NCAA Final Four Coaches Plus NIT Championship Preview
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT FINAL FOUR NOTEBOOK FEATURES SOME COACH TALK ...
PLUS THE NIT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW TOO AS STANFORD-MIAMI BATTLES AT MSG
Okay, so let's repeat that old quote about the "more things change, the more they stay the same."
Case in point is this 2014-15 college basketball season - the preseason Associated Press Top 25 rankings included Kentucky at #1, Wisconsin at #3, Duke at #4 and Michigan State a bit down the ranks at #18.
Now fast forward to this weekend's NCAA Tournament Final Four in Indianapolis and there's Kentucky as 6-to-5 betting favorites to win it all, there's Wisconsin and Duke each at listed prices of 7-to-2 to cop this year's crown and there's Michigan State at 8-to-1.
Looks about right, eh?
In any event, there's little doubt that all four of the participating head coaches have further elevated their individual status while heading into this weekend's games at Lucas Oil Stadium and - while we don't wish to be part of the party line on CBS/Turner where the announcers and analysts have elevated these sideline generals to godlike figures -- the following facts do remain:
John Calipari, Kentucky - The 38-and-oh Wildcats face the most intense scrutiny while heading into Saturday night's game against 5-point underdog Wisconsin but it's tough to find any criticism for "Coach Cal" who wisely went to the well time and again to get star C Karl-Anthony Towns the ball down low against single coverage in last weekend's thrilling 68-66 win against Notre Dame. The 'Cats didn't show any signs of panic and that figures to suit them well this weekend if there's any crunch time at all. Meanwhile, the scoreboard on Calipari says one national title with Kentucky in 2012 and a runner-up finish with 'em last year plus that runner-up finish with Memphis back in 2008.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin - There's been some talk that this crusty coaching "lifer" isn't happy being compared to the remaining Final Four coaches who've all earned at least one national championship apiece but here's a shout-out to the boss-man of the 35-3 Badgers who has been wise enough to let his guys run more and be more experimental on the offensive end of the floor where the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker have been given Ryan's blessing to bomb it up from deep providing they feel good about their shots. Hey, it remains possible that either Calipari or Ryan could be playing for a national championship come Monday night just hours after being advised they were voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Wow!
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke - This is Final Four #12 for the great "Coach K" who's already bagged championships in 1991, '92, 2001 and 2010 but what's different for the Blue Devils' chief-of-staff is that he's turned over the floor work to a bunch of kids as freshmen C Jahlil Okafor, PG Tyus Jones and tourney sensation F Justise Winslow run the show with nary any sign of senior leadership. The $64,000 question now is can these kids rise up, play stellar defense and give Krzyzewski his fifth national championship or will the kids play like frazzled teens here and leave the Blue Devils short of their appointed mission? C'mon, have the Dookies gotten rattled yet in this year's tourney?
Tom Izzo, Michigan State - Amazingly this is the seventh Final Four in the Izzo Era that began back in 1999 but this really is the most improbable Final Four showing of all considering this is one of the country's worst free-throw shooting teams, they haven't been out-rebounding anyone in this man's tourney and - let's face it - they needed Louisville to miss a last-second free throw last Sunday just to force overtime en route to Michigan State's nail-biting 76-70 win against the gritty Redbirds. Izzo's lone title came way back in 2000 - so if you wish to "take a shot" at him for not winning since, well, go right ahead but when you look at what college coaches can squeeze out meaningful tourney wins the line in front of Izzo is so painfully short.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers steamrolled their way through the month of March with loads of College Basketball winners and there's more on the way now that we're into April! Get in now on the NCAA Tournament's Final Four, tonight's NIT Championship Game from New York City plus the remaining CBI and CIT Tournies too - just go online or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Hey, we're also banging out lots of NBA Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month.
NIT TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Madison Square Garden - New York City, NY
STANFORD (23-13) vs. MIAMI (25-12) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
There's history to be made here if you happen to be on either side of the aisle: On one hand, Stanford is gunning for its third NIT title overall and second in four years as this now senior class looks to "bookend" NIT championships after the then-freshmen class won it all in the NITs back in 2012 while the flip side of the proverbial coin is that Miami is looking for its first-ever NIT crown but to get "mission accomplished" here than Jim Larranaga's troops will have to prevail without at least one key member.
Remember that Miami roared back from an 11-point first-half deficit to best 1-point favorite Temple 60-57 this past Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City despite the lengthy absence of seven-foot C Tonye Jekiri who took a follow-through hand to the face following an Owls' field-goal attempt - Jekiro never did return and he's already been pronounced "out" for this finale and now Larranaga is keeping fingers crossed that he'll at least get back injured PG Angel Rodriguez who just missed his third consecutive game with a wrist injury.
True, do-it-all Sheldon McClellan (16 points and 11 rebounds against Temple in the NIT semifinal round) canned two gigantic triples in the game's final eight minutes to help rescue the Hurricanes who have also beaten the likes of Alabama and host Richmond in this post-season but McClellan may have to play all 40 minutes here if Rodriguez is a no-go.
On the flip side, Stanford star Chasson Randle - now the school's all-time leading scorer following his 24-point performance in Tuesday's electric 67-60 win against 3.5-point dog Old Dominion - must remain the bell-cow for the Cardinal who somehow blew a 21-point first-half lead only to power up down the stretch versus the Monarchs who actually trailed 15-0 before it finally rang the bell.
Stanford dodged some major bullets - Randle picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half and C Stefan Nastic's 17 points made up for some less-than-sterling showings elsewhere on the Cardinal roster - but a major key there was Stanford committed just four second-half turnovers and managed to regain its footing before it ever got too late.
Gotta believe this NIT Championship Game will have its fair share of "runs" and "spurts" too - but does Miami's McClellan get the "last laugh" or is Stanford gonna cap 2015 the same way it capped 2012?
Spread Notes - Stanford is 16-19-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this season while Miami enters this title tilt at a dead-even but vig-losing 17-17-1 spreadwise.
NOTE: Get our NCAA Final 4 Game Previews in tomorrow's Jim Sez.
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