Connect with us

Sports

Can Gonzaga top ’96 Kentucky, ’90 UNLV as most dominant NCAA Tournament team since 1985?

Published

on

Ranking the Final Four teams' chances to win it all, from the Zags to Bruins

Gonzaga enters the Final Four with a 30-0 record and a chance to be the first undefeated Division I men’s basketball team since Indiana in 1975-76.  

There’s even more at stake. The Bulldogs have put themselves in the conversation as the most-dominant tournament team in the expanded bracket era, which began in 1985, after blowing out their first four opponents in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  

That conversation will be more interesting if Gonzaga wins it all. 

There are teams that won the national championship since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams at the front of those debates. UNLV dominated the NCAA tournament in 1989-90 with Jerry Tarkanian. Kentucky tore through the Big Dance with Rick Pitino in 1995-96.  

Those two teams are generally considered the standard since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.  

Does this Gonzaga team hold up? The Bulldogs have burned through the tournament with All-Americans Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme. That run continues Saturday against No. 11 UCLA in the Final Four. 

The Bulldogs have a statistical case that for the moment compares. Sporting News takes a closer look at those numbers: 

MORE MARCH MADNESS: Live scores | Updated bracket | TV schedule

Kentucky had best NCAA Tournament run 

Pitino used a Kentucky roster that had nine future NBA players to dominate the 1995-96 tournament. The Wildcats won their six tournament games by an average of 21.2 points per game, which remains the highest margin since 1985.  

Here is a closer look at the five national champions with the highest margin of victory in the Big Dance.  

RANK TEAM AVG
1 Kentucky (1996) 21.5
2 North Carolina (2009) 20.2
3 Villanova (2016) 19.0
4 UNLV (1990) 18.7
5 Villanova (2018) 17.7

Gonzaga has defeated its first four opponents by an average of 24 ppg and has a legitimate chance to challenge that record. Just keep in mind that Kentucky beat its first four opponents by an average of 28.3 ppg. The Bulldogs need to win by an average of 16.5 ppg in the next two games to match that. 

UNLV dominated last two weekends

The Runnin’ Rebels won the national championship in 1990 with Jerry Tarkanian and a roster that featured three future NBA players in Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.  

The Rebels were dominant from the Sweet 16 round to the national championship, a run that included a 131-101 victory against Loyola-Marymount in the Elite Eight and a 103-73 victory against Duke in the national championship game.  

UNLV won those four games by an average of 17.8 points per game. Here is a look at the five national champions with the highest margin of victory from the Sweet 16 to the national championship:  

RANK TEAM AVG
1 UNLV (1990) 17.8
2 Kentucky (1996) 16.8
3 Villanova (2016) 16.3
4 North Carolina (2009) 16.0
5 Villanova (2018) 14.3

It’s the same five teams. Gonzaga won its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups against Creighton and USC, respectively, by an average of 18.5 ppg. They need to win the next two games by an average of 17 ppg. to match the Rebels. 

Who had toughest path?   

Fans of those Kentucky and UNLV teams would look at the margin of victory and scoff at the notion that Gonzaga belongs in the same sentence.  

Kentucky can point to its tournament path in 1995-96. The combined seed total of their six opponents was 36, and they went through Utah with Andre Miller and Keith Van Horn, Wake Forest with Tim Duncan and UMass with Marcus Camby before beating Syracuse in the national championship game.

The Final Four and championship games were tighter, but there was no question the Wildcats were the best team.  

They would finish as the national runner up in 1997 and won the national title again in 1998.  

UNLV faced teams with a combined seed total of 54. The Rebels did beat a Jim Jackson-led Ohio State team in the second round, and No. 11 Loyola Marymount was not your typical double-digit seed with Bo Kimble. The Rebels beat Georgia Tech and Duke in the Final Four.  

Gonzaga’s combined seed total is 48 heading into the Final Four matchup with No. 11 UCLA – another team that isn’t your typical double-digit seed. No. 1 Baylor or No. 2 Houston would be the potential national championship matchup opponents. 

The one thing all three teams share is top-notch offense. Gonzaga averages a Division I-best 91.6 ppg. UNLV averaged 93.5 and Kentucky averaged 91.4. In order for those comparisons to stick, however, the Bulldogs have to win their next two games to maintain that 90 ppg. number. 

Gonzaga’s perfect trump card 

Gonzaga belongs in another conversation with Kentucky and UNLV, but with different teams. The UNLV 1990-91 and Kentucky 2014-15 teams are the last two teams to reach the Final Four with an undefeated record.  

UNLV lost in a 79-77 shocker to Duke, which got a clutch 3-pointer from Bobby Hurley to help pull the upset. The Wildcats, led by coach John Calipari, lost to 71-64 to Wisconsin.  

That is the trump card Gonzaga can pull if they finish the job in Indianapolis. 

Kentucky finished 34-2 in 1995-96, and UNLV finished 35-5 in 1989-90. They dominated the NCAA tournament, but Gonzaga is on pace to at least compete with the margin of victory. The rest is speculation. 

Would the Wildcats and Rebels beat the Bulldogs? It might not be the hypothetical blowout you think it is, and you could pull in that 2016 Villanova team for the ultimate expanded bracket Final Four. 

Of course, the Bulldogs have to finish the job. 

Otherwise, they’ll join the Gonzaga 2016-17 team in this conversation. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

Why are Jake Paul and Ben Askren fighting? A callout lured ex-MMA champion out of retirement

Published

on

Why are Jake Paul and Ben Askren fighting? A callout lured ex-MMA champion out of retirement

Jake Paul will look to improve his boxing record to 3-0 on April 17 when he steps into the ring with former MMA champion Ben Askren on Triller’s Fight Club.

Paul started his pro boxing career in January 2020 with a first-round knockout against fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib. He followed that with a knockout of former NBA player Nate Robinson in November on the undercard of Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones. This will be the first time that Paul steps into the ring with a former fighter.

Askren is a two-time Division I wrestling national champion who became a champion at Bellator and ONE Championship before finishing his mixed martial arts career in the UFC. He amassed a record of 19-2 before retiring from the sport in November 2018.

How did a fight between a YouTuber and a former MMA champion happen?

RELATED: Jake Paul accused of sexual assault by TikTok star

Why are Jake Paul and Jake Paul fighting?

Before and after his second-round knockout over former NBA player Nate Robinson last November, Jake Paul called out several MMA fighters to step into a boxing ring with him. Among them were Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz, Dillon Danis, Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren. Although some suggested they’d take the fight on social media, only the recently retired Askren made it clear that he’d be more than willing to meet the YouTube celebrity for a fight. 

“Boxing, that seems kind of easy,” Askren told Submission Radio about the possibility of stepping into the ring following hip surgery. “Like, I’m sure I could do that. Like, there’s no shots, there’s no slams, there’s not leg locks. I dunno, that seems relatively safe to me.”

Askren wasn’t impressed with Paul’s knockout of Robinson and stated that he’s sure he’d fare much better than Robinson and AnEsonGib, a YouTuber that Paul stopped in the first round last January.

“It’s hard to say when you’re going against someone who’s that bad,” Askren said. “I watched the highlights, Nate Robinson, good god. I mean, honestly, it looked like he’d never been boxing before. For someone who’s such an elite athlete – I mean, this guy’s a very elite athlete, he was a great basketball player – he couldn’t box worth a damn.

“Obviously I’m someone who is a high-level fighter, who has a large following, who was maybe not known for his stand-up. I think that’s probably what he’s thinking.”

After a bit of back and forth on social media, it was announced that Paul would return to the ring in April for a fight on Triller against Askren in an eight-round cruiserweight bout. 

Since the fight was announced, the two have ramped up their rivalry on social media with Paul dragging Askren’s wife into the feud. The feud heated up at a March press conference where words were exchanged and it nearly became physical during the staredown. 

Both have made promises to knock out the other but only one will come out victorious on April 17. 

Continue Reading

Sports

ESPN’s Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

Published

on

ESPN's Holly Rowe speaks French and English in WNBA Draft interview; Twitter reacts

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe received many a “tres bien” from her confrères in media for conducting a bilingual interview with WNBA Draft pick Iliana Rupert, a France international, on Thursday night.

Rupert was chosen 12th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. With the draft being a virtual event for the second year in a row because of COVID-19, Rowe conducted the post-selection interview in an ESPN studio while Rupert was on camera remotely.

MORE: Why Paige Bueckers was ineligible for ’21 WNBA Draft

Rowe began the interview with “Bonsoir,” or “Good evening,” and asked Rupert in French whether she spoke English. Rupert responded in the affirmative and the interview proceeded in English.

“It’s always been one of my dreams and it’s amazing being recognized,” Rupert said. “I’m really happy to [represent] my country and I’m just excited to finally start this journey.”

After two more questions and responses in English, Rowe switched back to French for the interview’s conclusion, telling Rupert “Bienvenue,” or “Welcome,” to the WNBA. She also gave her regards to Rupert’s family.

Rowe’s media colleagues were quick with the compliments.

Continue Reading

Sports

‘It shows how exciting we can be!’ – Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

Published

on

'It shows how exciting we can be!' - Saka says Arsenal have real chance of winning Europa League after Slavia rout

Bukayo Saka says Arsenal have a real chance of winning the Europa League after their rout of Slavia Prague, and claims their latest performance “shows everyone how exciting we can be”.

Arsenal bounced back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against Slavia in the first leg of their quarter-final tie at Emirates Stadium by picking up a comprehensive 4-0 victory in the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

Saka was among the scorers as the Gunners booked a last-four clash with Villarreal, and he is confident they can now go all the way in the competition after flexing their attacking muscles at the Sinobo Stadium.

What’s been said?

“It was fantastic from start to finish. We did it for all the fans, they all deserve it for all the support they give us. We are really happy to progress,” the Arsenal winger told BT Sport.

“We showed real character. The first one was disallowed, Emile deserved a goal, we kept going and got the first one again. We pretty much killed the game in the first half.

“In the first leg we played well but weren’t clinical, credit to the manager and coaching staff, the way we set up, pressed, they couldn’t get out.

“It shows everyone how exciting we can be, when we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition, it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent.”

Arsenal put Slavia to the sword

The Gunners went at their Czech opponents right from the first whistle in the second leg clash, and found themselves in front after just 18 minutes when Nicolas Pepe dinked the ball into the net after being teed up by Emile Smith Rowe.

Alexandre Lacazette then doubled the visitors’ account from the penalty spot after Saka was fouled in the box, and the teenager got his goal moments later when he cut in from the right-wing before firing the ball low past the goalkeeper at his near post.

Lacazette added extra gloss to the final scoreline with a trademark finish 13 minutes from time as Arsenal progressed to the semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.

What’s next?

Arsenal will now turn their attention back to the Premier League, with a home fixture against Fulham scheduled to take place on Sunday.

Further reading

Continue Reading

Trending