INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Michigan fell short of the Final Four, but the Wolverines stood out in a study that seeded the NCAA Tournament fields based on academics and diversity.
Michigan was the only school to claim a No. 1 seed in both the men’s and women’s brackets released Wednesday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at Central Florida, with the study crowning the Juwan Howard's Wolverines the men’s national champion for the second straight year.
On the women’s side, Gonzaga was named national champion and nearly joined Michigan as the only school with a No. 1 seed in both of the brackets. Mark Few’s men's team – which is vying to become the first unbeaten national champion in 45 years – was a No. 2 seed.
“It’s meant as a reminder as everybody is in a frenzied state now because of the great basketball being played on the courts and wonderful games that these are also student-athletes,” said Richard Lapchick, TIDES director and lead study author.
The study focused on team Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, GSR gaps between white and Black players, and the racial or gender diversity of head coaches.
The men’s No. 1 seeds included Villanova, Michigan State and West Virginia, while Colgate, Connecticut and Alabama joined Gonzaga as 2-seeds. Among the Final Four teams, Baylor and Houston were each 6-seeds while UCLA – which upset Michigan in Tuesday’s East Region final – was a No. 16.
For the women, Lehigh and Stanford joined Gonzaga and Michigan on the top lines, while Louisville, Northwestern, Marist and Stony Brook were 2-seeds. Among the Final Four teams, Connecticut was a 6-seed while South Carolina and Arizona wree both 12s.
This is the second bracket report by TIDES, which also releases annual studies examining diversity-hiring practices for college athletics and professional leagues such as the NFL, NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.
Johnny Juzang transferred from Kentucky to UCLA after his freshman season for two reasons: The Los Angeles native would have an opportunity to play close to home and he’d have a chance to play for Mick Cronin.
The first reason makes sense. The second? Not so much.
The top-100 prospect had a reputation for high-volume scoring. And he had to mesh with Cronin’s slow-tempo, defensive-minded approach.
“I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me. I wanted that,” said Juzang, whose 28-point performance lifted the Bruins past the Wolverines to reach the Final Four.
“I wanted to play for a program where obviously he does that for everybody,” Juzang said. “I wanted to be part of a winning program with, you know, winning standards. A level of accountability to win games. So I actually would just say it’s the opposite, man. His reputation really drew me to play for Coach. Obviously it’s been incredible.”
It hadn't been the easiest of NCAA Tournaments for Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs. So he got a pep talk from a childhood friend: Fellow star freshman Paige Bueckers of Connecticut.
The top NBA prospect failed to reach double figures in two of his first three games before going off for 18 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday's regional final win against Southern California.
He said he had FaceTimed with Bueckers, a fellow Minnesota native, after watching her score 28 points to help Connecticut beat Baylor to reach the Final Four one night earlier.
“I've been kind of struggling, trying to get my footing in these tournament games,” Suggs said. “ Of course, seeing her go out there and play great like she did and then talking afterwards, she kind of said some words, it kind of got me uplifted. It got me going.”
On Wednesday, Bueckers became the first freshman named Associated Press national women's college basketball player of the year.
“She's the GOAT for a reason,” Suggs said.
Baylor is the only Final Four team, men or women, that has had the same five starters for every game.
Coach Scott Drew and the Big 12 regular-season champion Bears have stuck with All-American junior guard Jared Butler, along with MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital and big man Flo Thamba.
Former Southwest Conference foe Houston, the Bears’ opponent on Saturday, is the only Final Four team that doesn’t have a single player that started every game. The Cougars have two players with 30 starts in their 31 games: DeJon Jarreau and Justin Gorham.
To make history, Gonzaga will have to advance past the point that has tripped up its two predecessors – and in the same city, too.
UNLV in 1990-91 and Kentucky in 2014-15 were the last teams to carry unbeaten record this deep into the season. Like the Zags, both were No. 1 from start-to-finish in the AP Top 25. And both stumbled in the Final Four in Indianapolis, with the Runnin’ Rebels losing to Duke and the Wildcats losing to Wisconsin.
AP Basketball Writer Dave Skretta in Indianapolis and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.
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