Well, that certainly sucked. I should have done what I threatened to do midway through the first half: turn off the TV, get in the car, and drive until the game was over. It worked against Davidson three years ago. Perhaps it would have worked yesterday.<!–more–>Instead, I just turned the volume down when the second half began, pulled out the MacBook Air, and dove into some media file organization projects I had been putting off for awhile. I looked up at the TV from time-to-time, but didn’t get terribly excited when KU cut it to two. That game was over the moment that VCU kid drilled the three that put them up 18 in the first half. Too many things would have to turn around completely for KU to come back and win. They got a few of them to turn for about ten minutes, but the shots still weren’t dropping, the offense was still too rushed, too many missed free throws, not enough stops on defense, and too many close calls going the other way. KU could have won the game if four or even three of those changed, but when all five stayed the same, there was no hope.
And thus ends another season of KU basketball. I’m working through the normal grieving process. Actually, I think the grieving process for sports is much different than the standard grieving process. I keep cycling through anger, disbelief, and apathy. At some point I’ll look back on a team that won 35 games, conference and conference tournament championships, and made the Elite 8 and realize it was a fantastic year that all but a handful of schools would take in a minute.
But I’m not there yet.
There have been two fantastic coaching jobs in this year’s tournament which deserve praise.
Brad Stevens got a Butler team that isn’t nearly as good as last year’s back to the Final Four. He’s done it through his mental preparation of the Bulldogs and fantastic in-game adjustments. It’s interesting that he told Billy Donovan that Donovan out-coached him. I’m not sure what he meant by that, perhaps it was a polite way of saying “Your coaching blunders helped me win.” That game was over and all Florida had to do was keep throwing the ball inside on every possession. Instead they abandoned their big men and tried to match Butler from the outside. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
And now Butler is not only in the Final Four, but playing a #11 seed for a second-straight championship game appearance. When you look back on the history of the Final Four, there are times when smaller schools have appeared in multiple Final Fours. Often it was because they lucked into some seven-footer or NBA talent who blossomed late and powered their run. Butler had Gordon Hayward last year, and despite being a first round draft, I don’t think he qualifies as a big difference maker. Besides, he didn’t have a great tournament last year. It’s been entirely a team effort effort for Butler these two years, and Stevens deserves the bulk of the credit.
The other, of course, is VCU’s Shaka Smart. He took a team that was ridiculed on national TV when the brackets came out, focused them, relaxed them, and now has them in the Final Four. He’s managed the tricky balance between intense effort and playing loose beautifully. They now have five wins over teams from power conferences. They hammered Georgetown and Purdue. They hammered KU in the first half, survived the comeback, and closed out the game comfortably. They’ve done it all on the back of unconscious outside shooting, something that is tough to sustain over a tournament run. Whether it was “Us against the World” or “We’re playing with house money” or some other motivational technique, Shaka has pushed the right button for the past two weeks.
I would expect both Stevens and Smart can name their price when it comes time to talk contract, either with their current school or another that offers them a job.