Dallas Colleges: 2014 Final Four

Home Court: Year of the Freshman ends

April, 8, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You could see it from the start. You didn't even have to look that hard.

It was Kentucky's third game of the season, its first against serious competition, and the Wildcats looked lost. Its transition defense was nonexistent. Its offensive sets were a jumbled mess. Its opponent, Michigan State, had taken to Nov. 12's United Center stage with veteran aplomb: The Spartans were defending in sweeping collective movements, pushing forward with fluidity and pace. The Wildcats entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country, wielding the best recruiting class in modern college hoops history, with nothing less than a perfect 40-0 season on the lips of its fans. Instead, John Calipari's team looked like what it was: A bunch of self-aware kids very publicly feeling each other out.

And it almost didn't matter. In exactly three minutes and 27 seconds, Kentucky exploded a 13-point second-half deficit into a one-point Michigan State lead. With five minutes left, Julius Randle, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds on 13 field goals shots and 15 free throw attempts, tied the game at 66-all. Tom Izzo's team, the more cohesive and polished group in every visible way, found itself holding on for dear life.

The Spartans' grip held. Gary Harris and Keith Appling made two huge back-to-back buckets, and late free throws sealed the win. The final result obscured nothing; you could see it all then. Even in a larval state, the youngest, most freshman-packed team in the country was a primal force of nature.

In the same gym two hours later, Andrew Wiggins would dunk Kansas past the gorgeous scoring of Duke's Jabari Parker. Everything we had been breathlessly told about both players was true. Kentucky's promise had already lived up to its hype. One week in to the 2013-14 season, there was no other conclusion to draw.

This would be The Year of the Freshman.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Ollie leads new era of coaches

April, 8, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Richard Hamilton and Ray Allen, NBA veterans and former Connecticut standouts, were standing 15 feet from the podium as the Huskies -- their Huskies -- celebrated atop the podium at AT&T Stadium while confetti fell from the rafters.

Connecticut, a 7-seed that lost to Louisville three times during the regular season by a combined 55 points and finished third in the new American Athletic Conference, had just won the national title by defeating the rumbling Kentucky Wildcats team 60-54 on Monday night. "Man, just imagine if you'd gone to Las Vegas three weeks ago and ...," Hamilton asked.

Before he could finish, Allen began to nod. "You'd win money," the Miami Heat star said.

Few outside Storrs, Conn., thought the Huskies would be here. Of the 11 million-plus people who entered a bracket into ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge, .016 percent even had the Huskies and Wildcats facing off in the championship.

UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who represents a new breed of young, relatable coaches, thought this was attainable, though. And his players believed him when he told them that they could win a national championship a year after the NCAA blocked the program from the postseason due to APR failures.

He's been the motivator, the teacher and the leader all year.

And now, he's just the winner.

To continue reading, click here.

UConn never stopped believing

April, 8, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Believe, that's the word everyone used. The players, the coach, his wife, the mothers. Everyone associated with Connecticut kept coming back to believe.

It's a powerful tool, the power of conviction, the kind that can change the world, and yes, rebuild a basketball program.

Two years ago, Kevin Ollie told his Connecticut players that they were going to get through APR sanctions, a coaching change and player defections and come out on
the other side, a stronger, better team.

And they believed him.

Three months ago, after the Huskies lost to Louisville at home, Shabazz Napier gathered his teammates in the locker room and told them a crazy tale. He told them they were going to end the season holding the national championship trophy.

And they believed him.

Two months ago, Ryan Boatright went home to bury his cousin, a man who was more like a brother than a cousin. His mother sent her boy back to college and told him not to worry, that Arin Williams would be with him.

And he believed her.

Now, finally maybe everyone will believe in UConn. Counted out of virtually every game since this NCAA tournament began, the Huskies are now the national champions, 60-54 winners over Kentucky.

A year ago, the Huskies weren't allowed to play in the tournament.

And now they own it.

To continue reading this story, click here.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Khalid El-Amin, the Connecticut point guard whose college career ended 14 years ago, sprinted over to former coach Jim Calhoun and gave him a bear hug in the victor’s locker room.

Ray Allen, who started checking the Miami Heat’s schedule a couple of weeks ago to see if he could attend the championship game, walked around UConn’s locker room congratulating the newest Huskies to be crowned NCAA champions.

So did Richard Hamilton, another former UConn star, who played 14 NBA seasons.

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
AP Photo/Eric GayFormer UConn coach Jim Calhoun had to recruit Kevin Ollie to his staff as Ollie weighed a coaching offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Calhoun, the man who built this program, sat in a quiet corner of the Huskies’ locker room, beaming proudly as he talked about Kevin Ollie and his hand-picked protege’s ability to maintain the program’s lofty standard.

UConn beat Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night at AT&T Stadium to win its fourth national championship since 1999.

No program has won more in that span.

“No matter who you are and what you are, you always want an affirmation of things,” Calhoun said. “We have had a great last 25 years. We’re probably one of the top five winningest programs, and that’s important.

“But teams like North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky have been incredible for 50 years. We want to keep that thing going. I never wanted our program to be about one player, one team or one coach.

“That’s what Dean Smith taught me when I was young coach at Northeastern.”

Obviously, Calhoun took the lesson to heart.

Hamilton starred on the 1999 championship team. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon led the Huskies to their 2004 title and Kemba Walker starred on the 2011 team.

This season’s team belong to Shabazz Napier, who was sensational in the title game with 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists.

Any program can have a good run when blessed with a special talent. But the best programs keep their rosters stocked with players capable of leading them to championships.

Such is the case at UConn, where they expect to compete for the championship every season.

“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, 'No, we're UConn,'" Ollie said. “I mean this is what we do. We are born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.

“We’ve got four now and Coach Calhoun started a tradition and my whole coaching staff is from UConn. We’ve all been through the same things. We love this university. It’s always family first with us and they kept believing.”

Ollie’s attitude is why Calhoun wanted his former player to replace him when he retired two years ago.

Ollie played point guard for the Huskies from 1992-95, but he always returned to the community during the NBA offseason, so he has been connected to the program for more than 20 years.

Ollie can communicate with Cliff Robinson, UConn’s first great player under Calhoun, and Walker because he was an assistant coach on 2011 team. Ollie understands what it means to be a Husky, and Calhoun knew Ollie would adhere to the ideals and standards that he established when he arrived before the 1986 season.

Before he accepted the Huskies' job, Ollie weighed an offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He could either be the assistant director of pro personnel or Scott Brooks’ assistant coach.

“I had to recruit him again,” Calhoun said. “I told him I’d already recruited him from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, so I shouldn’t have to recruit him again.”

But Calhoun did, and once again, Calhoun persuaded Ollie to come to UConn.

“The transition worried me,” Calhoun said. “Kevin kept the things that are important to UConn and the things important to Kevin Ollie and made it work.”

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Ollie said he thought about his mentor.

He thought about the trust Calhoun bestowed on him to maintain the program. And he thought about the lessons Calhoun taught him about being a man and a father.

“He’s right there beside me,” Ollie said. “I told you, I’m not filling his shoes. I can’t fill his shoes.

“He just a great resource for me -- to have a person that loves me and believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. A lot of people questioned me about getting this job; he never did.”

It’s why both men were smiling broadly at the end of the night.

Video: UConn's remarkable tourney run

April, 8, 2014

Andy Katz and Jeff Goodman discuss UConn's run to the national championship and the historical context of the program's recent history.

What's next for UConn and Kentucky?

April, 8, 2014

John Gasaway and Jeff Goodman of ESPN Insider took a look at what's next for Connecticut Insider and Kentucky Insider. Here's a look at those stories:

Why UConn could repeat

Congratulations, Connecticut. You turned the bracket upside down and won this whole thing as a No. 7 seed. No one saw this coming but you, and you proved all the doubters wrong. Savor the moment, because it doesn't get any better than this.

Now the hard part. Can you repeat?

Obviously, when you lose a first-team All-American like Shabazz Napier, your team will face some question marks the following season. Kevin Ollie will also lose three additional seniors besides Napier: Niels Giffey, Lasan Kromah and Tyler Olander. Still, I think Connecticut has a surprisingly good shot at being just as strong in 2014-15 as they were this season -- provided Ollie gets one key break.

To continue reading, click here. Insider

Calipari departure is all that can slow UK

With a coach as successful and high-profile as John Calipari, the rumor mill seldom stops churning. And regardless of the credibility of the rumor, the specter that Cal could someday turn away from the Kentucky Wildcats for another opportunity is enough to keep 'Cats fans on edge.

The latest rumor began on Twitter courtesy of former Kentucky guard Rex Chapman just an hour or so prior to the national championship contest, noting a departure to the L.A. Lakers.

Calipari denied it to Jeannine Edwards after his team lost the national title game to Connecticut. That should give some comfort to Kentucky fans who came close to hanging another championship banner in Rupp Arena. But so long as Calipari stands on the sidelines, the Wildcats will almost always have strong odds to add more hardware to an already well-stocked trophy case. In truth, Calipari's departure is the only thing that can slow down Big Blue Nation.

To continue reading, click here. Insider

Social Media Moment: UConn wins title

April, 8, 2014

So what was everyone saying on social media following UConn's win over Kentucky to win the national championship?

Well, for one, former UConn star Kemba Walker was pretty excited.

For the rest of what was happening, check out the Social Media Moment.

Top stats to know: Another title for UConn

April, 8, 2014

Shabazz Napier made big shots every time Connecticut needed them.
The unlikeliest champions of them all are the Connecticut Huskies, the first No. 7 seed to win a men’s basketball championship.

Connecticut always seems to find a way, and once again on Monday night it did, led by the best player on the floor in point guard Shabazz Napier.

The history
Connecticut has won four national titles, tied with Duke for fifth most all-time (trails UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana).

Connecticut is 4-0 all-time in national championship games, the best undefeated record for any school. Connecticut’s four-game national championship winning streak is tied for third longest in NCAA tournament history.

The Huskies are also now 6-0 in Final Four games in the state of Texas.

Kevin Ollie is the 12th coach to win a national championship at his alma mater (the first since Roy Williams in 2005 and 2009).

Ollie is the first coach to win a national championship within his first two seasons as a Division I head coach since Michigan's Steve Fisher in 1989.

Connecticut is the first team to win the national championship without winning its regular season or conference tournament title since Arizona in 1997 and the first team to win the title despite not playing in any postseason tournament the previous season since NC State in 1974.

Most Outstanding Player: Shabazz Napier
Napier finished with 22 points. He scored 37 percent of the Huskies’ points for the game, the third-highest percentage by a player in a national championship win in the past 30 seasons (surpassed only by Glen Rice in 1989 and Danny Manning in 1988).

Napier put himself in elite college basketball company, as noted in the chart above.

Difference-Maker: Free Throw Shooting
Connecticut became the first team to shoot 100 percent from the free throw line in a national championship game, making all 10 of its foul shots.

Kentucky was 13-for-24 from the free throw line. It was a situation reminiscent of Memphis’ struggles at the free throw line in the 2008 championship game under John Calipari, when it made 12 of 19 foul shots in a loss to Kansas.

Connecticut finished 101-115 (87.8 percent) on free throws for the tournament, the best free throw percentage by a team in a single NCAA tournament (minimum three games).

The previous record was 87 percent by St. John's in 1969.

The other side
This was Kentucky's fourth loss in a national championship game (tied with Ohio State and North Carolina for fourth most all-time, including vacated games) and its first title game loss since 1997 (versus Arizona).

Kentucky’s past two NCAA tournament losses have come against Connecticut (2011 Final Four, 2014 national championship).

Indicative of how this wasn't Kentucky's night-- the Wildcats had only 26 attempts in the paint. They averaged 43 in their past two games.

Kentucky had a tournament-low 24 paint points and tied its tournament lows in second-chance points (7) and points off turnovers (10).

Kentucky averaged 0.871 points per possession, its second-worst offensive efficiency of the season (0.870 vs. Arkansas on Feb. 27).

Way-Too-Early Top 25

April, 7, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's not often you see a headline that intentionally undermines the piece below it. This, dear hoops fans, is one of those times.

Yes, the "Way Too Early" prefix in "Way-Too-Early Top 25" pretty much gives this game away. We are not even a day removed from the confetti-infested "One Shining Moment" madness of the 2014 NCAA tournament. There are six months of offseason between now and the start of practice in October, and seven months between here and the return of actual college basketball. This depressingly long stretch of calendar will comprise a rush of NBA draft decisions, at least one massive recruiting race (Myles Turner, a 7-foot center ranked No. 2 overall in the 2014 class, is still undecided), transfer market dominoes, a coaching change or two, and any number of minor surprises -- suspensions, dismissals, reclassifications, and all the rest.

In the infamous words of a former United States defense secretary, there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. The Way-Too-Early Top 25 is a prisoner to these same predictive limitations. It is a glimpse at the landscape, and an educated guess. It is subject to change. It certainly will. And we will update it accordingly as the offseason rolls along.

This is especially true at the top of the Top 25. Any of at least three teams could, depending on draft decisions and Turner's final call, end up in the preseason No. 1 spot. Let's see how that plays out in the weeks and months to come. For now, the way-too-early No. 1 team in the 2014-15 season is ...:

To see the way too early Top 25, click here.

Also, to see how recruiting will impact's the Top 25 and how it could change who is cutting down the nets at next year's Final Four, click here. Insider

Five Things: Huskies come full circle

April, 7, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Connecticut Huskies are your 2014 national champions.

Shabazz Napier closed the loop.

Four years ago, in a massive Texas football stadium, Napier danced atop a confetti-covered court. On that day in 2011, the Huskies were led to an unlikely national title run by a brilliant, versatile, gifted guard. Napier was a supporting player on that team, and a crucial one. On Monday night, with Kemba Walker in the house, Napier was the star.

His feat -- one shared by fellow seniors Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander -- was a first. That trio became the first players to win a national title as freshmen and as seniors.

No stat could better sum up the remarkable, resilient ride this program, and these players, have given their fans.

UConn's guards were disruptive early, and great late.

Chief among the major strategic questions entering Monday night -- from Kentucky's monstrous offensive rebounding advantage to the willingness of each team to get out and run -- was which set of guards would prove too much for the other. Aaron and Andrew Harrison had the huge size advantage over Napier and Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies' guards were quicker, more dynamic and more disruptive on the defensive end. In short: speed vs. power.

For most of the first half, speed won the day. Boatright and Napier were pesky on loose balls and 50-50 scrums, and their ability to break down the defense off the dribble was a massive problem for Kentucky. Napier in particular was brilliant: He finished the first half with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, including 3-of-7 shooting from 3, and two steals. UConn had 11 points off turnovers in the first half. Boatright, meanwhile, was perfect from the field (3-for-3) and the free throw line (2-for-2) in the first half, though he played fewer minutes. Both players were swatting and running the break any time the Wildcats put the ball on the floor, and they broke down UK's defense with relative ease on the other end.

In the second half, Napier and Boatright exerted a level of control no other backcourt was capable of this season. Napier cleared out for 3s; Boatright skittered into the lane for easy jumpers. The duo worked clock, found open spaces in the UK defense, earned fouls, kept possession away from the Wildcats. Slowly but surely, Napier and Boatright bled the game dry. They were peerless.

Don't worry, though: Kentucky made its run.

No team in the tournament was better at blitzing away first-half deficits than Kentucky. On Monday, the Wildcats didn't even wait until the second half.

Thanks in large part to Napier, UConn led 30-15 with 5:59 to play in the first half. Julius Randle didn't yet have a field goal, and was reportedly cramping on the sidelines. The Wildcats were stuttering through one of their least efficient offensive stretches all season. And then, as they have all tournament, the Cats went nuts: James Young hit a 3, Aaron Harrison got a steal and a fast-break dunk, Young hit another 3, Andrew Harrison splashed a sharp kickout from Randle, Dakari Johnson earned a trip to the line, and Randle got two interior finishes in a row -- his first two buckets of the game. After playing scattered basketball for 15 minutes, the Wildcats had cut UConn's halftime lead to just four.

After one of the most impressive and daunting five-game runs in NCAA tournament history, this version of Kentucky -- fluid, powerful, unstoppable -- should have felt like the standard issue. But one couldn't help but watch and marvel at how different this version is from the one that so often disappointed for months before it.

UConn's defense -- and its defensive rebounding -- held firm.

This season, the Huskies allowed opponents to grab 32.7 percent of their misses, ranking 247th in the country. That was the one area where UConn's defense -- an underrated unit all season, and a lockdown group in March -- was demonstrably weak.

Not Monday night. Against the best offensive rebounding team in the country -- a Wildcats team that earned its way to the national title game by brutalizing opponents on the offensive glass, and getting second chances on 43 percent of its shots -- the Huskies largely controlled the glass. UK's final offensive rebounding rate tally: 27.8 percent. Crazy.

Indeed, when the game hung in the balance late in the second half -- as UConn clung desperately to its one- or two-possession lead -- it was the Huskies, and not the Wildcats, who repeatedly cleared the glass. Fitting, then, that Boatright's defensive rebound with five seconds remaining was the final play of the game.

Kentucky fell short, but etched its legend anyway.

A Fab Five-level recruiting class that staggered out of the gate and disappointed everyone -- not least its own coach -- for whole months. A No. 8 seed in the toughest bracket in recent NCAA tournament memory. Four wins of five points or fewer. Two game-winning shots by the same player, on the same spot of the floor, in the Final Four and Elite Eight. More talent than most coaches have in their whole lives.

Like the Fab Five itself, these mercurial Wildcats fell short in the end. But they won't soon be forgotten.

Tournament Challenge: UConn's title

April, 7, 2014
After all was said and done, 0.3 percent (27,203) brackets out of 11 million-plus in the Tournament Challenge correctly picked Connecticut to win the national title, by far the lowest percentage in recent years.

Here's how that number compared to recent champions:
2013: Louisville -- picked to win it all in 21.9 percent of brackets
2012: Kentucky -- 35.1 percent
2011: Connecticut -- 4.7 percent
2010: Duke -- 6.4 percent

President Obama's bracket

The president finished in the 72.9 percentile, with a 39-24 record, getting one Final Four team right (Florida). Last year, he went 38-25, finishing in the 74.4 percentile (getting one Final Four team right in Louisville, but having the Cardinals losing in the title game to Indiana).

If you went with an all-chalk bracket, picking just favorites, you would've finished with a 39-24 record, placing in the 77.6 percentile. Despite the Obama and chalk brackets having the same overall record, the chalk bracket scored more points based on this game's system (it had one more Sweet 16 team but one fewer winner than the president in the Round of 64).

Video: Kevin Ollie conversation

April, 7, 2014

UConn coach Kevin Ollie reflects on his team's run through the tournament, his relationship with Jim Calhoun and the culture of his program.

Video: Vitale's title game preview

April, 7, 2014

Dick Vitale breaks down the championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut and makes a prediction.

Video: John Calipari conversation

April, 7, 2014

Kentucky coach John Calipari reflects on Kentucky's journey and explains why Kevin Ollie has been so impressive.

Video: Title game predictions

April, 7, 2014

Jalen Rose, Digger Phelps and Dan Dakich make their predictions for the NCAA championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut.