SAN ANTONIO — The Old Man of College Basketball isn’t thinking about all the freshmen stars who've flamed out before him in the NCAA Tournament when he takes off for the basket. DeAndre Kane — the soon to be 25-year-old Iowa State senior — isn’t even thinking of his late father.
No, Kane is just thinking that his coach has given him a great chance to win the game.
That’s what good coaches do. Kane turns Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg’s isolation play into gold, driving all the way into the lane — waiting for a double team that never comes. So Kane keeps going, hoists up an off-balance, acrobatic shot that’s never in danger of missing.
Iowa State 85, North Carolina 83.
“He’s been our Mariano Rivera,” Hoiberg says of Kane, a Marshall transfer who’s helped transform the Iowa State program. “He’s been our closer all season.”
Self's been the architect of so many of these collapses and his inability to ever really take advantage of a supernova of ability like Wiggins is damning.
Kane isn’t the Cyclones most talented player. That’s Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim. He’s not Iowa State’s most invaluable player. That’s injured forward Georges Niang in Hoiberg’s estimation.
But Hoiberg still knows to call the play for the gritty old man from Pittsburgh in the clutch.
There’s a coaching lesson in there for Kansas head man Bill Self.
For while Self sets his much more talented team up to choke again, failing to ever really define a lost Andrew Wiggins' role, Hoiberg helps save the Big 12.
Every player on Iowa State knows his role — from Ejim to Kane to sixth-man 3-point gunner Naz Long. Hoiberg — the former NBA role player — has built a real culture of accountability. And a more than healthy hunger.
“When we won (the Big 12), we didn’t feel like we got as much respect as we deserved,” Ejim says. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a chip.”
The Jayhawks have a lot of guys with a sense of entitlement.
Kansas chokes away another NCAA Tournament as a high seed, a higher seed than the tournament conference champ Cyclones. Wiggins — the super talent sure to still go in the Top 5 of the NBA Draft — is shouldering much of the blame after a putrid four point, four turnover game.
But Jayhawks coach Bill Self is the real culprit.
He’s been the architect of so many of these collapses and his inability to ever really take advantage of a supernova of ability like Wiggins is damning.
You can bet that if Wiggins went to Kentucky and played for coach John Calipari instead, he’d still be the sure No. 1 pick everyone expected him to be. He’d also still be playing.
Kansas specializes in the collapse. This is a program that consistently gags under pressure.
If Kansas isn’t losing to an 11th seed in the Elite Eight (VCU in 2011), it’s falling to a 14th seed (Bucknell in 2005) or a 13th seed early (Bradley in 2006).
It’s no surprise that Kansas is one of the five Big 12 teams to go home on the tournament’s first full weekend — joining Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. And it’s no surprise that Iowa State is one of the two still left dancing, heading to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16, two wins from the Final Four in Arlington.
There’s the Choke Coach and there’s the Clutch Coach.
North Carolina Timeout Blunder
Hoiberg’s team isn’t just much more poised than Self’s team. It’s much more calm when it matters than Roy Williams’ blueblood Carolina team too.
After Kane hits that shot with 1.6 seconds left in a great, up-and-down game, the Tar Heels never even get a shot off. Looking for Williams to call a timeout, Carolina guard Nate Britt calls one instead — as the clock hits zero and the final buzzer sounds.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who aren’t afraid to play close games,” Kane says.
Kane’s endured his share of heartbreak. The father who helped keep him out of the gang scene all around him growing up suddenly died of a brain aneurysm when he was in college.
"He’s been our Mariano Rivera. He’s been our closer all season.”
In a quiet moment in the locker room amid all the madness in San Antonio, The Old Man of College Basketball couldn’t help but think of the dad who died much too young.
“I think about him a lot,” Kane says, an NCAA towel wrapped around his shoulders. “He’s up there smiling.”
Iowa State builds two different nine-point leads in the first half, only to watch North Carolina come roaring back. At halftime, it’s a 40-37 game. With 12 minutes left, it’s all knotted at 53. With 9:30 remaining, things are tied at 60. In the final 10 seconds, it's 83-83 and Hoiberg is putting the ball in Kane's large hands.
The action is frantic and back and forth. This is one of the highest level games played in the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend.
When one of the nation’s most storied college basketball bluebloods faces off against the Big 12’s champion, a different kind of magic can emerge.
The Old Man of College Basketball finishes with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, puts his mark all over one of the best NCAA Tournament games you’ll ever see. It’s the kind of game a 19-year-old Andrew Wiggins should have on the big stage.
If only Wiggins had a better, clutch coach.