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For this sports fan, few events offer a prolonged and sustained period of sports enjoyment than the NCAA Men’s Championship Basketball Tournament, affectionately referred to as “March Madness.” As exciting as this annual pilgrimage through the brackets is, we usually find ourselves starting at fearsome foursome of at or near top seeds during the Final Four weekend. Not so in 2011. Salute the infiltration of the Mid-Majors to the Final Four.
This weekend’s games are comprised of the #4 seed Kentucky Wildcats playing the #3 seed Connecticut Huskies (Saturday, 6:09PM EST) and the #11 Virginia Commonwealth Rams playing the #8 Butler Bulldogs. When I watch the tournament every year, after rooting for my local interests, I secondarily have a secret crush on the underdogs. Yeah, I’m telling you that my ultimate wish would be to see four #16 seeds make it to the Final Four and set the bracket right on its ear.
Why VCU is taking the cake after the jump >>
I envy Joe Lunardi — well, I did until this idea
gained unnecessary strength. He has (or had) perhaps one of the best jobs on the planet. I mean, the guy gets to eat, breath, sleep and poop the NCAA Tournament year-round. However, now that the NCAA is bound and determined to ignore the wishes of the public and alter the crown jewel of college basketball to an almost-unrecognizable entity, Lunardi’s job went from seeding the NCAA Tournament, to combining 64 teams with 32 NIT would-be invitees.
And now we have our first glimpse of what such an alteration might look like, and the early responses are not good.
More NCAA misguidedness after the jump >>
The Butler Bulldogs Come Home; or Tom Izzo is as Constant as the Northern Star (When it comes to the Tournament); or Duke’s Back; or Is it Huggins’ Time? Either of these headlines would work when describing this year’s Final Four
teams. To say this was an unexpected group is an understatement.
A lot of people expected Duke — the only number one seed to make it this far — to get beat in the earlier rounds by teams like Louisville or Baylor, while Butler is still shedding its “mid-major” label. West Virginia looks legitimate, but their lack of offensive pop — they’ve notoriously struggled to score in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments — makes their appearance a little surprising. As for Michigan State, even with Tom Izzo as coach, the fact the Spartans lost their best player in Kalin Lucas to a hamstring injury makes them a surprise team as well.
Considering these teams, the hype surrounding the 2010 Final Four may not be as big as previous seasons, but don’t tell any of the attending teams that. I seriously doubt Duke or Butler care about whether or not they were popular picks. Furthermore, I also doubt any of Bob Huggins’ players doubt they belong, strictly because of how clutch the Mountaineers have been, not to mention how good they’ve been defensively. As for Michigan State, well, they have Tom Izzo, and that alone makes them a threat for a deep tournament run, whether non-Spartans fans are tired of seeing them there or not.
This is your Final Four, and while they may not be the most popular teams out there, each and every one of them deserve to be there. Nothing was handed to any of the teams. They all had to earn their trip, something the average victory margin of 5.5 points for all of the Elite Eight games indicates nicely.
With all that in mind, who ya got?
Are you siding with Butler and their awesome story, or do you want to see Izzo win his second title? Can Duke solve West Virginia’s stifling 1-3-1 zone or will Duke take advantage of any Mountaineers scoring droughts? These are just some of the stories to pay attention to as we get ready for another weekend of tournament basketball.
With the Bad Guys beating Cornell
and West Virginia dispatching Washington, the stage is set for a nice, little border war
that dates back to the days of the Hatfields and McCoys
. One thing’s for sure — West Virginia native/starting Kentucky power forward Patrick Patterson will be ready
. He’s not the only one who’s ready for a basketball war, however.
`Er fans are feeling it as well, and they want a piece of John Wall, something the upcoming video demonstrates nicely.
After the jump >>
You have to love Kansas State coach Frank Martin. He’s surely taken the lead for most demonstrative coach in college basketball. Of course, if your coaching in the NCAA Tournament
, and your game featuring double overtimes and Jordan Crawford making shots
from anywhere in the gym, your blood pressure would probably rise as well. In order to intensify the pressure, try watching your team give up a double-digit first half lead before the first half is over. It might inspire this kind of locker room reaction:
Video after the jump >>
Now that Kansas State and Xavier are done providing us the best game of the tournament so far, let’s take some time to reflect. How many huge plays were there? I lost count after Jacob Pullen hit that top-of-the-key triple in the second overtime. I’m sure I was somewhere around 10. Probably more. However, the shot that I, and probably a lot of people, remember is Jordan Crawford’s “He’s got range from the awareness ribbon” three, which sent the game in the second stanza of overtime. If the college line is at 20-9 (20 feet, 9 inches), Crawford’s bomb had to have been from at least 25, if not 30.
Awesomely enough, the guys at Rush the Court have an awesome, in-arena video of Crawford’s (temporary) heroics, complete with a killer angle and great picture quality.
Video after the jump >>
Kentucky fans, I hope you’re capable of embracing the bad guy roll, because tonight, when the Sweet 16
continues and your team tips off against the Cornell Big Red, it’ll be like rooting for Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker. Oddly enough, said support isn’t limited to basketball watchers. Many mainstream media members, as well as bloggers, are in full Cornell bandwagon mode.
Continue reading after the jump >>
Now that your bracket has been busted all to hell, let’s relive some of the moments that caused such wreckage. It was perhaps one of the best opening weekends of tournament basketball I’ve witnessed, especially with the Thursday/Saturday games. The Big Dance started out with a bang as BYU and Florida needed double overtime to decide things, all while Old Dominion and Notre Dame game was being decided by one point. This was followed by two more great games, one also needing extra time with the other finishing with a last second, game-winning shot, courtesy of Danero Thomas
And that, folks, was just the first four games of the tournament.
The rest of the weekend gave us more of the same: Great games, surprising upsets, game-winning “Onions” shots, and perhaps one of the best basketball names ever, Ali Farokhmanesh. Overall, it wast the kind of chaos one hopes for when the tournament starts.
Coming up, I’m featuring some of the weekend’s most outstanding plays, including the uncontainable onions of the aforementioned Farokhmanesh. Continue reading >>