Tag Archives: Dana Altman

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: Final Four Coastal War

Heading into the NCAA Tournament, not many people could’ve predicted the Final Four cast that will be on display this coming Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.  Two schools arrive from the extreme east coast, both from the Carolinas no less.  It had been since UCLA made it to their third straight Final Four in 2008 that the west coast had representation.  This year the college basketball world was graced with two left coast participants.  Each of the teams in the Final Four has at least one distinct attribute which provides an advantage over their semifinal opponent; and perhaps which will carry over into the title game.  It’s going to be a true coastal war on Saturday evening.

Standing Tall

North Carolina crushes opponents on the boards.  The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin, and that will serve as a major factor against Oregon.  Jordan Bell was a one man wrecking crew against Kansas in the Elite Eight.  How will he be able to handle UNC’s huge front line of 6-10 Kennedy Meeks, 6-9 Isaiah Hicks, and 6-10 Tony Bradley?  The ability to crash the boards, particularly on the offense end allows Justin Jackson to unleash his quick-release jumper freely, and give the Tar Heels multiple possessions.  If the Ducks can’t neutralize this quickly, it will make for a long night.

Oblivious to the Danger

Right now, Oregon is playing with absolutely no fear.  Tyler Dorsey is flat-out killing it.  Jordan Bell single-handedly terrorized Kansas around the rim, and Dillon Brooks is a willing go-to guy who is unconscious about unleashing some offense.  The Ducks have a pretty light rotation, but what they do have are multiple stars that can rise to the occasion, leaving multiple outlets if a big shot is necessary.  Oregon can play with pace to get out in transition; and have the individual offensive skills to find shots when the game bogs down in the half court.  If anyone can run with UNC, it’ll be the Ducks.

Well-balanced Diet

Mark Few’s team is the most balance team remaining.  Gonzaga can put pressure on opponents from the perimeter, slashing to the paint, or attacking the rim with size in the post.  There’s also a nice blend of veterans and young players; and more than any of the other teams remaining, the Bulldogs are likely playing with the biggest chip on their collective shoulders.  Nigel Williams-Goss is still the key cog in the machine, and he has the chops to carry the Zags for the final two games.  Gonzaga’ capacity to be multi-faceted will be crucial against South Carolina.

Up in Your Grill

Much like their coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks have been right up in their opponent’s kitchen every single game.  South Carolina has proven to be the most physical team remaining in the field, and that will be their ace-in-the-hole.   Gonzaga struggled with West Virginia’s pressure and physicality in the Sweet 16.  While Martin’s team won’t press heavily, the constant harassment and bumping in the half court is more than sufficient to rattle cages.  Although the Gamecocks don’t have a ton of size on the front line, the guards are powerfully built, and that drives their physicality.  If South Carolina is given the freedom to play as physically as they have all tournament, Gonzaga will be battered, bruised, and possibly go bye-bye.

New Blood vs. Blue Blood

Aside from the east coast/west coast rift, the 2017 Final Four also gives us some upstart programs trying to make a name, versus one legendary program, and coach who is trying to cement his legacy.  Although Dana Altman, Mark Few, and Frank Martin have been around for quite some time, this is the breakthrough opportunity each has been waiting for.  Altman did a nice job at Creighton for many years, but never really gets mentioned among the great college basketball coaches.  Martin gave Kansas State some of its best years in the college basketball landscape, but winning a title at a football-crazed school could propel South Carolina to sustained success in hoops.  Mark Few is Gonzaga basketball.  Whether Gonzaga ascends to the upper echelon of college basketball’s elite programs, hinges upon what Few’s team does this coming weekend.

Predictions

In the first semifinal, I see Gonzaga’s depth and versatility being the deciding factor versus South Carolina.  The whistles will probably be a bit tighter especially early-on in the semifinal games, and that won’t make it easy for the Gamecocks to apply the physicality that Frank Martin’s team is accustomed to.  With a bit more free reign, Mark Few’s team will outlast South Carolina to reach Monday’s final.

As much fun as it would be to see an all west coast National Title game, I think the Tar Heels are going to simply be too much on the boards for Oregon’s slim frontline to handle.  It was one thing to punch Kansas in the mouth, as the Jayhawks only real threat in the paint was Landen Lucas.  North Carolina will pound the paint and the glass until the Ducks are beaten into submission.  Normally the pace that Oregon can play at would be a distinguished advantage, but the Tar Heels love to get out in transition, especially after giving up a basket.  North Carolina will meet Gonzaga for the championship.

Despite a topsy-turvy last few weeks, which provided a less than predictable Final Four, we’ll be left with two #1 seeds squaring off for the National Championship trophy.  Roy Williams, an all-time great, with an opportunity to carve his legendary status into stone.  And Mark Few, a great coach who has stayed the course at a school long considered a mid-major.  Winning a national title will validate not only his status as an all-time great coach, but will permanently remove the mid-major label from Gonzaga University.

Prior to the tournament, I didn’t like Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet 16.  However, the Bulldogs have gotten better as the tournament has progressed, and have the versatility and firepower to go toe-to-toe with North Carolina.  Without a doubt, Roy Williams’ team has the experience and the pedigree.  A year ago most of these same players ended the season with heartbreak against Villanova.  This year the Zags rip the Tar Heels hearts out once again.  Gonzaga 86 North Carolina 82.  The Gonzaga Bulldogs will be College Basketball’s 2017 National Champion.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pac-12 Embarrassment at the NCAA Tournament

Being a fan and writer of the Pac-12 Conference I want the conference to do well when the chips are on the line for its teams, but after viewing the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament I had to come to conclusion that the Pac-12 just was not very good in 2016. Was the Pac-12 overrated by the tournament committee? I think so. Were they over seeded? Most definitely.

Watching plenty of Pac-12 basketball this year I saw that the conference was very average, but not horrible in any respect. I thought we would get about five or six teams into the Big Dance, but I thought any more than that would be over stretching the talent level in the conference. Now, I am not saying that the talent level was absolutely lacking, but lets face facts here, the college game has become diluted due to the “one and done” player.

Watching the Pac-12 perform over the weekend I thought,  “Am I being punked here?” It didn’t appear to be the same conference I had seen during the regular season and they paid a heavy price in this year’s Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament has not been kind to Pac-12 in the past and once again it wasn’t in 2016. The last team standing are the Oregon Ducks, the number one seed in the West region, and almost the first number one seed to bow out. The Ducks got all they wanted from a determined Saint Joseph team on Sunday night and now have a date with the Duke Blue Devils.

Just about every time March Madness rolls around the Pac-12 sends a couple of legit prospects to the dance and just about every time thereafter the conference is let down by those prospects. The expectations are not even met, forget about the teams even coming close to exceeding them.

What really cemented the Pac-12 as being largely overrated for this tournament was on Saturday night when three seed Utah, was crushed by 11 seed Gonzaga. Saying the Utes were crushed is putting it politely. It also may have proved the point about how some of these Pac-12 teams may have been overvalued by the committee. The final score of the Utah/Gonzaga game 82-59. Really? The seeding for that game should have been flip flopped. The Utes played like they were the 11 seed and Gonzaga played like they were the tougher three seed.

Say what you want about Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few, but he gets his teams ready to play regardless of their seeding and it showed against Utah.

The conference got seven teams into the Tournament and most of those teams were bounced in the first round. Oregon State, Arizona, California, USC and Colorado were all put to rest on Thursday and Friday. Only Oregon and Utah were left standing at that point.

Oregon is left holding up the conference flag at this point and to say that they are a difficult number one seed to bounce out may be a bit of a lie at this point. After their performance against Saint Joseph, picking Duke to win against Oregon is not a big stretch to take. I do think that match-ups matter for teams as well, so for the teams that were bounced early let’s take a look at their individual games.

Oregon State: The Beavers were a pretty good story for the conference. It was the first time they had been invited to the Tournament in 26 years and had played some decent basketball, but a seven seed? Really? They were matched up against a Virginia Commonwealth team that had been to the tournament before, had some success, but were regulated to a 10 seed. Oregon State was certainly over seeded, no doubt about it.

Arizona: Being a six seed for the Wildcats was something that wasn’t really looked at as a bad thing by their fans. I did not hear many complaints coming from Tucson about it, but their downfall was playing a Wichita State team that wasn’t playing like an 11 seed. They were playing more like a five or six seed. The Cats were not even favored in that game.

Utah: For a team that I thought had the potential of getting to the Final Four, they really screwed the pooch against Gonzaga and this was only a couple of games removed from getting waxed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.

California: The Golden Bears were dealt a major blow by having their point guard, Ty Wallace, suffer a broken hand a day before their first round game. He was their Senior leader, he filled up the stat sheet for them, and then in a blink of an eye he was gone. That’s the reason, not an excuse for them because they still had enough talent to win that game.

USC: They were in a tough match up with Providence and then lose at the buzzer. It was the 8 seed versus the 9 seed and those games are a toss-up as it is, but in this game Providence was the better team. USC underperformed in my opinion all year with the good talent that they have on that squad.

Colorado: Sometimes the better team just underperforms. It was a pick’em type of game with Connecticut and the Buffs just didn’t play to their capabilities. When you don’t come to play, negative things happen and they did for Colorado.

In the end, the Pac-12 needs to have better showings in the Tournament than they have been giving us. The committee will remember this next year and may not give the Pac-12 the benefit of the doubt. Even though they are supposed to evaluate a team on their merits for that year I am almost certain that they will remember putting seven teams into the Tournament and remembering that six were out by the end of the first weekend of play. That will play a part in their thinking next year.

Imagine if Oregon had lost to Saint Joesph. What would people be thinking of the Pac-12 then? Let that thought swish around in your head for a bit.

Email Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: google

NCAA Tournament: West Region Notebook

We are at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and what have we learned in the West region? This is the region that is considered the weakest out of the four in the tournament, but has it proved itself more than the others?

Overall, the 2016 Big Dance has shown fans the thrilling aspect of an upset and the West region has certainly not been immune to it.

Round 1 and 2 Review

Being the No. 1 seed, the Oregon Ducks, have not faced the stiffest of competition so far. Their first round match was against No. 16 seed Holy Cross and that was a blowout 91-52. Holy Cross was a junior high team compared to the Pac-12 Champion Ducks and it was ugly from the start. Next up for Oregon were the Saint Joseph Hawks who gave the Ducks more of a game. In the end Oregon made the plays and fought through some tough times to set up the showdown with the Duke Blue Devils.

Speaking of the defending National Champion Blue Devils, they have moved onto the Sweet 16 by taking care of business with UNC Wilmington in the first round and then taking care of an upstart Yale team that had upset the Baylor Bears in the first round. Grayson Allen is proving that he just might put this team on his back to make a deep run in the Tournament, but with a possible date with Oregon coming, that may be a little more difficult.

Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed, has had a fairly easy time getting past the first couple rounds of the tournament as well. They played Cal State-Bakersfield in the first round and dispatched them by 14 points. On Sunday afternoon, the Sooners took care of a pesky Virginia Commonwealth team by a score of 85-81 and moved into the third round where they will play the Texas A&M Aggies who used a 14-2 run in the last 31 seconds to advance.

Upset City

To go through an NCAA Tournament without anybody getting upset would be something short of a miracle. That miracle did not occur in the West region this opening weekend.

The popular upset pick in many brackets was the Yale/Baylor matchup in the first round and it did not disappoint. Yale outrebounded and outplayed the more athletic Baylor Bears in a crazy 79-75 win. Yale went was on fire from three-point range and Baylor seemed like it was going through the motions for most of the game. Yale brought their game and Baylor did not and to the victor go the spoils.

To say it’s not fun watching a higher seed go down to a lower seed would be a gross lie for many people. It’s the whole David versus Goliath type of thinking, so watching Yale win was fun, but it wasn’t the only lower seed team to slay a high seed.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome the University of Northern Iowa to the show. UNI, an 11 seed, played the Texas Longhorns, a six seed, in the first round. The game was close the whole way with seven lead changes, eight ties, and players in foul trouble everywhere. What did UNI do with only 2.7 seconds left? Simply tell Paul Jesperson to get the best possible shot off. Jesperson gets the ball to mid-court and lets it fly. Evidently, the bank was open and the ball goes in off the backboard for the 75-72 win. Craziness by UNI ensues and the shot gets replayed about a million times on any sports show in the country. The shot exemplifies what this Big Dance is all about. It’s what the fans enjoy seeing and I don’t think it could have been any more dramatic.

Final Thoughts

The West may not have the teams that everybody follows most of the time, but there has been some exciting, fun basketball being played out in the West. Who comes out of the West? I did say Oregon would come out of the region because I like the match-up problems it can create for its opponents, but as we have seen from the first two rounds of play, anything can happen.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Pac-12 Basketball: Who Gets into the Big Dance?

Basketball is played out here in the West, many people may forget about that. That is understandable since teams out here in the Pac-12, outside of the Arizona Wildcats or the UCLA Bruins don’t have any name brand recognition when it comes to basketball. It’s a tough road for the Pac-12 in basketball. Their games come on late in the east, the teams are not winning titles, and most people who follow college basketball don’t regard the conference as one high in talent. The urge to watch Pac-12 basketball is not there. That is especially the case in 2015-2016 with the Pac-12. However, the talk that I hear is that seven or eight teams may make the NCAA Tournament. Really? Does the Pac-12 really have that many teams that are “Big Dance” worthy? Let’s explore.

When you talk Pac-12 basketball, there is always ONE team that comes to mind. The Arizona Wildcats are the brand of the Pac-12. No question to me. Ever since Lute Olson took over the program and now with Sean Miller, the Wildcats have had the most talent, been ranked high, and gone deep into the tournament

Do they deserve a bid this year? Absolutely, without question. Even though they lost a ton of talent from last year’s squad, they are still at the top of the Pac-12 Conference. However, they have struggled this year to really separate themselves from the rest of the conference because of the lack of “lights out talent” they have enjoyed in past years. The Cats will get in, they have quality wins, they have an excellent shot at winning the conference tournament, and depending on match-ups in the Big Dance, they could create some anxious moments for teams the deeper they go in the tournament.

The Oregon Ducks. Well, people like seeing them because of what? The uniforms. Having seen this team in person, I heard many a fan say “I wonder what the uniforms will look like tonight?” and to that I merely laughed. Until Oregon goes deep in the tournament multiple times, that is what the fans will be asking.

Do they get into the tournament? No doubt about it. They have the record to get in. The Ducks are 22-6, 11-4 in the Pac-12 right now and have some people thinking they are dark horse to get to the Final Four. I am not sure I would go that far with Oregon, but they have athletes. They’ve got a solid point guard, in sophomore Casey Benson, good big men in Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks, and a quality Head Coach in Dana Altman. The one thing the Ducks lack is a prototypical big man. Their post players are slight in stature and will be pushed around by a big man of size when the tournament starts. The Ducks get into the tournament with no problem, but how far they go is anybody’s guess.

The Utah Utes will get into the tournament as well. They are in second place in the Pac-12 and have a huge game with Arizona coming up to determine the final standings in the conference. The Utes have a 22-7 overall record and 11-5 conference record, so they will get a bid. The Utes are solid team, with solid players, but I am not sure if they will strike fear in too many teams when the conference tournament or the NCAA tournament starts. At most, I see Utah getting to the round of 16 in the Big Dance. To go any further they need good match-ups and/or some upsets to occur. Bottom line, they will need some help to advance deep in the NCAA tournament.

Here come the Trojans. The Trojans have some great bigs who are athletic. They have four guys over 6’10” who are long, athletic, and can play ball. To me the Trojans are on the “bubble” to get into the NCAA Tournament. They have an overall record of 19-9, but have a conference record of 8-7. When you are barely above the break-even mark in college basketball in your own conference the trip to the tourney is riddled with doubt. The Trojans have a must-win game against California that they have to get. For the Trojans to get this much-needed win they need to execute their offense on a high level. Head Coach Andy Enfield has shown concern for this execution at different points in the year.

“Our effort level is good but our execution is not good sometimes. We have never had to coach effort with this team, but execution wins games,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield.

The road to the Pac-12 Tournament is not easy either. The Trojans finish up with the Oregon schools, both of whom have beaten them already this season. Oregon State can certainly compete with USC and play a major spoiler role for them. The Ducks are currently leading the conference and will be looking to carry momentum into postseason play.

The California Golden Bears are wanting to make the Big Dance as well and in my opinion they should make it. With an overall record of 20-8 and a conference record 10-5 the Golden Bears will be looking to solidify their position by beating USC on Sunday. One of things that California certainly has going for itself is that it has beaten all of the Pac-12 teams currently ranked, Arizona, Oregon, and Utah. Those are three impressive wins for the tournament committee to look at. They are also one more weekend sweep away from finishing in the Top 25, which would be a great step forward for a program that has not finished in the Top 25 in quite a long time. Should the Golden Bears get into the tourney? I believe so. They have the wins, the record, and the steady play to garner an invite.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the Colorado Buffaloes. I also believe they get in, but in my opinion they just might be one of the most overlooked teams in the country. Why? With a Pac-12 Conference being a bit down this year, that doesn’t help, but being in Colorado doesn’t help either. With an overall record of 20-9, a conference record of 9-7, and some quality wins against Arizona, California, Stanford, and Oregon the Buffaloes should have enough to get into the tournament, maybe a 10-12 seed. Senior Josh Scott will do everything in his power to maintain the steadiness that he has given them all season. He is the Buffs leading scorer and rebounder for the second time during his tenure at Colorado. His leadership has helped the Buffs develop as a team and he tries to lead by being a vocal example.

“One thing for me this year is that if you have the experience, you have to share those experiences. I’ve tried to be vocal about everything,” Josh Scott said.

With a game against Arizona State on Sunday, the Buffaloes should lock up their third NCAA invite in four seasons. They do have a remaining game against rival Utah that will be a highly entertaining game. If they get that win, they should have no doubt about getting into the Big Dance.

All in all, the teams that have been mentioned should be in, with USC being the only one that may be on the bubble. Since the Pac-12 is down this year, I don’t see any of these teams making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Some people think the conference gets as many as eight teams into the tournament. I say no way. After Arizona, California, Colorado, all of them need better players, recruiting, and wins against other big Power 5 teams to garner that type of consideration. I am Pac-12 fan and want to see the conference succeed on a national level, but I am also a realist. If the conference doesn’t have it with its talent level, then we don’t have it. Doesn’t mean we won’t get it, but it just means players and coaches will have to work harder to get that success for the Pac-12.

Oregon Spreads its Wings and Flies by Arizona State

Entering into the game with the Oregon Ducks and the Arizona State Sun Devils on Sunday night there was talk of a possible upset. With the Pac-12 Conference-leading Ducks in town and the Sun Devils coming off a convincing victory over Oregon State on Thursday night people in Tempe had reason to hope for a sweep of the Oregon schools.

This game was contentious from the start. The crowd was into it and after a slow start by the Sun Devils, the team got into it. For both teams it was an opportunity to build on something. For the Ducks it would mean a fourth straight win and a sweep of the Arizona schools. For Arizona State it would be a second straight win, a sweep of the Oregon schools, and keeping their slim postseason hopes alive.

Oregon got out to a quick 11-0 lead and for the time being the air was slowly being drained out of the building. The Sun Devils came out slow and I started to wonder if the Sun Devils just came to think that they were not in the same class as Oregon, which they may not be, but they needed to put up a fight at least. After several shots at the rim were missed, the Devils started hitting some shots from beyond the three point arch and the Ducks started to cool down a bit. The Sun Devils were also helped by a string of Oregon turnovers that provided points for them.

Once the Devils got the game tied at 20 with seven minutes left in the half that gave the rowdy Wells Fargo crowd something to go crazy over. The teams would trade lead changes until the half and the Ducks ended up leading 37-36 at halftime. The shooting wasn’t too bad for either team as the Sun Devils hit 47% from the field and Oregon hit 42% from the field. However, the stat that brought ASU back into the game was their ability to hit 47% from the three point line.

The questions going into the half to me were pretty simple. Could Oregon respond to the fight that the Sun Devils were putting up? On the other side of the court, could Arizona State keep this high level of play up?

Sun Devil Head Coach Bobby Hurley is a fiery type of coach and is gaining that reputation among referees as well, but his team is certainly taking on the persona of its coach. The Devils had to come out and show Oregon that they were not just going to lay down for them.

That was the thought anyways by the Sun Devils I am sure.

Teams come out in the second half and the Ducks got out quick. They scored 5 straight points and the Sun Devils were having problems taking care of the ball, but were still hanging around only down 51-44 with 16 minutes left to play. I know that is a lot of time left in the game, but anything can happen in college basketball.

The thought of an upset was just a thought though. The Ducks started hitting some shots, getting to the rim, and the Sun Devils started wilting under the bright lights. The Devils started to show why they are near the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference and conversely, the Ducks started showing why they are leading the conference at this point.

Bobby Hurley who had been barking all game at the officials finally got a technical foul in a veiled attempt at firing up his team. It didn’t help fire anybody up. If anything, it made the Ducks play harder, tougher, and more determined to put away the Sun Devils.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sun Devils are a scrappy group of players, but Oregon showed that they are just better at this point than the Devils. Oregon is more athletic, have better ball handlers, and have better shooters. One player for Oregon that caught my eye was their 6’10” forward, Chris Boucher ,who just about had a triple-double for the Ducks. He had a career high 26 points (four 3-pointers), 10 rebounds, and seven blocks. The kid can play and made his presence known throughout the contest. Keep your eye on this player as the season unfolds.

Can Oregon go deep in the NCAA Tournament? They don’t have a good post game right now. Their “bigs” are more hybrid forwards than centers and prefer to stay outside and shoot. That is not going to win championships, but they can certainly screw up the brackets of many people in March. I see them as a round of 16 team at best. It depends on the draw they get as well, but the Pac-12 is a middle of the road basketball conference this season.

In the end, the Sun Devils don’t have what the Ducks do and it’s going to take Bobby Hurley and his staff a couple of years to turn this around in Tempe. The fans have to be patient with him, but Hurley also has to learn to control his temper better because I could see it coming back to bite the team at crucial times in the future. The final score was 91-74 for the Oregon Ducks and that is the appropriate difference in the two programs at this point.