Monday, March 31, 2008

Sadness or Madness?

Thank you, Davidson. And thank you, Kansas. Thank you to Bob McKillop and Bill Self. And, of course, thank you to all of the coaches and players from the Wildcats and Jayhawks who finally produced a tournament game worth paying full attention for all forty minutes. I mainly speak for many of the nation's viewers since I will watch any and every game anyway. Folks who tune into the tube around tourney time are not always interested in which team runs the flex offense or plays a box and one or scores 30 percent of its points in the paint. (I watched this one with a soccer junkie). March-weather fans care about who wins, the excitement of individual plays, and most of all, if their bracket remains intact.

The Davidson-Kansas game, however, was the best game of the tournament. Possessions were crucial, defense was pronounced, structure was evident, and contrasting styles made for a solid storyline. Finally, a contest that was competitive (the exact situation one would hope for on the second weekend!). The average scoring margin of the other seven games over the last four days was 15.5. And none, barring the West Virginia-Xavier match, were even that close.

The top teams were, well, unquestionably dominant. So much for the popular “pressure to win as the favorite” argument. Even Memphis-Kansas turned into an old fashioned beat down. I must throw in one last thank you to the Memphis team for silencing all the critics. It shot over 83 percent from the free throw line. More significantly, the Tigers have attempted at least 32 free throws in each tournament game – even if they shoot a Shaq-like percentage, they’re getting 20 points from the stripe.

Coach isn’t sweatin’ either. According to Calipari, he has mentally tough players who shoot with correct mechanics, which eases his worry of misses in crunch time. In other words, “I told you so. Stop hating on the most athletic and most explosive team in the country. Who needs to shoot well from the perimeter when we can get to, and over the rim, with ease?” (Memphis has an effective field goal percentage of more than 50 percent and holds opponents under 44 percent in the same category. Plus, it is ranked eighth nationally in turnover percentage, meaning it takes care of the ball.)

A fan wants to see what is advertised – March Madness. Throughout the last week until Sunday night, all that swarmed was March Sadness. Where were the plays to make one jump out of a seat? The intense possessions? The last minute heroics? Four number one seeds in the finals…unprecedented. And a surprise at this point in history with the so-called uniformity in college basketball. Perhaps David Stern’s regulation to keep high school players out of the draft is already servicing amateur hoops. The strongest programs in the nation now have plenty (at least, more than the past few seasons) of pro prospects on their rosters. I suppose that if a youngster does have to attend a school before making the jump to the NBA, it behooves him to commit to a UNC, Memphis, UCLA or Kansas. May as well compete for a national title while going to a couple of classes.


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