Nothing stays still in college basketball. Players transfer, coaches get hired and fired, and the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournaments move at breakneck speed. March Madness was just that and even though we’ve spilled into April, one still feels the shock waves.
Coaching Carousel: Multiple reports have Miami Associate Head Coach Chris Caputo taking the top job at George Washington. The Westfield (Mass.) State University graduate was on Jim Larrañaga’s staff with the Hurricanes for the last 11 years, and on the staff at George Mason for the previous nine years. After three coaching changes in the last six years, the Colonials need a good hire here. And Caputo needs Joe Bamisile (16 points and 5 rebounds per game) and Brayon Freeman (10 points and 4 assists per game) to come back to Foggy Bottom after entering the transfer portal. It’s a new era at the Smith Center — again.
Coaching Carousel Cubed: Xavier won the NIT Championship Game by beating Texas A&M 73-72 while their former Head Coach Travis Steele (fired after the Musketeers’ First Round win) resurfaced an hour up the street from the Cintas Center as the new Head Coach at Miami (Ohio). Can we get a home-and-home series? Meanwhile, Interim Coach Jonas Hayes steps aside after a 4-0 showing and onetime Xavier Coach Sean Miller (120-47 over five years from 2004-09) takes over.
Bye-Bye MSG: Thursday’s game was a sad end to a great tradition as the National Invitational Tournament will move out of Madison Square Garden after calling that court home for 83 tournaments over the last 85 years. Declining attendance (3,551 for the Championship Game) and rising rent ($350,000 a night) behooves a move elsewhere. Future possibilities include campus sites (as is the case for the first three rounds) to neutral arenas like the Palestra in Philadelphia or Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis. What used to be a great tournament that rivaled the NCAA (until conferences received multiple bids in 1975) moves into a new era. The NIT is still a great way for schools (especially regular season champs from single-bid conferences) to end the season and here’s hoping that tradition continues.
Hoya Departa: While Coach Patrick Ewing is coming back for a sixth year despite a 6-25 mark that included an 0-19 Big East record and a season-ending 21-game losing streak, four of his players appear headed elsewhere. Wednesday forwards Timothy Ighoefe and Jalin Billingsley plus guard Tyler Beard entered the transfer portal, increasing the total to 13 transfers over the last five offseasons. While that trio played between 10 and 16 minutes per game, Thursday’s departure was more significant as freshman Aminu Mohammed announced he would be exploring the NBA Draft. The freshman guard led the Hoyas in scoring this past winter. And once again Ewing goes back to building sand castles in high tide. Although at least two of his transfers (James Akinjo, Arizona/Baylor & Josh LeBlanc, LSU/UAB) are on their third school and Qudus Wahab after one season at Maryland has entered the portal with the likelihood of becoming the third.
Now to the games: The Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournaments wrap up this weekend with six games over the next four days.
Women’s Final Four (Friday in Minneapolis)
7 p.m.: South Carolina (33-2) entered the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed and began the NCAA’s with a bang, jumping out to 44-4 halftime lead in their 79-21 win over Howard. Led by National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston (17 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game) the Gamecocks have held tournament opponents to an average of 41 points per game. They face a Louisville (29-4) team that has bounced back since being upset in the ACC Quarterfinals by Miami March 4. The Cardinals answer to Boston is forward Emily Engstler (12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks per game). She’ll have her work cut out for her, as will her teammates against the top team in the nation.
9:30 p.m.: Stanford (32-3) won the tournament last year and returns thanks in part because of 2021 Tournament Most Outstanding Player Haley Jones who averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists at the Spokane Regional. They’ll have to get past UConn (29-5) who’s in the Final Four for the 14th straight year. Page Bueckers scored 15 of her 27 points after the end of regulation in Monday’s 91-87 double-overtime win over NC State. The Huskies also have depth, with eight others who play at least 19 minutes per game.
Presto’s Pick- South Carolina over Stanford Sunday night.
Men’s Final Four (Saturday in New Orleans)
6:09 p.m.: Kansas (32-6) vs. Villanova (30-7). These two teams met the last time each advanced to the Final Four, with the Wildcats advancing to win their second National Championship in three years. The Jayhawks are the only No. 1 seed to reach the National Semifinals while the Wildcats will be minus guard Justin Moore (torn Achilles in the Regional Finals win over Houston). Sadly, Nova will be the lesser minus Moore as before his injury Coach Jay Wright’s team had a thin rotation (only six players averaging more than 10 minutes per game) to begin with.
8:49 p.m.: Duke (32-6) vs. North Carolina (28-9). You may have heard that this is Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season as head coach, and the Tar Heels won the regular season finale in his last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium March 5. There won’t be that pressure this time, and the ACC Regular Season champs have shown an ability to finish in the NCAA’s. UNC’s Hubert Davis reaches the Final Four in his first season at the helm, but even though his team has won 10 of 11 their best can’t equal Duke’s. Not on this stage and not at this time.
Presto’s Pick: Duke over Kansas on Monday night.