Thursday, April 11, 2013
Thoughts From the Final Four
The tournament is finished. The last brackets have been shredded. The nets have been cut and the trophy is resting in Louisville. So what did we take from this year's Final Four?
Louisville earned it. I've never seen a team quite like Louisville. On their way to the Final Four, the Cardinals had little to no trouble steamrolling any team in their path. They came into Atlanta with an aura of invincibility. Then Wichita State punched them in the mouth. Louisville showed, much like in the Big East title game, that when it wants to take over a game, it can, and when it needs to take over a game, it will. Wichita State and Michigan had Louisville on the rope, but much like native son Muhammad Ali, the Cards played rope-a-dope and showed the grit and mental toughness to win the national title.
This won't be Wichita State's last visit. The Shockers were the party crashers coming into Atlanta, but easily proved that they were deserving of the biggest stage. While Miami's Jim Larranaga walked away with National Coach of the Year honors, one would have to say that, had the vote been after the season, Gregg Marshall was deserving of the crown. Wichita isn't a flash in the pan; Marshall is a fantastic coach and a proven winner and he built a system that took a team to the national semifinal despite losing its top five scorers from last year. Needless to say, his system works.
Butler proved they weren't a mid-major fluke; so much so that they now aren't a mid-major. VCU always gets some respect when brackets are filled. Wichita is the next team in line; a team based on physical inside play, aggressive defense and perimeter shooting. It may take a couple of years, though WSU has a pretty strong team coming back. Don't be surprised though if the Shocks are back in another Final Four real soon.
Every ACC team better have a plan for the Syracuse 2-3 zone. If they don't, the Orange will walk right into their new conference next year and win it. Yes, even without Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse will be tough to handle. Jim Boeheim didn't win the national title this year, but he did an amazing job with his team, whose size, speed, and length simply overwhelmed teams trying to score against his patented zone. Indiana had the top offense all year. Syracuse stuffed it. Marquette had absolutely no answer for it. Michigan showed how it can be done (and I'm sure Coach K will have a few tricks up his sleeve as well), but the ACC better prepare for the Orange next year ... after all, Louisville is knocking on their door in two years.
The jump ball call against Wichita State in the last seconds was horrendous. As said before, Louisville earned their title. However, their comeback win over the Shockers was slightly marred by that awful piece of officiating; something Wichita fans are going to have a hard time forgetting. Anyways, the officiating wasn't stellar, to say the least. The NCAA needs to demand better from their marquee event.
The writers got it right. The best college basketball player this season was Michigan's Trey Burke. Without him, Michigan goes from a great team to a pretty good team (no offense, Spike Albrecht). Burke was the heart, soul and catalyst for the Wolverines. On the ropes against Kansas, Burke stepped up late and helped save the day. Two days later, he destroyed Mr. Logistics and the Gator attack with relative ease. Beating Syracuse requires outstanding play from your point guard and again, Burke delivered. He lived up to the hype. He's the real deal.
The writers got it right again. Luke Hancock might have been a huge payout for anyone in Vegas that bet on him to win the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. However, where would Louisville have been without him in those last two games? Hancock was the essence of clutch when the Cardinals needed someone to step up when it counted.
The NCAA got it right. It's hard to believe the NCAA getting anything right these days. However, setting up the D-II and D-III title games in Phillips Arena and holding them on the day before the title game was a brilliant move. The crowds were bigger, the players had to been more appreciative, and the atmosphere was really something special for those teams. This is one new wrinkle that the NCAA should never change. Bravo, NCAA (for once).
All in all, an intriguing tournament led to a phenomenal Final Four. Three great games produced a champion, and soon enough, we'll be setting up shop for next year.