Tonight marks the end of another college basketball season as the Connecticut Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs hook up in Houston. Tip time is set for 8:23 pm on CBS. Now, many of you have moved on from the NCAA tournament after the Longhorns were bounced much too early. I can respect that and can certainly relate. Most of my basketball fandom was left in Tulsa too. However, there is only one more college basketball game till November, so you might as well take in the sights.
Last year's title game was pegged as David vs. Goliath, Butler vs. Duke. It is much harder to use that symbolism this year as David has returned to the title game for the second year in a row. No, this is just a match-up of two good basketball teams. One will cut down the nets and the other, like 66 other NCAA tournament teams, will end its season with a loss. Finality hurts.
For Longhorn fans, there are no obvious rooting interests in this one. It is easy to say, "root for Butler, the underdog, the little guy." I say no thanks. I'll be rooting for Connecticut. Before you jump up and down and point out that Jim Calhoun's program cheats and is built upon a healthy mix of Kelvin Samson's recruiting methods and Auburn football booster tactics, I agree.
After the jump, I explain why.
1. A Connecticut wins puts to rest these ludicrous "the Big East was overrated" commentaries. I don't think it should, but it will. I've been saying for weeks that tourney success neither proves nor invalidates season long resumes and perceptions of teams or conferences. You cannot say with any more accuracy that the No. 1 seeds were all overrated because none of them reached the Final Four, than you can say that Virginia Commonwealth definitely deserved to be in the tournament because they did reach Houston. Neither makes any sense. The committee slotted teams and awarded bids three weeks ago based on what each team had accomplished all season, not based on what they thought they could accomplish in the tournament. Using facts after a decision has been made to justify said decision makes zero sense to me.
Now, back to my original point, a Huskie national championship does nothing for me in terms of my feelings about the Big East. Coming into the tournament, the Big East was clearly the best and deepest conference in the country and it wasn't close. Win or lose tonight, the Big East will remain so, at least in my mind. But a Connecticut win will at least mute the counter argument.
2. Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb. All of you know about Walker, but my favorite player on the court tonight will be Lamb. Kemba has been great all season and should have been national player of the year. With Kemba, UConn is good and dangerous. With Kemba plus a solid supporting cast, UConn is about to be national champions. Connecticut is riding a ten game winning streak. Take a look at the last ten games by Lamb-all double figures in scoring, a ridiculously high field goal percentage, solid rebounding marks, and very few turnovers. It is more than a coincidence that as Lamb as matured, the Huskies have found their rhythm. All the announcer love tonight will be for Kemba, and rightfully so; however, it is Lamb who is the key to the game. Lamb takes the pressure off Kemba, stretches the defense with dagger-like three balls, and uses his length to frustrate smaller guards. Kemba is great now but Lamb is the better NBA prospect and future All-Star. Watch tonight, you'll see what I'm talking about.
3. The pain of the five second call is still real for me, and I'm sure for many of you. It is a very small consolation prize but it would be nice if one of the two Texas home losses this season came to the eventual national champion. The Longhorns had the Huskies beat in Austin in January until the Kemba show arrived in the second half and then again in overtime. If UConn wins, it gives me a little more hope that Texas will someday soon be national champion good.
4. A UConn wins validates everything I believe about the tournament. It takes a team with a great coach to cut down the nets. Check, this would be Calhoun's third title. It takes a team with the ability to score inside and out to win a national title. Check, with Walker and Lamb, the outside scoring threat is deadly. While, Connecticut doesn't have a great post player, the Huskies do excellent work on the offensive glass. It takes good guard play to win it all. Check plus. And it takes a solid combination of talented underclassmen paired with experienced junior and senior leadership. Check. Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Lamb are all freshman, while Walker is a junior. Butler has a lot of these same elements but has fewer future pros and a less experienced coach. Maybe it wouldn't invalidate everything I "know" about the tournament but it wouldn't feel as "right."
Who are you rooting for and why?