Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chalk Wins Again

When the brackets were printed, I said to people:
"I do not want to fill out a bracket this year. I just can't figure out who to pick. Every time I look at it, I keep coming to the conclusion that the four number 1 seeds are going to make it to the Final Four."

Finally, and reluctantly, I filled out a bracket. And I picked my one sleeper team Louisville, to upset UNC, but I didn't feel good about it. I figured UNC was the better team, but I had to pick an upset somewhere, right?

It turns out all the boring "chalk" people are going to win their office pools. And I couldn't be happier. While there are no underdogs left to cheer for, this could be the most exciting Final Four in recent memory. We have the talented and uptempo Kansas - UNC matchup with its obvious Roy Williams storyline. And we finally get to see whether the ultra-talented defenders that are the UCLA guards can really shut down CDR and Rose and the Dribble Drive Motion Offense. It doesn't get any better than this folks.

Davidson - Kansas

"And the gorilla has been lifted off Bill Self's shoulders" - Gus Johnson

Streaks rarely end without some drama. Clemson isn't going to just walk into UNC's stadium and blow out the Tar Heels by 20. Minnesota may have had a better overall season than Illinois this year, but they weren't about to snap a 20 game losing streak to the Illini without some special plays.

In November, the Jayhawks were the obvious Final Four team. I said in one of my first posts of the season that no one had more experienced talent, and Bill Self (and the Big 12 North) would ensure that the Jayhawks were in position to make the Final Four. But I still didn't want to pick them until they proved they could get past that mystical Final Four barrier.

And whether the numbers or the line, or logic said Kansas should blow out Davidson, you just knew that Bill Self's first Final Four wasn't going to come easy.

When Sherron Collins had the ball stripped in the final minutes, and Dell Curry lined up for a 3 pointer, how many of you thought it was going in? Did you watch the Gonzaga game when Curry hit a crushing three to give his team the lead in the final minute? Did you watch the Georgetown game when Curry hit a crushing three to give his team a 5 point lead in the final minute? Did you watch him hit numerous devastating jumpers against Wisconsin? Sometimes the unexpected happens. With a momentum swingining turnover giving Davidson the basketball and Curry lining up for the perfect shot, it was off the mark.

And even though Curry hit another three to bring his team closer later, it was too little too late. On the final possession, Jason Richards was left clanging a 25 footer off the glass.

Two final comments:

1) Not to overanalyze one sequence, but Davidson really gave up the game the moment they decided to play for the final shot at the end of regulation. They essentially said, "We're not good enough to go to OT against Kansas. We need to take a 3 at the buzzer and hope to win. And yes, Lovedale had fouled out, but was that really the right call? Davidson was playing as well as anyone in the country. They should have tried to take a shot as quickly as possible and extended the game. First, if they tried for an early shot, it might have been better than the one they took. Second, even if they missed, they could still foul Kansas, and possibly have another chance. Obviously, it is cruel to second guess a sequence like this, but when you change your mentality from "we are going to win" to "we hope to win", you usually don't win.

2) Who knew Sasha Kaun would be the post player for Kansas to play so huge in the biggest game of the season? After he lost his starting job, (and after I wrote the piece on how Kansas needs to run the offense through Darrell Arthur), I always envisioned Kaun on the floor when Kansas lost in the NCAA tournament. Instead Kaun went 6-6 from the floor and made some vital plays to seal the victory for his team.