Monday, March 30, 2009

The Final Four

Well the Final Four is set for Detroit this coming weekend, and it does not include a couple of the teams that most people had assumed would be there. The Big East did get its two teams into the Final Four, both fully deserving, but those teams do not include either Louisville or Pittsburgh, perhaps the two most-often picked teams to win it all this year based on their regular season schedules. Instead, UConn and UNC plowed through their brackets as #1 seeds, not really being hugely tested along the way, including Carolina pretty much dismantling Oklahoma despite another awesome performance by Blake Griffin, easily the best player in the country this year.

Oh yeah, and don't you just hate when this happens to you:

God, I remember the first time I smacked my fucking temple on the backboard during a live basketball game. Dam did that ever smart.

Anyways, Villanova took down Pittsburgh on Saturday to gain its spot in the Final Four in what probably will go down as the best game of the whole tournament this year. I know I wrote about this as the tournament was beginning a couple of weeks ago, but Jay Wright, what can you say about him. He is just a great coach, and he has the Villanova wildcats playing about as well as you could ever expect to see them play. With 46 seconds to go in that game, Nova held a four point lead as Pittsburgh inbounded the ball, and then Pitt fought back until a last second drive did them in and ended their chances at defending their #1 seed in Detroit this year, in just about the most entertaining 46 seconds of basketball you will ever see:

And still I have left the best for last, as Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans broke down all-around #1 seed Louisville on Sunday afternoon, just two days after Louisville utterly demolished Arizona 103-64. I mean, even though Arizona clearly has no business playing on the same court as most of the teams remaining in the Sweet 16 in the tournament given how bad their regular season was this year, to take a tournament-experienced team like that and trounce them that bad, you couldn't deny that Louisville was the best, hottest team in the country after that beatdown, but MSU simply clamped down on the Cardinals and just would not let them score when they needed to. After Louisville took the lead early in the second half, Michigan State went on a little run, built their lead back up, and then refused to look back, shocking the world in the process.

Which leads me to my overall point about this year's Final Four -- as with many years, this is really a celebration of great coaching as much as it is about great players. On the one side you've got Jim Calhoun, having led UConn to two national titles and a 35-12 record in the NCAA tournament, including 4-0 in the Final Four, and having taken a UConn program that was nowhere, completely non-existent in 1986 and built it into an absolute powerhouse, year in and year out over the past 10+ years. This is Calhoun's third Final Four appearance, the first two both resulting in national championships.

Then you have Roy Williams, who made the NCAA tournament in his last 14 consecutive years at Kansas, averaging nearly 28 wins per season, before leaving for Carolina where he has once again made the Big Dance in every season since his arrival in 2003. Williams won the AP coach of the year award in 1992 with Kansas and again in 2006
with UNC, making him only the second coach to ever win this award with two different teams. He is third all-time in NCAA Tournament wins with 49 and has an NCAA postseason win percentage of .731, fourth-best among active coaches. Eight of his teams have been seeded No. 1 in a region in NCAA play, and he has coached a team to 30 or more wins eight times, which is the second-most in NCAA history. He has won 20 or more games 18 times in 20 years (winning 19 in his first seasons at Kansas and North Carolina), including 14 straight seasons at Kansas, a streak that equaled the third longest in NCAA history. Williams has been to eight Final Fours over his 21 year coaching career.

Jay Wright, clearly the youngest of the bunch, coached at Hofstra from 1994-2001, culminating in three consecutive postseason appearances from 1999-2001, before being named head basketball coach at Villanova in March of 2001. Under Wright, Nova has improved dramatically since the 2001-2004 teams, including making the Sweet 16 four times in the past five years. His coaching resume is nothing compared to the other three coaches left in the Final Four, but he is young and has only coached at a premiere college basketball program for the past eight seasons, and those of you out there who follow the sport will know that he is a great gameday coach, and has managed to get quite a bit out of less talented teams than many of his peers.

Tom Izzo has been the head coach at MSU since 1995, and in 14 years he had lead the team to 12 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the 5th longest active streak in the nation, six Final Fours and 26 NCAA tournament wins, second only to Duke's Coach Ghey who has tallied 29 wins over the past 12 seasons. The difference is, Coach Ghey and Roy Williams have accomplished their impressive tournament records by routinely splitting up the 5 or 6 best, most talented high schoolers in the country every single year. Tom Izzo, on the other hand, hasn't even had a single player that I would describe as truly "great" in his entire run. Shawn Respert is probably the best player MSU has ever had during Izzo's tenure running the team, and of course most of you out there are probably thinking to yourself, "Who?" Exactly. Nobody, and I mean nobody, consistently does more with less talent than Tom Izzo, period. I mean, Mateen effin' Cleaves? Zach Randolph? And yet somehow, every single player that Izzo has recruited and who completed their full eligibility has gone to at least one Final Four under Tom Izzo. Not sure how anybody in the country can beat that when it comes right down to it.

So these are the four men who will battle it out in the lovely paradise known as Detroit, Michigan in a week's time. Although Rick Pitino would have been a great addition to the roster of Final Four coaches this year, the bottom line is that we are looking at one of the best conglomerations of truly talented, deserving coaches I can ever recall meeting to decide college basketball's national championship.

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Blogger Mondogarage said...

"The Big East did get its two teams into the Final Four,"

Um, wait. You were predicting three, and maybe four. It's a credit to the Big East, certainly, to get two. But not surprising, there have been plenty of occasions of a conference getting two teams in the Final Four.

I stand by what I said a week ago. All the pundits, and all the Hoyazos, were predicting absolute dominance by the Big East over everyone. Now, the favorite is UNC.

The Big East, considering everyone's predictions of 3 or 4 teams in the Final Four, was overrated, as far a conference. Which takes absolutely nothing away from Villanova and UConn, who are clearly deserving teams. But the Eastern Sports Propaganda Network bias continues.

7:05 AM  
Blogger donkeypuncher said...

Do you think the deep ball inbounds pass by Villanova was bad coaching or bad execution? My friends and I had this debate over the weekend. The foul after the steal was just plain dumb.

I think all of Izzo's players are from the Midwest - and most of them Michigan. Amazing what he can do with that talent. I don't know if chooses not to recruit nationally. Might need to research that over lunch...

11:39 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...


Not to cop out, but I'd call that ridonky inbounds pass by Nova both and leave it at that. It's not like Jay Wright was in there drawing up the perfect full-court inbounds play to seal the victory there, and the team just didn't execute it correctly. Clearly the team was not adequately coached to avoid such situations from happening, and clearly whatever they were trying to do, it was executed poorly.

Nice to see that not crush them. I found myself rooting for Nova, even though I should hate them still for 1985.

3:08 AM  

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