Suns Guide to College Tourney
March 17, 2016
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 college tourney.
By Matt Petersen, Suns.com
Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight
Graduates from the NCAA’s leading one-and-done program, these former Wildcats are no less proud of their own fourth-seeded Wildcats despite their brief time playing for them.
All of them enjoyed varying levels of success. Booker's most recent squad (2015) was undefeated right up to the Final Four before a loss to Jon Leuer's Wisconsin program.
Eric Bledsoe still remembers his team's Elite Eight run fondly, while Knight helped exact revenge on the team that beat Bledsoe (West Virgina) the following year en route to the Final Four.
It'd probably be best for Knight to keep that run quiet, however, since it included a win over General Manger Ryan McDonough's beloved North Carolina Tar Heels.
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 Brandon Knight and the rest of the Suns' Kentucky quartet, not to mention North Carolina State alum T.J. Warren.
McDonough has to like his chances, however, as the Tar Heels snagged a coveted No. 1 seed and are seen by many as a favorite to contend for the championship. They could be headed for a collision course with Kentucky in the Sweet 16, however. We have to imagine there will be some front office/player rivalry if that happens.
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'll play a competitive Northern Iowa program in the first round and, potentially, an in-state neighbor in third-seeded Texas A&M in the Round of 32.
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.
The 1990s were the golden era for the then-Pac 10, and Watson represented a big part of that in UCLA blue and gold. He reached the Sweet 16 three times (1998, 2000, 2001), but also felt the sting of a Cinderella loss to 12th-seeded Detroit in 1999.
Watson will need to tread lightly when recalling his glory days, however. His freshman year run ended with a 94-68 rout at the hands of Kentucky, a school represented by four of his current Suns players.
Still, he can always find an escape by reminding former Maryland center Alex Len of the Bruins’ 35-point upset over the third-seeded Terrapins in 2000. Watson’s role in the route: 17 points (on just seven shots!), 16 assists and four steals in 26 minutes of play.
The local representative of the group, Budinger benefitted from Arizona's highly consistent presence in the tournament. His first two seasons, however, featured first-round losses to Purdue (2007) and West Virginia (2008).
It wasn't until his junior (and last year) with Arizona that the Wildcats made an unlikely push as a 12th seed. Their run to the Sweet 16 included wins over fifth-seeded Utah and 13th-seeded Cleveland State before ending at the hands of Louisville.
If sixth-seeded Arizona has hopes of another deep postseason run, they'll need to get past Wichita State and possibly Miami before encountering even stiffer competition. In the unlikely event Arizona and fifth-seeded Maryland meet up in the Elite Eight, look for Budinger and Alex Len to have a friendly war of words.
Vanderbilt quietly enjoyed one of its more consistent postseason presences while Jenkins was with the program. They experienced the tournament in three consecutive seasons, though they advanced from the Round of 64 just once (2012). The previous two times, they were victims of the glass slipper, falling to 13th-seeded Murray State by one in 2010 and to 12th-seeded Richmond by three in 2011.
Jenkins’ breakthrough win won’t be too much of a hot topic on his current NBA team, as it was followed by a loss to Jon Leuer’s alma mater, Wisconsin.
Other than interim head coach Earl Watson, Jon Leuer has the most extensive March resume on the team. The former Wisconsin badger made the Sweet 16 twice, but also found himself on the bad side of a 12-seed’s Cinderella run (Cornell in 2010).
Leuer has no doubt had at least one fun poke at rookie Devin Booker after his Badgers ended Kentucky’s bid for undefeated glory last year. He might, however, see some unpleasant déjà vu if Wisconsin meets second-seeded Xavier in the second round. Leuer and Wisconsin lost to Xavier in that same round in 2009.
Impressive as Warren’s individual accolades were, his N.C. State Wolfpack could never land a fortuitous seed come March. In 2013, the eighth-seeded Wolfpack lost to No. 9 Temple in the Round of 64. A year later, during Warren’s breakout sophomore campaign, they escaped the First Four round only to suffer an overtime heartbreak to fifth-seeded Saint Louis.