Monday, March 29, 2010

Weekend Hangover - Love/Hate: Down to Four


- Coaching carried teams to the Final Four this year:

o This is probably the most surprising and least talented team Tom Izzo has taken to the big stage, but like all of his teams they were tougher and more disciplined than their opponents. His decision to intentionally miss the final free throw after taking a one point lead with 1.8 seconds left was genius, despite the officials screwing up the clock (you have to have possession to call time out, and the clock is supposed to stop when the official recognizes the time out, not when it is called. According to the refs, that all took 0.2 seconds). However the other positive outcome from Izzo’s decision was that Tennessee couldn’t run the baseline like they could after a made basket. As much as it pains me to say it, Izzo is THE best coach in all of college basketball, hands down, without question. 6 Final Fours in 15 years is beyond impressive.

o Mike Krzyzewski has taken some heat in the past decade that he has taken his focus off of leading Duke to the Final Four and that he is coasting after all of his success in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Well, he’s back in the Final Four with a team that plays as well together as any team in recent memory. This is his 11th trip to the Final Four with the Blue Devils and you can very easily make the case that the winner of the Duke-West Virginia semifinal will be the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets. He is the Cindy Crawford of coaches in that he continually gets it done even as the years pile up.

o West Virginia confused and confounded Kentucky with their 1-3-1 zone and Bob Huggins outcoached John Calipari. As great of a recruiter as Calipari has proved to be, he had no X’s or O’s to solve a defense where the base at the bottom of the zone was a point guard and Coach Cal couldn’t find a way to get his big men the ball against the undersized Joe Mazzulla. Bob Huggins is back in the Final Four for the first time since 1992. But don’t listen to any interviews with him this week because he sounds as enthusiastic about it as Russell Crowe is about the papparazzi.

- Speaking of West Virginia, the prospect of hearing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” blasting from the Lucas Oil Arena while the Mountaineers cut down the nets is becoming more and more of a reality. Nothing like a little John Denver magic for a theme song.

- It is probably part of the Coach K leadership, but the poise of Duke was among the key contributors to their victory over Baylor. The game was already teetering on slipping away with 1:30 left when Baylor gets a technical foul for absolutely stupidity. It iced a game that was slipping away. Why are you trying to intimidate a guy and get up in his face when you’re down 7 with under 2 minutes left in the game? As athletically talented as Baylor is, I’m pretty sure most of their team could not spell Duke if you gave them the D and the U.

- If you need something to fire you up for work this week (especially if you’re anywhere in the Eastern US where rain is punishing the entire coast), just check out the Gus Johnson soundboard and listen to his classic quotes and yells. Among my favorites is the “Rise and Fire” or the “Slipper” where Gus proclaims “…and the slipper still fits!” with the excitement of a guy who just got out of the movie where Amanda Seyfried get naked.


- Is this the worst Final Four every? While we have coaching stars in this year’s Final Four, there are not a lot of intriguing player story lines or very exciting players to watch. There is not an All-American candidate in the Final Four, which has only happened once in the past 10 years. In 2006, when no #1 seeds made the tournament (#2 UCLA, #3 Florida, #4 LSU & #11 George Mason) there were no All-American candidates, and that Final Four was not very interesting. Even in 1980, the other time when a #1 seed did not make the Final Four, Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue and Darrell Griffith of Louisville were All-American candidates. However, despite the surprise teams and lack of exciting players, it is tough to say this is the worst Final Four ever (despite my texts asking exactly that to my brother and Sal on Saturday night). At least this year has the coaches and a #1 seed still playing in it.

- Well I mentioned last week that West Virginia wanted to ugly up the basketball like Sarah Jessica Parker to have a chance to win. Well, they definitely did that on Saturday night. The Mountaineers did not hit a single 2 point basket in the entire first half of the game, going 0-16 from inside the arc. And Kentucky didn’t hit a 3 point shot until there were less than 4 minutes left in the entire game, ending up shooting 4-32 from beyond the arc. That was about as painful as your girlfriend forcing you to watch that Remember Me movie with the vampire guy and some random girl.

- Why do teams call timeouts after baskets in the final minute when they are down more than five points? For the past few years, the clock stops after a made basket, so there is no need to call time out. I get the concept of “setting up your defense” but when you are already down more than 5 points, you probably need the scramble to have a better chance at a steal and a turnover. You are going to foul immediately, so why bother with the timeout? Wouldn’t you be better served to save the time out for when you potentially get a rebound or steal in the final seconds and need to set up a play or stop the clock for a full-court heave? Just a random thing I noticed that teams call the time out to stop the clock when it is already stopped.

- Did anyone else notice the crowd in Houston for the Duke-Baylor game? It was heavily in favor of Baylor, which makes sense with the proximity to their Waco campus, but it also appeared very sparse on television. The game was played in the cavernous Reliant Stadium – home of the NFL’s Texans – so maybe it was just some of the angles that the television cameras were catching, but there appeared to be an inordinate number of empty seats for a regional final game. Is that a bad sign for next year’s Final Four which will be played in that exact venue? There will likely be the same neutral court issues in the Final Four next year, so will it be a full stadium?

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