A Pitino grudge match in this region? Sign us up.
Those seeking a sentimental favorite in this field need look no farther than Temple, which faces Belmont in a First Four game. Universally admired Owls coach Fran Dunphy, 70, is retiring after 30 seasons as a Division I coach in Philadelphia (17 at Penn, 13 at Temple). His resume includes nearly 600 wins and 12 conference titles, but he never has reached the Sweet 16 in 16 previous tourney appearances.
Fall guy for UCF
Nearly four years after Tacko Fall’s heralded arrival at UCF, the nation at large finally gets a look at one of college basketball’s physical marvels. One of the world’s tallest living humans at 7-foot-6, Fall makes his first NCAA tourney appearance after helping lead the Knights (23-8) to an at-large berth. The American Athletic Conference’s leader in blocks (2.43 per game), Fall’s paint presence not only alters shots, but deters teams that rely on dribble penetration.
Success on the 9s
Enjoy a side of history with your bracketology? Then you’ll want to pencil in Michigan State for the Final Four. The Big Ten regular-season and tournament champ, MSU (28-6) reached the NCAA’s final weekend in 1979, ’99, and ’09, and possesses the personnel to reach it again in 2019. Junior Cassius Winston (19.0 ppg, 7.6 assists) was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, and 6-foot-8 forward Nick Ward (15.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) was a third-teamer. Only Duke and North Carolina average more rebounds than the Spartans (41.3). For those wondering what happened to the Spartans in 1989? Well, its arch-rival (Michigan) won the national title that year.
St. Pete story lines
UCF senior Dayon Griffin and Maryland freshman Serrel Smith Jr. were never teammates at St. Petersburg High. Smith took over as the Green Devils’ point guard once Griffin graduated. Both are now solid contributors in college who will be playing in the East region. Griffin is averaging 4.2 points per game with the Knights. Smith is averaging 3.7 points with the Terrapins.
We’ll go with No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville, only because such an outcome would produce tantalizing fallout. The Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, whose old man was forced out at Louisville only 19 months ago when the Cardinals became part of the sprawling federal probe into college hoops. “Rick Pitino’s flying back from Greece for that game,” ESPN’s Seth Greenberg quipped. “He’ll be in Minnesota’s practices, and he’ll get Minnesota a little bit ready.”