Louisville Sanctions from Sex Scandals Handed Down by NCAA

Four year probation period includes games played with ineligible players from November 2010 through July 2014

ESPN and other media outlets and websites reported what is the first wave of sanctions against Rick Pitino and the Louisville men’s basketball program.

On Thursday morning, the laundry list of sanctions includes but is not limited to the following:

  • A four year probation period starting in November 2017 and continuing into the 2020-2021 school year
  • Head Coach Rick Pitino will be suspended from coaching the first five ACC games in January 2018
  • Former assistant Andre McGee was given a ten year show of cause penalty.  This means McGee cannot apply for any NCAA type job until June 2027 at the earliest.

What was not mentioned at all was which specific games ineligible players played between November 2010 and March 2014.  In an Outside the Lines report on ESPN, some recruits who attended the parties where Katrina Powell led her sexual encounters inside some of the Louisville dorms were under the age of 18.

Remember, this ruling from the NCAA is not without precedent.  Syracuse, Kentucky, and separately years ago with SMU football in the 1980’s have had similar or harsher penalties.

As expected, Louisville proceeded with fighting the charges and they have 45 days to file a formal dispute.

What ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg mentioned on Thursday afternoon is what other shoes might drop in reference to the pending academic cheating scandal at North Carolina:

“Will this be enough to take down the banner?  North Carolina is simply waiting for something to happen.”

The Louisville Cardinals 2013 national championship could be subject to more questioning in the days and weeks going forward.

Thinking big picture here for a moment…

If any CEO of any organization feels inside his/her mind that they are running a clear ship free of any problems large or small and out of nowhere–without their knowledge they are handed a memo or worse, shown a video clip on their smartphone of a CMO or similar high ranking position doing things against the company rules with a secretary outside of business hours, the blame clearly falls with the CEO for failing to comply.

Rick Pitino is one of a handful of great coaches in basketball, I don’t care if you are talking college or in the NBA.  What we don’t know is how much he was in on what Andre McGree did in arranging for the strippers to visit with the recruits.

Through it all, Pitino continues to take the high road in standing firm that he did not see anything out of the ordinary happen behind closed doors.  It is such a shame we live in a society where mostly strange things happening are suddenly the norm and honesty for the most part is given the cold shoulder.

And if the NCAA acted even for a brief moment like most respectable organizations, the penalties would have been way harsher than this.   Will possible ineligibility to play in the 2018 ACC and NCAA Tournaments not be too far behind?

In the court of public opinion, myself and other fans who answer that proverbial questions would tend to do the same things that Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Friends do most of the time on America’s Got Talent–say a resounding “Yes.”

This story is not over.  It will be interesting to see what happens next at the school as a whole and especially with the working of the men’s basketball program, normally one of the nation’s top 40 programs in the country year in and year out.

 

Chris Holtmann leaves Butler to become new coach at Ohio State

Nationwide search lasted only four days

The news came rather swiftly on Friday afternoon.

According to media outlets ranging from ESPN, CBSSports.com, and the Associated Press, the 45 year old Holtmann leaves Butler after three very impressive years in which the Bulldogs reached the NCAA Tournament each time.

Something for the diehards in Columbus to hang their hat on is the fact that Butler reached the Sweet 16 this past March.

The contract is good for 8 years at a robust $24 million.

For Butler, the clock is ticking towards the July evaluation period and we will see if former longtime Marquette and Indiana coach Tom Crean will be heading north on desolate Indiana Highway 37 to reach the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.  According to Garry Parrish from CBSSports.com, he mentioned that Crean’s name is one huge name that the Bulldogs are hoping to covet.

We will see if and when anything transpires sometime next week.  In the meantime, it is back to Square One for the Buckeyes men’s basketball program.

It Is Official–Valparaiso Joins the Missouri Valley Conference

What a great opportunity this will present for the small private Northwest Indiana school (2016-2017 student enrollment was around 4,520) that produced ABC News meteorologist/taker of most things involving nature in Ginger Zee.

As I clearly posted in one of my last blogs, this will be a nice fit both in terms of fielding competitive basketball teams and also for fans and alumni traveling to places like Indiana State, Evansville, Bradley, Loyola of Chicago, Southern Illinois, and Illinois State.  Instead of traveling to Green Bay, Detroit, and Milwaukee, their longest in-conference road trips going forward will include stops at Drake, Northern Iowa, and Missouri State.  I expect many of the ESPN channels will feature Valpo on a lot more than in years past.

The Crusaders should blend in very nicely also in Arch Madness during the first weekend every March, as the Missouri Valley determines its’ automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  With every MVC Tournament game being televised (CSN Chicago and Fox Sports Midwest still cover the first two rounds, while CBS Sports Network covers the two semifinals on Saturday and CBS continues their tradition of airing the final game less than 12 hours after most of America switches their clocks out of Standard Time into Daylight Savings Time), I expect coverage of Valparaiso basketball to hit a fever pitch 100 times more than in Bryce Drew’s senior year prior to them shocking the world in reaching their first Sweet 16 berth way back in 1998.

For second year coach Matt Lottich, they will be without Alec Peters and two other graduating seniors–but with a pair of transfers in the names of Joe Burton (by way of Oklahoma State) and Bakari Evelyn (Nebraska), the future indeed looks bright.

The school that left the Missouri Valley in Wichita State will have the AAC grab the final spotlight before the 2018 draw is released

With the Big Ten holding their annual postseason tournament a week early in Madison Square Garden in New York next March, CBS and the American Athletic Conference agreed on Tuesday that the final three games will air on CBS the weekend of March 10 and 11, 2018.

The semifinals will begin at 1 and approximately 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, then the title game will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday as they get the final honor of playing the final group of games before Selection Sunday.

The Big Ten will return with the final game honor when the tournament returns to the Midwest in 2019.

Wichita State joins American Athletic Conference

Unanimous vote of all AAC members is good for all sports, except football

One of the longest standing members of the Missouri Valley Conference (started play in 1945 shortly after the end of World War II) has decided to bolt for the expanding AAC.  Wichita State University of Kansas will be moving, as of July 1 and it simply means, that they will be one of the last teams playing on Selection Sunday just hours before the draw is released.

The move was made official on Friday, according to ESPN and other broadcast/online media outlets.  The Shockers will bring their excellent style of play in basketball and volleyball against schools like SMU, Tulsa, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, Memphis, Temple, East Carolina, South Florida, Tulane, and always powerful UConn.  Gregg Marshall will have the services of ten players that were on the second round squad that pushed the likes of Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky to the wire in the Indianapolis pod before falling a few points short.

No question, the days of seeing the NCAA grant the MVC more than one bid is coming to an end.  But they had quite a track record when you consider:

The Valley sent three teams to the Big Dance in 2005, four in 2006, and two in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

In terms of the MVC going forward, look for schools like Northern Iowa, Indiana State, last year’s regular season champions from Illinois State, and (dare I say this) perhaps Loyola of Chicago could be a major player for the first time since 1985.

Initial reports Friday by Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com indicated that possibly four other schools could take Wichita State’s place:

They include Saint Louis, Valparaiso, Murray State, and Belmont.

Each of those schools has great basketball track records and with a new gym on the horizon in Valparaiso, that could step up recruiting a notch.  Plus, it is a great fit geographically speaking.  Saint Louis at least would keep the natural geographic areas along with Bradley and Illinois State, while Murray State and Belmont might be considered long shots–but you never know what athletic officials are thinking.

Please stay tuned for any future news on any key moves by any affected school in the weeks and months to come.

 

North Carolina edges out Gonzaga to win sixth National Championship

 

SONG SELECTION:

Allie X, “Old Habits Die Hard”

Song can be found on her SoundCloud page

Redemption could not be any sweeter for the Tar Heels and their fans

Going into the 2017 National Championship game, Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few had a better winning percentage (.813) compared to North Carolina’s Roy Williams (.790).  Also, three of the last four titles won by North Carolina were against number 1 seeds:  1982 vs. Georgetown, 1993 vs. Michigan, and 2005 vs. Illinois.

The game started out in Glendale, Arizona with Gonzaga senior Przemek Karnowski making a bad pass and Theo Pinson converting with a dunk on the other end.  Fellow senior Kennedy Meeks a few seconds later made a jumper and UNC was off and running.

Gonzaga got their offense started with Johnathan Williams with a nice baby hook shot in the lane.  North Carolina still led 5-4 with 17:16 to go in the first half.

Karnowski still managed to show no effects of his eye problem from getting hit by Chris Silva of South Carolina.  However, the shots were simply not falling from very close range.  North Carolina basically double teamed him most of the time, so it wasn’t like they were out there pretending to gang up like a football team around the opposing team’s star running back.  Twice, Karnowski missed at the 16:28 and 16:09 marks and that opened the door for Josh Perkins to convert on two straight turnaround jumpers.  One was from two point range, the other on a deep three from Nigel Williams-Goss as Gonzaga led 7-5 at the first TV time out (15:54 left in the first half).

On the next Gonzaga possession, Jordan Matthews drilled a three and was fouled.  However, he missed the free throw and Gonzaga led 10-8 at the 15:17 mark.  Zach Collins made his presence felt before being saddled with foul trouble as his left handed dunk sparked a Bulldogs run.  After a Tar Heels missed shot from deep, Goss made a cool 10 foot jumper to give Gonzaga a 14-10 lead with 13:25 to go.

Justin Jackson then made a floating jumper 18 seconds later to trim the Gonzaga lead to 14-12.  By this point, both teams had shot 5 for 12 from the field, but the ‘Zags held the rebounding edge 10 to 6.  That was before seldom used bench player Nate Britt converted on a layup and the game was tied at 14 with 12:37 remaining in the first half.

The next time down on defense, Karnowski stuffed Elite 8 hero Luke Maye going up for a dunk at the 11:08 mark, then Williams made a short hook shot to give Gonzaga a 21-14 lead with 10:13 left.  North Carolina was going through a dry spell not scoring for a four minute stretch before Joel Berry II made the first of his four three-point shots at the 8:49 mark (which would turn out to be the only long distance shots UNC would make for the entire game), was fouled by Matthews and missed the free throw that went along with it.  Justin Jackson then converted a rebound for a quick bucket at the 8:21 mark to trim Gonzaga’s lead to 21-19.

Gonzaga then went through a similar pointless streak, not scoring for around 3 1/2 minutes before Zach Collins made a short jumper to push the lead up to 23-19 with 6:32 remaining on the first half clock.  Josh Perkins (who would finish the first half leading all scorers with 13 points) made a pair of free throws with 4:38 to go, would later miss a three-pointer and Josh Perkins missed a three for Gonzaga, Joel Berry II’s subsequent three point attempt clanked off the side of the rim.

Gonzaga continued to lead 28-21, which would be their largest lead of the game with 4:16 to go.  Silas Melson’s trey with 1:39 left and after UNC feasted again inside, Theo Pinson made two free throws for North Carolina.  The lead was down to the slimmest of margins at 33-32, still Gonzaga was in front.  Nigel Williams-Goss made a pair of free throws with six seconds to play and closed out a rather erratic first half with Gonzaga leading 35-32.

The halftime stats read like this:

Gonzaga was 12 of 30 overall from the floor, but 5 of 9 from three.

North Carolina in the first 20 minutes was 11 of 36 overall, but only 2 of 13 from three (15.4 percent).  Most of the Tar Heels three point attempts were rarely contested, they were simply wide open looks and the ball refused to go down.

The rebounding had a very slim edge in Gonzaga’s favor 25-23, but UNC had twice as many offensive rebounds (8 to 4).

Second half featured too many fouls and a nearly close finish

The final 20 minutes from Glendale, Arizona started with Joel Berry II hitting a jumper to trim Gonzaga’s lead to one at 35-34.  Justin Jackson then made a pair of free throws, this after Josh Perkins made an ill-advised pass.  35 seconds into the second half and North Carolina was back in the lead at 36-35.

A major concern for Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few was the foul trouble his big men was getting mired into.  Johnathan Williams joined Zach Collins in having three personal fouls with 18:52 remaining.  On the next Tar Heels possession, Kennedy Meeks made a layup and Carolina went on a big run of their own.

Leading 38-35, Joel Berry II again converted on a jumper, this time from 18 feet out on the right wing.  With 17:39 to play, North Carolina lead by five at 40-35.  Gonzaga then decided to call time out and it sparked another Bulldogs rally.

First, Collins made a hook shot and was fouled by Meeks with 16:52 to go.  His made free throw cut the UNC lead to 40-38.  Jordan Mathews converted on a trey from the left corner to put Gonzaga back in the lead at 41-40 with 16:29 left.  The next time down, Zach Collins committed his fourth personal foul and had to sit on the bench with 15:53 to play.

Gonzaga bench player Killian Tillie helped save the next possession, then a nice give-and-go to Karnowski gave the Polish big man his first and only made basket of the day with 14:34 remaining.  Although Karnowski was 7 of 9 from the line, this charity attempt was missed and Gonzaga again led 42-41.

In the game’s first 26 minutes, North Carolina was an anemic 2 of 17 from three-point land.  However, the Tar Heels ability to shut down Gonzaga’s ability to score inside was one of the key reasons why North Carolina was able to lead for a longer period of time.

After Goss made a careless turnover, Theo Pinson scored on a layup and Isaiah Hicks would have a layup of his own and later get fouled.  His missed free throw left Gonzaga another chance to grab the lead once more, trailing this time 44-43 with 13:14 left.

Karnowski made a pair of free throws and then Joel Berry, slightly bad ankles and all converted on his third three-point shot of the night to give Carolina back the lead at 47-46.

By this juncture, 16 total fouls were committed in the first 7 minutes and 45 seconds of the second half.  No flow at all, it was definitely a very chippy game in nature by this point.

Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Luke Maye each had three fouls a piece and even worse for the Tar Heels, they committed their tenth team foul with 10:13 remaining in the game.  This meant that Gonzaga would get two free throws each time a North Carolina player committed a foul.

Killian Tillie also made his presence felt off the bench with nine rebounds, but his only point came from splitting two free throw attempts.  The next time down, Meeks split his pair of free throws and would later commit his fourth personal foul with 9:42 to go, North Carolina still in front 48-47.

The first moment of near controversy saw Karnowski jump for the rebound, but would nearly strangle Berry’s head from not snapping back in an attempt to get the ball.  The result of the play was a Flagrant 1 foul, which meant that Karnowski on the initial foul made both of his attempts from the charity stripe, but Berry missed of his attempts.  The game was tied again at 52 with 8:02 left in regulation time.

Seldom used Tony Bradley then started the final key stretch scoring wise for Roy Williams, as his dunk at the 7:37 mark gave North Carolina a 54-52 lead.  After another Gonzaga misfire, Hicks made a 4 foot baseline jumper just as the shot clock was running out.  Replays showed that Hicks got the ball off it time and North Carolina had a short cushion, leading 56-52.

Then, Gonzaga made one last run.  First, Zach Collins made a jumper and traded baskets with Hicks.  Johnathan Williams made a huge three at the 5:23 mark to cut UNC’s lead to 58-57.  However, Zach Collins was the first (and would turn out to be the only) player to foul out with 9 points and 7 rebounds.

However, the opportunities for Gonzaga were simply coming too far and not in a shorter amount of time.  And yes, even Joel Berry nearly got hurt again.  This guy has amazing intestinal fortitude and true sportsmanship to go along with it.

Tony Bradley then would split on another pair of free throws as Gonzaga committed their ninth team foul.  North Carolina still led 59-57 with 5:03 to play.  Johnathan Williams then airballed a shot from three-point land, but North Carolina touched the ball on the baseline.  Goss then hit another three a few seconds later to give Gonzaga a 60-59 lead and the crowd in Spokane, Washington was going nuts with 4:36 to go.

However, North Carolina had Berry hit his fourth and final try with 4:17 left and the Tar Heels led 62-60.  Isaiah Hicks would commit his fourth foul, further adding to the intrigue as he fouled Goss with 3:08 left to play.

After the final TV time out of the season, Goss split on a pair of free throws and Pinson missed a three on the other end.  Goss then hit a jumper to give Gonzaga a short-lived 63-61 lead.  Justin Jackson would later get fouled and hit both of his free throws to tie the game again at 63 with 2:09 to play.  A Goss jumper gave Gonzaga a 65-63 lead with 1:53 to go, then Jackson made a driving layup and was fouled by Goss.  His made free throw gave UNC a 66-65 lead with 1:40 left to play.

What followed was simply players making plays, similar to Freddie Brown of Georgetown threw his inadvertent pass to James Worthy way back when in the closing seconds of the 1982 National championship game.

The second moment of controversy involved Kennedy Meeks in a small rugby scrum trying to get a loose ball.  His right hand was out of bounds, but the referees did not see it.  Instead, the tie-up situation led to a jump ball and the alternating possession (IMHO, the dumbest rule in sports) gave the ball back to the Tar Heels.

Isaiah Hicks converted on a banker jump shot to give UNC a 68-65 lead with 25 seconds left.  After Gonzaga used their final time out with 21.9 seconds to play, Kennedy Meeks made the championship saving block and a simple run-out pass by Berry, which led to a dunk by Justin Jackson.  Another turnover by Karnowski and Carolina sealed it at the free throw line with 7.3 seconds left as Berry won the 2017 Most Outstanding Player award with 22 points.  His back-to-back 20 point efforts in the last two championship games was last accomplished by Bill Walton of UCLA way back in 1972-73.  Gail Goodrich also did it in 1964-65 during the early days of the UCLA dynasty.

Roy Williams has more national titles while as Head Coach of North Carolina than his predecessor in Dean Smith.  By winning his third title in a hard-fought 71-65 effort in a game that featured 45 total fouls, North Carolina simply dominated inside the paint 40 to 18.  The only other five coaches to win at least three titles:  Adolph Rupp, John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Mike Kryzezewski, and Jim Calhoun.

Although North Carolina was not effective from long distance, shooting only 4 of 27 on the night–they held Gonzaga to only 33.9 percent shooting (20 of 59).  North Carolina overall was not much better, shooting 26 of 73 for 35.6 percent.  Gonzaga was held to shooting 8 out of 29 in the second half, but it was the first and only time this season that the Tar Heels were outrebounded (49 to 46).

Two major differences in this game that tilted the game in North Carolina’s favor:  the Tar Heels had a 15-9 edge on the offensive glass and they only committed four turnovers.  Gonzaga made 14 turnovers.

For Gonzaga, what a season finishing up as the national runners-up at 37-2.  They were trying to become the first team since the 2002 Maryland Terrapins to win in their first attempt in reaching the Final Four.  The Bulldogs also nearly joined the 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the 1984 Georgetown Hoyas when they won their respective championships by not playing any games against any opponent who was in the Top 10, according to the Associated Press.

Gonzaga is the fourth team since 1985 (third if you don’t count Memphis when their 2008 runner-up appearance would be later vacated) to have at least one loss during the season and come up short in the championship game:

The others:  Duke in 1999, Illinois in 2005, and Kentucky in 2011.

Fighting back tears at the post-game press conference, Nigel Williams-Goss led the ‘Zags with 15 points and nine rebounds.  Karnowski finished his college career not knowing if he was healthy enough to play prior to his junior year with the back flaring up on a near constant basis.  He had matching totals of 9 points and 9 rebounds, but was mostly ineffective in shooting the ball.  Josh Perkins was the only other Gonzaga player to finish in double figures with 13 points.

Besides Berry’s 22, Justin Jackson had 16 points and Isaiah Hicks chipped in when his team needed some scoring the most with 13 crucial points and nine huge rebounds.  Kennedy Meeks led everyone with 10 rebounds.

North Carolina became the first team since Kentucky in 1998 and the fourth school overall to win the championship after losing the title game in the year prior.

Some final closing thoughts for the season…almost

Before truTV ends their rather stupid reality shows of The Impractical Jokers and Hack My Life next March, I will have one final blog this coming Friday night as I will briefly chronicle the annual Player of the Year Awards from the Downtown Los Angeles Athletic Club and sponsored by Wendy’s Hamburgers.

I hope my 14th and final podcast of the season will hopefully resonate well with my true and honest online fans and friends.  You know who you all are.

If I start naming names again, I may have to fight back some tears.  However, they are all going to be happy tears this time around.

But I am very thrilled to say that not only did I have North Carolina beating Gonzaga in my initial brackets, but I did not cry during the late, great Luther Vandross’ version of One Shining Moment.  It was very nice to see some of the players working out in the locker rooms in addition to viewing most of the key plays of this tournament firmly in the rear view mirror, as that always sappy, corny song joins the other 30 annual versions going back to Indiana’s last triumph in 1987 for all fans to savor.

Next year, TBS will bring back the Team Stream and for the third time (1998 and 2004 to be precise), the Final Four returns to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.  Finally, we might be able to see the benches at court level.

The final ratings were simply impressive for CBS, up 21% from the Turner outlets in 2016.  And others who caught up with the March Madness Live app downloaded the action 4.4 million times, a 49 percent streaming increase from the 2016 Tournament.

Please have a good night everyone, and I hope you can stay tuned to this blog during the off season–which I affectionately refer to as the Electric Iron and Steel League as there are still four major coaches openings waiting to be filled at Washington, California at Berkeley, New Mexico, and Oklahoma State.

I will have one final blog to post sometime on Friday night after ESPN2 airs the Player of the Year Awards.  It will air for 90 minutes instead of an hour, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

As for when I hope to start my fifth season of blogging, I plan to start with the 2017-2018 Season Preview sometime during the week of October 23 or November 6.

Please have a fun spring and summer everyone, and thank you again for all of your online support.

North Carolina Overcomes Sluggish Shooting to Barely Escape Oregon

Second semifinal decided by four missed free throws from North Carolina

Yes, my online friends–you read that secondary byline correctly.  As anemic as the shooting was early on, North Carolina started out 3 of 12 shooting.  Oregon on the other hand wasn’t that much better going at a rather paltry 4 of 7 clip from the floor.  North Carolina failed to get inside, since Oregon’s defense managed to cut off many passing lanes early in the game.

Both teams struggled to score as it was tied at 11 in the under 12 minute TV time out–UNC shooting a rather horrible 3 of 17 at this point, with Oregon shooting only 40 percent themselves at 4 of 10.

With 3:43 left in the first half, Oregon took their largest lead at 30-22.  However, the Tar Heels went on a 17-6 run to close the half and just like with Gonzaga earlier–UNC scored the last seven points of the half to take a 39-36 halftime lead.

It got worse in the University of Phoenix Stadium, as PA announcer Gene Honda’s microphone was not working for several minutes at the start of the second half.  The crowd of 77,612 (the second largest crowd behind the 2009 Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit) instead heard the CBS call of Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, and Bill Raftery being piped inside the stadium in addition in all of the concourses and bathrooms.

Dylan Ennis had 10 to lead the Ducks, while Kennedy Meeks came up with some huge plays for Roy Williams when his team needed them the most, leading all scorers with 18.  Joel Berry II appeared to have both ankles working fine on the floor and did not show any ill effects from his pair of injuries during the South Regional Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds had only five points.

The key stat in this game was the turnovers, Oregon had 12 while North Carolina coughed up the ball only five times in the first 20 minutes.

The overall shooting was definitely not something to write or text home about:

UNC was 8 of 27, 2 for 8 on three-pointers, for Oregon was 10 of 22, but 4 of 8 on threes.

While the PA’s microphone was being worked on at press row, Justin Jackson made his presence felt hitting a trey with 17:09 to play which increased the Tar Heels lead to 46-38.

The closest Oregon managed to get in the first part of the second half was a Tyler Dorsey three to cut UNC’s lead to four.  A Jordan Bell layup with 79 seconds left to play in regulation trimmed the lead again to four, with UNC leading 75-71.

The final minute brought some rather bizarre theater

In the first 39 minutes, Oregon’s big guns of Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks were a combined 4 for 21 in shooting from downtown.  Most of them, they had good looks but were not able to go down.  Others were caused by defensive pressure as North Carolina’s ability to hawk the ball proved to be the ultimate difference.

However, the Ducks were not going to quack away quietly.  A Dorsey three point attempt curled around the front of the rim once, then the back rim twice, then around the front right side of the rim a second time before finally settling in to trim UNC’s lead to 77-74 with 42 seconds left.

Theo Pinson missed a jumper for the Tar Heels that could have iced the game.  Instead, Jordan Bell corralled the rebound and guard Payton Pritchard nearly walked with the ball twice (once in the backcourt and again trying to pivot as if he was going to shoot a three for the tie).  As it turned out, Keith Smith made a wide open layup to trim North Carolina’s lead once more to 77-76 with 5.8 seconds left.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Kennedy Meeks missed on a pair of throws.  Oregon failed to secure the rebound.  The Ducks immediately fouled Joel Berry II.  Berry missed both of his free throw attempts, but Oregon again wasted the final four seconds failing to foul as Meeks grabbed the final rebound and smartly passed the ball towards mid-court to end it.

The final stats from this rather anemic shooting performance, as both teams shot less than 38 percent for the game:

Kennedy Meeks made some unique history with scoring 25 points, 10 rebounds, and shooting over 80 percent for the game (11 out of 13), becoming the first player since Sam Perkins did it for the Tar Heels in 1982.  The list from national semfinals past also includes Michael Jordan in 1982, Bill Walton in 1973, and Oscar Robertson in 1962.

Also enjoying a nice game for the Tar Heels was Justin Jackson, who finished up with 22 points.  Oregon was led by Tyler Dorsey with 21 hard earned points and Dylan Ennis chipped in with 18.  Dillon Brooks was held to only 10 points to go along with six rebounds.  Even without injured Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell led everybody with 16 rebounds in a losing cause.  The benches were not much of a factor, but second chance points tilted the balance of the game in the Tar Heels favor–with UNC winning that battle by a very wide margin, 16 to 4.  Another telling stat was UNC dominated the offensive glass by a 17 to 12 total.

North Carolina’s close shave 77-76 national semifinal win sets up an epic battle for Monday night, which Yours Truly Online predicted when the brackets were released.

I had both Gonzaga and North Carolina playing for the national title:).

One other piece of hoop related news worth sharing:

Basketball Hall of Fame class announced on ESPN2

Earlier in the day, the 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Class was announced in Dallas for ceremonies to be held in September at Springfield, Massachusetts.  Congratulations to some very popular names for getting inducted, from the likes of Bill Self, Head Coach of Kansas, Muffett McGraw, longtime Women’s Head Coach at Notre Dame, Rebecca Lobo from the 1995 UConn Lady Huskies championship team, Tracy McGrady of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, one-time Indiana high school and ABA Pacers legend from the early 1970’s, George McGinnis, and the architect behind the Chicago Bulls dynasty winning six NBA titles during the 1990’s, the longtime former General Manager (1985-2003) who died recently who had his legendary battles with the media, Jerry Krause.

Pair of Number 1 seeds will duke it out for the 2017 title

Will Gonzaga become the first true mid-major to cut down the nets since the all-legendary first black squad to win it all, the former Texas Western (now UTEP) way back in 1966, or will Roy Williams make it number five for his alma mater and his third since coming back as Head Coach?

One key statistic to chew over while watching Monday’s edition of The Price is Right:  Gonzaga is the fourth team since 1985 to enter the title game with one loss.

On Monday night at 9:20 p.m. Eastern time on CBS (remember that the pregame show starts 30 minutes earlier than in years past at 8:30, instead of 9 p.m.), the overall number 3 and 4 seeds will compete for the 2017 National Championship.

Hope to see you all then.  Thanks for sticking with me on this April Fool’s Day 2017, otherwise known as Super Saturday 2017 in my world.

Please have a good night and pleasant hoop dreams, everybody.

Gonzaga Outlasts Gutsy Effort from South Carolina, Advances to National Championship Game

Gonzaga is first mid-major to play for national title since Indiana State and Larry Bird accomplished the feat when they beat DePaul in 1979

Gonzaga started out hot in the first 2:02 of game action at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  Jumpers by Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, and Przemek Karnowski gave the Bulldogs an early 6-2 lead.

Duane Notice then scored 5 straight for South Carolina, with his three from the left wing gave the Gamecocks a short-lived 7-63 lead at the 17:34 mark.  A Zach Collins dunk off a nice feed from Karnowski gave the ‘Zags an 8-7 lead with 16:28 to go in the first half.

Notice definitely served up notice to the nation and the world with drilling his second trey at the 15:32 mark.  Nearly 90 seconds later at the 13:57 mark, Silas Melson came off the bench and hit a three of his own.  Gonzaga by this point was shooting 6 of 10 from the floor, the Gamecocks a paltry 4 of 11 for 36.4 percent.

Melson’s second trey at the 11:53 mark extended the Gonzaga lead, but after a Hassani Gravett steal, Gravett went coast-to-coast for a layup to trim the Bulldogs lead to 20-18 with 10:59 to go.

Karnowski’s layup at the 9:15 mark pushed the lead up to 22-18 in favor of Gonzaga.  But Gonzaga was in foul trouble and put South Carolina in the single bonus with 8:53 remaining in the first half (six team fouls).  The Gamecocks then went through a cold stretch missing six straight shots before P.J. Dozier came to the rescue with a spinning layup to make the score 24-21, again in favor of Gonzaga.

Sindarius Thornwell, nicknamed “Sin City” by Scott Hood of GamecockCentral.com on Twitter, felt 100% after taking antibiotics since he missed practice due to flu-like symptoms on Friday.  His first points in the Final Four came from the free-throw line to tie the game at 26 with 6:25 left in the opening half.

Jordan Mathews the next time down the floor hit a three-pointer, then Goss converted on an layup–all in a 22 second span.

With less than five minutes left in the first half, Chris Silva of South Carolina attempted to go airborne for a dunk.  Karnowski on his way down got poked a bit on his right eye and laid face first on the floor in pain.  P.J. Dozier then fed Justin McKie to tie the game again at 31.  But the bigger concern was about Karnowski’s health.

According to CBS Sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, his vision was slightly affected as he was seen headed back to the locker room.  Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few told Wolfson at halftime,

“Yeah, he got poked in the eye pretty good.  They’re checking on it right now. Hopefully we can put a protective contact (lens) it or something.”

Prior to the injury, Karnowski was 4 of 7 shooting and had four rebounds.  Gonzaga went on a 15-4 run in the last 5:13 of the first half to lead at halftime 45-36.

It was the most points that the Gamecocks gave up in the first half during this NCAA Tournament, with the previous high of 40 in the Sweet 16 round against Marquette.

However, the ‘Zags showed no urgency in the final 14 seconds of the half as a Silas Melson three came after the buzzer.

Gonzaga shot 19 of 33 for 57.6 percent, while South Carolina was 13 of 35 for 37.1%.

Three-point shooting was relatively even, Gonzaga going 5 of 9 while South Carolina was 5 of 6 from behind the arc.  Goss had 12 to lead all scorers, while Justin McKie had 8 points off the Gamecocks bench, 5 short of his career high.  Sadly, he would not score the rest of the way.

In the second half, South Carolina started out cold offensively hitting only 1 of 6 from the floor in the first four minutes.  Goss nailed another three to extend Gonzaga’s lead to double digits at 52-41 with 16:47 to go.  Karnowski committed his third foul with 14:49 to play.

Then the run began for South Carolina.

Duane Notice made a layup with 14:03 to go, then a Zach Collins layup ballooned Gonzaga’s lead to 54-43 with 13:30 to play.

Chris Silva then made a layup and 1 of 2 free throws with 10:39 to go.  A few minutes later, P.J. Dozier made a jumper with 10:02 to play, Thornwell finally nailed a 3 with 9:37 left and Dozier made another jumper with 9:15 to go to trim Gonzaga’s lead to 65-61.  Silva made a pair of free throws with 8:29 to go, then another Dozier jumper tied the game at 65 with 7:41 left in regulation.

Karnowski showed any ill effects from his eye injury and it pushed Gonzaga to a three point lead with under three minutes to go at 71-68.  Sindarius Throwell made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line with 3.9 seconds to go, but Killian Tillie made both of his attempts from the charity stripe with 2.2 seconds left and the game ended with Gonzaga emerging unscathed with a hard-fought 77-73 national semifinal win.

Nigel Williams-Goss had the game of his life to date, scoring 23 points (9 of 16 shooting) to go along with five rebounds and six assists.  Zach Collins had 14 off the bench, as Gonzaga’s bench outscored South Carolina by a 22-14 margin.  Collins joined Danny Manning of Kansas in 1988 and Anthony Davis of Kentucky from 2012 as the only guys to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks in a national semifinal game.  Karnowski had 13 and Mathews had 12 to lead a balanced attack again for the Bulldogs.

South Carolina’s miracle run came up a bit short and they were led in scoring by P.J. Dozier with 17 points and 9 rebounds.  Sindarius Thornwell started slow, but finished his college career with 15 points to go along with five rebounds.  Chris Silva had a matching double-double, 13 points and 13 boards.

Gonzaga cooled off a bit to still finish shooting 48.3 percent shooting and held the Gamecocks to 37.9 percent shooting for the game.  Three-point shooting was the difference, as Gonzaga made 47.4 percent of their attempts from long distance, while South Carolina only made 35 percent with that longer background found in NFL stadiums.  Another telling stat was that Gonzaga made 45 percent of their contested shots, while South Carolina was just over 30 percent of shots that had defenders rubbing leather all over that orange colored ball.

Gonzaga becomes the first true mid-major to play in the national championship game since tiny Indiana State located in Terre Haute, Indiana led by Larry Bird when they won their first 35 games of the season in 1978-79 with their last victory coming at the buzzer to dethrone DePaul, one of the favorites that year to win it all.

The Bulldogs will play for the title Monday night against the winner of the 3 seed from the Midwest in Oregon and the top seed from the South in North Carolina.

See you later on tonight with a recap from Game Two.