Puppet Ramblings: Final Four, and More….

Be sure and follow our Twitter account @HoopsHD as we count down to the 2015-2016 season.  #CollegeHoopsCountdown

 

FINAL FOUR

-I gotta say, when you love college basketball on a macro level, you’re actually LESS interested in the Final Four than most other people.  The reason??  There’s only four teams, and by that point it’s rare that I have a strong connection to any of them.  That probably does this site a huge disservice because when college basketball is on its biggest stage, I’m not nearly as interested as I am in, say, the start of the Patriot League Tournament, or for that matter, the OOC game between Georgia State and Old Dominion to see if one of those teams can get inside the bubble and make the tournament.  In any given weekend during the season, there’s close to sixty games that are interesting.  This past weekend, there were only two.  So, even though it’s college basketball’s biggest stage, for those that love it on a macro level, we ironically kinda feel that it’s already over.

-With that said…..

-DUKE HAS BEEN THE MOST IMPRESSIVE TEAM THIS YEAR.  I know Kentucky was unbeaten.  I know Duke had bad losses, but Duke’s best wins were better than Kentucky’s.  They won at Virginia, they won at Louisville much more easily than Kentucky did, and they had some other impressive road wins as well.  On top of that, they’ve blown through the NCAA Tournament and beaten some good teams along the way without really breaking a sweat.  It would have been great theater with a great storyline if they were facing Kentucky tonight.  I think most would have viewed Duke as the underdog, when in reality they would have been every bit Kentucky’s equal.

-PEOPLE THAT SAY KENTUCKY BLEW IT ARE OVERSIMPLIFYING IT.  Kentucky did not blow it.  Wisconsin is REALLY good.  Not only that, it is the kind of team Kentucky has not matched up well with all year.  We’ve pointed this out before, but if you look at the few times Kentucky has sweated (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, Columbia for a half, Buffalo for a half, LSU, etc) they all had something in common.  Those teams did not try and run with Kentucky.  There really is a Paper-Rock-Scissors element to college basketball match-ups.  Had Kentucky played Arizona, I think they would have run them off the floor.  Notre Dame fits the definition of a very good team that likes to play half court.  They just couldn’t hit their outside shots in that game, but they still almost won.  Wisconsin fits that definition as well, but they did hit their open looks.

I thought that was a fantastic college basketball game.  Both teams were familiar with each other (even though Cal said Kentucky did not watch any film.  I’m  not sure I believe him.  I just think he wanted Wisky to think they didn’t watch film).  One team would go on a run, and then the other team would adjust, and it was back and forth for the entire game.  It was one of the best played games I’ve seen all year.  To say Kentucky simply blew that is really not giving both teams credit for just how well they played.

I know people don’t like Kentucky.  I understand that, and appreciate it.  But, you can’t just say they blew it.  They had a chance to win, which is more that can be said for the 347 div1 teams that did not make the Final Four.  It’s okay to feel good about them not winning, but I don’t think anyone has any room to talk about how they “blew it.”  No one has ever been 38-0 before, so while 38-1 is not what they wanted, they still had a historic season, and they did a lot to boost the interest in college basketball this year.

 

CIT

-I thoroughly enjoy watching this tournament every year, and seeing NJIT reach the semifinals and play as well as they did at against Northern Arizona made it more exciting.  This tournament gives some legitimacy to teams who are in one bid NCAA Tournament leagues, because it gives them something to play for once it becomes clear that they are not going to be competing for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Congrats to the Evansville Aces, who are a program that is definitely trending up and who have a lot of players back for next season.  They were able to pick up some hardware, get the feel of a postseason tournament, and are now able to take a strong finish into the offseason, which should help them out next year.

 

NIT

-Stanford failed to impress me at any point from about mid-February on, but they really did play well in this tournament, and are also taking home some hardware.  Despite them not winning it, I still think Miami FL was the most deserving team that was left out of the NCAA Tournament.

 

CBI

-I’m not a huge fan of this one because I don’t like the Gazelle Group, and don’t like that it’s a pay for play event.  It’s my right to feel that way and I’ll just leave it at that.  With that said, it was very exciting to see that much electricity around the UL Monroe fan base as they advanced through that tournament and ultimately ended up hosting the deciding game.  Congrats to Loyola IL, who doesn’t have a whole lot of recent history, but who played very well this year and appears to have their program going in the right direction.

 

OTHER TIDBITS 

-This website continues to be a work in progress.  Basically, it’s our own playground.  We cover the things we want to cover the way we want to cover them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I like the conference tournament info and Survival Board, I like the Under the Radar podcasts and that there is a review each week, I like the Bracket Racket podcasts that review the power conferences each week, and I like the bracket projections each week.  This offseason the content will slow down some just because there isn’t a whole lot going on, but at least once a month we should have something.  One of the things we want to focus on is how we feel the game can be improved, so we will likely be writing and podcasting about that periodically.  We will also be covering News and Notes as we feel it is necessary.

-For us, it starts in October.  It really does.  March does not just fall out of the sky.  It is the culmination of everything that happens all season long, and there are some very important basketball games in November.  So, if you love the tournament, then you’ll love the regular season because it’s what shapes the tournament.  351 teams are basically fighting for the top 40 spots so they can safely make the field without having to win a conference tournament.  That makes the regular season hugely important.  Our work starts in October, and I say this every year, but MARCH REALLY DOES START IN NOVEMBER!!!

CIT Game of the Day – Thursday, April 2, 2015: Northern Arizona at Evansville

A team not named NJIT at another team not named NJIT, 7:00 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network

At the start of this season, we here at HOOPS HD decided that we wanted to adopt a team with a compelling story to follow all season long.  It was not difficult for us to choose NJIT as that team, given that they were in the unique circumstance of being the nation’s lone independent.  While we realistically thought that the Highlanders had a shot at a winning record and a berth in the CIT, we had no idea what an amazing and fun story they would become.  On December 6, they shocked the college basketball world winning at then #17 Michigan.  They played a great game at Villanova, knocked off Yale at home, and played solid basketball all season.  Not only did the Highlanders get the CIT berth we wanted for them, but they earned three home games and three victories in the tournament, advancing all the way to the semifinals.

On Tuesday night, NJIT was finally sent on the road, out to Flagstaff, Arizona to take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks  Despite holding a 12 point lead in the second half, NAU used the strength of the largest home crowd in its program history to rally and capture the game, advancing to the CIT championship game at Evansville tonight.  The season is now over for Jim Engles’ team, though with the vast majority of the team back, including the likes of Ky Howard, Damon Lynn, Tim Coleman and Winfield Willis, there is no reason why NJIT will not only be a CIT caliber team next season, but could contend for a berth in the NIT if they remain an independent — and could contend for an NCAA berth if a conference picks them up.

With NJIT’s loss, despite the CIT and NIT title games being played tonight, Loyola-Chicago having won the CBI title last night, and the NCAA Final Four coming this weekend, the heart, the soul, and the team of the people is done.  And with that the pieces I have written here almost every day since the beginning of December,, focusing in on the non-major conference teams, have also come to an end.  I will be back next season as we follow another year of Under the Radar basketball.  Have a great summer everyone, and be sure to keep following us here at HOOPS HD for offseason news, notes, analyses and our always fun podcasts.

Oh, by the way, the CIT championship game is tonight.  Northern Arizona at Evansville, 7:00 PM Eastern on CBS Sports Network.  Enjoy!

CIT Game of the Day – Tuesday, March 31, 2015: NJIT at Northern Arizona

NJIT at Northern Arizona, 9:00 PM Eastern, CBS Sports Network

For our Final Four Bracket Racket podcast, CLICK HERE.

The Final Four.  The National Semifinals.  The last four teams remaining, squaring off for a berth in the title game and an opportunity to cut down the nets and be crowned national champions.  This weekend, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Duke will square off for one such title.  But for us here at HOOPS HD, the real championship, the real Final Four, starts tonight.  It begins at 7:00 PM Eastern on CBS Sports Network when Evansville hosts Tennessee-Martin in the first of the two 2015 CIT semifinals.  Then, at 9:00, our adopted team, the Team of the People, the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders face off in Flagstaff, Arizona with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks for the second spot in Thursday night’s title game.

Northern Arizona enters the game tonight with a record of 22-14 on the season.  They have won at Grand Canyon, at Sacramento State, and by one point at home over Kent State in an overtime thriller to make the semifinal round.  22 wins already is a school record for the Lumberjacks.  In addition, their three postseason victories this season are their only postseason wins in program history.  NAU will look for its senior leaders, Quinton Upshur and Aaseem Dixon, to try to lead them to yet another victory and a shot at the title.

Standing in NAU’s way is the team that we adopted here at HOOPS HD at the start of the season.  NJIT entered the year as the nation’s lone independent, knowing that an NCAA tournament berth was pretty much an impossibility without any shot at an automatic bid.  We followed them game by game, campaigning hard for their inclusion in the CIT.  With a huge program-making win at Michigan back in December, followed by a stretch of winning 13 of 15 games to end the regular season, the Highlanders were rewarded with not only a berth in the CIT, but home games in the first three rounds.  They picked up thrilling victories over New Hampshire, Cleveland State and Canisius in those games in front of some of the loudest and craziest crowds that any team has had cheering for them all season.  Tonight, the Highlanders, led by Ky Howard, Damon Lynn, Winfield Willis and Tim Coleman, take their show on the road, needing yet another huge road victory to continue their magical season and have a shot at doing something truly amazing — winning a postseason tournament.  This is the true Final Four, the real national semifinal, and it should be a great game.

Bracket Racket: March 30th

David and Chad look back at all the action from the NCAA Tournament so far.  They also look at the CIT, CBI and NIT Tournaments, and touch on some of the coaching moves that have taken place.

 

And for all you radio lovers, below is an mp3 version of the show….

CIT Game of the Day – Saturday, March 28, 2015: Canisius at NJIT

Canisius at NJIT, 7:30 PM Eastern, watchcollegeinsider.com

Most sports fan are well aware that two spots in the Final Four will be decided tonight as Kentucky battles Notre Dame and Wisconsin battles Arizona for spots in Indianapolis next weekend.  What most people do not realize is that a third Final Four team will be decided tonight as well.  That Final Four team is in the CIT as Canisius travels to Newark, New Jersey to take on NJIT for the final spot in the CIT semifinals and a matchup Tuesday night against Northern Arizona.

Canisius enters tonight’s game at 18-14 on the season, including a home win over Dartmouth and a win at Bowling Green in their first two CIT games.  Jim Baron’s Golden Griffins finished the regular season strong, winning four out of five before falling in the MAAC quarterfinals to Monmouth.  They are led by Zach Lewis and Josiah Heath.  Lewis put up 20 points in the first round against Dartmouth while Heath scored 23 against Bowling Green.

The Golden Griffins will have their hands full tonight as they travel to what will be a packed Fleisher Center to battle our adopted team, the Team of the People, the NJIT Highlanders (20-11).  NJIT’s season has certainly been magical as the nation’s lone independent scored a huge road win at Michigan and a home win over Yale during the season.  They also won their first two CIT games, knocking off New Hampshire in the first round and beating Cleveland State in one of the most exciting games this season in the second round, with Ky Howard’s three with approximately 25 seconds left giving the Highlanders the win.  The magical story of NJIT will try to be continued tonight as they look to become one of only a very small handful of teams playing on the final day of March.

 

NCAA TOURNAMENT

-You know what’s great about this website??  We can give top billing to NJIT if it suits us to do so.  But, in the other tournament, there are a couple of games that are at least noteworthy.  Arizona and Wisconsin face off in a rematch from last year’s Elite Eight game, which was one of the most exciting in the tournament.  I love that match-up because of the contrasting styles, and think that we’ll see another great game tonight.

-All year long, I’ve said that Kentucky has struggled against teams that like to play half court, (ie Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU).  I also said that if they played a good defensive half court team like West Virginia, that I wouldn’t expect them to win.  After Thursday night, I’ve decided to stop talking.  Notre Dame is exactly the kind of team that, a week ago, I would have said was built to beat Kentucky.  I think the Irish can win, but it would probably surprise me less if they lost by thirty than won by one.

NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen: Friday, March 27th

-We had four games last night, and three of them were great.  The one that wasn’t was the one that I thought West Virginia would win, and that did not happen in a very big way.

-#8 NC STATE VS #4 LOUISVILLE.  I hadn’t really been impressed with Louisville this year, but I was in their win against Northern Iowa.  I thought it was one of the best teams they’ve beaten, and one of the best games they’ve played, all year.  These two are both in the ACC, so they’ve played each other already with NC State winning at Louisville.  The Wolfpack are also coming off an impressive defensive performance and win against a very good Villanova team, so they are certainly up to the challenge.

-#7 MICHIGAN STATE VS #3 OKLHAOMA.  Michigan State has looked as good as anyone in the country these past few weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they got all the way to the Final Four.  Oklahoma had to sweat out Dayton, but still came away with the win.  Michigan State took down a Virginia team that appeared to be as good as any of the #1 seeds.  That followed a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament where they nearly took down Wisconsin.

-#5 UTAH VS #1 DUKE.  Duke is as good as anyone in the country.  Utah is good, but they’re not as good as anyone in the country and they’re probably not as good as Duke.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blue Devils won in a fashion to where people are changing the station before the game is over.

-#11 UCLA VS #2 GONZAGA.  The last time these two met in the Sweet Sixteen, it was epic.  This time, it may be an epic blowout for the Zags, although I’m not counting out the possibility that UCLA will win for the simple purpose of annoying me.  As I said yesterday, I do not feel they belonged in the field, and even if they win it all it won’t change my opinion.  All that aside, though, I think they’re in way over their heads today.