Monday, April 05, 2004

A Bit Later Than Anticipated

I know this is extraordinarily late . . . but it is the best I could manage, what with having Katrien's folks over for the week. If you're just now getting ready to enjoy tonight's NCAA championship game, perhaps you'll like to recap what happened last week. In this turbulent world of information -- outgoing and incoming -- sometimes a review is healthy. So, yes, chew on this, our basketball-lovin' guest blogger: he is a mighty fine treat.

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Sweet, Elite, and Finality

So, I'm popping Chicken gizzards on the backroads of Indiana, screaming "Villanova" to the cast of the Dan Patrick show as the Showkiller is asking them NCAA trivia -- in this case "The highest seed ever to win the tournament?" (#8 'Nova, in 1985) -- when I realized I probably should put my second weekend and Final Four preview thoughts to paper.

East Rutherford Regional

The only Regional to play to form. Wake gave the #1 seed St. Joes some trouble, but the last undefeated team continued their three game winning streak right in front of Billy Packer. Pitt was rumored to be the team who would come into East Rutherford as the #1 had they won the Big East tournament; they didn't, and they didn't play like they would have made it either.

On Saturday it was St. Joes, in their first Elite 8 since 1981, facing the Oklahoma St. Cowboys. Did I mention I was working? [ed. Say it together, folks: PHOTOLAB.] So all I heard was the news of the lead changing hands three times in the final 10 seconds. The scary result is that Oklahoma State won: scary because in their last Regional appearance St. Joes, then coached by Jim "Please ignore my daughter Dee the horrible sportscaster" Lynam's club, lost in Bloomington to Indiana -- who unless your name is Jimmy Dolan, you are aware that they went on to win the title. Why should OSU winning the title be traumatic? This isn't an irrational hatred like the ones I have for Lute Olsen, Jim Boheim and Roy Williams. This comes from the fact that Sutton still represents what is wrong in college basketball. [ed. It's Eddie's fault that 60% foul shooting is considered decent?] Sure, Memphis St and Tulane paid the death penalty for their transgressions in the 80's, but Sutton not only brought disgrace to Kentucky, he set the example for coaches to follow later: run a dirty program and move on to another job. [ed. Which is our guest blogger's way of saying: "No emphasis on foul-shooting."] This is similar to what John Calipari did at UMass, Jim Harrick did everywhere he went, and the penalties that Tommy Amaker is still overcoming at Michigan for what Steve Fisher allowed to happen. Sutton is worse, though, because he always calls upon the name of his college coach, coach Iba, like he is carrying on the great tradition of basketball. That will get touted during the Final Four, and the Kentucky violations will not be mentioned. Good thing he didn't throw a chair or punch a telephone. [ed. I got lost in the midst of that paragraph. How does all that relate to them playing St. Joseph and St. Joseph once playing Indiana?]

Phoenix Regional

In the land of Jean Gray [ed. Oh man, he didn't just drop an X-Men reference, did he?], one constant of this tournament continued: Maybe Packer was right. Connecticut continued to roll. First Vandy gets crushed, and then UConn shows Alabama no respect at all for knocking out Syracuse, and rolls all over them. [ed. Mmmm, yeah. You know how I like these recaps.] Makes me wonder, though: does that bode well for the Huskies? They have faced no challenge at all in this tournament. Personally, I think that spells disaster heading into San Antonio. There have been no tests, what happens if the game's close in the closing minutes? [ed. The final score will be close?] We don't know how they will handle it, because on the tournament court they haven't had to. [ed. So it spells disaster for UConn because we don't know how they'll handle the pressure? Hmmmm.

St. Louis Regional

The perfect storyline is that Bill Self in his first year leads the Jayhawks to the title. This would, of course, lead me to continue my dogging of Roy Williams. The way they played against UAB, it looked quite possible. The Blazers lose their coach to technicals, and never really got to play defence the way they did against UK. The result is a rout, 100-74.

The second game was about injuries and overcoming. Early in the game BJ Elder has a Nevada player roll on his ankle [ed. That doesn't sound kinky at all! Whatever floats yer boat, Mr. Elder.], and cannot continue. This looks exactly like the opportunity for Cinderella to try on her shoe and continue on to the ball [ed. Oh! Now you're talking!]. But in the second half the Wreck regroup and outscore the Wolfpack to move on to play Sunday. On Sunday, the Tournament-finally-producing-close-games continued, with Tech and the Jayhawks going to OT -- where the Yellow Jackets pull away with the win. They now return to the Final Four for the first time since 1990. That year their "Lethal Weapon 3" came up short to UNLV, who went on to win the tournament. This year they play Oklahoma St. Another omen for the Cowboys?

Atlanta Regional

Friday night's script seemed to be very similar. It was a closer game between X and Texas, but Rick Barnes gets ejected in the closing seconds as his team is knocked out by the Muskies. Thad Matta, whose name on Thursday became linked to the possible opening at Purdue, continued his team's amazing run, with Chalmers and Sato providing the senior leadership on the floor.

It was Chris Douhon playing the Elder-role in the Georgia Dome, as he was still playing injured after hurting his ribs going for a loose ball in the ACC finals. In looking not to shoot but instead distributing the ball (and fighting for rebounds), he pretty much controlled the Blue Devil's offence. The grimace [ed. That one is for an old friend of ours] on his face during his trips to the free throw line showed the pain; but like Wojo and Hurley before him, he fought through the pain to lead his team to victory.

On Sunday, it came down to a tip, as Xavier had opportunities to win but just fell short. It's a game in the early 90's you had the feeling Duke would win. But after close-game loss, like that to Indiana in '02, the Blue Devils seem ripe for an upset. But guess who played a pivotal role? Douhon once again continues to lead the team while injured. And Duke returns again to the Final Four, where they get a rematch of the '99 title game with UConn.

Final Four Prediction

I'm taking Duke over Georgia Tech. Which, though, probably means Eddie Sutton finally wins a title over the Huskies.