How the Sixers watch the NCAA Tournament, from scouting to reliving

How the Sixers watch the NCAA Tournament, from scouting to reliving

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA Tournament is a different viewing experience for everyone. To some it is a chance to root for an alma mater, to others is a glimpse into future NBA talent, and for the small handful that makes it to the pros, a reminder of moments they cherished. 

From players to the head coach, March Madness has an individual meaning to the Sixers.

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The draft has been just as much a part of Brett Brown's time with the Sixers as the regular season. The Sixers have been perennial top pick contenders and could be heavily involved in the 2017 draft lottery. They have their own first-round pick and rights to swap with the Kings. They also could get the Lakers' pick if it is outside of the top three. 

How does Brown watch college basketball this time of year? 

"Like I'm going to coach one of them," he said. "You pay attention."

Rather than trying to read into the intangibles, such as being a good teammate or competitiveness, Brown hones in on one skill that he can assess quickly. 

"I'm always paying attention to shooters," Brown said. "It really does, on so many levels, make the world go 'round. It especially does with the group that we're constructing … I'm very opinionated when it comes to shooting. I feel like if I see somebody shoot three or four times and just watch their form, their footwork, their preparation, you form a pretty quick opinion. It takes you about a second to look at their stats and it helps you validate what you think or contradict what you think. But shooters really are what's most on my mind."

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It was only three seasons ago that Jahlil Okafor was cutting down the nets as an NCAA championship winner. Okafor considers the Duke basketball circle as family and spends his summers on campus. Watching the tournament from a distance stirs up old feelings that really aren't so old. 

"It kind of makes me sad because I want to be out there with my guys," Okafor said. "It makes me a little sad, especially when they lose (second-seeded Duke lost to South Carolina in the second round). It's always fun to watch. I'm so closely removed from it and I'm friends with all those guys on the team."

Okafor said coach Mike Krzyzewski has changed up the system, which was heavily focused on getting him the ball at the basket since he left after his freshman year. The excitement of March Madness, though, still feels very familiar. 

"Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday, sometimes it feels like it was 20 years ago," Okafor said. "It feels like I was just in the tournament."

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Nik Stauskas will always be attached to Michigan basketball. This season was significant because the teammates he played with before entering the draft in 2014 were still part of the program. 

"It's going to change next year because it will be the first year that I will have not played with anyone on that team," Stauskas said. "But as of right now, I still feel such a huge connection. Most of the coaches are still the same, most of the main players were guys I played with my sophomore year."

Michigan upset Louisville in the second round before losing to Oregon by one point in the Sweet 16. Stauskas was watching along from the Sixers' road trip. 

"To see them make the run, I'm extremely proud," he said. "I don't get emotionally attached to basketball games unless it's Michigan playing. It's fun to be that involved and that engaged into a name."

Watch: Dario Saric not pleased with more water, then remembers to Trust the Friendship

Watch: Dario Saric not pleased with more water, then remembers to Trust the Friendship

We thought T.J. McConnell learned.

Remember? Pouring water on Dario Saric is not a good idea?

Yeah, thought that was clearly understood after one Sunday in January.

But McConnell was at it again on Friday night after his buddy Saric poured in a career-high 32 points during a 117-107 win over the Bulls. Just like last time, McConnell struck during Saric's postgame interview with CSN's Molly Sullivan.

And, just like last time, Saric looked like he wanted to destroy his point guard.

Look at it unfold ...

But Saric remembered his mantra: Trust the Friendship.

For the postgame moment, watch below. For highlights from Saric's career night and the full interview, watch the video above.

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Sixers' win over the Bulls on Friday was a culmination of recent successes, losses and learning experiences.

One could call it a makeup for Wednesday's 25-point defeat to the Thunder; a lesson learned from blowing late leads against the Warriors and Magic; or a carryover from maintaining their poise in a victory over the Celtics. 

Take those games (and more) and roll them into a 117-107 victory (see Instant Replay). It marked the Sixers' first win over the Bulls since Nov. 2, 2013, to snap a 12-game skid.

That victory included coming back from a 10-point first-quarter deficit, pushing a lead up to 26, and holding on for a win when the Bulls got back within 10 in the fourth. They also withstood 36 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds from Jimmy Butler. 

"The better team wins today," Dario Saric said. "We controlled the game like 45 minutes maybe or all the time and we deserve this win. A little bit scared in the end when they came within 11, 12 because we lost a couple games like that this season. We were up around 15 points, 20 and we lost because sometimes a young team, we don't have experience, but I think we will learn something from that and I think this will be something that's good for us."

There were key performances throughout the game that impacted the Sixers' success in different ways (see highlights).

Saric scored a career-high 32 points. He made it a double-double with 10 rebounds. Saric scored 13 in the fourth, including a late three-pointer that halted the Bulls' momentum. 

The rookie said he tried to play smarter, including shooting with more balance, finding his spots on the floor and dribbling more frequently. That seemed to be accurate as Saric shot 12 of 19 from the field.

"Huge," Brett Brown said of Saric's game. "I thought in that fourth period he sort of willed his way to the basket and found multiple ways to score and at big times when the game really fell in the balance."

On the opposite end of the court, Brown praised Sergio Rodriguez for his defensive efforts in the second quarter. Rodriguez was a plus-17 as the Sixers held the Bulls to just 18 points in the quarter. 

"Defensively is where we have been on him relentlessly," Brown said. "He has taken it, he has allowed us to coach him. He has improved and so we rode him out in that second period and he really set the table, I think, for the rest of the game."

And sometimes it's an unlikely player who provides that extra spark needed to defeat a team with playoff aspirations. Shawn Long, who spent most of the season in the D-League, scored a career-high 18 points along with seven rebounds in only 19 minutes off the bench. How efficient was he? Long finished a massive plus-31. 

"I think the main reason maybe is because Shawn Long, where he comes in from the bench, he gave some kind of energy. He was tough," Saric said. "I think he is the guy who brings us some changes than the game before."

The Sixers have been through the ups and downs of wins and losses in just a week. Their victory over the Bulls was a high mark in the roller coaster of results. 

"I think how teams respond is always an interesting litmus test for coaches," Brown said. "We responded in a way that I expected them to. We played well against a team that is fighting to get into the playoffs, and all over the place, we leave here proud of our guys."