Chris proposed a series of dispatches recapping this year's NCAA Tournament, which I thought a fine idea. Part One is up at Rakes of Mallow. My response is below.
You covered a lot of ground in your first dispatch, some of it big picture stuff, some of it very specific. Let me respond to some of your specifics before turning it back to the generalities.
UCLA - I'm not popular among Bruin fans because I've been saying all the things you noted for two straight months now. To be fair, you have to credit UCLA for a truly outstanding game against Kansas - maybe the best team performance of the entire tournament - but the rest of their games have been brutally ugly, uninteresting affairs. No matter what Bruin fans say, that team had a scoring problem, and we shouldn't have been surprised when a team with a perimeter player (Brewer) who could handle Afflalo shut them down. I'll also note that I'm not even a little bit sympathetic toward the carping about the referees. There's a difference between "letting the players play the game" and "letting one team play truly brutal defense." The NBA got out of control on defense, and the rules were changed to prevent that kind of excessively physical defense. I'm fine with the officials deciding that we're not going to have a wrestling match played on the basketball court. In any case, Ben Howland's teams have always played this way, and he's always been a scorer short of being a true national title contender. Maybe this Love kid will help get him over the hump; Bruins fans had better hope so, because you're not going to win it all just by suffocating your opponent to death. There are too many good offensive teams in the tournament to win that way.
Ohio State - I'm not all that popular among several BON Ohio State readers, either - mostly because of the way I rail on Thad Matta. However, I have a great deal of respect for this Buckeye team, and my criticism of Matta is more about the way he flops about on the sideline than the way he actually coaches. He just looks like a goon.
The team itself, though, has been impressive. They haven't exactly been dominant, but they sure have been effective. And tremendously gutty. At this point, Tournament MVP has to go to Mike Conley, doesn't it? From his overtime heroics against Xavier, to his general ability to destroy defensive gameplans with his penetration ability, I'm not sure there's been anyone more valuable to their team. That he's a freshman is just remarkable. You know what's funny? Conley has been the guy that Acie Law was supposed to be in this tournament.
Florida - When discussing teams favored to win - especially when they're defending a title with the same players - there's inevitably a point where pundits ask if this team can just "turn it on" for the playoffs. In basketball, anyway, I think that they can. The Shaquille Lakers did it. Jordan turned on the extra gear for the playoffs. And I think the Gators have refocused and put the foot on the gas again. I don't know that they faced a terribly difficult road to the Final Four in the Midwest Region, but it sure looks like the committee was right to make them the #1 overall seed. Ohio State can win tonight, but there's no doubt it would be an upset.
Texas - Any way you cut it, we flopped. It's not that USC isn't a good team - they are - but the way the Longhorns went out was embarrassing. As they say: youth was served. It just makes us fans want one more year of Kevin Durant all that more. Here's to hoping.
Notre Dame - I was one of the foolish who put the Irish in the Elite Eight. I thought they could get by Winthrop, but in hindsight, they probably would have lost to Oregon and/or UNLV. The Irish had an interesting, dangerous team, but the lack of frontcourt scoring doomed them much the way it doomed Texas. Only one freshman point guard (Conley) has proven himself capable of leading his team deep this year.
Turning now to your big picture thoughts, I think we've seen some high quality basketball this tournament, but we've lacked the kind of "madness" at the end of games that has come to define this affair. No dramatic buzzer beaters. No Cinderella runs. Nothing that would make Gus Johnson scream like a banshee for an hour. Wait, scratch that. Gus Johnson does that for every game.
This year, the powerhouse teams marched through the tournament. I thought that gave us some excellent Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups, but none of the games (Georgetown-UNC excluded) proved to be terribly entertaining. Mostly, that's just bad luck. Sometimes great teams play great games. Sometimes, someone wins by 10 and we all say, "That wasn't that interesting."
So let me toss it back to you with two questions - one specific, one general:
- Who's your all tournament team? (First and Second team)
- Do we require a Cinderella to have a great tournament?