The tournament has entered its home stretch as the four regional champions head out to Phoenix to play in the Final Four next Saturday. Before diving into all of the previews of what to expect from those match-ups, here’s a couple of things that you might have missed from the weekend of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.
Multiple Coaches Earn First Final Four Appearance
This year’s tournament has provided plenty of upsets since a fairly normal Round of 64, and those upsets have paved the way for a few longtime coaches to make their first Final Four appearance. Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Oregon’s Dana Altman, and South Carolina’s Frank Martin all added that shining accomplishment to their resume.
For Few in particular, this appearance has to come as a relief as it combats the (incorrect) assumption that Gonzaga will always flame out before they should. Meanwhile, Altman brings Oregon back to the Final Four for the first time since the first NCAA Tournament back in 1939. Frank Martin’s South Carolina team is the first one in school history to make it to the Final Four. Yeah, those three coaches have beefed up their resumes quite a bit.
Jordan Bell joins the company of a legend
Prior to the tournament, the consensus was that Oregon’s title hopes were dashed when senior forward Chris Boucher tore his ACL in the Pac-12 tournament. Well, apparently no one told the Ducks or junior forward Jordan Bell. Bell has been a rebounding force in the tournament with at least 12 boards in each game. Yes, you read that correctly, and, when combined with his final game in last year’s tournament marks five straight games with at least 12 rebounds. That stat puts him in elite company.
But, the rebounding wasn’t Bell’s only contribution in the Ducks Elite 8 win over Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks. He also recorded 11 points and eight blocks which set a conference record.
The junior was named to the All-Region team and was awarded with the Most Outstanding Player award for the Midwest region.
Bill Self’s struggles in Elite 8 games continue
Self has overseen a lot of success during the course of his time in Lawrence, Kansas. Under his direction, the Jayhawks have won 13 straight regular season Big 12 titles, made two Final Four appearances and won a national championship in 2008. But, there’s been one consistent blemish on Self’s otherwise pristine record at KU: his record in regional final games.
After Saturday’s loss, Self’s record is 2-7 in the Elite 8. Now, that can be looked at two ways. One, he consistently has his team in position to go to a Final Four which is an impressive feat. Nine Elite Eight appearances is nothing to sneeze at.
The second way that some people will look at it is that Self can’t seem to figure out how to get his team past the regional final. Self is a great coach, this is just one of those unfortunate statistics that will follow him around when people discuss his coaching career. Even the Lawrence police department was making jokes at his/the team’s expense.
Luke Maye picks perfect time to step up
Maye, a sophomore forward for UNC, is going to get a lot of press time over the next couple of days as he hit the game winning shot that punched the Tar Heels ticket to Phoenix on Sunday.
However, what will likely get lost in the shuffle of his clutch shot is the fact that Maye’s 17 points were a career high.
The total eclipsed his career-high of 16 points that he had set just one game earlier, in the team’s Sweet 16 win over Butler. That makes 33 points in the last two outings for Maye, which is as many points as he had scored in the previous six games combined. We get breakout performances each year in March, and Luke Maye is delivering his at just the right time for Roy Williams’ squad.
UNC adds another Final Four appearance to its historic tally
Above, we covered the fact that Gonzaga and South Carolina will be making their first Final Four appearances, while Oregon is making its second. The Tar Heels? Well, they’ve now got five times more Final Four appearances than the other three schools combined.
The Tar Heels have now been a part of just over 25% of all Final Fours ever held (20 appearances in 78 years of the NCAA Tournament).
The Final Four gets underway on Saturday night at 6:09 p.m. Eastern Time with South Carolina taking on Gonzaga and then North Carolina and Oregon about a half-hour afterwards.