PHOENIX — Who are these guys? Time for some Final Four trivia questions. Unlike batteries, answers are included.
1. Gonzaga and South Carolina, whose first meeting ever will be Saturday, are similar in that this is the inaugural Final Four for each. Can you name three ways they’re very different?
— They’re 2,500 miles apart on a map.
— Gonzaga had won 24 NCAA tournament games before this March. South Carolina had won four.
— South Carolina averaged 76,920 fans to its home football games last season. Gonzaga doesn’t even have a football team.
2. This is Roy Williams’ ninth Final Four. Care to take a crack at the team he went against in his first Final Four game?
That’d be North Carolina, back in 1991. Kansas won 79-73, and Dean Smith was ejected in the final minutes. Williams has often said he hated coaching against his old mentor so much, he never looked down at the Tar Heels’ bench once the entire game.
3. If the four coaches get in a one-on-one tournament, who wins?
Pick Oregon’s Dana Altman in your bracket. He’s the only one who played much in college, though he said Monday of his career at Eastern New Mexico, “I didn’t have many highlights as a player. I was awful. I would have sure hated to coach me, that’s for sure.”
Altman still plays the role as the opponent’s point guard spot in his team’s pregame run-throughs. “They’re never too full-speed, because I am out there. You can imagine they’re pretty low-key.”
4. Which coach really put the student in student-athlete?
Altman again. He graduated magna cum laude. Not to mention, he was an Eagle Scout. Gonzaga’s Mark Few is no academic lightweight, but he gets marked down for the uncertainty he had with temperature over the weekend when he was trying to describe how good it felt to get to the Final Four. “Just makes your heart warm to like 350-degree Celsius or something. Maybe it’s Fahrenheit. It’s been a while since I was in class.”
5. And who is king of the books among the players?
Luke Maye, the Tar Heel who shot down Kentucky, is a two-time member of the ACC all-academic team, and was in business class at 8 a.m. the morning after his buzzer-beater in Memphis. But the clear answer here is Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, the first team academic All-American who just completed his psychology degree with a 3.84 grade point average in psychology. That goes nicely with his 16.7 scoring average.
6. Who is the geezer in this Final Four?
Roy Williams, at 66. If the Tar Heels win, he’ll be the third oldest national champion coach behind Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski. “I tell them all the time I am not of their generation,” Williams said of his players. “And I am happy I am not.”
7. No, not the coach. Which player is the geezer of this Final Four?
That’d be Oregon guard Dylan Ennis, going to Phoenix at the age of 25. He’s older than eight of the players on the Portland Trail Blazers roster.
8. How many votes did South Carolina get in the preseason Associated Press or coaches’ poll?
Not one. That had the Gamecocks below nearly half the Ivy League – Yale, Harvard and Princeton.
9. Who’s Nicolaus Copernicus, and what’s he have to do with this Final Four?
He’s one of the big wheels in astronomy and is the most famous person to ever come from Torun, Poland. Well, maybe now the second most famous behind Przemek Karnowski, the 7-1, 300-pound Gonzaga Bulldog who can blot out the sun. Back in Poland, Karnowski attended Nicolaus Copernicus High School, where they studied the stars but did not have a basketball team.
10. What was the season scoring average for Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey at the close of the regular season on March 4?
12.4 points per game. That, after scoring one point in the finale.
11. And what has it been in the seven Pac-12 and NCAA tournament games since?
12. So what turned him into Russell Westbrook?
13. Which Final Four member is the only school in the nation that averaged more than 10,000 people to both its men and women’s home games this season?
South Carolina, who has both of its teams in the Final Four. Take that, UConn.
14. When Mark Few needs to plan his son’s birthday party, who does he call?
Roy Williams, who else? Williams said they've hung out together before, playing poker and craps. “He just called me on one of his son’s birthdays, I think, to ask about some card games we used to play, make sure he had the rules right.”
15. Who in this Final Four is the veteran at cutting down nets?
That has to be Oregon starting freshman guard Payton Pritchard, whose high school team won four state championships. If the Ducks prevail, he’ll be cutting them down for the fifth straight year.
16. How long has it been since Oregon played in the Final Four?
Fourteen U.S. presidents, 78 years and long enough for 85 other schools to make it. Positively Cubsian.
17. Who among the four coaches has spent the most time in his life on a train?
Best guess is South Carolina’s Frank Martin. Let him explain why, going back to his younger days when he was an assistant coach at Northeastern in Boston but lived in Rhode Island.
"The other assistant and I ended up renting a one-bedroom apartment. Actually, he had a car, I did not, so I would ride with him sometimes. When he was out recruiting, I’d have to take the bus, downtown Providence, and get on a commuter rail to Boston. I was making $28,000 and I just couldn’t afford to live in Boston. You make it work, you figure out a way to make ends meet, and that’s what I did.”
18. If you’re Oregon, what’s the best reason to have Nike’s Phil Knight as one of your fans and alums?
He and his wife donated a half-billion dollars to the school for a science center. That’s billion with a b. So last Saturday, when the women Ducks upset Maryland to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in the afternoon and the men whipped Kansas to get to the Final Four at night, it was the best day in the state of Oregon since Nike and tennis shoes met.
19. What, besides some movies, lasts 99 minutes and 21 seconds?
That’s how long Gonzaga has been behind . . . all year. Or about 6.8 percent of the season. The Zags have trailed only three times in the second half.
20. What’s the score between Oregon and North Carolina?
Tar Heels lead 14-2. Not in the game, but players on NBA rosters. Kentucky, by the way, started the season with 24.
21. Which team has players with the deepest family ties to the school?
South Carolina would be hard to beat. Guard PJ Dozier grew up in Columbia and his father, sister and uncle all played for the Gamecocks. Then there’s guard Justin McKie, whose father BJ is the school’s all-time leading scorer.
22. North Carolina won the Maui Invitational this season, just as the Tar Heels did in 2004-05 and 2008-09. How did those seasons end?
With North Carolina national championships. For any superstitious Tar Heel fans about now, that fact is not so trivial at the moment.
23. Where the Final Four teams rank on the selection committee’s seed list?
North Carolina 3, Gonzaga 4, Oregon 7 and . . . South Carolina 26, or one spot behind Saint Mary’s.
24. The Final Four is being played in the University of Phoenix Stadium, which has also hosted several Super Bowls. Why is that kind of odd?
The University of Phoenix doesn’t have a football team. No basketball team, either. But the Final Four is coming to its house.