Monday, March 28, 2005

Final Eight review

After two weeks of NCAA Tournament play, The Monk is in a three-way third-place tie in his pool and will end up in a three-way tie for the title if UNC beats Illinois. Wongdoer, piggybacking on my advice, will win if UNC beats Louisville. No one in the pool (60+ people) picked the whole Final Four. About 8 or so (including The Monk) picked three of the Final Four, and all picked the same three: Louisville, Illinois and UNC. They must've been reading The Key Monk . . .

Here is what should have been learned in the past two weeks (other than the fact that David Spade is so da*n annoying I will not get a Capital One credit card and that Seth Davis is a cliche-ridden wannabe stooge):

(1) Teams can't defend the three. This goes for winners (Louisville, UNC, Mich. State) and losers (Kentucky, Arizona). Indeed, the dead-eye three-point shooting by West Virginia, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin defied logic and description. Nonetheless, defending the three-pointer seems to be a lost art in this Tourney: Kentucky is a bottomoftheSEC outside shooting team, it went 9-19 against MSU; WVU couldn't hit water from a boat against Syracuse in the Big East Tourney, it couldn't miss against Louisville (18-of-27 is equivalent to hitting all 27 shots from two-point range). Illinois rode its 16 3-pointers to its comeback win over Arizona. Maybe Kansas' 4-20 against Syracuse in the 2003 title game is an anomaly. I tend to believe that teams that do not play zone regularly tend to lose track of shooters (Louisville, UNC) when they go 2-3 or 1-3-1. Arizona (regularly plays a 1-3-1) and Mich. State (2-3 zone competent) have no such excuse.

(2) A diversified attack is a necessity. Syracuse lost in the first round because it had two reliable scorers, one of whom went in the tank; same thing happened to Vermont against Michigan State. Diverse scoring = why Arizona was in position to win against Illinois despite Stoudamire's worst game all year.

(3) Don't underestimate the importance of a quality center even in the college game. Sure, Syracuse won two years ago without one (and so did Mich. State in 2000) but the Orange had the best player in college hoops. The presence of a top center can still change the game: just ask Michigan State how important Paul Davis has been. UNC would be back studying for class and answering "what happened?" questions from the Carolina media without Sean May. Last year in the Final Four, UConn destroyed Duke when Okafor was on the floor but couldn't handle the Dookies without him and Ok. State lost to Ga. Tech because Schenscher dominated the small OSU front line.

Some important matchups for the next weekend: (a) Louisville against Illinois' guards. The Cardinals have height against the Illini's mighty mites, but will Louisville be able to deal with the Illini pressure as well as it did against Washington? Remember, the Cards do not have a true point guard; they play with a shooting guard (Dean) as the primary ball-handler and a point forward (Garcia) as a primary passer.

(b) Paul Davis against Sean May. Davis looks like a slightly squatter Shawn Bradley but he has the guts Bradley never had. Davis went toe-to-toe with the stronger Shelden Williams (of Duke) twice this year and more than held his own (Davis = 17 points, 10 reb in first game, 20-12 in NCAA; Williams = 10-12, 19-10). May single-handedly kept Williams from first-team all-ACC and first-team all-American honors (both of which Williams had been hyped for until the first Duke-UNC game) by dominating him twice. May's line against Duke: 23 pts, 18 reb at Duke; 26 pts, 24 reb at UNC; Williams' line = 11-9 and 22-4. No contest either time and a major reason May leapfrogged past Williams in all-conference and all-American voting (their overall numbers are similar: 16.8/10.8/55.4 FG% for May; 15.5/11.2/58.2% for Williams). How Davis holds up against May will help decide who plays Monday night.

Best thing about the Final Four this year? Even though we have the following seeds: 1, 1, 4, 5, just like 1996, (see also the 1, 1, 2, 5 set-up in 2002) the two #1 seeds are on opposite sides of the bracket so they cannot meet until the title game. This prevents Billy Packer from b*tching for six days (and 5+ hours on game day) about how the NCAA should re-seed the Final Four (and MAN did I get tired of that crap in '96 when #4 SU played #5 Mississippi State and #1 Kentucky avenged itself against #1 UMass -- blame the Committee for putting the top two teams on the same side of the bracket).

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