Bradley’s Buzz: A fresh-faced Final Four for a sport in flux

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Last year’s Final Four qualifiers were Kansas, North Carolina, Villanova and Duke – each of which had taken at least three NCAA titles, a group that had reached the national semifinals a total of 60 times. This year’s Final Four has three newbies, only UConn having been here and done this.

For college basketball, it should be a happy weekend. Alas, there are no happy times in college hoops. The minute something nice happens to some program, other programs prepare to pounce and poach.

Last week, Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said of his upstart Owls: “They’re getting recruited right now. They’ve been recruited throughout this tournament. … There are middlemen, third parties that have incentive to get kids in the portal and help them find another spot and then with the new rules, who knows what happens after that?”

Of the 20 Final Four starters, eight are transfers. Miami starts three: Nijel Pack, previously of Kansas State, plus Norchad Omier from Arkansas State and Jordan Miller from George Mason. Eleven months ago, Isaiah Wong threatened to leave Miami because his existing NIL deal paled alongside the incoming Pack’s. They shared an NIL agent. Now they share a backcourt.

Saint Peter’s nearly made the 2022 Final Four, having become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight. Seven Peacocks, the mustachioed Doug Ebert among them, entered the portal. Only one followed outbound coach Shaheen Holloway to Seton Hall.

Northern Kentucky, a 16th seed, gave No. 1 Houston a mighty scare on March 16. Per Evan Dennison of Link NKY, six of the Norse have entered the portal. That’s how fast it happens.

In his introductory press briefing at South Florida, Abdur Amir-Rahim expressed hesitation regarding the transfer portal. “When you’re recruiting a high school kid, you have an opportunity to mold him from Day 1,” he said. “Not saying every kid that’s in the portal (is one) you can’t change, you can’t mold, but if they’ve been somewhere that they’ve had an experience that wasn’t positive, it’s hard to change that mindset.”

Abdur-Rahim spent four seasons at Kennesaw State. He just led the Owls to their first winning season in Division 1, their first ASUN championship and nearly their first victory in the Big Dance. Now he’s gone to Tampa. KSU tried to keep him, but USF is in the American Conference, a much bigger league.

If you make it to March and look good on TV, your coach is apt to become somebody else’s coach. Nobody had heard of Tobin Anderson, whose FDU Knights made the tournament at 19-15 despite losing in the American East final. Then they became the second No. 16 to topple a No. 1, upsetting Purdue. Anderson is now the coach at Iona, having succeeded the Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, who left for St. John’s.

The first coach to win – it happened in 2018 – with a No. 16 was Ryan Odom, then of UMBC. He just took Utah State to the NCAA tournament. Now he’s the coach at VCU, which reached the NIT and saw Mike Rhoades hired by Penn State, which had a vacancy because Micah Shrewsberry, who’d led the Nittany Lions to a Round 1 victory over Texas A&M, left for Notre Dame.

On March 18, Olivier Nkamhoua scored 27 points for Tennessee in a Round 2 game against Duke. On March 29, Nkamhoua entered the portal. Sahvir Wheeler has led the SEC in assists at both Georgia and Kentucky; he’s again in the portal.

Kario Oquendo was Georgia’s second-leading scorer. He has made himself available for the NBA draft while, just in case, entering the transfer portal. This marks Oquendo’s second trip into the portal. Last year he decided not to leave Athens after all.

The NCAA wanted to give its players more options. It has. The NCAA also leads the world in unintended consequences. The portal and NIL money have afforded student-athletes reason not to be a one-and-done, yes. The alternative is that they become one-and-gone-elsewhere.

A Final Four featuring San Diego State, Florida Atlantic and Miami should be a cause for celebration. In a sport where bluebloods usually hold sway, Semifinal Saturday will feature three fresh faces. We’re just not sure where these faces will be this time next year.

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