10 Reactions from the NCAA Final...
(In no particular order except that which I ponder).
- Dome Shooting -- For all the talk of misfiring from long range in an expansive venue, Michigan and Louisville made one wonder, "What's the big fuss?" ... They shot .444 and .500 from 3-point range, respectively, and canned a combined 53 of 109 field goals (49 percent). Free throws? 36 for 48 (75 percent). The 3-point makes were mustered in large part by the Spike and Hancock Show whose dazzling display resulted in 9 of 10 conversions. The semi-final games saw no team shoot better than 36 percent from 3. Looks like it just took a game to get used to the background.
- The Double Dribble -- With 9:41 in the first half, Gorgui Dieng jumped as he tried to catch a hard-to-handle pass on the right wing. As he attempted to control the ball -- and his body -- he took one dribble to regain balance. He paused and surveyed the court, then continued to attack with another dribble. The whistle actually blew and the official made the right call: Double Dribble. Why was that significant? Because it's often a blown call, as if a long pause between a perceived "gather" dribble and a "control" dribble forces a ref to omit the initial dribble from his memory. If a player is able to effectively steer the ball enough to dribble and gather, then, in effect, he's in control of the ball, and in the same effect, it's not a gather anyway, but a controlled substance. Correct.
- The Elevated Court -- I don't like it because it's potentially dangerous. I like it because it portrays a stage. I don't like it because it forces the head coach to sit with bad posture on a poorly placed stool. I like it because it provides the players and coaches on the bench an extra few feet to jump up and down (if they choose to rise onto the court). I don't like it because the head coach is quite far from his staff. I like it because the head coach is quite from from his staff.
- Add Another Official Official -- There are three officials in the crew. They work hard. The refs who get the championship game are presumably the best the NCAA has to offer. However, fans, analysts, and viewers are often disgruntled by what they deem as poor officiating. Cases in point on Monday: The missed goal tend, the clean Burke block, McGary being undercut, the muggings in the paint. Refs do miss calls. All the time. The game is fast and physical and the players for whom they are responsible for keeping in line are better athletes in better shape, and they are often bigger and taller -- officials can get lost in the action. Bottom line: It's really hard to ref. Fine. So make it a little easier by adding a fourth ref to the crew who isn't obligated to run back and forth while trying to stay off the playing surface, avoid tripping over fans or coaches, and still working to get an angle for everything his eyes should see. Television offers another (often superior) view and one that (often) makes calls quite obvious even during live action. Put a ref in a protective bubble on the sideline with a monitor and miked whistle.
- The Crowd -- Unbelievable. I didn't have my television's sound blasting nor was I using the surround sound. Either the dome made it seem louder in there, the audio broadcast was better than years' past, or that was the most cacophonous crowd I can recall in a championship game (played in a dome). Exhilarating.
- Two Fouls -- To play or not to play? That is the question. And the gamble. And the most talked about dilemma. Burke picked up two in the first half. He sat for 12 minutes. Beilein was blasted for sitting him. Blasphemy. There are three types of people: Those who have coached, those who haven't, and those who think they should because they think they can do it better. Cool for the first two. Playing a key guy with two fouls in a close game when it's quite obvious he'll be needed for most of the second half is dependent on a) who the player is b) his position c) the game situation d) the rest of the team e) the scout f) the dome, the court, the officials, the crowd ... ARGH! Too many factors, and easy to contest one way or the other in hindsight. Do you want him to be there in the end or not? Burke ended the game with four fouls.
- Shot Fakes -- Learn them, and learn how to defend them. Luke Hancock has a terrific one. Defenders that close out on him don't. If they did, they'd know to fly at his right side so he is forced to dribble with his left hand. He loves to bounce off the right dribble and stabilize from his right. Push him the other way so he can't release his shot and so he is persuaded to pass with his left hand. He made two key plays after shot fakes. One was an assist to Russ Smith (who nailed a 3) after he was able to pound dribble right into the paint. The other was the foul he drew on McGary. Meanwhile, with 1:20 remaining in the game, Robinson III missed an opportunity to draw a foul on a 3-point attempt because he took a backstep with his right foot on the kickout catch -- he lost a precious second and critical stability. Rather than taking the shot with his defender flying at him, he wasted time with additional movement and brought Michigan within four points rather than three with just two free throws in one possession.
- The Game is Won in the Paint -- That's why there is a 3-second rule (credit Kenny Smith for the reminder). Louisville shot 45 2-pointers (versus 30). The Cards grabbed 15 offensive rebounds (versus 8). The winners blocked 3 shots (versus 2).
- Resiliency -- Teams who win have this.
- Pitino is a Hall of Famer -- No matter what you say, it's hard to have a better week in his profession. Besides the HOF induction Monday morning, he won his second NCAA Championship that night only after taking the Cardinals to the Final Four for the second year in a row. He's now won as many games as John Wooden. His horse, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby (down the street from Caltech) on Saturday and qualified for the Kentucky Derby; his son, Richard, won the University of Minnesota job (northwest of Florida) on Friday and qualified for the Big Ten.
- BONUS -- Dan Dakich talked about how impressed and mesmerized he was by Pitino at Five Star Basketball Camp when Dakich was a camper, some three decades ago. Pitino was like nothing anyone had ever seen -- he beat Chris Mullin and other high school studs 1 on 1, again and again. I heard a similar story years ago at a camp in Boston. Pitino challenged the best kids in camp ... the coach on defense, the camper at the top of the key with the ball. Pitino ordered the kid: "Go by me!" The kid started to move and Pitino ripped him of the ball. Again and again.
- BONUS BONUS -- Tim Hardaway, Jr. commented in the post-game presser about the ways in which Beilein provides "overlooked" kids opportunities to play for Michigan: "He really recruits guys that wanted to go to those big-time schools and never had a chance to get looked at by those big-time schools."