It’s Throwback Thursday as we prime the upcoming NCAA Tournament and see which current Knicks have alma maters competing in this year’s March Madness.
It’s the best time of the year for basketball fans. From here until the end of June, basketball as a sport hits its peak. March sets the tone with the NCAA Tournament, which I believe to be the best month in sports period. There is no better feeling than being able to toss on five different channels and get non-stop basketball with the highest possible stakes on the line (while slacking off at work, too). If you’re the gambling type, then this can also be the optimal time to cash out. And at the conclusion of the Big Dance we get non-stop draft coverage until June.
Basketball for the Knicks has lost its meaning without Kristaps Porzingis. The good news is KP is going to be back on better than ever. The great news is the tournament will be the perfect time to see some guys who might don the orange and blue next season.
This year’s Knicks squad is filled with tournament alumni with big moments at the Big Dance. Let’s see who’s alma mater are featured in this year’s field.
(9) Kansas State — Michael Beasley
This should come as zero surprise, but at Kansas State, the Walking Bucket was, well, a walking bucket. In his sole season at KSU, Beasley put together one of the best college basketball seasons of all time. His career stat line as a Wildcat: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds (led the nation) and 1.6 blocks per game on 53 percent shooting from the floor (38 percent from three).
Unfortunately, the Wildcats do not have Beasley or anyone in Beasley’s stratosphere. Still, they were able to piece together a solid résumé that included wins against Mohamed Bamba and Texas, Trae Young and Oklahoma, and TCU, plus a conference tournament final appearance. They open up in the South Region against a tough Creighton team that is one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball, averaging 84.3 points per game.
(6) Florida — Joakim Noah
Yes, Joakim Noah is still a Knick even though he has been exiled for close to two months. As we are well aware, before Noah was a major cap hit, he was at the forefront of Florida’s best run as a program.
Since then Florida has perennially power in college basketball and a regular tournament team. Last season they had quite the run, reaching the Elite 8 before running into a red-hot South Carolina team. This year’s Gators are not nearly as talented and certainly not nearly as consistent. They finished third in the SEC but were bounced from the conference tournament abruptly by Arkansas.
There is no telling what to expect from the Gators in the East Region. They face a St. Bonaventure team that just took down UCLA in the First Four and have a wave of momentum on their side.
(6) Houston — Damyean Dotson
Since Jeff Hornacek refuses to give Damyean Dotson serious playing time during the “youth movement” (more commonly known as the shameless tank), there will be time for him to check on his alma mater.
Dotson’s Houston Cougars are quite the ferocious bunch. Defense is their calling card and the main reason they had such success in the American Athletic Conference this season. Don’t believe me, who saw exactly three Houston games all season? Fine. But at least listen to Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall.
“They’re gutty, they’re tough, they’re well-schooled. They were knocking us off our cuts, they took the ball from us a couple times. Their physicality certainly bothered us.”
They head into the tournament as the 21st ranked team in the nation and have been a trendy pick to make a deep run. The Cougars will be tested from the jump as they draw a San Diego State team in the West that has defensive chops in their own right.
(4) Wichita State — Ron Baker
Ah, our beloved $9 million man with a no trade clause. Before Ron Baker captured the hearts of Knicks Reddit he was a 10-year veteran at Wichita State. Okay, to be serious for a second, Baker is a Wichita State legend who won some money for your boy and a whole lot of games for Gregg Marshall. The Ron Baker–Fred VanVleet era may be ove,r but Coach Marshall and the Shockers are still winning games.
Unlike most years when they had to be nearly perfect to get respect from the committee, their new conference gave them a bump. Last season they won 30 games in the Missouri Valley Conference and were rewarded a 10-seed. This season they managed to win 25 games and were rewarded a four-seed. Difference? Conference recognition. They joined the American Athletic Conference and were properly rewarded for taking a jump in competition and succeeding.
They will open up against Marshall in the first round and face either West Virginia or Murray State if they were to advance to the Round of 32. Given their tournament history and strong play of guard Landry Shamet, there is no reason we cannot expect a respectable performance from a school that has become a March mainstay.
(5) Kentucky — Enes Kanter
People forget Enes Kanter was a Kentucky Wildcat. A major reason for that is because the NCAA declared Kanter ineligible. In case you didn’t know, the NCAA only likes to profit off players, not allow players to benefit off themselves. Kanter didn’t follow the rules and received around $33,000 while playing professionally in Turkey.
This year John Calipari has not had to deal with any scandals. All of his guys are eligible and all of them are extremely young. That youth has proven to be a double-edged sword as the team has looked phenomenal at times (e.g. SEC Tournament win) and downright awful at others (e.g. 80-67 beatdown to Florida). Thanks in part to their conference tournament title, the Wildcats were awarded a five-seed.
Kevin Knox sends Jaylen Barford to the ground and then Barford just gives up lmfaoo pic.twitter.com/TIVfTTSyEU
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) February 21, 2018
It’s not all good however. Their first opponent is Davidson, and if they are able to withstand any upsets, Big Blue Nation’s reward may include a date with top prospect DeAndre Ayton and Arizona in the Round of 32. Kevin Knox and SEC Tournament standout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are the players of note for draft purposes and should be enough to escape the first round.
(3) Michigan — Tim Hardaway Jr. & Trey Burke
Now that Louisville has been outed as cheaters can we pretend Michigan won the 2013 National Championship? Michigan deserved that game and Trey Burke definitely did not foul Peyton Siva. That Michigan tournament run (and overall season) was one of the more fun runs in recent memory.
Speaking of runs, the 2017–18 edition of the Wolverines are on a run of their own. They’re on a nine-game winning streak, sweeping through the competition in the Big Ten Tournament (coincidentally held at Madison Square Garden, current home of Hardaway Jr. and Burke). One advantage for the Wolverines, and any Big Ten school in the tournament, is that they were off a whole week. That means they had a week to scout, rest up, and adjust anything they didn’t like from the regular season.
Their tourney run begins with a matchup against a guard-heavy Montana team in the West Region. Michigan is a strong defensive team (ninth best in the nation) and possesses a skilled big man, Moritz Wagner, who should be a focal point for the Wolverines to make the deep run as pundits expect Blue to make.
(2) UNC — Isaiah Hicks
It would be nice to see more of Isaiah Hicks now that the season is all but over. He played well for a strong Westchester squad but has yet to receive much time since coming to the main roster. This time last year Hicks was gearing up what would end up being a redemption tour.
The UNC Tar Heels have always been a vanguard of college hoops. Over the last two seasons, they reached the National Championship twice, winning last season against Gonzaga. This season the Tar Heels were not projected to be nearly as good thanks in large part to the graduation of guys like Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson.
Theo Pinson with the BIG slam to give the lesser of two evils the W pic.twitter.com/ki51OQ8XdG
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) February 9, 2018
There are still some holdovers from that championship squad including Joel Berry II, folk hero Luke Maye, and Theo Pinson. After an up-and-down first half, the Tar Heels have turned it on at the perfect time. They lost to Virginia in the ACC Tournament final but not before they took a motivating rubber-match victory against Duke in the semi-finals. Given its tournament experience, there is no reason North Carolina cannot make another deep March run. It begins with what should be a cakewalk against Lipscomb on Friday night in the West Region.
(2) Duke — Lance Thomas
We wrap up our list with one of my favorite current Knicks, the gritty Lance Thomas. A lot has changed in Durham since Lance’s squad victoriously cut down the nets in 2010. Coach K has officially Marlo Stanfield’d John Calipari on the one-and-done corner.
This season’s freshman class includes prospective lottery selections Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., and first-round prospects Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval. The talent doesn’t stop there as scholastic heel Grayson Allen gears up for his final tournament run as college basketball fans get two more weeks to hate hate hate him.
Nothing to see here, just Marvin Bagley grabbing a pass over two defenders and out-muscling them for the slam ?? pic.twitter.com/yc70pr6eQc
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 4, 2018
Talent wise, there is no reason this team cannot make it to the Final Four. Tough waters can lay ahead—assuming they dismantle Iona in round one. Trae Young or Rhode Island loom in round two, and dates with Michigan State and Kansas lie ahead if the Blue Devils make a deep run.
The hope is that Duke makes a deep run so we can at least get a Michigan State–Duke showcase of lottery prospects. The first meeting between the two ended up going to the Blue Devils, but with the stakes raised to the highest level, a battle of Bagley and Carter vs. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges would be must-see TV for college basketball and NBA fans alike.