NCAA Tournament in the Books: What Did We Learn?
This was a most interesting college basketball season. It started right about this time a year ago after the Louisville Cardinals won last year’s NCAA Tournament. Their arch rivals, the Kentucky Wildcats, fresh off an embarrassing first round exit in the NIT hauled in what many consider the greatest recruiting class in history. For a while it did not appear to be the case though. UK fans were buying t-shirts in the preseason that touted “the Pursuit of Perfection” but after losing the second game of the season, those were on the clearance rack really early. So lesson #1 was go lightly when ordering tee-shirts with insanely high expectations on them.
Then the season went on and we found out that Other highly touted freshmen may play well, but not necessarily elevate their teams to the top of the rankings. Kentucky, along with the Kansas Jayhawks and Duke Blue Devils played well at times and struggled at times. We also saw senior dominated teams such as the Florida Gators,Virginia Cavaliers, Wichita State Shockers and Louisville Cardinals play very well. Both teams won their conference regular season and tournament titles. Both were favorites to win it all when it was bracket filling time. Lesson #2. You want a team that plays well all season, get some seniors in there.
Then the NCAA Tournament started. And then the preseason #1 Wildcats who lost 10 games, including games to the South Carolina Gamecocks, LSU Tigers, Arkansas Razorbacks (twice), figured it out. The Cats started to finally resemble a preseason #1 team. In fact, they started to resemble a top ranked team starting with the SEC Tournament. They came within one point of winning that one over the top ranked Gators, a team that had beaten them by 19 points eight days earlier. Lesson #3 is don’t sleep on teams with talent when the tournament starts, even if they did not play well all year.
Then we watched the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament and saw close games and overtimes everywhere. Teams like the St. Joe’s Hawks nearly took down the UConn Huskies before falling in overtime, leaving us to believe the Huskies were not long for the tournament. We saw another team forced to go to Dayton to play their way in to the Round of 64, the Tennessee Volunteers, make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Then we saw the same UConn team that barely made it out of the Round of 64, put on their road jerseys and run all the way to the National Championship. Lesson #4, count nobody out until they are out. Lesson #5. Put a team from the First Four in Dayton into your Sweet Sixteen next year. They get one in there every year.
We saw only one #1 seed advance to the Final Four, along with a #2, a #7 and a #8. Lesson #6. Don’t put a lot of stock into seedings. We saw the #7 and the #8 beat the #1 and #2 to advance to the championship game.
We saw the team with the dominant senior back court win it all. Lesson #7. Basketball is a game now dominated by point guards. You cannot go all the way without a great one.
Other lessons learned:
UConn is an amazing basketball program. They now have four NCAA Tournament championships since 1999. They have tied Duke, North Carolina and now trail Indiana by one. Yet somehow they still fly under the radar of the media. Maybe that changes now. Of maybe it is because they have an even more amazing women’s program that steals the spotlight. But clearly the University of Connecticut can lay claim to the title of “Basketball U.” Sorry Kentucky. Sorry Duke. Sorry Florida. Sorry North Carolina. Sorry UCLA. UConn is owning you all.
When picking your brackets, Cinderella stories are nice, but you Final Four had better have teams named for states in it. No people, no cities, no directions, just states, such as Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, etc. Possible exceptions, Duke, Louisville, UCLA. This year we had four teams just named after the states they hail from. On an off year, you will likely get three.