Obviously, I’m getting to this write-up a little late, as the Saturday games have already been played. Let’s pretend that hasn’t happened yet, shall we?
Pop. UAB turned back into a pumpkin against Kansas. UAB’s modern version of Forty Minutes of Hell was a great story last weekend, but given five days to prepare, Kansas tore it apart. It wasn’t even Forty Minutes of Heck, at least not for the Jayhawks. That’s the thing with that sort of pressing and trapping defense, with ample preparation time, a good team with a good coach will eat it up (just ask Pete Gillen at UVA). That stuff works great against teams that haven’t seen it often enough to put together a good plan in time. The reason it worked at Arkansas back in the mid-nineties was that they combined their gimmicky defense with great talent. Those teams were loaded with NBA talent, so preparation wasn’t enough for most teams. UAB doesn’t have that luxury, so a smart team like Kansas who has better players than UAB can turn that pressure into a layup drill. Goodnight Cinderella.
Midnight Strikes Twice
Nevada was the other Cinderella playing on Friday night (I don’t consider Xavier, a seven seed, a Cinderella). They put up much more fight than UAB, and really were only a play or two away from winning. Considering that Georgia Tech lost BJ Elder, who coach Paul Hewitt says is their best player, in the first two minutes of the game, it was a huge win for the Yellow Jackets. I wasn’t sure that they’d hold up to Nevada’s pressure, but they did and move on. If Elder can’t go against Kansas, it’ll be tough, but one thing GT does have is impressive depth at the guard spots. I’m sure coach Hewitt knows better than I do, but I think Jarrett Jack is really the key to that team, not Elder. If Jack steps up, along with one or two other guys, they can win without Elder. Even so, I like Kansas in that Sunday game.
X Marks the Spot
The one bad thing about Xavier moving on the Elite Eight is that I am sick and tired of hearing professional sports media mispronounce their name. It’s not Ex-Zavier, people! It’s pronounced Zavier. Is that so hard?
As for the game, it was a good one. Both Xavier and Texas are tough, aggressive teams. The reason Xavier pulled it out was that Texas just couldn’t hit enough shots, which was their Achilles heel all year. Even so, the game went down the final few possessions, with Xavier just pulling it out. The final score is very misleading, as the final seconds became a free throw drill when Rick Barnes lost his mind and got two successive technical fouls and the heave-ho. I can’t imagine what a true basketball school would do about a coach who gets two technical fouls with under four seconds left and his team only down by three. Had he kept his composure, his team still had a chance, although a very long one. After Romain Sato knocked down three freebies though, chance left the building.
Fuel for the Burning Hatred
Duke, America’s most hated team, won yet again, knocking off Illinois 72-62. Like two of the other three games of the night, this one was close. Duke managed to carve out a lead with some hot shooting in the second half and just held on. Again, the final score isn’t a true measure of the closeness of the game.
The last thing I want to do is help fuel this Duke backlash, but I have to admit I got sick of hearing the announcers talk about how tough and brave Duhon was. (They added Dee Brown to their praise as soon as he started limping too). Good lord people, athletes play through pain all the time – it doesn’t make them a Nobel peace prize winner. Hell, guys on my mediocre adult soccer team play through injuries. They do it because they love to play and hate to sit and watch. It’s neither brave nor especially tough.
So the Elite Eight (I’m just not comfortable with that title, by the way. Do they all have to be alliterations?) is set. Two ACC teams made it in along with two from the Big Twelve and Atlantic 10 and one each from the SEC and Big East. This round and the Sweet Sixteen are pretty good measures of conference quality for a particular year. The Final Four has a such a small sample size that it takes several years to really put together a good picture, unless one conference gets two or three teams in one year.
Tournament performance by conference
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