Who have been the studs and duds of the 2015 NCAA Tournament? Our NCAA experts Yannis Koutroupis, Cody Toppert and Dan Barto discussed the players, teams and conferences that have either impressed or disappointed.
Ron Hunter (Georgia State, Head Coach): From a ruptured Achilles to having to play in the tournament as a 14 seed without his starting point guard and leading scorer, Hunter has impressed as a head coach as much as his son R.J. has impressed as an NBA prospect. The Mississippi State head coaching job just opened up and more high major openings are sure to follow. Look for Hunter to be a serious candidate, if he’s interested.
Bryce Alford (UCLA, Guard): A lot of people didn’t think the Bruins belonged in the tournament, but there’s no denying their worthiness now as they are dancing on to the Sweet 16. Alford has been the catalyst behind their run, averaging 24.5 points and three assists a game. He’s also shot a scorching 12-16 from beyond the arc. As just a sophomore, this could be a sign of things to come in his junior and senior years.
Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin, Center): The senior was in peak form against Coastal Carolina, scoring 27 points, hauling in 12 rebounds and four assists – all of which were team highs in an 86-72 win. It’s not easy for seniors to climb into the lottery, especially late bloomers like Kaminsky, bbecause of his size, skill and versatility, he’s very likely to be off of the board in the top 14. He’ll really climb draft boards if he keeps playing like he did in the second round.
Rick Barnes (Texas, Head Coach): Coming into the tournament, Barnes was already on the hot seat and a second-round exit to Butler has not done anything to cool it down. The Longhorns are seven years removed from their last trip past the opening weekend and Barnes may have milked his past glory days for all their worth.
The Big 12: The Longhorns weren’t the only team from the “best conference in the country” to struggle in the second round of the tournament. Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State also didn’t last a single game. Kansas and Oklahoma helped salvage the opening weekend for the conference, but only Oklahoma is standing now. This year’s run will go down as a major disappointment for the league, even if Oklahoma goes on a run to the Final Four.
12 seeds: For the first time since 2007, every 12 seed lost in the seeding pairing that traditionally holds the highest probability for an upset. Wyoming, Stephen F. Austin, Buffalo and Wofford were all viewed as having a chance to keep the tradition intact by beating a 5 seed, but ultimately fell. The latter three were all within striking distance late, while Wyoming lost by 17. Don’t expect this to become the norm, though. It’d be shocking if there wasn’t a 12-5 upset next year as well.
The Alfords (UCLA): When UCLA was announced as a participant on selection Sunday, there were many people wondering how on earth they got into the field. Two games later, UCLA is in its second straight Sweet Sixteen under Steve Alford’s watch. After a mass NBA exodus and a string of injuries, Bruin nation is having the last laugh and two more wins can quickly thrust the head coach into UCLA legend status. Bryce is not far behind after a 27-point performance (on a scorching 9-11 from three-point range) in the team’s first round win, followed by a 22-point, five-assist game to help UCLA move to the second weekend.
R.J. Hunter (Georgia State, Shooting Guard): After a devastating loss to Elfrid Payton in the 2014 Sun Belt Conference championship game, America had to wait 12 months to get an official introduction to R.J. Hunter. The Sun Belt Player of the Year was on a mission. He wanted more than to climb NBA draft boards, he wanted his one shinning moment. As his deep three-pointer hit the nets and Georgia State completed the upset of Baylor, he had his time to shine. Georgia State may have bowed out at the hand of Xavier, but Hunter still left his imprint on the game and finished the season averaging 19.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.5 APG and 3.6 3FGM. The next step for Hunter is the NBA, where he will try to duplicate his success.
The PAC 12 Conference: Arizona, Oregon, Utah and UCLA all made their way into the NCAA tournament as many pundits questioned the conference’s strength and its four bids. As the first weekend comes to a close, the PAC 12 stands at seven wins and zero losses while some other power conferences left their A games at home. Arizona has an excellent chance to get to the Final Four. While Oregon’s run may come to an end at the hands of Wisconsin, it’s possible Utah, UCLA and Arizona will carry the torch into the Sweet Sixteen.
Big 12 Conference: Many people were referring to the Big 12 as the nation’s best conference. Certainly there are many top-flight schools in the Big 12 and the result is a conference season that affords no days off. Unfortunately for the Big 12, conference play is over and in the NCAA Tournament it’s about here and now. Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State all made it to the Big Dance and five of those squads were single digit seeds. As the first weekend comes to a close, things are not looking that great. Baylor and Iowa State crashed and burned despite being 3 seeds. Oklahoma State couldn’t get past Oregon and Texas completed a splendid belly flop of a season going down in the first round. Kansas lost to Wichita State, so only OU. Lon Kruger and his Sooner squad are the Big 12’s sole hope for a deep run.
VCU: In 2011, VCU was the talk of the nation. A trip to the Final Four had the Rams pegged as the next Gonzaga and with Shaka Smart resisting the lure of Power Conference Athletic Directors, the future seemed bright. Four years later after a change of conference and early tournament exits including consecutive first round loses, Smart was hoping to find that sweet magic of 2011. Alas it was not meant to be and Smart is left searching for answers as the 7 seed Rams lost a tough one to Ohio State. What’s next for VCU? It’s hard to say, but Smart loves to win and yearns for a return to the Sweet Sixteen. He’ll have 12 months to find the answers.
T.J. McConnell (Arizona, Point Guard): Watching McConnell grow up in Pittsburgh, it was always easy to see how special he was. Then came the Duquesne games and practices where it seemed as though he was an NBA player just dropping in for the day. A step slow and not able keep elite athletes in front of him, I allowed scouts to talk me out of what I saw. It ends today, as he has outplayed the top college point guard in the country. Owning every intangible a point guard can have, McConnell has been orchestrating this type of success and will be doing the same thing in a Jeremy-Lin-like manner in the years to come. His ability to accelerate through his C-like and S-like ball screen play means that his play will translate into the NBA immediately. His age will be a factor in the draft process, but his skill set is impressive and he is a player to keep an eye on.
Joe Young (Oregon, Guard): In 35 games this year, Young has only scored in single digits twice. Dana Altman should be giving a large portion of his current salary to him because he saved his job. Oregon has had more off-court issues and distractions than any college team in the last decade and Young found a way to overcome all of that and put his team on his back. Credit his teammates for buying into a majority of the offense going through him. Many teams give players this opportunity but few capitalize as Young continues to do. His 27-point game against St. John’s displayed his Jason-Terry-like versatility. Oregon will put Young in a position to thrive against Wisconsin and, as he has done all season, I see him meeting the challenge.
John Calipari (Kentucky, Head Coach): The fear of selfish play by his talented players in an effort boost their draft stock was a concern going into the tournament. In the first two games, Calipari was able to play chess with his own team to move them through weaker opponents. The good news is that if Kentucky’s guards can handle West Virginia, his job gets easier because the players will lock in. The bad news for Kentucky is that as Calipari continues to dominate recruiting, coaching and growing his brand, the larger the NBA offers will be. The NBA is resembling the college structure and the challenge may be something he wants as his team runs the table. Young rosters like the Orlando Magic or the spotlight of the Los Angeles Lakers may be more tempting than Big Blue Nation wants to admit.
D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State, Point Guard): His performance will not significantly affect his draft stock, as he should still be picked relatively high, but a great game could have separated him from Emmanuel Mudiay. A player who is capable of being the overall No. 1 pick in the draft should not have had a 3-18 shooting night against the likes of Arizona. His lack of clutch ability in his only year in the tournament coupled with his need for volume may have general managers thinking Brandon Jennings not Damian Lillard in terms of franchise wins. His shot creating and playmaking is extremely impressive and hopefully he gets a chance to redeem himself and prove me wrong in future NBA playoff games.
Larry Brown (SMU, Head Coach): Outside of the goaltending call, Coach Brown should be ashamed of his team’s miserable start to the second half of their game versus UCLA. Getting outscored 10-0 means that Steve Alford made better halftime adjustments. Credit Brown for getting his team to overcome the deficit to regain control of the game and lead 59-52. But then the team showed another sign of lack of preparation in being outscored and out-executed to lose the lead in the last 1:06. Brown has more bench coaching experience than any coach in the tournament and he has done a surreal job of quickly rebuilding SMU, but he did not get the memo that this is not a seven-game series.