A Fox, a Byrd and a Jimmer: The Big Dance begins in earnest

Mark Fox used to work for U-Dub. Now he's facing it. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Georgia's Mark Fox used to work at Washington. Now he's facing U-Dub. Small world, eh? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The road to the Final Four, which will be staged in Houston, has begun with the newfangled First Four, staged in Dayton. In between much will happen, only some of it foreseeable by human minds. As the NCAA tournament prepares to begin in earnest, we offer a four-pack of foursomes for your perusal.

Four coaching curiosities

Lon Kruger, UNLV: He’s the world’s nicest guy, so what did he do to deserve this? The former head Atlanta Hawk — remember his ill-fated playoff guarantee? — will face one of his former schools (Illinois) in Round 1. Should the Runnin’ Rebels advance, Kruger would surely face the man who succeeded him at Illinois (Bill Self, now of Kansas) in Round 2. And looking way ahead, two other former Kruger employers (Florida and Kansas State) sit in his half of the bracket.

Mark Fox, Georgia: His Bulldogs will meet Washington, which is where Fox began his coaching career. He worked two seasons for Lynn Nance, who lasted only four. Further oddity: Fox has been identified as a possible target for North Carolina State’s coaching job. The Wolfpack athletic director is Debbie Yow, who was once married to Lynn Nance.

Josh Pastner, Memphis: He was an Arizona walk-on when the Wildcats won the 1997 NCAA title. Graduating in 2 1/2 years, he rose from office go-fer to full-blooded assistant coach but left Tucson in the midst of that uneasy period that spanned Lute Olson’s medical leave of absence and Kevin O’Neill’s stormy stint as coach-in-waiting. Pastner, who’s 33, now coaches Memphis. They meet Arizona in Round 1.

Lorenzo Romar, Washington: He was an assistant under Jim Harrick when UCLA won the 1995 national championship. (The other Bruin assistants were Mark Gottfried, formerly of Alabama, and Steve Lavin, currently of St. John’s.) Romar’s Huskies play Georgia, which Harrick led to the NCAA tournament in 2001 and 2002 but left in rubble after the Tony Cole allegations of 2003.

Four avian subplots

Kansas Jayhawks: They won the 2008 tournament after a 20-year drought of near-misses (Final Four losses to Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Syracuse) and early flops (ousters at the hands of UCLA, UTEP, Virginia, Arizona, Rhode Island, Bucknell and Bradley). Last year they were supposed to win again but lost in Round 2 to Northern Iowa. This year Kansas is widely considered the second-best team in the field, which means … well, pretty much nothing.

Rick Byrd: He coaches Belmont, which is based in Nashville. His Bruins nearly upset Duke in Round 1 of the NCAA tournament. (That game prompted this immortal bit of dialogue between Washington Post writers covering the game. First writer: “Who’s the best player in Belmont history?” Second writer: “Secretariat?”) This time Belmont is matched against No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the upset everybody is picking.

Marquette Golden Eagles: They were the Warriors when they won the 1977 NCAA title in the old Omni and Al McGuire wept. But they’re the Eagles now, and they’re coached by Buzz Williams, and they’ve got a real chance at felling sixth-seeded Xavier in Round 1. Then again, Marquette didn’t look so mighty in its last game — a 25-point Big East tournament loss to the …

Louisville Cardinals: Rick Pitino has won an NCAA title and taken three different schools to the Final Four, but this might well have been his greatest coaching job. Picked to finish eighth in the Big East, Louisville tied for third and went 25-9 despite losing forward Rakeem Buckles to a knee injury in late February. And now those folks who aren’t picking Kansas to win the Southwest Regional are picking the Cardinals.

Four players to know

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: He’s a point guard and the nation’s leading scorer, and he’s great. (Witness his 52 points against New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament.) But he’s now a one-man crew. Without Brandon Davies, suspended due to an honor code violation, Fredette has been firing at an astonishing rate. He took 83 shots in three games in his conference tournament, making 39.

Nolan Smith, Duke: He was the third-best player on Duke’s championship team of last season, but he became the ACC player of the year while filling a position — point guard — he wasn’t supposed to fill. (Freshman Kyrie Irving was lost to a toe injury and still hasn’t returned.) If Duke wins it again, Nolan will finish with one more national title than managed by his late dad Derek, who hailed from Hogansville, Ga., and who was a starting forward on Louisville’s 1980 NCAA titlist.

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost last season’s national player of the year, guard Evan Turner, to the NBA draft. They’ve been better without him. The freshman Sullinger, who might be the first player drafted this summer, has lent Ohio State the inside power last season’s all-perimeter team lacked.

Kenneth Faried, Morehead State: Never heard of him? Pay attention to the Louisville-Morhead matchup. (Like Louisville, Morehead is based in Kentucky.) Faried is a 6-foot-10 post player who leads the nation in rebounding and who could become a lottery pick.

Four not-so-outrageous predictions

1. Belmont and Byrd will indeed take down Wisconsin.

2. Charles Barkley will seem out of his element as a college basketball commentator.

3. Wofford will upset Jimmer and BYU.

4. Ohio State and Sullinger will win it all.

PROMOTIONAL NOTE: If you haven’t yet entered Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco — winner gets a Final Four hoodie and a 32GB iPAD — please do so by clicking here. You have until 11:40 a.m. Thursday to enter.

ANOTHER PROMOTIONAL NOTE: Coming tomorrow, we’ll conduct the annual live chat off the first afternoon of NCAA play, complete with the usual photo of my propped-up feet. Join me around noon Thursday, won’t you? My feet and I thank you in advance.

By Mark Bradley

72 comments Add your comment

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 16th, 2011
2:00 pm

Rickster

March 16th, 2011
2:01 pm

DanG! Second

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 16th, 2011
2:05 pm

the roll continues i might not finish dead last in the bracket fiasco this year.

Rickster

March 16th, 2011
2:12 pm

In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.”

joe

March 16th, 2011
2:20 pm

UGA, Vandy & Tenn all lose in first round…book it.

Paul in RDU

March 16th, 2011
2:26 pm

2. Charles Barkley will seem out of his element as a college basketball commentator.

I expect Sir Charles’ commentary on the NCAA games to equal his golf swing – something indescribable and unbelievable that you just can’t stop looking at / listening to.

just a fan

March 16th, 2011
2:27 pm

Dawgs will handle Washington in the first round

headley lamar

March 16th, 2011
2:28 pm

Id think number 2 on the list is a lock.

The others …. who knows?

Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!

March 16th, 2011
2:43 pm

OSU vs KU

OR

OSU vs PITT

GTBob

March 16th, 2011
2:44 pm

The NCAA tournament got off to a good start last night. First, a great game in the 16-16 matchup. Then an undeserving UAB team got slaughtered by an underseeded Clemson team. Nice job by the selection committee on that disaster. Still though, I like the first 4 concept then I thought I would.

Buckeye

March 16th, 2011
2:59 pm

Smart prediction, Bradley.

Go Bucks.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
3:10 pm

Kudos again, SG.

Rickster

March 16th, 2011
3:15 pm

Man… I could have sworn I woulda gotten something for the “Get Smart” reference.

Sonny Clusters

March 16th, 2011
3:16 pm

We was wondering what color is the hoodie and was it ever worn in an armed robbery?

Rickster

March 16th, 2011
3:17 pm

“I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender… instead of a bum… which is what I am.”

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
3:17 pm

You got the Cone of Silence instead, Rickster.

GT Dude

March 16th, 2011
3:18 pm

not sure what the point is with this FOX – YOW – NANCE thing, but it just sounds dirty…

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
3:18 pm

Hoodie is new. And usually gray.

Sonny Clusters

March 16th, 2011
3:18 pm

Is there a place to prop up your feet in Dunwoody? We was always thinking that took place only on Marietta Street.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
3:22 pm

I’ll be propping in Charlotte tomorrow. I’m headed north soon.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
3:22 pm

And there’s no point to it, GT Dude. Just one of life’s little oddities. (I’m pretty sure Ms. Yow and Mr. Nance had gotten unmarried by the time he coached at Washington.)

Rickster

March 16th, 2011
3:24 pm

Better than nothing! :-)

Auburn is All In Jail

March 16th, 2011
3:38 pm

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
3:41 pm

THE DAWGS WILL WIN THEIR FIRST NATIONAL BBALL TITLE-THE BEST PF AND SM IN THE LAND-THE BEST UP N COMING COACH-AND THE MOST UNDERRATED BALL HANDLER IN THE C-

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
3:42 pm

JOE EATS BOOGERS WHEN NOT WATCHING TECH-KNOWS WHAT HE’LL BE DOING THE NEXT TWO WEEKS

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
3:42 pm

Enter your comments here

Mark Bradley`s Booster

March 16th, 2011
3:50 pm

The fan interest is low in Atlanta. GT did not make it and we do not have a coach. I am more interested in who our next coach will be than this NCAA tournament. Who is your latest prediction Mark?

Georgia's NCAA appearance

March 16th, 2011
3:52 pm

Going up against Washington? This shouldn’t last long.

Paul in RDU

March 16th, 2011
4:13 pm

Mark,
Since you are going to Charlotte to see UGA play in the tourney, you should check out the Fox and Hounds. It’s a small chain of local sports bars with one on Tryon just north of Trade St (walking distance to the Arena).
If Schultz was going I would recommend the Uptown Cabaret.

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
4:36 pm

UGA WILL WIN THE NC-BOW TO THE DAWGS BOZOS

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
4:38 pm

THE AJC IS A SOCIALIST SOUNDBITE FOR THE BIG O-HOWS THAT CHANGE WORKIN 4 YA- 8.9% UNEM,PLOYMENT, HIGHEST FOOD RISE IN 30 YEARS, 14 TRILLION DOLLAR DEBT, STILL FIGHTING 2 WARS, GITMO IS OPEN, ABORTION IS RAMPANT, JAPAN IS TRYING TO FIND US, LIBYA CANT GET ANY HELP FROM US, GAS PRICES ARE THRU THE ROOF-BUT HEY WE HAVE HIS BRACKETS, THE LITTLE O HAS A 1,000 DOLLAR HANDBAG AND THEY’RE GOIN TO PARTY IN RIO

GT 65

March 16th, 2011
4:39 pm

Dadgun where are you? We need a insider up date on GT’s future Coach..

Is it still the “Mooney Blues”?

ncb34

March 16th, 2011
4:42 pm

as long as i see plenty of buzzer beaters, huge comebacks (hopefully not involving UGA) i’m happy. i have no idea what to do with this bracket this season, everyone has a chance… except virginia tech and colorodo. the tournament, opening day, and the masters.. best time of the year.

MARK BRADLEY LOVES CHEESE GRITS

March 16th, 2011
4:42 pm

MARK HAS A PET ARMADILLO NAMED BOB

N

March 16th, 2011
4:49 pm

Wow — Calling Wofford the Gonzaga of this year. Don’t forget the Zags this year, they could easily beat St Johns and probably BYU who joins their conf next year.

Da Man

March 16th, 2011
4:52 pm

Now Mark, you be da man most of the time, but Obama has already picked Pittsburgh. You cannot go against the Commander of Da Pickers!

GTBob

March 16th, 2011
4:56 pm

Two teams I’m interested in seeing: Mich St and Uconn. Mich St has been up and down all season but always play well in the tournament. It wouldn’t surprise me if they make the sweet 16. As for Uconn, im eager to see what they have left in the tank after that amazing run they went on last week.

Stuck in Kentucky

March 16th, 2011
5:10 pm

I’ve get my mind out of the gutter, thought Lynn was a chick, read what i wanted to read

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2011
5:14 pm

Thanks, Paul. Perhaps Coach Fox will take his Hounds there.

Beast from the East

March 16th, 2011
5:27 pm

I’ve got the Gators beating UCONN for the title! The odds of that happening are pretty dad-gum slim, but I just couldn’t pick against my team. In all honesty, I think Ohio State is the best team I’ve seen all year.

Beast from the East

March 16th, 2011
5:28 pm

2. Charles Barkley will seem out of his element as a college basketball commentator.

That’s just turrible!

Paul in RDU

March 16th, 2011
5:40 pm

Mark,
I hope you are talking about Fox taking his Hounds to their namesake sports bar not to my recommendation for JS

JSS

March 16th, 2011
5:52 pm

Jimmer is a great college basketball story. Why are you worrying about Barkley? At least he will say something bizarrely interesting… That’s Charles’ deal…

JSS

March 16th, 2011
6:11 pm

Michigan State has not been “up and down.” Quality non-conference teams took them to the woodshed away from from E. Lansing. Texas slapped them in the mouth at home. Purdue and Michigan owned them. Iowa did them in at Iowa City. They got revenge in the Big Ten Tourney (Iowa and Purdue), but the Penn State team showed again how you beat them. Defensive rebounding, effective running, and shooting beyond the arc. Oakland had them on the ropes at home too!

Upstate Dawg

March 16th, 2011
6:28 pm

Single session tickets are now available in Charlotte: http://www.georgiadogs.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/031611aad.html Go Dawgs!!

KevinM

March 16th, 2011
6:34 pm

The Fox/Bradley lovefest continues in his next article. Can’t imagine how MB will go on should Rox consider another town.

FWIW, Hewitt might still be around if MB showed this much passion. It doesn’t get any worse for a coach than bad press by the local fishwrap.

Steve

March 16th, 2011
7:09 pm

I’ve not sure of the reasoning behind adding another 8 teams, other than more $$$. But can anyone explain why the First Four has four 12 seeds and four 16 seeds rather than eight 16 seeds?

Paul in RDU

March 16th, 2011
7:48 pm

Steve,
I believe the reason for the First Four having the four 12 seeds has to do with the power conferences wanting more at-larges (remember, there were only 65 teams in the tourney last year) and the NCAA membership saying – OK, but the extra ones need to be in the “play in” games. The #16 seeds are all usually winners of low ranked conferences.

Skeezix

March 16th, 2011
7:59 pm

Mark: Ohio State ain’t a bad pick, but If Kyrie does in fact return and is able to play significant minutes, Duke just may repeat. I refuse to watch Barkley’s golf swing (my belief is that it even watching it could cause one to get the shanks), but I am neutral on Charles as a commentator—-except that he always seems to come up with something crazy or funny so he should add entertainment value. I really don’t think Charles takes any of it too seriously.

D Fence

March 16th, 2011
8:11 pm

Meanwhile, Jim ” I shall reveal my lie until after we finally beat a SEC team ” Tressel is caught in a guys night out with Charlie Sheen but denies that he actually knows Charlie Sheen even though they are facebook friends….Oh how I hate Ohio St.