Observations: Mike Gbinije’s ascension aides Syracuse to Sweet 16

Fifth-year senior Mike Gbinije only averaged 3.4 points two years ago in his first season with Syracuse after transferring from Duke but since then everything this kid has touched has turned to gold.

After a solid jump during last season, Gbinije has arrived in his final year of college basketball and is averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists for the Syracuse while shooting an impressive 41.1 percent from 3-point range.

A year ago, Gbinije averaged 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.

Blessed with good size and length for a guard at 6-foot-7, the Richmond, Virginia native had 23 points and was 10-of-14 from the floor in Sunday’s win over Middle Tennessee.

The Orange will face Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

Jordan Woodard has returned to form

The 6-foot guard was being mentioned with both Providence’s Ben Bentil and Saint Joseph’s Isaiah Miles in January as one of the most improved players in the country, but then hit an offensive slump during the final month of the regular season.

It appears as if he’s regained his touch.

Woodard is averaging 16.0 points through Oklahoma’s first two NCAA Tournament games and is 10-of-22 from the field and 4-of-10 from 3-point range during that span.

If Woodard is a threat to score then it’s going to open up higher percentage looks for both Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield.

That’s a big key if the Sooners hope to get to Houston and play in the Final Four.

The level of coaching in the Big 12 went up a notch

Just when you thought this conference couldn’t get any tougher, it just did.

Both Oklahoma State and TCU made head coaching hirings on Monday and the Cowboys and Horned Frogs each tabbed impressive choices in Jamie Dixon and Brad Underwood respectively.

Dixon won an average of 25.2 games per season during his 13 years with the Panthers while Underwood went 89-14 over the past three years with the Lumberjacks.

Six of the 10 coaches in the Big 12 — Bill Self, Shaka Smart, Tubby Smith, Bruce Weber, Bob Huggins, and Lon Kruger — have coached in a Final Four.

Add Dixon, Underwood, Scott Drew, and Steve Prohm to that mix and it’s as good of a league from a head coaching perspective as there is in college basketball.

Pitt’s next hire must be a home run

The Panthers have been a perennial NCAA Tournament contender since Ben Howland came to Western Pennsylvania in 1999 and their next move to replace Jamie Dixon is beyond critical.

Pitt has been to 11 of the last 13 NCAA Tournaments, but the identity of this program has changed since it left the Big East and entered the ACC.

After years of building a foundation with tough kids from the tri-state area, the Panthers have instead mixed and matched different pieces of personnel to attempt to put together a capable roster.

Newly minted athletic director Scott Barnes has to hire someone who can re-establish Pitt’s identity in recruiting and also have the presence to coach in a league whose teams are currently a combined 12-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

The first full four days of the 2016 NCAA Tournament may have been the best ever

Drama?

Check.

Buzzer-beaters?

Check.

Unexpected results?

There was that too.

From Northern Iowa’s dramatic win over Texas to the Panthers’ unfathomable double-overtime loss to Texas A&M, the first four days of the NCAA Tournament had a little bit of everything.

There was Wisconsin’s buzzer-beater against Xavier as well as Saint Joseph’s narrow escape against Cincinnati.

The greatest show in sports?

There’s not even a debate anymore.

And the best part is there’s still 15 games left to play.

Mike Gbinije is a major part of Syracuse's run to the Sweet 16. (USATSI)
Mike Gbinije is a major part of Syracuse’s run to the Sweet 16. (USATSI)

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