Tag Archives: NCAA Tournament

Fuel For The Critics


Sean Miller

In eight years as the head basketball coach of the Arizona Wildcats, Sean Miller has compiled a record of 220-66 with four Pac-12 Conference Championships. Six of the last seven years have seen Arizona make the NCAA Tournament as they are one of the premier basketball programs in the nation, but there is one thing has continued to allude both Miller and his Wildcats.

Arizona’s last trip to the Final Four came in 2001 when they were the runner-up to the national champion Duke Blue Devils. Since then Arizona has gone on to remain as a hotbed for future NBA talent, but they’ve been unable to get back to the Final Four.

Former Arizona head basketball coach Lute Olson led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2003 and 2005, but he was denied his sixth trip to the Final Four and fifth with the Cats. After Olson retired in 2007, Arizona’s program took a step back before they lured Miller away from the Xavier Musketeers in 2009.

In five years with Xavier, Miller showed his ability to lead a program as he got the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. It didn’t take Miller that long to get Arizona back on the national scene as he led them to the Elite Eight in 2011. But heartbreak would await the Cats in the West Regional Final where they fell to the Connecticut Huskies 65-63. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2012, the Wildcats would storm back in 2013. This time Arizona would lose by three points in the Sweet Sixteen to the Ohio State Buckeyes. 2014 and 2015 would each see the Cats make the West Regional Final. But each time Arizona was denied a trip to the Final Four.

This season the Wildcats were projected to once again have a strong team as they began the season ranked tenth in the Associated Press Poll and they lived up to the hype. Arizona went 16-2 in the Pac-12 Conference with their only losses coming against the UCLA Bruins and Oregon Ducks. The Cats would also go on to win the Pac-12 Tournament for the second time in the last three years. The Cats finished the regular season with a record of 30-4 which earned them the second seed in the West Region for the NCAA Tournament. And although that the Gonzaga Bulldogs were the top seed in the region, Arizona was still the favorite to advance to the Final Four.

The Wildcats would easily take care of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the first round before they survived against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the second round. And with the West Regional taking place in San Jose, California, the Wildcats were expected to coast over Xavier who was an 11-seed.

With just over two minutes left in the contest, Arizona had a 71-64 lead and they appeared to be set to meet Gonzaga in the West Regional Final. However the Wildcats would not score again while Xavier would as the Musketeers finished the game on a 9-0 run to stun Arizona 73-71. But unlike Arizona’s other stumbles under Miller in the NCAA Tournament, this one stings a little more since this was arguably the Wildcats best path to the Final Four since 2001.

Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen

The Wildcats had a team comprised of future NBA players such as sophomore guard Allonzo Trier and freshman forward Lauri Markkanen leading the way, but they were unable to reach the Final Four which will be played in Glendale, Arizona which is just two hours away from their campus in Tuscon. Now including Miller’s time at Xavier, he is now 0-4 in the Elite Eight, and in spite of the fact that he is one of best coaches in the nation, he cannot shake the fact that a trip to the Final Four is still not on his resume.

However Miller can take solace in knowing that it took some of the game’s best coaches a long time to reach the Final Four and eventually win a championship. Jay Wright became the head basketball coach at Villanova in 2001 and it took him until 2009 to make his first trip to the Final Four. And after years of disappointments in the tourney, Villanova was finally able to break through and win the national championship last year. It took former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun 13 years to break through and win a national championship as he had previously gone 0-3 in the Elite Eight.

There’s a possibility that Markkanen and Trier could be headed to the NBA Draft, but Miller has done an excellent job of recruiting since he took over in Tuscon. The Wildcats have another solid class coming in next year which includes center DeAndre Ayton as this will once again make Arizona one of the top teams in the nation. The abrupt ending to a stellar season for Arizona will sting, however hope always springs eternal.



Still Searching For Respect


The Pac-12 Conference was able to set a record this month as for the first time in the 100 years of the conference, seven schools qualified for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. For a longtime the Pac-12 has been seeking respect in the face of the perceived “East Coast Bias”. But since the NCAA Tournament began last Tuesday, the Pac-12 has taken it on the chin as only the Oregon Ducks are still dancing as the conference’s opportunity for respect has gone out of the window in 2016. The Pac-12 is home to some schools that have storied histories when it comes to basketball as no program in the nation has won more national titles than the UCLA Bruins while over last 30 years, the Arizona Wildcats have been one of the nation’s elite programs as they’ve sent dozens of players to the NBA while also winning a national championship in 1997. And although that the Pac-12 did have a stellar season overall, there’s still some work that must be done.

Something that helps a conference gain notoriety is consistent deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. The glory days of the Big East Conference were in the 1980’s as they became the first and only conference to date to send three schools to the Final Four in 1985. The Atlantic Coast Conference has a storied basketball history that is continuing this March as a record six schools have made it to the Sweet 16. And since 1999, the Big Ten Conference has seen six of its schools reach the Final Four with the Michigan State Spartans and Wisconsin Badgers making it last year. And whereas the Pac-12 is a power conference, they have been unable to keep up as they’ve never been able to send multiple teams to the Final Four in the same year.

One thing that has hurt the Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament is the inability of teams to adjust out of their time zone. Since 1993, the Pac-12 has seen its members make eight appearances in the Final Four. But in those eight appearances, only Arizona in 1997 and 2001, along with the Stanford Cardinal in 1998 won a non-West region to get there. However this time around the Pac-12 could have simply been a victim of bad luck.

The Pac-12 went 2-5 in the first round of this year’s tournament with some bad breaks along with some tough match-ups. The Wildcats were the six-seed in the South Regional and they received a tough draw in the first round against the Wichita State Shockers. It was just three years ago that Wichita State made the Final Four and led by senior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, they got past Arizona 65-55 in the first round. The Southern California Trojans received their first tournament bid since 2009, but a late season swoon on their part led to them being an eight-seed in the East Region. The Trojans drew the Providence Friars in the first round, and in a typical eight-seed versus nine-seed affair, it came down to the wire with Providence scoring the winning basket as time expired. By the time that the tournament rolled around, the California Golden Bears were decimated by injuries. And although that California was a four-seed in the South Region, they were shut down in the first round by the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 77-66. The seven-seed versus ten-seed first-round contests are always toss up, and for the Oregon State Beavers who were making their first tourney appearance since 1990, the lower seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams were too much for them. The Colorado Buffaloes took a nine-point lead over the Connecticut Huskies to the locker room in their first-round meeting before they struggled in the second half and lost 74-67. The Utah Utes were the three-seed in the Midwest Region. But after Utah was able to get by the Fresno State Bulldogs in the first round, they were throttled by the Gonzaga Bulldogs who were the 11-seed by a score of 82-59 as it is now up to the Oregon Ducks to carry the Pac-12 banner.

But even though that the 2016 college basketball season will more than likely not finish in the fashion that the Pac-12 envisioned, all is not lost for “The Conference of Champions”.

Sean Miller

This was a down year for Arizona, but head basketball coach Sean Miller can rest a bit easier knowing that he has one of the top recruiting classes in the nation headed to Tuscon which includes small forward Rawle Alkins. Cuonzo Martin just finished his second year as Cal’s head basketball coach, and if he is able to get pair of talented freshman forwards Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown to return to Berkeley, he could have a top ten team on his hands in the fall. Although that the Trojans were happy to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, head basketball coach Andy Enfield only had one senior on his team with the potential of five players who averaged in double-digits this season in points returning to Los Angeles. Utah will more than likely see sophomore power forward Jakob Poeltl forego his final two years of eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft, but head basketball coach Larry Krystowiak has brought the program back to the level that it once was under former head coach Rick Majerus. In the four of the last five years, the Colorado Buffaloes have made the NCAA Tournament under head basketball coach Tad Boyle while you cannot expect UCLA to have another bad season under head basketball coach Steve Alford; especially since he has a pair of highly touted freshman coming to Westwood in power forward T.J. Leaf and point guard Lonzo Ball. The Arizona State Sun Devils showed signs of improvement in their first year under head basketball coach Bobby Hurley while Oregon State is no longer a pushover in the conference. The Washington Huskies always appear to be on the cusp of taking that next step under basketball coach Lorenzo Romar and the Washington State Cougars are looking to become relevant in the conference while the Stanford Cardinal are searching for a new head basketball coach since Johnny Dawkins was recently fired.

The West Coast is littered with talented high-school basketball players ranging from San Diego all the way up the Pacific Coast to Seattle. Some of the Pac-12 schools have some of the best facilities in the nation, and now it is just a matter of everything consistently coming together in the month of March where the conference continues to bring up the rear.


Amaker Is Far Away From Tobacco Road


Duke University head basketball coach Mike Kryzewski and current Harvard University basketball coach Tommy Amaker will be forever intertwined. Kryzewski began his long and storied tenure at Duke in 1980 and his 1983 recruiting class was a turning point in helping him to turn the Blue Devils basketball program around. Amaker was a member of that 1983 recruiting class and in his four years at Duke he was known as a defensive specialist. After being drafted in the third round of the 1987 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics, Amaker was only in the NBA for a cup of coffee before returning to Duke to earn his master’s degree. Amaker would spend the next decade on the Duke bench as one of Kryewski’s assistant coaches and he was a part of two national championship teams there.

In 1997, Amaker stepped out on his own and became the head basketball coach of Seton Hall University. In 2000, Amaker would lead Seton Hall to their first NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearance since 1994. Amaker appeared to be building something at Seton Hall which made it surprising when he chased the money and went to the University of Michigan in 2001. Amaker inherited a Michigan basketball program that was besieged with NCAA sanctions and he was always fighting an uphill battle there. In six years at Michigan, Amaker was 108-84 with an NIT Championship to his credit, but with no appearances in the NCAA Tournament while also taking a backseat in the Big Ten Conference to the both the Ohio State Buckeyes along with the Michigan State Spartans and thus he was fired in 2007.

Amaker wouldn’t be out of work for long as he became the head basketball coach of Harvard in 2007. Amaker took over a Harvard Crimson program that just wanted to compete with the Princeton Tigers and the Penn Quakers in the Ivy League and what they’ve got is something that they could never have dreamed of at the institution where leaders are built.

Tommy Amaker

Harvard basketball has been around since 1900 and before Amaker, the Crimson only had one appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This Thursday when Harvard faces the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round of the NCAA Tournament it will mark their fourth consecutive appearance in the Big Dance. On top of that Harvard and Amaker have sent a player to the NBA which was previously unheard of. During his four years at Harvard, point guard Jeremy Lin was a two-time, First-team All-Ivy League member. In 2010, Lin went undrafted by the NBA, but he has played for four teams including his current employer in the Los Angeles Lakers as Harvard basketball isn’t exactly a hotbed for NBA talent as they tend to develop the guys that will own the teams.

Amaker was royalty at Seton Hall, but the almighty dollar lured him to Michigan where the pressure was simply too much. And now in Boston at Harvard, Amaker is treated like a king because he has built a program out of nothing.

On March 6, it looked bleak for Harvard to make their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tourney. Harvard was coming off of a 62-52 home loss to the Yale Bulldogs. And being that the Ivy League does not have a conference tournament, Yale only needed to defeat the Dartmouth Big Green to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962. Yale would lose to Dartmouth which would set the stage for a chance of redemption for Harvard. The Crimson and the Bulldogs would meet last Saturday in what was nail-biter throughout. And it was the experience of Harvard that won out as they defeated Yale to go on and represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament.

Boston is a long way from Tobacco Road in North Carolina, but Amaker simply can’t escape it. During Amaker’s playing career at Duke, current North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams was an assistant head basketball coach for the Tar Heels. And when North Carolina meets Harvard tomorrow night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville, there will be plenty of familiarity between them as Amaker was an assistant coach at Duke in 1991 when the Blue Devils defeated the Kansas Jayhawks who were coached by Roy Williams for the national title.

Amaker has tournament victories under his belt at Harvard as the last two NCAA Tournaments have seen the Crimson advance to the third round which means that Carolina needs to be wary.

Under Amaker, the Crimson play with the same tenacity and aggression that he did which has not only made them the team to beat in the Ivy League, but also a tough out when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. It’s a game where Harvard has everything to gain while North Carolina has everything to lose as being that they are the blue bloods of college basketball. And when you’re playing with house money like the Crimson are it makes for an intriguing contest.