Suns Guide to March Madness
March 18, 2014
By Matt Petersen, Suns.com
The brackets are set. The teams’ paths are laid out. The best part of college basketball is set to begin.
So you’d better believe your Suns are paying attention.
There’s more than enough relevant NCAA ties on this team to mention, which has added an element to the team’s chemistry that is both humorous and competitive.
With that in mind, here’s where each player and coach stands when it comes to this year’s edition of March Madness.
The sharp-shooting big man had the biggest bragging rights in the regular season. Now he and his No. 1-seeded Arizona Wildcats have the most to lose.
UofA should breeze past the other Wildcats from Weber State, but face a stiff second-round matchup whether it’s Gonzaga or Oklahoma State. Throw in potential opponents Oklahoma, San Diego State, Creighton or Wisconsin, and they’re far from the Final Four shoe-in Frye will no doubt say they are.
Plus Frye’s personal March Madness experience is marred by losses to other Suns’ teammates’ teams, including legend Alvan Adams’ Oklahoma Sooners (2002, Sweet 16) and the Morris twins’ Jayhawks (2003, Elite Eight).
Markieff and Marcus Morris
Remember, the Suns twins doubled up in college as well, so there will be twice the love for Kansas from this year’s squad.
The Jayhawks hold the No. 2 seed in the South region, where they open up against Eastern Kentucky. Assuming they get past them and New Mexico/Stanford (not a guarantee), they’ll likely face Syracuse’s daunting zone defense and stellar guard play in the Sweet 16.
Just don’t expect the duo that carried the Jayhawks to the Elite 8 in 2011 to lack for confidence.
Jeff Hornacek, Aaron Nelson
Head coach and trainer join forces as the Phoenix reps of Iowa State, which snagged the No. 3 seed out East. There will no doubt be friendly ribbing from Miles Plumlee, Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker and Shavlik Randolph, all of whom grew up in North Carolina.
If N.C. Central somehow upsets the Cyclones, don’t expect that quartet to let Hornacek and Nelson forget it. Hornacek won't appreciate any Carolina ribbing, not after he and his Cyclones lost to N.C. State in the 1986 Sweet 16.
Miles Plumlee, Shavlik Randolph
A pair of Suns big men will be behind No. 3-seeded Duke, which drew Mercer in the first round. They’ve got a tough path out of their region, with Texas, Arizona State, Michigan, Massachusetts and Iowa all among their potential foes down the road.
Not that Plumlee will be daunted. He’s the only player on the Suns’ active roster with an NCAA championship under his belt (Duke 2010). That run included a win over assistant coach Jerry Sichting’s Purde Boilermakers in the Sweet 16, though they did lose in that same round to Frye’s Wildcats in 2011.
As for Randolph, he has to live with being another tournament victim to Kansas (the Morris twins could have a field day this month) back in 2002.
One of the most outspoken Suns when it comes to college pride, Tucker will have to keep up a brave front for his Longhorns. They drew a nobody-wins seventh seed and Arizona State in the first round (no telling whether Frye is rooting for ASU to lose or looking forward to rubbing a Texas loss in Tucker’s face).
If they get past round one, Texas likely has Michigan and, beyond that, Duke waiting for them. If Tucker seems quiet after week one, you can probably link it to the bracket.
Tucker does have a nice fall-back brag though: his 10-point, six-rebound performance as a freshman off the bench played a big part in Texas beating General Manager Ryan McDonough’s Tar Heels for a berth in the Sweet 16.
Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin
Graduates from the NCAA’s leading one-and-done program, Bledsoe and Goodwin are no less proud of their own eighth-seeded Wildcats despite their brief time playing for them.
They could get an early chance at history if they can get past first-round matchup against Kansas State (expect the Morris twins to grudgingly root for KU, here). The second round likely holds undefeated Wichita State, a matchup which would no doubt get the Suns’ guards amped up.
As for bragging rights, there’s no need for Bledsoe to bring up his holding Ish Smith to 1-of-9 shooting and a 30-point loss in the 2010 Tournament, is there?
We’re getting into the depressing section now. Christmas’ beloved Owls of Temple went 9-22 this seaon, a hard fall since the Suns’ guard helped kickstart a string of six consecutive Tournament appearances that ended this season.
If you’re depressed with him, don’t worry. You can always flash back to Christmas’ 35-point performance to upset No. 8 Tennessee back in 2008.
Speaking of hard falls, how about this: Maryland was only team this season to beat an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed but miss that tournament and the NIT.
Len is an avid supporter of the Terps, especially on Twitter, so this season’s lack of postseason play will no doubt sit sour with him. Luckily he’s got last week’s heroics to blunt the disappointment. There’s also his spotless 4-0 college record against Ish Smith’s beloved Wake Forest program.
Wake Forest simply struggled in the brutal ACC, including a seven-game losing streak (including a loss to Len’s Terrapins).
Smith has an affinity for Demon Deacons that extends back to the playing days of his idol, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
Don’t feel too bad for Ish, though. He can always bring up his game-winning shot in overtime against P.J. Tucker’s Texas Longhorns in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Kenny Gattison, Mark West
The Suns’ assistant coaches are no doubt hoping for another revival out at Old Dominion, where the Monarchs have been relegated to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) after making the CIT last season. Their last appearance in the big dance occurred in 2011.
The two former Suns’ big men account for four NCAA Tournament appearances between them, though they may not want to bring them up around the players. West lost to Ish Smith’s Deacons in 1982, Gattison to Plumlee and Randolph’s Blue Devils in ’86.
Another Suns’ assistant coach with big-time college ties, Sichting’s fondest memories are as a player, when he guided Purdue to the Big Ten Championship in 1979. He wasn’t a one-year wonder, either, having been named to Indiana’s Basketball Hall of Fame and playing in the NBA for 10 years.
That being said, this was not the year for his Boilermakers. Purdue finished 15-17 and won’t be playing in a postseason tournament this season. That’s okay, though. He can always bring up his 1979 NIT title game run, which went through Old Dominion (Kenny Gattison, Mark West) along the way.
Poor Mike Longabardi. We tried to find an out with the last of the Suns’ assistant coaches, but it was tough. His alma mater, Frostburg State, went 3-22. Lafayette, who he helped coach to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2000 finished 11-20.
To make matters worse, that tournament showing was cut short by a first-round loss to Dionte Christmas’ Temple Owls.
Again, we tried.
Boston is the first city that comes to mind when it comes to the Suns’ general manager, but McDonough spent his college days on Chapel Hill. That will surely make him frenemies with Miles Plumlee and Shavlik Randolph (Duke), as well as Ish Smith (Wake Forest).
It’s not an easy bracket for McDonough’s Tar Heels, either. Sixth-seeded UNC has a potential second-round matchup with Michigan State, whom many consider a sleeper candidate to make the Final Four.
At the very least he can empathize if Channing Frye’s Wildcats somehow make history and lose to Weber State in the first round. McDonough’s third-seeded Tar Heels lost by two to WSU in the first round back in 1999.