Final Four: A Final Statement

By John Nagle In the Scrum

Now that everyone’s brackets are shot and most NCAATournament pools have already found their winner, I have decided to contribute my wisdom and analysis to this year’s championship. Before anyone starts complaining, I will freely admit that I have performed horribly in all of the pools I have entered, effectively throwing away a small fortune for the 15th consecutive year. I have not had a compelling interest in any games since the end of the second round, now known as Bloody Sunday to some prognosticators. To think I complained about the lack of upsets in the first round.

By the end of March 19, two No. 1 seeds were out of the tournament, three No. 2 seeds were gone, No. 3 seed Maryland had been absolutely pummeled by No. 6 UCLA, and three of my projected Final Four were lost. Thank God I picked Michigan State to win it all, or else I would have to turn in my license as a sportswriter. Of course, the carnage continued in the Sweet 16, with Duke going down to the young Florida Gators, Iowa State destroying the previously invincible Bruins, plodding Wisconsin somehow beating electric LSU, Tulsa squeaking past Miami and North Carolina taking out Tennessee. Throw in Purdue and the aforementioned Spartans, and you had an Elite Eight nobody could have predicted.

Although looking back, maybe we should have thought this through a little more carefully. Everybody with a brain in their head knew that the No. 1 seeds from the Pac-10, Arizona and Stanford, were weak. That is just a perennial choke conference, and those teams were not playing their best ball at the end of the year. Cincinnati’s early exit should not have surprised anyone. They are another bunch of underachievers that you knew would just roll over and die once Kenyon Martin went down. St. John’s loss was a little more perplexing, until you consider the fact that they had the NCAA attack dogs breathing down their neck and ran into a hot Gonzaga team the selection committee had grossly underrated.

I am not sure why I thought so highly of Temple. I should have realized something was amiss when a team is completely dependent on a player who rarely scores in double figures. I also should have known that the Atlantic 10 was not exactly preparing anyone for the rigors of tournament play.

Defending champs UConn needed pudgy Khalid El-Amin to go anywhere. Duke had no depth and was constantly over-hyped by Dick Vitale and Billy Packer. Ohio State just did not play very well this year. Maryland ran into a buzzsaw. That explains or excuses all of my picks that did not make the Elite Eight and Final Four. I am still trying to explain some of the teams that did.

In the West Regional, Purdue and Wisconsin were both teams I had picked to lose in the first round. D’oh! I just hate Purdue and their flopping knee-pad clad senior leader, Brian Cardinal. The guy spends more time on the ground than the average six-month old, and I swear he has been at Purdue for as long as Gene Keady. I am so happy that neither one of them will ever see the Final Four.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, is a team I knew little about. I knew Dick Bennett was a good tournament coach, I knew they played slow-down ball, and I thought that they would have a tough time getting past a talented Fresno State team in the first round. So much for that theory. Good for Bennett, good for the cheeseheads. Too bad the run ends against Michigan State. Then again, it is very tough to beat anyone four times in one season. Just ask the 1985 Villanova Wildcats.

Michigan State and Iowa State in the Midwest Regional was the only one that held to form, and with good reason. I knew the Spartans were tough, but I did not have any idea how good the Cyclones were. Marcus Fizer is a beast, and the officiating was terrible. The final margin did nothing to reflect how close the ball game really was, although I think the better team did win. Chalk up one correct pick for me.

In the South Regional, North Carolina and Tulsa squared off in a pretty good basketball game. Tulsa never gets the respect it deserves. They are always strong, and they only lost to two teams all year. They deserved better than a No. 7 seed for sure, and the fact that they went far in this weak bracket was no great shock.

Nobody would have been shocked if you had said the Tar Heels would end up in the Final Four before the season started, either. When they could not win more than three games in a row at any point in the season with their talent, you had to wonder if maybe Bill Guthridge did not have the Dean Smith touch. When it counted, however, mysterious big man Brendan Hayward actually came to play and freshman phenom Joseph Forte really came to play. This is a good team that had underachieved all year.

Finally, the East Regional featured two programs I can never love. Oklahoma State’s coach, Eddie Sutton, is an established cheater from his days at Kentucky, although he has never been caught while in Stillwater. I don’t like the man, and I am happy that he will not be going back to the Final Four this year.

I am not happy that Billy Donovan and Florida will be going in his stead. I have hated Billy Donovan since 1987 when he and his scrappy teammates at Providence denied Georgetown’s improbable Reggie Williams and the Miracles a trip to the Final Four. I am now convinced that he must be cheating at Florida. He just seems like the type, and his first two recruiting classes are too good to be true for a rookie head coach, even if Florida is not a very hard sell. I have hated the University of Florida since the Gators, lead by Dametri (Da Meat Hook) Hill and Andrew DeClerq, cost the Cinderella Boston College team of Billy Curley a shot at the Final Four in 1994, beating them in the Elite Eight. I guess I just harbor a lot of bitterness here. I don’t like Steve Spurrier either.

So there it is. The Final Four. In the Scrum says Michigan State over North Carolina. If I were you, I would not listen much.

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