March Madness Bullets
A whole bunch of NCAA Tourney thoughts.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
As we approach the second set of Elite 8 games, I thought I would type out some thoughts/bullet points on the tournament thus far. Some are general, some are specific to what I have written here in the last few weeks. If nothing else, March Madness 2011 has some spunk. What it lacked in major first-round upsets, the tournament has more than made up for in later round surprises (we usually see the reverse). Feel free to discuss these or other tournament themes below.
—What does Butler’s consecutive Final Four appearances make Brad Stevens? A prodigy? He’s way beyond that now. A genius? He might be. Whatever he is, we’ve never seen it before. To make two Final Fours as a head coach before your 35th birthday is remarkable. To accomplish that feat in consecutive seasons at a mid-major school like Butler is … well … an adjective to describe the ridiculousness of that achievement doesn’t exist yet. If Butler faces Kansas in the Final Four, no one will expect them to win. But not many should be surprised if they do. Stevens has certainly come a long way since nearly bussing the tables of people watching the tournament on TV. So how much longer does he stay at Butler?
—I have a whopping ONE Elite Eight team remaining from my initial bracket. That one happens to be my eventual national champion Kansas. Could be worse.
—Which Connecticut player has improved his stock the most in the Huskies run to the Final Four? It might not be Kemba Walker. Don’t get me wrong: aside from this obscene flop that drew a crucial technical foul on San Diego State in the Sweet 16, the guy has been awesome. But freshman Jeremy Lamb has risen faster in the last few weeks. Relatively under-recruited out of high school, Lamb is only going to get better and much, much stronger. Without speculating whether he will leave any time soon, Lamb should be the next Husky to go from project to NBA Draft pick (a la Hilton Armstrong).
—This is being written before the Kansas-VCU Elite 8 game, so (as dangerous as this is in a year like this one), let’s assume Kansas makes it past the rolling Rams. Kansas will have faced, in this order, a 16, 9, 12, 11, and 8 seeds by the end of next weekend. Remarkable. It won’t make their run any less respectable, just fascinating how this stuff plays out.
—Shaka Smart is making himself a ton of money. VCU is already a proven springboard to major conference head coaching jobs (Anthony Grant, Jeff Capel). Where he ends up next season will be interesting, but not as interesting as seeing whether VCU can become the second 11-seed from the Colonial to make the Final Four in the last six seasons.
—Let it be known I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so there is not an atom of East Coast bias in my body: the talk of the Big East being overrated because they only had two teams reach the Sweet 16 is baloney. Everyone knew, or at least they should have, that the Big East was deep, not dominant, this season. Pitt’s second round loss to Butler, while surprising, should not be mind-blowing. Pitt was the Big East’s best team, but received the 1-seed largely because of the strength of its conference. The conference was hurt by two second round matchups (Syracuse-Marquette and Cincinnati-UConn) pitting Big East rivals against one another and injuries to star players (Georgetown’s Christ Wright and St. John’s D.J. Kennedy). Finally, the Big East’s lone representative in the Final Four finished 9th in the conference’s regular season standings.
—Leading Arizona within a bucket of the Final Four and dominating the likes of Texas and Duke should make Derrick Williams the top pick in June’s NBA Draft.
—It seems like Roy Williams’s coaching job this season is one of his finest ever, yet people don’t seem to notice. If he can make the Final Four with this group of Tarheels after missing out on the tournament all together last season, then Roy deserves one big pat on the back. Adding Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall didn’t hurt, but Williams’s ability to restore confidence in the veterans while not stunting the growth of his highly touted freshmen is impressive. The decision to bench Larry Drew in favor of Marshall probably saved North Carolina’s season as well.