If you’re a college football fan who doesn’t much follow basketball, fear not. With input from a bunch of my friends at SB Nation, I’ve made up a sort of guide.
The goal: To match every team in this year’s Final Four to the most similar football program, so if you’re trying to pick a rooting interest, maybe it’ll help.
If you’re a college football and basketball fan who thinks I’m woefully off base, let me know in the comments.
Oregon basketball = TCU football
Long ago, the Ducks were a great basketball team. As a member of the Pacific Coast Conference, they won the first NCAA tournament in 1939. But they spent years in the wilderness, making a total of nine more Big Dances until 2013. The Ducks pivoted from a championship to decades of mediocrity.
TCU was the 1938 national champion in football, a title that stands as its only one. There were some great years before that, but TCU was mostly not great. And from the 1960s to the late 1990s, TCU was mired in its own underwhelming results.
Now Oregon’s playing in its fifth NCAA tournament in a row. TCU made BCS bowls in 2009 and 2010 and has become a regular postseason presence. Neither has won a second national championship yet, however.
Also, let’s not forget what happened the last time Oregon and TCU met in a big game.
Gonzaga basketball = Boise State football
The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, a mid-major league they’ve dominated for two decades. They’ve spent more years dealing with power-conference disrespect than any team in this era. All the while, they’ve made 19 NCAA tournaments in a row. This is their first appearance in the Final Four.
Boise State is the closest equivalent in football. The Broncos were the dominant force in the WAC even before Chris Petersen arrived in 2006, and they’ve continued to dominate in the Mountain West under Bryan Harsin. But despite 12 double-digit-win years between 2002 and 2016, they’ve only made three New Year’s Six or BCS bowls. They’ve won all three.
This parallel’s not perfect. Gonzaga’s run of excellence has gone on a little longer and all under one coach, Mark Few. The Zags have been seeded fairly enough in the tournament, and there’s no bowl system to spurn them.
However, here are program heroes Kellen Moore and Adam Morrison side-by-side.
South Carolina basketball = Michigan State football
The Gamecocks do not recruit like a Final Four team. They do not play offense like a Final Four team. They have no history as an elite basketball team. But they do play elite defense, and of late, they’ve done nothing but win.
This feels somewhat similar to Michigan State. Not last year’s MSU, which went 3-9, and not 2014-2015 MSU, which played good offense, but the teams from around 2010-2013. In 2011, a defense that ranked in the 60s two years earlier was 10th in the country in points allowed per game.
Much like Mark Dantonio and coordinator Pat Narduzzi molded the Spartans’ defense over time, Frank Martin’s transformed the Gamecocks’. They were horrific on D in Martin’s first season, 2012-13, but rose to No. 2 in adjusted efficiency this year. The offense isn’t great, just like Michigan State’s when it won the 2013 season’s Rose Bowl behind a sophomore Connor Cook.
South Carolina’s rise has been more sudden, and the Spartans have some championship history. But the feel is similar.
Plus, Dantonio’s a Gamecock alum. He played defensive back under Jim Carlen from 1976-1978.
North Carolina basketball = Michigan football
You could compare UNC hoops to several top programs, including Ohio State, USC, or LSU.
The Tar Heels are not the best basketball program ever, probably. UCLA has 11 national championships, and Kentucky has eight, compared to five for UNC. But the Heels have been an elite the majority of the time since the 1960s.
Michigan is not the best football program ever, either. But the Wolverines are also close to the top. They claim 11 national titles, which is a ton, but not as many as Alabama. (Whether the Tide have 12 or 16 is up for debate.) Still, they’re elite, and their block-M logo is an internationally recognizable symbol, much like Carolina Blue.
Michigan plays in the Big Ten. The commissioner of that conference, Jim Delany, is a former UNC basketball player.
North Carolina produced the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. Michigan produced the best football player ever, Tom Brady. (Let’s not argue this out right now.) Michigan even wears Jordan’s Jumpman logo on its jerseys.