In case you haven’t been paying close attention to the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament, we are down to the Final-Four. In a sport generally dominated by a marquee programs, there is just one blue blood left in the race, North Carolina, which will make its 20th trip to the Final Four. On one side of the bracket we have a #3 seed Oregon playing a #1 seed North Carolina, with the winner to play in the NCAA Championship game next Tuesday, April 3rd, against the winner of #7 seed South Carolina and #1 seed Gonzaga. Oregon looked good in their win over Kansas, and North Carolina defeated an extremely tough and talented Kentucky team to advance, but my heart is in the “South Carolina vs. Gonzaga” matchup. Below are a few facts about each school that has me excited and hoping one of these teams will win it all… Remember, this is both Gonzaga and South Carolina’s first time in their schools history to reach the “Final Four.” Congrats!
Gonzaga “Bulldogs” – located in Spokane, Washington
Founded in 1887 by Fr. Joseph Cataldo, a Sicilian-born priest. Rumor is he purchased the land we sit upon for 936 silver coins
Final Four First – This is the first WCC team to get to the Final Four since the University of San Francisco in 1957.
“The Kennel” – This is what they call their home-court arena which is officially called the McCarthey Athletic Center. Through the end of the 2016–17 season, the Zags are 177–14 (.927) in the building, which includes a 80–8 (.909) record in non-conference games, and a 95–6 (.941) record in conference games.
John Stockton is one of the most notable alumni to play basketball at Gonzaga.
Head Coach Mark Few is the winningest active Division 1 men’s basketball head coach by percentage at 80.1 percent, just ahead of North Carolina’s Roy Williams.
Strong Defense is what has helped the “Zags” make it to the big-dance. The Zags held Xavier to 35.5% shooting. They have held other teams under 40% in 18 of their last 22 games and 26 total on the season.
Center Przemek Karnowski, despite his impressive size – 7’1” and nearly 300 pounds, didn’t play basketball in high school. He’s from Torun, Poland, and they don’t play high school basketball there like we do in the U.S.
Canadians – There’s actually a couple of players on the Gonzaga roster with citizenship in Canada. Forward Kyle Wiltjer, though born in Portland, Wiltjer has dual U.S./Canadian citizenship. His father Greg is a Canadian who played for Canada in the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. The other is guard Dustin Triano who is from Tsawwassen, BC. Interestingly his father Jay used to be the head coach of the Toronto Raptors. It’s also worth noting that Gonzaga’s star forward, 6’11” Domantas Sabonis, is from Kaunas, Lithuania, and is the son of Basketball Hall of Fame center and Portland Trail Blazers great Arvydas Sabonis. Domantas was born in Portland between the fourth and fifth games of Portland’s 1996 first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.
Graduates Students – The student-athletes’ Graduation Success Rate of 98 percent puts Gonzaga at No. 3 in the nation.
Football Undefeated – The Gonzaga football team has been undefeated for over 75 years! OK, so the sport was dropped in 1941 due to World War II. Their basketball team has clearly picked up the slack. Gonzaga’s streak of 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances is the fourth longest active streak, behind only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State.
Freshman enrollment at Gonzaga in the mid-nineties hovered around 500 students annually, including a total of 569 as late as 1998. In 1999, enrollment jumped to 701 five months after the Zags went to the Elite Eight. This trend continued after Gonzaga won five games in the 1999 and 2000 NCAA Tournaments, as freshman enrollment increased to 796 in 2000 and to a record 979 in 2001. A 65-percent increase in the size of the freshman class between 1997 and 2003 is part of a phenomenon called the “Flutie Effect,” the increase in attention and applications for admission that results after a particularly notable and unexpected sporting victory by a school’s athletic team.
South Carolina “Gamecocks” – Columbia, SC
Founded in 1801, the University started with just nine students and now hosts an enrollment of nearly 50,000.
Final Four First – While making the NCAA Sweet 16 on three separate occasions under the leadership of legendary head Coach Frank McGuire (1971,9172,1973) this is the teams first trip to the NCAA Final Four.
Gamecocks in a nod to Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter. The brigadier general and future state senator earned the nickname “The Carolina Gamecock” for his fighting style. A street named after Sumter runs through campus as well.
Campus Spared – Union General William Tecumseh Sherman scorched the earth during the tail end of the Civil War, he happened upon Columbia, South Carolina, where “South Carolina College” (later USC) was established a half-century earlier. The Confederacy had transformed the campus building, Rutledge College, into a hospital so Sherman spared the building that had survived a fire and an earthquake in the previous 40 years as well.
Mike Dunleavy, the former head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and Alex English, former player with the Denver Nuggets are couple of notable basketball alumni.
Road Filled With Upsets – South Carolina achieved its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1973 with a 20-point win over the Marquette Golden Eagles. Two nights later, the Gamecocks upset the #2 seed Duke Blue Devils to advance to the Sweet 16. South Carolina then beat #3 seed Baylor Bears to advance to their first-ever Elite 8, two days later they upset Florida to advance to the big-dance.
Frank Martin is the current Head Coach of the Gamecocks and one of my favorites. He was formerly at Kansas State, where he lead the team to five winning seasons and four NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight appearance with the Wildcats in 2010. I love his story… Martin, who grew up in Miami, Florida, is the son of Cuban political exiles and the first American-born member of his family. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Florida International University. One of the two jobs he held while attending FIU was that of a bouncer at a local nightclub. He decided to become a full-time basketball coach in 1992 as a result of an incident in which he was subjected to gunfire, while on duty, from a group of men whom he had ejected for fighting. his first head coaching job was for the J.V. squad at Miami High School in 1985. He served in that position for eight years until he was appointed to his first varsity coaching job at North Miami High School. He returned to Miami Senior two years later to head its varsity team. Under his coaching, the high school team won three consecutive state championships from 1996 to 1998. He next served as head coach at Booker T. Washington High School for one year. Martin then moved into the college ranks as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at Northeastern University from 2000 to 2004. He moved to the University of Cincinnati, serving one season each under Bob Huggins and Andy Kennedy. Martin followed Huggins to Kansas State, joining his staff on April 5, 2006.On April 6, 2007, almost a year to the day after his arrival in Manhattan, Martin was named head coach of the Wildcats in the wake of Huggins’ resignation. In March of 2012, Martin accepted the head coaching position at South Carolina. Below are a couple of good Frank Martin takeaways…
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