Monday, August 31, 2020

RIP Big John

 We woke up to the news that former Georgetown head coach John Thompson has passed away over night. This came on the heels of Arizona’s former coach Lute Olson passing away late last week. It’s been a rough week for the college basketball coaching fraternity.

Olson’s passing was a shocker and reminded a select few of us about why we loved March Madness. Keith Jennings and East Tennessee State and Steve Nash and Santa Clara sprung to mind as we remembered Olson. That probably isn’t fair. He won a national championship with a 19-9 team, defeating 3 1-seeds in their way. He made 5 Final 4’s. But those of us of a certain age remember those shocking defeats.

Big John’s passing sort of shook me a bit. Hoya Paranoia and his teams of the 1980’s defined the era even with only 1 national title. Big Monday was all about that early Big East game on ESPN. It was must watch TV for college basketball fans and it was during these formative years for me that I fell in love with the sport. Those Hoya teams were mesmerizing.

As a Milwaukee suburban kid, Georgetown was not the team for you or so you’d think. Our local teams were largely irrelevant for most of the decade. Part or me wonders if something of that outlaw DNA of Marquette and Al McGuire somehow made Georgetown attractive to me but I can’t recollect any reason why that would be the case but I digress.

Thompson’s teams embodied many of the characteristics of those McGuire teams nonetheless. They were intimidating and played with a casual swagger. They knew they were good and knew teams feared them. They were cool, right down the t-shirts under the uniforms.

As Patrick Ewing graduated, something 97% of Thompson’s players did, they never matched those 4 years but would sniff a few Final 4’s afterwards. Still, those teams resonate until today. John Thompson and the Hoyas helped create the Big East and college basketball as must see TV, any night of the week. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse were hated and you loved to see them lose but they were more the snobby rich kid getting taken down a peg. Georgetown was the bully.

I suppose that’s why I always found them interesting. They were the bully. They scared people and John Thompson scared people because they weren’t the norm. He wasn’t afraid to be cocky and he wasn’t afraid to challenge the NCAA. He was a black man with a largely black team and it scared a lot of people. That’s the truth. It’s puzzling we haven’t had another John Thompson in college basketball. It’s also sad.

As a Wisconsinite, it gets tiring being lectured about a certain institution doing things the right way. My hunch is a lot of those people would tell me John Thompson didn’t do things the right way. Well, he won big without scandal, graduated his kids and fought for equality but never asked for anything other than the opportunity to fail. There weren’t many that did it better and weren’t many that did it the right way like John Thompson. College basketball needs a lot more John Thompson’s in it.  Rest In Peace, Big John and Hoya Saxa

Monday, April 6, 2020

Final Four

Florida State vs. Duke- Duke controlled the game from the opening tip, winning 84-77. FSU made a few runs in the 2nd half but Duke always managed to maintain a lead behind the steady play of Tre Jones.

Kansas vs. Gonzaga- The Zags avoided another overtime game but came up short against Kansas, 76-74. The game went back and forth as expected but in the end, Devon Dotson was too much.


Duke vs. Kansas- Duke and Kansas met for the 4th time in the Final 4. Duke had won 2 of the 3 meetings, including the title game in 1992. In this mythical matchup, Kansas wins 78-76 and gets Bill Self his second national title. He immediately resigns and takes a job as the new head coach of the Phoenix Suns. Kansas turns to Mike Miller of Memphis to take over.

See you next Fall

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Elite 8: South and West

1. Baylor vs. 3. Duke- In a rematch of the 2010 Elite 8 matchup, Duke won this one in simpler fashion with an 81-66 win. Duke jumped out early and though Baylor would threaten from time-to-time, they never really made Duke sweat. Tre Jones continued his brilliant March with 19 points and 7 assists and no turnovers. Duke would be returning to the Final 4 for the first time since 2015.

1. Gonzaga vs. 3. Creighton- In one of the great tourney games in history, Gonzaga held off Creighton, winning 106-102 in triple overtime and became the first team ever to make a Final 4 while playing 3 separate overtime games. The Zags held a 13-point halftime lead but the BlueJays kept coming in the 2nd half. They finally tied it at the buzzer on a Ty-shon Alexander 3. Creighton grabbed a 6-point lead with 1:37 left in the second overtime only for missed free throws to doom them.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Elite 8: Midwest and East

1. Kansas vs. 7. Houston- It appeared for a long stretch that the Cougars were going to be the latest team to steal a Final Four from Bill Self and the Jayhawks. Instead, KU used a 10-2 run over the final minute plus to shock Houston and earn Bill Self and his Jayhawks another Final 4. Kansas 72-66 win meant a 4th Final 4 for Self. Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble all game but Devon Dotson kept the Jayhawks in the game and cemented himself in Jayhawks history with a 26-point effort.

2. Florida State vs. 5. BYU- BYU was looking to get to its first Final 4 in program history and despite shooting well, they couldn’t slow down the Seminoles enough who got Leonard Hamilton his first ever Final Four. The game was tied at half but FSU steadily pulled away over the final 8 minutes, winning 82-75. BYU has now played in 30 tournaments without making the Final 4. This was their 4th Elite 8 but first since 1981 when Danny Ainge was playing. This would be the Seminoles 2nd Final 4, having made it in 1972.

Friday, March 27, 2020


1. Baylor vs. 5. Butler- In a rematch of an early season matchup, Baylor prevailed once again, using its size to dominate inside, winning 62-57. Kamar Baldwin kept Butler within shouting distance throughout the game in his final appearance as a Bulldog. He scored 23 but Baylor made it to the Elite 8 for the first time in a decade.

2. Maryland vs. 3. Duke- In the Sweet 16 game that generated the most buzz, Duke overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to beat the Terps 80-76. Tee Jones continued his sizzling March, scoring 17 with 11 assists and clamping down on Anthony Cowan who had a miserable second half. It was deja vu for Terps fans who saw this game many times in the ACC.

1. Gonzaga vs. 4. Oregon- The matchup between Pacific Northwest combatants did not disappoint as the Zags won another overtime thriller, 93-89. The lead changed hands a dozen times in the final ten minutes and overtime before Gonzaga went up 88-85 with a minute left in overtime on a 3 by Corey Kispert. The Zags move on to their 4th Elite 8 since 2015.

3. Creighton vs. 7. Iowa- The West region provided another thriller as Creighton held off Iowa, 95-92 in overtime. Marcus Zegarowski made 3 3’s in overtime to pace the BlueJays as his comeback from knee surgery continued to inspire. Hawkeyes big man extraordinaire, Luke Garza had 40 and 20 for the Hawkeyes but it wouldn’t be enough. Creighton’s electric March moved on.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sweet 16: Midwest & East

1. Kansas vs. 13. Stephen F. Austin- It’s always great when a 13 or 12 seed makes a Sweet 16 until they get themselves a 1-seed. That proved true again as Kansas coasted to a stress-free, 85-54 victory.

3. Kentucky vs. 7. Houston- In a matchup that saw multiple lead changes, Houston eventually pulled the upset, 68-67. Kentucky had a possession late to get the lead but a wild shot from Nate Sestina was the best they could do. Houston, now a top-10 KenPom team, reached their first Elite 8 since 1984.

1. Dayton vs. 5. BYU- BYU and Dayton player a thriller, with BYU winning in overtime, 87-86. Despite 49 points from Obi Toppin, BYU’s TJ Haws scored 33 points himself. Dayton lead by 14 at half but BYU made 12 3’s in the second half including one by Jake Toolson at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

2. Florida State vs. 11. East Tennessee State- ETSU wouldn’t go down without a fight, pushing the Seminoles to the limit before FSU put the game away at the line late, winning 79-72. Trent Forrest made 8 free throws in the final minute plus. FSU made their 4th Elite 8 and 2nd in 3 years.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Round of 32, Midwest & East

1. Kansas vs. 9. Marquette- The Markus Howard experience came to a crashing end as Kansas pummeled Marquette in a fashion similar to their 2003 Final 4 matchup. Kansas jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead and cruised to an easy 87-63 win.

5. Auburn vs. 13. Stephen F. Austin- The Lumberjacks Cinderella run continued as they shocked Auburn at the buzzer, winning 71-70. Auburn has played over their record for most of the season but this was still a shock. SFA senior Kevon Harris hit a runner at the horn and March proved its madness.

3. Kentucky vs. 6. West Virginia- Kentucky and West Virginia played a physical, shot-making averse game that saw UK come out with a 55-50 victory in a game no one will ever watch again.

2. Villanova vs. 7 Houston- In a mild upset, Houston beat Villanova 75-72 in a back and forth game where no team had more than a 6 point lead.

1. Dayton vs. 8. Virginia- A popular pick to make a deep run despite evidence to the contrary, Virginia was never in the game and failed to break 40 points in an embarrassing 71-38 loss. Any questions about Dayton were put to rest in this rout.

4. Michigan State vs. 5. BYU- Michigan State had made a bad habit of falling behind by many throughout the year and did so again against the Cougars, who jumped out to a 17-point halftime lead. The Spartans narrowed it to a single possession game with a minute left but BYU made their free throws and won 72-68.

11. East Tennessee State vs. 14. New Mexico State- Only 7 people picked this matchup in ESPN’s Bracket Challenge but all 7 had East Tennessee winning as well. Sure enough, the Buccs, like their NFL counterparts good week continued with a relatively stress-free 73-62 win and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997.

2. Florida State vs. 7. St. Mary’s- In one of the better games of the opening weekend, FSU held off St. Mary’s in overtime, 85-82. Florida State had a ten point lead with five minutes left before the Gaels rallied.