On balance, it was a pretty solid Final Four for those of us who had no true allegiance to any of the schools represented.
Yes, it sucks that Duke and Coach K won their fifth title last night. Especially given a couple awfully suspicious calls that went their way late. It wasn’t as bad as the ’01 Final Four game against Maryland, when pretty much every non-Duke fan watching believed that all three referees were doing all they could to help Duke win. And Wisconsin got a kind whistle in the first half.
But, for as annoying as Duke winning is, it was still better than Kentucky winning two more games to finish 40–0.
For several years I’ve tried not to hate as much as I used to in sports. That’s a big reason I don’t watch as many games as I used to. If I don’t like a team playing, and there’s no real benefit for my team in the outcome, I will often skip a game just to keep my hate levels low.
That all went out the window Saturday. I was pulling hard for Wisconsin to win. I can’t think of a time in my adult life when I pulled as hard for a college basketball team that did not have Kansas across their chests. I was yelling and whooping and throwing the occasional pillow during what ended up being an absolutely fantastic game. When the Badgers went on that late run and the Wildcats slowly wilted, I loved every second of it. For one night, just about all of the college basketball universe came together to help the Badgers overcome the juggernaut that was this year’s Kentucky team. And it worked!
To celebrate I ran upstairs, helped finish and hide the Easter baskets, and then downed about five handfuls of various left-over candies. Not the smartest thing, given how my stomach felt the next morning.
I was pulling hard for Wisconsin again last night, and was loving how the game looked halfway through the second half. But Coach K did his voodoo, Wisconsin’s offense fell apart, and Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones hit some massive shots to deny us the perfect ending.
Sorry, Bucky. Thanks for your efforts. We’ll always have Indy!
Some notes from the Final Four:
- Yes, this season was absolutely a disappointment for Kentucky. But only because they made 40–0 a clear goal for this team, not because of our out-of-whack expectations and the over-emphasis on what happens in the tournament vs. the rest of the season. They set themselves up. They have to live with the fallout. And Calipari will tell us the season was a massive success when he has four, five, maybe even six more first round picks this June. Because he’s said he measures the programs success based on how many kids are drafted, not how many games they win.
- I love to hate on Cal. Especially since he was thoroughly out-coached Saturday. But I’ll give him this: he gets his crazy system to work. Trey Lyles could have gone to Indiana, averaged 25 points a game, and made a case for being the #1 pick. Instead he went to UK, had a nice season, and will be picked in the 10–20 range. Devon Booker could have followed his dad’s path to Missouri, or stayed home at one of the Mississippi schools and been a huge star. Karl-Anthony Towns could have looked at the Kentucky roster and thought, “Man, I’m going somewhere where I play 35 minutes a night and the ball comes to me on every possession.” And on and on. Calipari gets the kids to sacrifice for the greater good, a decidedly old-school truth about his teams. Hate him, celebrate when he loses, and wish the system was different and didn’t allow what he does to happen. But you have to give him credit for making it work.
- Speaking of sacrificing, prepare yourselves for two months of noise about how the Harrison twins sacrificed so much so Kentucky could be great the last two years, how “humble and grounded” they are, and how they are really much better players than they’ve shown in college. Because they can’t come back for a third year, right? And with neither currently listed in the first round of most mock drafts, Cal and the other folks around the twins are going to have to do some serious spinning to help their cause. Or the kids might just go out and destroy everyone at pre-draft workouts and make those arguments themselves.
- Is Coach K the greatest coach in college basketball history? Likely so. The era John Wooden won his titles in was completely, dramatically different than the one K has won his in. You just can’t argue with five titles in a quarter century, or the seven more Final Four appearances on top of that. Yes, he’s had some bad first weekend losses. John Wooden never had to play in a tournament like the modern one. If he did, he’d likely have some duds, too. I think the only knock against K is that he’s not a great innovator. He hasn’t fundamentally changed the game like Dean Smith did. Or Adolph Rupp. Or Hank Iba. Or Phog Allen. But I think that’s a pretty small quibble. He may not have developed a new offense that everyone else was playing two years later, or changed how coaches run defense. But he’s still set the standard for how you run a program. And the way he’s always adjusted his sets to match his teams biggest strengths has been brilliant. Each Duke team plays a little differently. A lot of great coaches would force their kids to adapt to their system rather than adjust to their talents.
- Duke still sucks. And it will be fun to hate Grayson Allen, who was clearly born to be That Guy at Duke. The athletic, cocky white kid who hits huge shots and then celebrates for all to see. Frankly I think the NCAA would have stepped in and forced the kid to go to Duke had he decided to stay in-state and go to Florida, FSU, or Miami.
- As cool as it is to have the Final Four here in Indy on a regular basis, I’m kind of ready for the NCAA to decide to skip us for a decade or so. Duke has now won three of its titles here in Naptown. Although KU was in the 1991 Final Four here, the last three times Indy has hosted, KU has lost to a Missouri Valley team the first weekend of the tournament. So go ahead and mark your calendars for 2021. Duke will win the title and KU is losing to Evansville in the round of 32.
- Two others came in Minneapolis. No more -apolis cities! ↩