Talk about the Second City. Philadelphia hosts the varsity games. Chicago gets the Jayvees.
While Philly and the rest of the NCAA tournament-watching nation are enjoying Indiana-North Carolina and Notre Dame-Wisconsin on Friday, the United Center will play host to Syracuse-Gonzaga and Iowa State-Virginia.
Despite the absence of big-name and/or nearby programs, don’t sell the Chicago Four short. All four have played great basketball to get here. One of them will be a deserving member of the 2016 Final Four. Some of them even have Chicago ties.
Here’s a look:
By now, you probably know about Iowa State’s Chicago connection. Fred Hoiberg, who took the Bulls job after coaching at Iowa State last year, has a special relationship with his former players.
Hoiberg, who hopes to watch Iowa State secure a Final Four berth on Sunday, had one bit of coaching advice for his successor, Steve Prohm: “He just said, `Give it to Georges and let him shoot it.’ ’’
That would be Georges Niang, the 6-8 All-America who’s averaging 28 points in NCAA play.
Iowa State has its Niang. Virginia has Malcolm Brogdan, the 6-5 ACC player of the year/All-America who averages 18.6 this season for the Cavaliers, who are third in the nation in scoring defense (59.5).
Virginia is coached by Tony Bennett, whose, father, Dick, took Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four, where it trailed Michigan State 19-17 at halftime in a semi-final–in case you were wondering where Tony learned defense.
The Cavaliers also have a Bulls connection. Tony Bennett played the next-to-last game of his three-year NBA career against the Bulls in the old Chicago Stadium on April 22, 1995,
“A gentleman gave me this great picture of myself and Michael Jordan,’’ Bennett said. “It was an action shot. I remember thinking it was cool, but I left it in the locker. I was like, I’ll get a bunch more of those, no big deal. I always regret that.’’
With nemesis Michigan State, which knocked the Cavs out of the last two NCAA tourneys, out of the way, Bennett has an improved chance to make new memories in Chicago this weekend.
The Bulldogs, or Zags, have been an NCAA tournament Cinderella for so long that they seem old enough to hang out with the Fairy Godmother.
Although a No. 11 seed, Gonzaga is a 4.5-point favorite over No. 10 Syracuse, which tests their underdog reputation even further.
Gonzaga also has its Chicago angle. While the Land of Lincoln has not sent a team to the NCAA tournament for three under-achieving years, Simeon star Zach Norvell, who will play for Gonzaga next year, is among the latest group of players from Illinois who expect to find Big Dance happiness elsewhere. Jeremy Pargo, from Robeson, also went to Gonzaga, finishing his career there in 2009.
“We were very fortunate in both cases,’’ Zags coach Mark Few said. “The fact that Jeremy had so much success at Gonzaga really helped [attract Norvell].’’
The Orange have been an NCAA perennial, appearing in 32 tournaments under Jim Boeheim. This year, though, Syracuse is best known as a team that did not deserve to be in this tournament, many experts and fans believe.
Deserving or not, the Orange’s legendary zone is halfway to Boeheim’s fifth Final Four appearance even though it lost five of its last six regular-season games.
“The finish is not as upsetting to me as it was to a lot of people because three of the losses were at North Carolina, at Louisville and at Florida State,’’ Boeheim said. “Most teams would lose those games.’’
If Syracuse keeps winning, look for the `undeserving’ debate to go on, too.
Follow me on Twitter @Herb Gould