bruins went 15-17 last year for their first losing season since 2010, there were some followers of the UCLA program that wanted head basketball coach Steve Alford fired to the point that a banner was flown around the campus seeking his removal. But as UCLA decided to stick with Alford, he went out on a limb to give back a portion of his salary for this college basketball season. And with a star studded freshmen class that includes Ball, Alford is once again the man of the hour in Westwood.

The Bruins are currently 27-3 which is good for third place in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins are the third ranked team in the Associated Press and they’ve held their own this season against the best the college basketball has to offer. In non-conference play, UCLA was able to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference who were the top ranked team in the nation at the time. And after their first meetings against the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats respectively, the Bruins were able to avenge each loss the second time around with Ball having a hand in all of it.

Ball’s first collegiate game came on November 11 against the Pacific Tigers and he messed around and almost got himself a triple-double as he finished with 19 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds. In UCLA’s first game against Arizona, Ball had 24 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. And in the rematch with Oregon which resulted in a UCLA victory, Ball had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Ball hasn’t been asked to consistently carry the Bruins due to he fact that he plays alongside freshman forward T.J. Leaf and senior guard Bryce Alford, but don’t sleep on his potential at the next level.

At the very worst Ball will be selected third overall in the upcoming NBA Draft as at 6’6″, he is tremendous ball handler with court vision that a franchise can build around. But in the interim, Ball is making the most of his time in college as UCLA could still win the Pac-12 Title, while they are also seeking their first trip to the Final Four since 2008. And with the calendar ready to shift to March, I expect Ball to add to his resume when the bright lights of the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments are on him.

Sports-reference.com

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Tom Crean’s Hot Seat

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There are basketball fans and then there are those folks who follow the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers basketball program is one of the most storied men’s college basketball programs which includes them making eight Final Four appearances and winning five national championships. But with the Hoosiers last Final Four appearance coming in 2002, the anxiety around this program has grown.

Tom Crean

When Tom Crean was hired to be Indiana’s men’s basketball coach in 2008, he walked into a very tough situation. The Hoosiers were on probation due to recruiting violations under former head coach Kelvin Sampson and thus in Crean’s first season in Bloomington, Indiana was only able to win six games. Each of Crean’s first three seasons with the Hoosiers saw Indiana finish with a losing record before they were finally able to break through and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in both 2012 and 2013. But after the early departure of forward Cody Zeller and guard Victor Oladipo to the NBA, Indiana would regress and fail to make the tournament in 2014.

Impatient fans in Indiana wanted the school to move on from Crean, but he would respond by getting the Hoosiers back to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons with another trip to the Sweet 16 last March. And after the Hoosiers strong showing last season, they were expected to be a contender this season which saw them begin ranked 11th in the Associated Press Poll.

But after the current college basketball season began on a high note for Indiana as they knocked off the Kansas Jayhawks, things went south in a hurry. On November 22, the Hoosiers suffered a shocking 71-68 road upset at the hands of the Fort Wayne Mastodons of the Summit League. Indiana was able to rebound to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels on November 30; however Big Ten Conference play has not been kind to them.

Indiana dropped their first two games in the Big Ten and they have been swimming upstream ever since. After knocking off the Penn State Nittany Lions on February 1, the Hoosiers were at 5-5 in the Big Ten, but they have not won a game since as there is no chance of them winning the conference title for a second consecutive year.

At 5-10, Indiana is currently in 13th place in the Big Ten while their overall record is 15-13. And unless the Hoosiers are able to win their final three regular season games, along with running the table in the Big Ten Tournament next month, an invite to the NCAA Tournament won’t be in the cards.

Make no mistake about it that the talent is there for this Indiana team which includes junior guard James Blackmon Jr., who is leading the team in points per game with 17, and sophomore center Thomas Bryant who is tallying 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. But what has done Indiana in this season is their inability to win the close games. This season the Hoosiers are 1-7 in games that have decided by five points or less as they’ve lacked that Yogi Ferrell type player who can put this team on his back in order to make things better. And the inability for the Hoosiers to succeed in those close games falls into the lap of Crean.

It also isn’t helping Crean’s case that this is somewhat of a down year for the Big Ten with the perennial powerhouse in the Michigan State Spartans not being the typically dominant team which we’re accustomed to seeing. The Big Ten more than likely won’t see a team receive a top seed in the NCAA Tournament next month and Indiana has been unable to take advantage of a slightly down year for the conference as only the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are looking up to the Hoosiers in the standings.

If Indiana is able to rebound and show some life over the next few games, I do believe that Crean will be able to save his job. But if the Hoosiers are unable to get out of their funk, I would not be surprised to see Crean get his walking papers. However Crean has shown the ability to rebound before, but it’s just that the Indiana backers want to see this team continuously be a contender in the mode of some of their rivals such as Michigan State and the Kentucky Wildcats. The Hoosiers basketball resources are second to none in the Big Ten which means that the boosters want to see results.

Crean’s team has not given up on him as they’ve given maximum effort in recent heartbreaking losses to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes. But effort alone without victories isn’t good enough for a program the caliber of Indiana.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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Same Old Story On Tobacco Road

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The Atlantic Conference might be the best in college basketball this season, but two familiar foes are still runnings things there.

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How Do You Like Us Now?

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It’s time for the Villanova Wildcats to party like it is 1985 and it is well deserved. This past Monday night, the Wildcats upset the North Carolina Tar Heels to win their first national championship in men’s basketball since they pulled of an upset of the Georgetown Hoyas 31 years ago. In the mode of the City of Philadelphia, Villanova embraced the role of the underdog throughout the NCAA Tournament, and when it was over, they were cutting down the nets at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

When the game-winning shot from Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins went through the net, it not only gave the Wildcats a title, but it also gave validation to the Big East Conference which was left for dead a few years ago through conference re-alignment that revolved around football, and a city in Philadelphia that has been taking it on the chin recently in sports.

But to understand Villanova’s run to the title, you have to understand where and how it started.

Jay Wright

Before current Villanova head basketball coach Jay Wright embarked on a coaching career, he played collegiately at Bucknell University from 1979-1983. From there Wright would enjoy stints with Rochester and Drexel as an assistant coach before Villanova head basketball coach Rollie Massimino added him to his staff in 1987. In Wright’s first year as an assistant coach with Villanova, the Wildcats made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Wright would remain as an assistant coach with Villanova until 1992 when Massimino became the head basketball coach for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels as he took his young protege to Las Vegas with him.

But Wright would finally get his opportunity to become the man in charge of his own program when he became the head basketball coach of the Hofstra Pride in 1994. In eight years at Hofstra, Wright would compile a record of 122-85 which included leading the school to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001.

Wright had shown that he could lead a basketball program to success which led to him getting the call from Villanova in 2001 to bring their program back to the top of the Big East Conference.

When Wright came to Villanova, the Big East Conference was in a stretch that was dominated by the Connecticut Huskies who had won the conference tournament three times since 1996 along with winning the national title in 1999. And whereas that Villanova was a respectable team, they were not a team that was looked at as a title contender within the conference.

In Wright’s first three years at Villanova, the Wildcats were an up and down team. But by the 2004-2005 college basketball season, Villanova was back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. Wright was doing it his way with a four guard lineup that featured Allen Ray, Mike Nardi, Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye as this quartet helped the Wildcats reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time 1988. By the following season, the Wildcats finished second in the Big East which was good enough for them to earn the top seed in the Midwest Region for the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats would lose to the eventual national champion in the Florida Gators in the regional final in 2006, but Wright had shown that he had a team that could hang with the nation’s top teams while he also showed that he could recruit as three players from that team in Foye, Lowry, and forward Dante Cunningham all made and are still in the NBA.

During that time the Big East would be the most competitive basketball conference in the nation as each night was a gauntlet in the 16-team league. In 2009, the Big East would become the first and only conference to produce three, one-seeds in an NCAA Tournament, while two years later, they became the first and only conference to send 11 teams to the Big Dance. But through it all, Villanova and Wright found themselves right in the middle of it as they never got lost in the wash.

In 2009, the Wildcats found themselves back in a regional final for the second time in four years. But this time they would face a familiar foe in the Pittsburgh Panthers who were a conference rival along with being an in-state rival.

The game took place at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, but it could have easily taken place at New York City’s Madison Square Garden which had been home to so many memorable conference tournament games between these two schools. And it typical Pitt-Villanova fashion, the game came down to the very end with Wildcats guard Scottie Reynolds hitting a shot in the waning seconds of the game to send Villanova to their first Final Four appearance since 1985. And even though that Villanova lost to eventual national champion Tar Heels in the National Semifinal, Wright showed that he could get his team to the big stage.

Villanova would continue to be a fixture in the NCAA Tournament, but early round exits began to plague the program. From 2010-2014, the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament four times, but they were never able to make the Sweet 16 which included them being bumped out three times by a lower seed which began to plague Wright and his program. Wright heard it all from him concentrating too much on guard oriented teams, to simply not having a unit that could get it done in March, but he simply kept trudging along.

When the new Big East Conference made its debut in 2013 with longtime schools such as Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and the Syracuse Orange no longer in the conference, Villanova was looked at as the team that could run the conference. The last three years has seen Villanova do that as they’ve won the Big East Conference Title in the regular season in each year, but 2014 and 2015 would also see the Wildcats get upset in the tournament in the first weekend.

The Wildcats enjoyed a tremendous regular season which saw them become top-ranked team in the Associated Press’ Poll for the first time in school history. Villanova would enter the 2016 NCAA Tournament with a record of 29-5, but after losing the Big East Tournament Final to the Seton Hall Pirates, the Wildcats had to settle for the two-seed in the South Region as opposed to the top-seed in the East Region which would have given them the chance to play near to their campus in Philadelphia.

But ‘Nova still had the opportunity to play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York for the first two rounds of the tournament which they made most of with convincing victories over the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs and Iowa Hawkeyes respectively. That theme would continue in the regional semifinal against a former Big East Conference foe in the Miami Hurricanes with a 23-point victory that set up a meeting in the South Regional Final against the Kansas Jayhawks.

As mentioned the other day, Kansas is one of the blue bloods of college basketball which included some people picking them to win the national title this year. And whereas in year’s past that would have seen Villanova not be able to rise to the occasion, they dictated the pace against Kansas throughout the contest which saw them pull off the 64-59 upset and earn Wright’s second berth in the Final Four.

In the National Semifinal, it would be Villanova against the Oklahoma Sooners, but in reality, it was the Wildcats against Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield. Hield averaged 25 points per game this year along with being the Naismith Player of the Year. Hield was coming off of a 37-point performance against the Oregon Ducks in the West Regional Final and many people expected Villanova to be another blip on the radar for him.

But from the opening tip, Wright’s defensive strategy was front and center as it was committee of dark blue jerseys around Hield each time that he touched the basketball. Hield was held to 9 points as Oklahoma was steamrolled by ‘Nova 95-51 in what amounted to the largest blowout in Final Four history.

Villanova’s victory would set the stage for a meeting this past Monday night against the North Carolina for the national title. There’s a deep tournament history between the Wildcats and Tar Heels, but it is Carolina that had the 5-1 advantage going into Monday night; however, Villanova’s lone tournament victory over North Carolina came in 1985 en route to winning the national title.

From the opening tip Villanova showed that they weren’t intimidated by a North Carolina team that had a size and depth advantage on them. Throughout most of the first half, the Wildcats had the lead in spite of the fact that Jenkins was in foul trouble. ‘Nova would find themselves trailing 39-34 heading to the locker room at halftime. North Carolina had finished the first half strong and you almost expected one of those vintage Tar Heel runs that would have solidified their sixth national title.

But to start the second half, it was ‘Nova that was dictating the pace with smart basketball that featured the likes of senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and senior forward Daniel Ochefu. With about five minutes left in the game, the Wildcats found themselves with a 10-point lead as they could smell a national title.

However Carolina was not going to be a pushover as they clawed back into the game. With under 15 seconds left in the game, the Wildcats found themselves clinging to a 74-71 lead as there were roughly 75,000 people in attendance in Houston that possessed sweaty palms and anxious hearts.

Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige took advantage of Ochefu’s aggressiveness as the big man went for a steal that wasn’t there which gave him just enough space to launch a desperation three-pointer as he avoided the maddening defense of Arcidiacono. The game was now tied at 74, but when Wright called a timeout, he had 4.7 seconds on the clock which was just was the doctor ordered for Villanova.

Wright’s play was set, and North Carolina helped Villanova out by not guarding Jenkins who was making the inbounds pass. Arcidiacono drove the ball up the court with two Tar Heel defenders on him. The senior point guard abruptly found the calm, cool, and collected Jenkins who was trailing the play as he was more than happy to take a shot that would make him a household name forever. Jenkins’ shot was good and Villanova found themselves on top of the college basketball world in the same fashion that they did 31 years ago when they upset Georgetown as they once against pulled an upset.

But Villanova’s title win represented so much as it marked the second time in the last three years that a school from a non-power conference won the national championship. However unlike Connecticut that did it in 2014, Villanova doesn’t have a Division-I football program. The Wildcats did this in the face of a system that isn’t set up to see the little guy consistently succeed, but they did. ‘Nova’s victory gives respect to a Big East Conference that has gotten back to its roots of basketball as all 10 current schools are committed to one another which is the first time in a long time that this is the case for the league.

Villanova’s win also puts Wright in that rare air as his program isn’t known for recruiting the one-and-done players or McDonald’s All-Americans. But with his ability to send players to the NBA, along with a national championship on his resume, Wright should be able to walk into any high school gym in the Northeast Region as get a player that he wants.

Wright will have to replace the contributions of Ochefu and Arcidiacono who were big parts of the Wildcats title run with Arcidiacono being the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. With the emergence of junior guard Josh Hart during the NCAA Tournament, there is the possibility that he could leave school early, but if he comes back, Wright would have a strong nuclues with him, Jenkins, and freshman guard Jalen Brunson who is the son of former NBA point guard Rick Brunson.

And when Villanova gets their victory parade this Friday in the City of Brotherly Love, they’ll be greeted by a city that appreciates them for their toughness, grit, and flair for the dramatic which is something that Philly is all about. Heroes may walk off into the sunset, but they are not easily forgotten.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Take That NCAA

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During a typical men’s college basketball season it isn’t a shock to see the Syracuse Orange make the Final Four, but this isn’t that typical college basketball season. Last year Syracuse was looking to avoid the hammer of the NCAA as they self-imposed sanctions on themselves for all postseason tournaments last spring due to past infractions that dated back to 2007. And with a reduction of scholarships along with head basketball coach Jim Boeheim being suspended for the first nine games of this college basketball season by the NCAA, it appeared to be over for Syracuse before it truly started.

Syracuse would go 10-3 in their non-conference schedule which included a pair of losses to their former Big East Conference foes in the Georgetown Hoyas and the St. John’s Red Storm. But after the Orange would lose their first four games in Atlantic Coast Conference play, their overall record dropped to 10-7 which didn’t create a ton of confidence for their fan base in Central New York.

The ‘Cuse would get it going under Boeheim as they would reel off eight victories in their next nine games which included wins over NCAA Tournament bound teams in the Duke Blue Devils and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But just as Syracuse had struggled when the Atlantic Coast Conference season began, they finished in the same fashion as they lost five out of their last six games which included getting bumped off by the Pittsburgh Panthers in their first game of the ACC Tournament.

Syracuse would finish the regular season with a conference record of 9-9 to go along with an overall record of 19-13 as it appeared that a trip to the NCAA Tournament would be far-fetched. But in a bit of a shock on Selection Sunday, Syracuse found themselves in the field of 68 with new life as they earned the 10th-seed in the Midwest Region.

After Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone was too much for the Dayton Flyers as they cruised to a 70-51 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Orange got a reprieve when the Michigan State Spartans who were the two-seed in the region, along with being a national title favorite were upset in the first-round by the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders which opened up the bracket. Syracuse would use this to their advantage with an impressive 75-50 win over Middle Tennessee State which paved the way for the them to head to Chicago, Illinois for the Midwest Regional Semifinal.

In the Sweet 16, Syracuse would take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs who had a definite size advantage over the ‘Cuse. And even though that the Orange had spotted Gonzaga an early lead, they never lost focus as they clawed back for a gritty 63-60 victory. Syracuse’s win would set up a rematch with a conference foe in the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers had squeaked past Syracuse in late January with a 73-65 win in Charlottesville. But this contest would be on a neutral floor with a different Syracuse team.

Virginia was the top seed in the Midwest Region and they showed that superiority by taking a 14-point lead to the locker room at the half. Virginia was in possession of a 15-point lead late in the second half before Syracuse managed to chip away as they were forced to abandon their zone and Boeheim instead opted to press and trap. But the defensive adjustment worked for Syracuse as an efficient Virginia team became turnover prone and the momentum shifted from one shade of orange to another at the United Center. Syracuse would finish the game on a 29-8 run to win by the final score of 68-62 which gave them their sixth Final Four appearance in school history, and their first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But whereas in year’s past Syracuse was expected to be here, this year has not been the case as everything has been against them, but they are still standing. The NCAA sanctions that Syracuse was hit with robbed them of depth and size this season which has put a strain on their team. This year Syracuse senior forward Michael Gbinije is fifth the nation this year in minutes played with 37.9 per contest while senior guard Trevor Cooney isn’t that far behind at 36.3 per game which means that the ice bath has become very popular in Central New York after the games. But with everything going against Syracuse this year, they still have Boeheim.

Boeheim is a lifer at Syracuse as he played basketball there from 1963-1966. From 1969-1976, Boeheim was an assistant coach for the Orange before ascending to the head coaching ranks. Boeheim’s record is 988-346, but if you ask the NCAA, he only has 880 victories to his credit and he has seen it all during his Hall of Fame career. And Boeheim’s skill and wizardry have been on display during the spring as the Orange have become the Cinderellas of this tournament. But Boeheim and Syracuse are doing what the truly successful do which is to not get mad, but to get even. When Syracuse was slapped with NCAA sanctions, it would have been very easy for them to tank the season and finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference. However with the coaching ability of Boeheim, the leadership of Gbinije and Cooney, along with the emergence of freshman forward Malachi Richardson, the Orange are just two victories away from their second national title in school history.

The run by Syracuse this spring will undoubtedly help them in recruiting as Boeheim is showing that he can still get it done in spite of the sanctions that were levied against his program. Boeheim and Syracuse fought to get some scholarships returned which they did, while they’ve earned nothing but respect on the court as the find themselves at the holy summit of college basketball which is the Final Four.

Source: Sports-reference.com

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Buddy

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It’s been 27 years since the hip-hop group De La Soul had the hit song “Buddy” which had a mix of different elements of music that created a funky style which captivated their fan base. Now in 2016, there is another buddy hit that is sweeping the nation; only this hit is on the hardwood.

Oklahoma Sooners senior guard Chavano “Buddy” Hield is living the dream. Hield represents a rarity in men’s college basketball as he is a four-year senior. Hield is the big man on campus in Norman, Oklahoma as he making an institution that is known for its football prowess take a big time shine to basketball.

Hield entered the collegiate ranks as relative unknown when he joined an Oklahoma program for head basketball coach Lon Kruger in 2012 that was simply seeking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. As a freshman, Hield would average 7.8 points per game as he helped the Sooners make it back to the NCAA Tournament. And by the time that Hield’s junior season had finished, he had been named as the Big 12 Conference’s Player of the Year as he averaged 17.4 points per game while helping Oklahoma reach the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. Hield would have the opportunity to leave school early for the NBA Draft last spring, but as he decided to return to Oklahoma for his senior year, both he and the school have benefited.

Buddy Hield

As this college basketball season began, Hield was no longer an unknown as he was on the Naismith Player of the Award watch list. And whereas some guys are unable to live up to that hype, Hield has embraced it.

Oklahoma’s season began with an 84-78 victory over the Memphis Tigers of the American Athletic Conference, and in the game Hield went for 30 points and 8 rebounds. December 7 would see the Sooners take on the Villanova Wildcats of the Big East Conference at Pearl Harbor, and although that Hield had a poor shooting day, he still managed to get 18 points in a 78-55 victory. Later that month Oklahoma would face another Big East team in the Creighton Blue Jays; who were unable to stop Hield as he got them for 33 points in the Sooners 87-74 win.

By the time that Big 12 Conference play began in January, Hield had scored in double figures in each of Oklahoma’s non-conference games, while going for at least 30 points four times. But on January 4, Hield put his stamp on this college basketball season when he went for 46 points on the road against the Kansas Jayhawks. It took three overtime frames to decided the contest between two of college basketball’s titans, but when it was over Hield had gone for 46 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in 54 minutes of game action. And even though that Hield had fouled out during Oklahoma’s 109-106 loss to Kansas, he still managed to receive a standing ovation from the folks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

Not until Oklahoma’s Big 12 Tournament Semifinal loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers was Hield held to single-digits in scoring this season. And Hield’s exploits led him to once again being named as the Big 12 Conference’s Player of the Year as he became the first player since Raef LaFrentz of Kansas in 1998 to win the award in consecutive years.

By the time that the NCAA Tournament rolled around, there were many observers that expected Oklahoma to make a deep run with Hield at the forefront; and he has not disappointed.

After breezing past the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners in the first round, the Sooners had to buckle down against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the second round. And when the Sooners needed it the most, Hield stepped up to the tune of 36 points in their 85-81 victory. In the West Regional Semifinal, Oklahoma didn’t need Hield to be at his best as it was team victory in their 77-63 win over the Texas A&M Aggies. But in the West Regional Final with the Sooners first trip to the Final Four since 2002 on the line, Hield sealed his legacy at Oklahoma as he was a one-man wrecking crew to the tune of 37 points which included 8 three-pointers. Since the Oregon Ducks couldn’t stop Hield on Saturday night, the only thing left for them to do was have a front row seat of the show being that he was putting on as he was named as the MVP of the West Regional.

What has helped Hield the most is that he is calm, cool, and collected being that no situation appears to be too big for him as he has brings the laid back aspect from his native Bahamas on the court with him. Although Hield’s birth name is Chavano, he received the nickname of Buddy due to his mom’s love for the television show “Married With Children” after David Faustino’s character of Bud Bundy. Now whether it’s the name of Chavano or Buddy, everyone in the State of Oklahoma knows Hield’s name as he has captivated the state. And as the Final Four is set to take place this Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, there will be plenty of story lines with Hield at the forefront.

The same Villanova team that Hield helped to defeat by 23 points earlier this season stands in the way of Hield and Oklahoma as the school is looking to make their first appearance in the title game since 1988 while seeking their first national title in school history. And if Hield is able to help Oklahoma win that elusive first national title, that would put him in the same breath in Norman with the likes of Billy Sims, Brian Bosworth, and Adrian Peterson who are Oklahoma Football legends.

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What To Watch For At The 2016 Final Four

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One college basketball team will leave Houston in possession of the national championship.

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