Monday, March 28, 2005

An Incredible Weekend

Louisville 93 West Virginia 85 F/OT
Illinois 90 Arizona 89 F/OT
North Carolina 88 Wisconsin 82 F
Michigan State 94 Kentucky 88 F/2OT

You know what--I'm not going to give you the trite, mundane "none of these teams deserved to lose" stuff, because in the end, the teams that lost deserved to lose. However, there has to be a certain amount of pride in participating in what will go down as the greatest weekend in the history of college basketball. There were four games, three of which went into overtime, one of which went two OTs. No team scored less than 82 points. If you ever wanted to create an advertisement for college basketball, this weekend would be perfect.

Due to my being at the Forum for the Grizzlies/Hornets game Saturday night (I'll get to that later), I could only see bits and pieces of the Saturday games. That was irritating. However, I'll go ahead and ask the question that everyone has been asking: how did West Virginia lose after shooting 18-27 from behind the 3 point line? That can't be possible. You simply have to give Rick Pitino a huge amount of credit for scrapping his original gameplan (2-3 zone with limited pressure) and improvising a new one in the second half, one that involved a lot more ball pressure and man-to-man defense. Taquan Dean and Larry O'Bannon were immense--and the leadership of Louisville's team kept them in the game when lesser teams would have rolled over and died.

Lute Olsen and his Arizona Wildcats have to be sick right now. I was sitting in the Forum, watching the Grizzlies game with Eli, when the Arizona/Illinois score popped up on the scoreboard. It was 75-63 Arizona with 4 something left in the game, and both of us commented about how this one was over. No need to even go down to the media room and watch the end. I sucked out of the Grizz game a little before halftime and went downstairs to watch, and by the time I got there, it was 80-72 Arizona with less than a minute to go. I made fun of Ron Tillery, who is an Illinois fan, and before I could get to a seat, the game was tied. It was amazing. The "camera shake" was in full effect--that's the indicator of how crazy a game is. If the fans are so loud as to be shaking the camera, it qualifies. Ron Tillery made sure to remind me of how stupid I was to make fun of him. He earned that chance. Illinois is just a tough-minded basketball team. Tremendous character. How they didn't give up is hard to know. When you're down 15 with 4:02 left to play, it 's only natural to hang your head. Finally, how can Hassan Adams just lock up at the end of that game? I know he was shocked that Deron Williams was covering him, but you've got to get that ball to Salim Stoudamire. I don't care that Stoudamire was struggling; he's clearly the best shooter on the court. To waste your last possession of the season is sickening.

North Carolina had a much more difficult time in Syracuse than anyone expected--the game against Villanova was incredibly tight, and Carolina was fortunate to get away from that one with a win (the walking call at the end of the game was flat-out wrong). Then, against Wisconsin, the Tar Heels played the type of game they wanted against the Badgers, but Wisconsin somehow managed to hang in there. Wisconsin's players will graduate and work on the farm, Carolina's will go straight to the NBA. Still, the Badgers kept it close. Sean May is the truth. That guy is a phenomenal basketball player--great footwork, amazing hands (he catches EVERYTHING thrown to him), outstanding inside moves--he certainly should have been a first-team All-American. Yet he's not the most important player on North Carolina's team. One thing we learned this weekend: North Carolina without Raymond Felton at the point is like a Ferrari without an engine. Looks nice, can't run. The dropoff from Felton to Melvin Scott = the dropoff from the Beatles to Wham.

Then, the last game of the four. And, in my mind, the best. Though Michigan State was the lower seed, I felt they had a slight edge over Kentucky due to the amount of experience they had. It showed late in the game. Kentucky played with tremendous intensity, but counting on freshmen finally caught up to Tubby Smith and the Wildcats. Rajon Rondo had a great tournament and will be a star, but he made some ill-advised passes and decisions late. Randolph Morris is also immensely talented, but far too casual. It was as if he had something better to do. Meanwhile, Michigan State played with all the poise you would expect from a senior-laden Tom Izzo team. They were up three with just seconds to go, and only had to get one rebound to end the game. But they didn't.

The shot bounced around for what seemed like minutes. Four separate times it hit the rim. Then it fell. I jumped off my couch, ran around my living room, and generally acted like an idiot. Of course, the referees then had to analyze the videotapes like a bad episode of CSI--6:30 of waiting and viewing the angles over and over and over and over again; they even broke out the macro zoom. The fact remained--Patrick Sparks' foot was behind the line, even if by only a millimeter. It will go down in NCAA history as one of the greatest shots of all time.

And yet it meant little in the long run. Kentucky still lost. Kentucky couldn't get a rebound in overtime, and it cost them dearly. I'm sick of Kentucky being involved in memorable Regional Final games in which they lose. One was plenty.

Without question, those were the best Regional Finals in history. The Final Four can't possibly be close, can it?

Hornets 96 Grizzlies 85 F

While the Arizona/Illinois game was playing out to its dramatic conclusion, the Grizzlies were sleeping through what may turn out to be a critical game. The Grizzlies were as interested in this game as I am in the WNBA. No effort, no intensity, and they got caught napping by a young team that wanted it a hell of a lot more. J.R. Smith's pretty good, you know. He was the Rookie of the Month in February. Someone forgot to tell the Grizzly defenders about that. The team finished with NINE assists and SIXTEEN turnovers. That sucks.

After the game, I would be lying if I told you the Grizzly locker room was despondent. It wasn't. Pau and Earl seemed to be taking the loss harder than most, but the team took it calmly and in stride. Most of the guys were relatively happy after the game, and felt like this was merely a blip on the radar. Whether that is a sign of confidence or delusion is for you to decide. What isn't up for debate is the fact that all the teams around the Grizzlies are winning, and the once-certain playoff hopes are starting to look slightly less certain. Make no mistake, they're still odds-on favorites to get in, but they need to get back on the right track. Mixing Pau and Stro back in with the rest of the team is proving to be difficult. The chemistry is off. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, it will return.

Tonight, it's Chicago in the United Center--the Bulls have won 5 straight and are a tough matchup. The Grizzlies desperately need this one.

Quick notes to end this (far too) lengthy tome:

--Jim Nantz is the most unctuous human being ever.

--Annika Sorenstam is ridiculous. She's won 5 straight tournaments, including the first LPGA major this past weekend. Don't worry, I didn't notice, either.

--Bruce Pearl will be the new men's basketball coach at Tennessee. As I've outlined earlier, I think this is the right hire for the program, as I expect him to help raise not only the standard of basketball at UT, but also the amount of donations to the athletic department.

--Which is worse: Locusts or Spring Break Shark Attack?

--Where does the ridiculously titled James Patterson's Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas fit in? Could they fit any more names in that title? Maybe I'll make a movie called Peter Edmiston's Keith, Will, and Eli's Talk With Bruce, Larry and Suzanne.


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