Friday, March 31, 2017

Back on Final Four stage, UNC seeks redemption, but must first conquer Oregon

Justin Jackson and North Carolina familiarize themselves with shooting conditions at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Tar Heels face Oregon in Final Four Saturday. (Photo by J.D. Lyon Jr./Tar Heel Photo)

The storyline that has followed North Carolina throughout the NCAA Tournament will grow ever stronger this weekend.

Villanova, and the Kris Jenkins three-pointer to steal a national championship from the Tar Heels at the buzzer, the 4.7 seconds that turned Marcus Paige's miraculous, double-clutching three to tie the score into a footnote in history.

The quest for redemption has trailed UNC to Arizona as well now that the Tar Heels are in their NCAA-record 20th Final Four, where they will meet Oregon in a national semifinal, hoping to move one step closer to what eluded them last April.

"I haven't sensed that our team has many thoughts in a negative manner about what happened last year except the final outcome," head coach Roy Williams said of UNC (31-7) revisiting the Final Four and coping with the heartbreak that concluded their 2015-16 season. "We used that as fuel to motivate us over the summer to work harder. We haven't made it our mantra that we're all standing around holding hands, chanting 4.7 seconds or anything like that, but you're right. It's a heartache that you can't erase. It's always going to be there."

"I do think that once the game starts, or even the gameday preparations, I don't think they'll be thinking about that," he added. "I really believe they'll just be focusing on Oregon."

Champions of the West Regional, the Ducks (33-5) have received contributions from All-American Dillon Brooks to go with the sensational run enjoyed by sophomore Tyler Dorsey and the interior play of junior forward Jordan Bell. Making their first Final Four appearance since winning the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939, Oregon is relatively untested on this stage compared to the Tar Heels, a perennial championship threat. While the experience factor and the emotional backstory of last year's bitter ending play into UNC's hands on paper, it only affects the parties involved so much.

"It's a new game," said Theo Pinson of last season influencing his team's determination. "I think we're just taking it one game at a time. Right now, we're focusing on Oregon. I think the same jitters will be there, but I think we'll be alright once the ball goes up."

"I think everybody is just ready to play the game," he reassured. "We did lose it last year, but at the same time, we know what we have to take care of first, and that's Oregon."

NIT Final Four and CIT Semis: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK, and JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Two days and four games. Beyond those figures, almost countless details and events on and off the floor, constitute this phenomenon of March Madness.
On Tuesday, Madison Square Garden, fresh off a thrilling NCAA Tournament East Regional weekend, hosted the finals of the 80th National Invitation Tournament. Our nation’s oldest postseason tournament featured four teams who had never captured the title, three of whom were making their maiden appearance in the NIT Final Four.
For CSU Bakersfield and Central Florida, it was more than just getting to New York. Both had grand designs on winning it all. As said before, March can be the cruelest month. Fate turned out to be such for both teams, as Georgia Tech and TCU ended the upset bids, defeating CSU Bakersfield and UCF, respectively.
The next night, on the other side of the Hudson River, Saint Peter’s appeared in their first national semifinal since the 1968 NIT. On that night nearly half a century ago, the Peacocks were defeated by a Jo Jo White-led Kansas team in the NIT semifinals. This evening, the venue was Yanitelli Center on campus, with the opponent being Furman in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Saint Peter’s thrilled their adoring fans and a number of basketball alumni, including some from that 1968 team, with a one-sided victory that sent the Peacocks to Friday’s CIT championship game, capping a special night when the Saint Peter’s faithful remembered history while seeing another chapter written.

On Thursday in New York, the NIT final was on tap between Georgia Tech and TCU. We once again were served a reminder that although the analysis, breakdowns and numbers are great points of reference, it all comes down to execution on the court. TCU had a great night, Georgia Tech was decidedly below standard, resulting in an 88-56 rout by the Horned Frogs. The NIT championship capped off a rags-to-riches turnaround for TCU under the guidance of Jamie Dixon, in his first year at the helm of his alma mater following a long run at the University of Pittsburgh.

Three days, or nights, of tournament basketball; in the process, great nights with a wealth of stories, a main reason March is so special to college fans.

CSU Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes in action:
The nation's oldest postseason recognized on the Madison Square Garden jumbotron:
Josh Pastner meets the media after Georgia Tech's semifinal win:
Veteran official Brian O'Connell had a piece of the NIT action, working the TCU-UCF battle:
UCF's dominant center, 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, in the post against TCU:
The Yanitelli Center at Saint Peter's, hosting its first-ever postseason contest:
Chazz Patterson on the move offensively for Saint Peter's:
Ray, pictured with Saint Peter's alumni Elnardo Webster (left) and Harry Laurie (right) from the Peacocks' 1968 NIT team:
Saint Peter's fans in a postgame victory shot:
Head coach John Dunne and the Peacocks addressing the media:
Outside Madison Square Garden on NIT championship night:
Georgia Tech's band, entering the Garden:
TCU, lined up for the national anthem and player introductions:
TCU's inbounds defense:
In-game action between Georgia Tech and TCU:
Their victory in the books, TCU holds the NIT championship trophy aloft:
Jamie Dixon, discussing the finer points of his team's championship after the game:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

TCU 88, Georgia Tech 56: Tempo-Free Recap

Jamie Dixon salutes crowd after TCU wins NIT championship in rout of Georgia Tech. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK --  One had been here before, another is in uncharted territory.

Georgia Tech faced TCU for the championship of the 80th National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden, but the matchup soon proved to be no contest. In a game where they never trailed, the Horned Frogs captured the title, overpowering the Yellow Jackets by the final of 88-56.

First five possessions:
TCU: Missed field goal, field goal, two free throws, field goal, field goal
Georgia Tech: Turnover, missed field goal, missed field goal, missed field goal, turnover

The 8-0 lead TCU took early reflected a pace in order for a mid-to-high-60-possession rate, a tempo both teams employ. The battle of big men, TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky and Ben Lammers of Georgia Tech, saw the TCU big man get the early upper hand, scoring his team’s first six points. Georgia Tech had a great night against CSU Bakersfield in the semifinals, committing just seven turnovers against a strong Roadrunner defense. On this night, Josh Pastner’s team had two miscues in their first five possessions.

TCU eventually scored the first ten points of the contest before Lammers hit Georgia Tech’s first field goal with 14:52 remaining in the first half. At the under-12-minute media timeout, the Horned Frogs were up 21-5. This was not just a case of a team getting out to a hot shooting start. TCU simply played with more energy and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.
Georgia Tech eventually mustered two breakaway dunks off turnovers. Those plays not only reduced the deficit, but more importantly, energize a Yellow Jacket team that needed a spark. Trailing 21-12, Pastner switched to a zone defense, occasionally trapping in half court out of the zone in an attempt to disrupt the TCU offense. For Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs, Brodziansky and 6-foot-8 JD Miller did their share of damage inside.

Halftime: TCU 38, Georgia Tech 27
Possessions: TCU 36, Georgia Tech 34
Offensive efficiency: TCU 106, Georgia Tech 79

At the 16-minute mark of the second half, TCU still enjoyed a ten-point lead. A few more stops were necessary for Georgia Tech to take full advantage of their scoring spurt. However, Kenrich Williams was the story in the half’s early going. The 6-foot-7 TCU junior finished the first half with eight points, and matched that total in the first four minutes after the intermission.

TCU did a good job not letting Georgia Tech go on a prolonged run. A few times, the Yellow Jackets were able to get the deficit to ten, but no better. TCU answered, with Brodziansky usually stopping the run with a timely bucket. The Horned Frogs were still up 16 with ten minutes to go, and held the Yellow Jackets scoreless for over for minutes shortly thereafter. During that time, the TCU lead expanded to 18. Josh Okogie had been effective for Georgia Tech, but had not had much help on a consistent basis. With just over five minutes remaining, TCU stretched their advantage to 25 points, putting on an offensive clinic.

Possessions: TCU 72, Georgia Tech 69
Offensive efficiency: TCU 122, Georgia Tech 81

Four Factors:
Effective field goal percentage: TCU 55, Georgia Tech 41
Free throw rate: TCU 24, Georgia Tech 30
Offensive rebound percentage: TCU 47, Georgia Tech  30
Turnover rate: TCU 17, Georgia Tech 25

What TCU did well: Force turnovers and rebound. The Horned Frogs enjoyed a 28-4 edge in points off turnovers and 21-7 in second chance points.

What Georgia Tech did well: Get to the line. The Yellow Jackets were able to draw fouls, but could not capitalize, shooting 10-of-17 at the stripe.

Ball control index:
TCU: 2.50
Georgia Tech: 0.94

Keys to Victory:
The start.
Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner noted his team struggled to begin both halves. Most of those struggles were on the defensive end. Coming into the game, the Yellow Jackets’ defensive efficiency was 90. Tonight, the TCU efficiency told how tough it was on Georgia Tech’s defense. As Pastner said, “Tonight, we didn’t play well on defense and they were outstanding on offense.”

Rebounds and turnovers.
Georgia Tech gave up 16 offensive rebounds, and was outrebounded 44-30. As noted, the second chance points provided TCU with a substantial edge. “You cannot allow those second chance points and points off turnovers like that in a game of this level,” Pastner said.

TCU defended.
As TCU coach Jamie Dixon noted, “Our team defended better the last seven games. We changed a few things, and our younger players just got better.”

Ready for zone.
Dixon does not see much zone defense in the Big 12. The TCU mentor practices zone offense religiously, and against Georgia Tech, a primary zone team, all the work paid off.

TCU finished 24-15, Georgia Tech 21-16.
All-Tournament Team:
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech
Tadric Jackson, Georgia Tech
Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU
Alex Robinson, TCU

Most Outstanding Player: Kenrich Williams, TCU

Saint Peter's 77, Furman 51: Tempo-Free Recap

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

JERSEY CITY, NJ - Saint Peter’s was appearing in their first national tournament semifinal since 1968. Back then, the Armory was home, and the Peacocks of Don Kennedy had come off a big win over tenth-ranked Duke. The National Invitation Tournament semifinals saw Saint Peter’s come up short against Kansas at Madison Square Garden. On Wednesday evening, the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament was the order, with Furman invading the friendly confines of Yanitelli Center in front of a number of former Peacocks, including some from that 1968 team.

They, the fans, and other alums were not to be disappointed.

Saint Peter’s never trailed as they routed Furman, 77-51. The Peacocks will now travel to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for the CIT championship Friday evening.

First five possessions:
Saint Peter’s: Missed field goal, missed field goal, field goal, three-point field goal, shot clock violation
Furman: Turnover, turnover, missed field goal, missed field goal, missed field goal

Defensive-minded Saint Peter’s made their mark early, forcing turnovers on the first two Furman possessions en route to a game-opening 15-0 run.

Saint Peter’s, known for a deliberate style of play, ran on opportunity, with excellent results. At the four-minute media timeout in the first half, the Peacocks led 34-8. If you were John Dunne, you would want to bottle this. Furman, especially leading scorer Devin Sibley, found its range on an 11-3 run to close the stanza, but at halftime, still trailed 37-19.

Possessions: Furman 31, Saint Peter’s 30
Offensive efficiency: Saint Peter’s 123, Furman 61

Furman desperately needed a good start to begin the second half, and got one by scoring eight of the first ten points after the intermission. With 17:47 remaining in regulation, the Paladins trailed by only a dozen, 39-27. Minutes later, Nnamdi Enechionyia buried multiple threes in transition, and suddenly, the lead was back to 24. Having multiple contributors in the offense made Saint Peter’s a nightmare to defend on this evening.
   
It would not get better for Furman’s interim coach, Bob Richey. Daniel Fowler, his most effective player in the second half, picked up his fourth foul with just under 12 minutes to play, his team looking at a 27-point deficit at that juncture. Down the stretch, Sibley would heat up for Furman, but the Paladins were in no position to challenge, as the Saint Peter’s offense was running on all cylinders.

Possessions: Furman 66, Saint Peter’s 64
Offensive efficiency: Saint Peter’s 120, Furman 77

Four Factors:
Effective field goal percentage: Saint Peter’s 69, Furman 44
Free throw rate: Saint Peter’s 28, Furman 15
Offensive rebound percentage: Saint Peter’s 26, Furman 11
Turnover rate: Saint Peter’s 22, Furman 21

What Saint Peter’s did well: A little of everything. The Peacocks shot, rebounded, and defended in arguably their most complete performance of the campaign, at an opportune time.

What Furman did well: Make a run in a tough road situation. Down 26 in the first half, the Paladins whittled their deficit to 12 early in the second half.

Keys to victory:
Answering. 
Furman cut a 26-point first half deficit to 12 early in the second half. However, Saint Peter’s answered right back, regained their momentum and rebuilt the lead.

Outstanding defense.
A staple of the Peacocks’ success all year, the defense was on display Wednesday, and a main reason for this one-sided victory. It wasn’t as much about schemes, as head coach John Dunne noted, “the effort and energy tonight was as good as it has been all season.”

The home crowd. 
Fans do not win games. Regardless, Dunne and his players greatly appreciated the support and seemed to feed off their enthusiasm.

Running the offense. 
Saint Peter’s struggled on the offensive end in their last two games. From tip to buzzer Wednesday, the offense was a well-oiled machine. “Offensively we were under control, made good decisions and were aggressive offensively from the start,” Dunne said.

Saint Peter’s improved to 22-13 while Furman ends the season at 23-12. The Peacocks have now won 10 of their last 11, the lone setback during that streak being a 73-65 setback to Iona in the semifinal round of the MAAC Tournament in Albany.

Saint Peter's turns impromptu home farewell into emphatic win to reach CIT title game

John Dunne and Saint Peter's are headed to CIT championship after Peacocks thrashed Furman in semifinal game that served as season finale at Yanitelli Center. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- Initially, it was a home game that was unplanned, but for Saint Peter's, their last goodbye of the season turned into a storybook ending.

Playing road games through their entire stint in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament up until Wednesday night, the Peacocks suddenly found themselves back on the Yanitelli Center hardwood for a semifinal showdown with Furman, and were rewarded with a raucous turnout that contributed to a lasting impression that will resonate through the offseason.

Taking the lead on Quadir Welton's hook shot that broke a scoreless tie nearly two minutes into the first half, Saint Peter's jumped on the accelerator with a 15-0 run, not allowing a point through the opening seven-plus minutes en route to a commanding 77-51 victory, advancing to Friday's CIT championship game.

"I thought this win epitomized our team in the sense that it could be somebody different every game," head coach John Dunne assessed as the Peacocks (22-13) received stellar contributions from a host of players, namely Nnamdi Enechionyia and his team-leading 18 points. "While we all played well and played with passion, we've been very selfless all season and on the other side of the ball, I thought our defense was great."

Saint Peter's, who will travel to Texas for the second time in a week to face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for the CIT crown, earned their date with destiny by sticking to what brought them to the dance, utilizing a combination of staunch defense and timely shooting to their advantage. The Peacocks did not concede their first field goal until nearly nine minutes had elapsed in the first half, and had built a lead as large as 26 points in the opening stanza before taking a 37-19 lead to the intermission, all the while shooting 56 percent from the floor.

Furman, who ended the first half on an 11-3 run as they threatened to creep back into the game, came out of the halftime break with their momentum intact. The Paladins (23-12) scored eight of the first ten points when play resumed, pulling within 12 with 17:37 remaining in regulation and prompting Dunne to use a timeout to regain his team's composure.

Saint Peter's would respond strongly, though, ripping off a 21-4 run highlighted by Enechionyia registering 11 straight Peacock points to re-establish a comfortable cushion, staking themselves to a 60-31 lead with 11:10 on the clock. Furman came back with a 14-4 run to draw within 20 points, but the Peacocks restored order one final time to ensure their lead would be insurmountable.

Aside from Enechionyia, Chazz Patterson; in his final collegiate home game, recorded 13 points, as did sophomore Antwon Portley. Patterson's senior classmates also contributed memorable last outings in front of their home fans, as Quadir Welton amassed 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, while Trevis Wyche had yet another well-rounded game with eight points, nine assists and four steals.

"In my four years, this is probably the best crowd that we ever had," said Wyche in a show of gratitude to the fan support the Peacocks received throughout his four years. "It just felt really good to go out there and just put a performance, and come out with a win."

"We weren't planning on hosting, but once you win the first and you win the second, the higher seed gets the choice if they want to host or not," Dunne intimated, sharing the backstory of how the semifinal game came to be played in Jersey City. "I called our interim athletic director, proposed it to him, he went to his boss, who got in touch with our president. I think they recognized, being that it's a semifinal game, a nationally televised game, the fact that we had good crowds all year; especially weeknights when school is in session, it was something that the community would rally behind. We did, and it was nice. These kids were great, they were handing out flyers in the student center and not embarrassed to do it."

From here, Saint Peter's heads back to the Lone Star State for Friday's title tilt, and does so on the precipice of providing a tangible testimonial for a season that their head coach admitted he would like to see go on forever.

"For these guys to go out like this, I couldn't be happier for them," Dunne proclaimed. "They've given everything. I don't have to beg them to prepare for games, I don't have to beg them to focus on walkthroughs or scouting reports or film. They just do it on their own because they want to win, and they deserve everything they're getting right now."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

NIT Semifinals: Tempo-Free Capsules

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- Three teams have never been this far. One, Georgia Tech, made it on one occasion in 1971, when they eventually finished runner-up to North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets will be back in their second NIT final after handling CSU Bakersfield Tuesday, 76-61, and will meet TCU on Thursday for the championship of the nation’s oldest postseason tournament.

GEORGIA TECH 76, CSU BAKERSFIELD 61
After five possessions, the Yellow Jackets led by a score of 4-1. Both teams average in the high sixties in possessions per game, and contested a consistent pace in the early going. After a turnover-riddled start, CSU Bakersfield finally got into the scorebooks after almost three-and-a-half minutes elapsed.

Georgia Tech zoned actively, with occasional double-teams and traps. The Roadrunners experienced difficulty early, as the zone disrupted the passing lanes and created turnovers. At the 8-minute media timeout, Georgia Tech led 22-18, showing a 116 offensive efficiency.

Down eight, the Roadrunners soon went into a 2-2-1 full court press, not as much to force turnovers as get the tempo to speed up. Having trouble in a half court zone offense, head coach Rod Barnes looked to beat it down the floor in transition before the zone could set up. On the defensive end, too many easy baskets were allowed, as the Yellow Jackets executed the back door with near-flawless precision.

Halftime: Georgia Tech 36, CSU Bakersfield 26
Possessions: 35
Offensive efficiency: Georgia Tech 103, CSU Bakersfield 74

Getting off to a fast start in the second half was crucial for the Roadrunners. At best, they played Georgia Tech even.

CSU Bakersfield pressured after scores and picked up just over the timeline in their half court defense, but Georgia Tech still attacked with poise and the aforementioned back doors were proof of their focus on execution. Offensively, the Roadrunners struggled to get anything going consistently against the Tech zone.

Possessions: 69
Offensive efficiency: Georgia Tech 110, CSU Bakersfield 88

What Georgia Tech did well: Care for the ball. Seven turnovers contributed to a low turnover rate against a defense forcing a 23 percent rate per game.

What CS Bakersfield did well: Hit the boards. The Roadrunners led in offensive rebound percentage, and in raw figures outrebounded, Georgia Tech 39-38.

Ball control index:
Georgia Tech 3.14
CSU Bakersfield 1.20

Georgia Tech is now 21-15. CSU Bakersfield wraps up the season 25-10.

TCU 68, UCF 53
The Golden Knights took an early 6-4 lead after five possessions, consistent with both teams that posted a high-60 average during the season in possessions per game.

UCF’s 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky, at 6-foot-11, posed an interesting matchup. Fall, the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is a post-up option with a soft touch. With Fall in the game, TCU ran more, as his presence makes it difficult to get inside in a half court setting.

Though Fall has a presence. Coach Johnny Dawkins’ Knights still use a lot of ball screen action to free the guards, and are not hesitant to let it fly beyond the arc. UCF led for most of the half, and at times, threatened to pull away. TCU would not go away, though, trailing by just two at halftime, 31-29.

Possessions: TCU 30, UCF 29
Offensive efficiency: UCF 107, TCU 97

TCU scored on their first three second half possessions to start a 7-0 run. The Horned Frogs went on to dominate the first four minutes, 15-3. At the 16-minute timeout, they led 44-34, with momentum decidedly in their favor.

TCU did a great job attacking the basket. JD Miller, a 6-foot-8 forward, set the tone early with a few baseline drives. Kenrich Williams also was a factor hitting a few threes and doing some damage in the paint. The Horned Frogs also got out in transition, running even on long rebounds, while UCF spent the better part of the half trying to regain an offensive rhythm. TCU led by nine with under eight minutes to go in one of those games where the nine-point deficit feels like 19. Down the stretch, the inside work of Brodziansky effectively negated any attempt of a comeback by UCF.

Possessions: TCU 65, UCF 63
Offensive efficiency: TCU 105, UCF 84

What TCU did well: Share the ball. Twenty assists on 26 field goals epitomized the efficient offensive effort with a 77 percent assist rate.

What UCF did well: Care for the ball and block shots. The Golden Knights committed only 10 turnovers, an admirable 16 percent rate. UCF rejected seven shot attempts, all but one of which was registered by Fall.

Ball control index:
TCU 1.83
UCF 1.30

Keys to victory:
Finding a way.  
TCU trailed by 10 with five minutes left in the first half. They went on a run to get within one possession at the break. Their resilience was a factor lauded by coach Jamie Dixon.
   
Different players stepped up. Brodziansky had a big night with his game-high 18 points and nine rebounds, five of which were offensive. Kenrich Williams had a triple-double against Richmond in the quarterfinals and nearly did it again with 14 points, 14 boards and seven assists. JD Miller also added nine points.

Second half start.
The first four minutes of the second half are crucial, and TCU used that time to continue the momentum they had closing out the first half. That run after intermission was decisive, as Central Florida could never recover.

Penetrating and making better decisions.
Dixon said at halftime he urged his team to penetrate more. They did, with excellent results. The TCU mentor was also pleased that once they got in the lane, his group made great decisions and did not force the issue.
   
Rebounding. TCU led in offensive rebound percentage, and in raw numbers, owned the glass by a 44-35 count. Those boards helped the Horned Frogs own a 36-22 edge on points in the paint.
   
TCU is now 23-15. UCF closes out 24-12.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Josh Pastner: "Modern miracle" that Georgia Tech is playing for NIT title

In just five months, Josh Pastner has taken inexperienced Georgia Tech roster and molded it into a winner as Yellow Jackets play for NIT championship Thursday. (Photo by the New York Times)

NEW YORK -- When Josh Pastner took over a Georgia Tech program in the lower echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference, he received several warnings of caution as he began his efforts to resurrect a program once in the same stratosphere with North Carolina, Duke and Maryland in the halcyon days of Bobby Cremins.

The situation in Atlanta was so dire that even CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, a well-respected college basketball insider who does a better job of finding the positive in every program than any of his contemporaries, predicted that the Yellow Jackets would not win one single ACC game.

Five months later, not only did Georgia Tech win a conference game; of which they captured eight, to be exact, they stand on the precipice of a postseason championship after Tuesday's wire-to-wire win over CSU Bakersfield in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals.

"From where we started, and to where we are now, it's been a remarkable year," Pastner reflected as a fairytale ending hardly anyone could have imagined coming so early in the program's current story lies just 40 minutes away on the horizon. "To be sitting here at 21 wins and playing on Thursday night on national television, it's a credit to the young men, to the players."

Weathered in the coaching ranks through seven seasons at Memphis but still just a spry 39 years of age, Pastner is no stranger to pressure-cooker environments at major basketball schools. It was in 2009 that the former Arizona walk-on, with no head coaching experience to his credit, was called on to replace John Calipari after his former boss picked up and left for Lexington to become the savior at the University of Kentucky. What followed was five postseason appearances and 167 wins on Beale Street to maintain the longtime status quo of success that has since followed him to the home of Coca-Cola, the Braves, and a sleeping giant of sorts in the ACC.

"This is important for our program," he said of this season's NIT run. "This is a major rebuild job. We couldn't give any opportunity to continue to get better and work and improve. The continuation of their development is a big plus for us."

Pastner is no stranger to recruiting top talent and cultivating it, starting with the scores of NBA professionals he helped turn out under Lute Olson at Arizona, to the likes of Tyreke Evans and Will Barton; among others, at Memphis. This season, he appears to have found a gem in freshman Josh Okogie, whose buzzer-beating layup upset then-14th-ranked Notre Dame in January, and turned 6-foot-10 junior Ben Lammers into a burgeoning big man who averages close to a double-double every game. Next year, the Yellow Jackets return the bulk of this year's rotation while welcoming a talented guard in New York's Jose Alvarado, currently of Christ the King High School in Middle Village. Until then, he and his program bask in an opportunity that even the most ambitious of dreamers could not have foreseen happening so quickly.

"I've said it many times, it's a modern miracle," said Pastner of how far the Yellow Jackets have come. "I can remember like yesterday watching our first workouts. If you told me (then) we're playing on Thursday for the NIT championship, I would say you're crazy. I remember at spring meetings, multiple coaches from the league just said, 'It's going to be a hard year for you. You're never going to experience the amount of losing that you're going to go through this year.'"

"It's been a heck of a season. Yes, of course you've got to have good players, but then they've got to be as a team, and when we're in areas where we're playing teams that have better talent than we do, some of our wins have come because that night, we were the better team. It's been a remarkable journey, and a great lesson for me to see it all unfold."

Baker Dunleavy introduced as Quinnipiac head coach, Daniels not transferring

Flanked by athletic director Greg Amodio and president John Lahey, Baker Dunleavy is officially named head coach at Quinnipiac, Bobcats' third coach at Division I level. (Photo by Vincent Simone/NYC Buckets)

A new era has officially begun in Hamden, as Quinnipiac introduced Baker Dunleavy as its head men's basketball coach Tuesday afternoon.

"It was very clear to me that there is a foundation in place at this school that shares a lot of what I believe," the 34-year-old Dunleavy said when accepting his first career head coaching position. "I really look forward to embracing this community and getting to know the people in this program."

The son of former NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy, now the head coach at Tulane; and younger brother of former Duke standout and current NBA veteran Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Baker Dunleavy comes to Quinnipiac by way of Villanova, where he spent the past seven seasons rising through the ranks of Jay Wright's staff, first as the director of basketball operations before a four-year run as associate head coach. As Wright's right-hand man, he led the Wildcats to four consecutive Big East Conference regular season championships, and most notably an epic victory over North Carolina in last April's national championship game. He also enjoyed a four-year playing career on the Main Line, with a brief career at Merrill Lynch bookending his time as a student-athlete and coach.

"We were interested in finding an individual who shared and could lead us to our aspirational goals," athletic director Greg Amodio remarked when introducing Dunleavy as the successor to Tom Moore, who was fired on March 7 after a ten-year tenure at the helm of the Bobcats. "As we moved through the search, we kept coming back to one individual who exemplified the traits necessary to realize our aspirational goals, and that individual was Baker Dunleavy; someone who was described as thoughtful, calculated, a great recruiter, a passionate educator, a fierce competitor, a leader of men, and a winner."

Dunleavy's first task will be to mold Quinnipiac into a winner while simultaneously keeping pieces of a promising future intact. It was reported on Monday that freshmen Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss were seeking a release from the university, but both are presently noncommittal about their intentions for next season. A third player, junior forward Chaise Daniels, was also reportedly requesting a release, but took to social media to refute rumors of his departure.









Dunleavy also announced his coaching staff Tuesday, with former Hofstra and Fordham head coach Tom Pecora headlining a trio of assistants who are each, in some way, connected to the Villanova coaching tree that Dunleavy himself is a branch of. Pecora returns to the coaching ranks following a two-year stint in the broadcast booth as a color commentator for various sports networks.

Shaun Morris comes to Quinnipiac from Boston University, where he served as an assistant to Joe Jones, who worked on Wright's staff at Villanova before assuming the head coaching position at Columbia. The third member of Dunleavy's staff is Anthony Goins, most recently a member of the coaching staff at Yale; whose head coach, James Jones, is Joe Jones' older brother.

Monday, March 27, 2017

East Regional and Bridgeport Regional: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK, and BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Three days in a weekend to epitomize March Madness. Along the way, there were logistical issues with New Jersey Transit and the trip up the New England Thruway to the Nutmeg State. All that was soon forgotten. The memory stays embedded on the games that were witnessed, action and drama that transpired.
Friday night at Madison Square Garden treated us to two distinctly different games. In the opener, South Carolina had it all over Baylor, earning their advancement to the Elite Eight. The final game of the night saw a contest everyone will be talking about for quite some time. Florida showed how long four seconds truly is, as the Gators’ Chris Chiozza sped up the floor and launched a running, buzzer-beating three-pointer to send Florida to a regional final and Chiozza to the back pages of newspapers.

In the women’s Bridgeport Regional, we were reminded you must play the game. On paper, Maryland had the edge. On the floor, Oregon was better executing and forcing turnovers to advance to the Elite Eight. The second game saw UConn withstand a good challenge from UCLA and show why they are the most dominant team in the land, now winners of 111 straight following Monday’s latest triumph over Oregon.

Sunday gave the packed Garden another classic in every sense of the word. South Carolina and Florida battled hard, with a trip to Phoenix hanging in the balance. With three minutes to go, the score was tied, 180 seconds separating two teams from a coveted trip to the last weekend of the college season. South Carolina drew first blood, then their lockdown defense, widely discussed by fans and observers during the weekend, took over. The Gamecocks’ 77-70 victory was closer than the final margin hinted.

South Carolina had their first Final Four ticket punched. In the end, it was a reaffirmation of a timeworn principle: Defense wins games. Great plays and individual scoring efforts aside, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks proved to be the story.

The final analysis gave us different types of games and styles from the participating teams. From the Big Apple to Bridgeport, 75 miles north, a common denominator throughout was unforgettable excitement; and of course, defense.

An hour away from tipoff Friday, an anxious crowd awaits outside Madison Square Garden:
Wisconsin's cheerleaders, already checked in, prepare to ascend the escalators to the Garden floor:
South Carolina and Baylor, moments away from player introductions:
A look at one of MSG's many souvenir stands, a prime target of fans eager to commemorate their experience:
Chris Chiozza's buzzer-beater, as viewed by the Florida pep band:
Outside Webster Bank Arena, site of the NCAA Women's Tournament Bridgeport Regional:
Game action between Maryland and Oregon:
Ray with former UConn star and No. 3 overall WNBA Draft pick Morgan Tuck, now a member of the Connecticut Sun:
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma takes the floor as the Huskies match wits with UCLA:
UCLA's cheer and dance teams watch as the Bruins' alma mater is played:
Madison Square Garden before Sunday's East Regional final:
South Carolina's Hassani Gravett, in mid-throwdown during pregame warmups:
The Garden, as seen from the Chase Bridge:
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin cuts down the net after his Gamecocks punched their ticket to the Final Four:
The Gamecock celebration, in full swing:
Cocky, the South Carolina mascot, poses for a victory selfie:
The Garden jumbotron with one final memento:

Baker Dunleavy named head coach at Quinnipiac; Dixon/Kiss/Daniels to transfer

Quinnipiac has found its successor to Tom Moore, naming Baker Dunleavy as its new head men's basketball coach.

Dunleavy, 34, becomes the Bobcats' third coach since the program transitioned to Division I. He follows a 10-year run by Moore that was largely successful based on his 162-150 overall record, but marked by struggle in the past two seasons, where Quinnipiac amassed just 19 wins against 42 losses.

The son of longtime NBA head coach and current Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy, Baker brings a wealth of experience at a high level to Quinnipiac, having spent seven years on the staff of Jay Wright at Villanova. His stint on the Main Line began as the Wildcats' director of basketball operations before rising through the ranks to associate head coach in 2013. His tenure at Villanova saw him help develop all-Big East talent the likes of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Maalik Wayns, JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson, and was highlighted by the Wildcats' epic national championship victory over North Carolina in 2016.

Dunleavy also played at Villanova, graduating in 2006 and reaching a regional final in his senior season on what had been regarded at the time as the best Wildcat team in the Wright era. He inherits a Quinnipiac roster once thought to have a promising foundation for success in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but now rife with major question marks as each of the Bobcats' top three scorers this past season; freshman guards Mikey Dixon and Peter Kiss, and junior forward Chaise Daniels, have each requested releases that will permit them to seek a transfer. All three are expected to obtain them in the near future.

Quinnipiac will introduce Dunleavy in a 1 p.m. press conference Tuesday afternoon from the TD Bank Sports Center, and the incoming head coach has been rumored to be in the process of forming a coaching staff. Multiple sources have suggested Dunleavy will look within the Villanova family to fill at least one vacancy, and the New Haven Register's Dave Borges has already hinted that Tom Pecora; the former head coach at Hofstra and Fordham who has spent the past two seasons as a television analyst, is under consideration for an assistant coach position.

South Carolina 77, Florida 70: Tempo-Free Recap

South Carolina celebrates after claiming East Regional championship over Florida. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

NEW YORK -- A trip to the Final Four was on the line at Madison Square Garden, as seventh-seeded South Carolina faced No. 4 seed Florida in the East Regional final.
In a thriller with 14 lead changes and 10 ties that, appropriately enough, came down to execution in the final minutes, South Carolina defeated Florida 77-70 to earn their first-ever appearance in a national semifinal.

First five possessions:
Florida: Field goal, field goal, missed field goal, turnover, turnover
South Carolina: Field goal, turnover, turnover, missed field goal, field goal

The 4-4 tie at the 16-47 mark of the opening stanza was an inauspicious start for South Carolina, who committed turnovers in two of their first three possessions. The Gamecocks’ defense responded by forcing turnovers on back-to-back Florida possessions. The pace soon turned moderate, more favorable to South Carolina, as the Gators regularly enjoy a 70-possession tempo.

First half observations: South Carolina denied passes, doubling on baseline drives and trapping off ball screens. As impressive as Frank Martin’s defense is, Florida still owned a 100 offensive efficiency (14 points on 14 possessions) at the 12-minute timeout. Obviously, the Gators have many ways to put points on the board.

Sindarius Thornwell was virtually automatic in the paint, but Florida’s main threat for most of the half was senior Justin Leon. A flurry of late three-pointers put the Gators ahead by four. To respond, Martin employed a zone for a few possessions, then half court traps, changing defenses in an attempt to get the hot-shooting Gators out of a rhythm.

Halftime: Florida 40, South Carolina 33
Possessions: 35
Offensive efficiency: Florida 114, South Carolina 94

First four minutes of second half:
Always important, but especially crucial on this day, given what is at stake. South Carolina won the segment, 10-4, to cut their deficit to one at the 16-minute mark. Naturally, the job was done on offense. The story of these few minutes was defense. Even in their stance, you could detect there was a bounce in South Carolina’s defensive step. The Gamecocks contested and limited Florida to one shot during that stretch.  

Maik Kotsar, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Estonia, is doing a nice job. Kotsar sets screens, is a viable target in the low post, and is not afraid to assert himself on offense. His putback with just under 12 minutes to play put South Carolina back in the lead. Soon after, Florida cooled off considerably from long range. In fairness, give credit to the South Carolina defense as well. At the 8-minute media timeout, Florida was shooting 30 percent from distance for the day.

With three minutes to go in regulation, the score was tied at 63. Down the stretch, every South Carolina possession included a touch by Thornwell. Florida went the entire second half without a three. Nevertheless, the Gators had done admirable work in the paint and despite the perimeter struggles, were still alive. Up four and going to the free throw line with a minute to go, the Gamecocks could feel it. In a cruel irony, Chris Chiozza; Florida’s hero on Friday, lost the ball on a penetration trailing and hoping to cut the deficit to two. South Carolina converted on a Duane Notice breakaway dunk to provide the exclamation point and punch their ticket to Phoenix.

Possessions: South Carolina 68, Florida 70
Offensive efficiency: South Carolina 113, Florida 100

Four Factors:
Effective field goal percentage: South Carolina 51, Florida 48
Free throw rate: South Carolina 59, Florida 23
Offensive rebound percentage: South Carolina 38 Florida 36
Turnover rate: South Carolina 16, Florida 23

Leading Scorers:
South Carolina: Sindarius Thornwell, 26 points (Effectiveness factor: 32)
Florida: Justin Leon, 18 points (Effectiveness factor: 24)

What South Carolina did well: Stop Florida’s three-point shooting in the second half. Gators scorched the nets at a 7-of-12 clip in the first half. Over the final 20 minutes, they came up empty, going 0-for-14.

What Florida did well: Hit the boards. They came up short in offensive rebound percentage while outrebounding the Gamecocks 13-11 on the offensive end and leading 14-10 in second chance points.

Ball control index:
South Carolina 1.00
Florida 1.13

NOTES: Florida’s Kasey Hill led all with five assists. Chris Silva of South Carolina led all players with nine rebounds. Florida’s leader under the boards was Kevarrius Hayes, with eight.

Besides his 26 points, Thornwell also added seven rebounds. South Carolina did another good job of getting themselves in a position to draw fouls. They shot 23-of-31, but did miss a few down the stretch as they were nursing a one-possession lead. Florida was 13-of-14 from the charity stripe. South Carolina is now 26-10 and moving on to the Final Four, where they will meet Gonzaga for a spot in the national championship. Florida ends their season at 27-9.