Selected Thoughts From Final Four WeekendPosted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2010
You know how this works… here are some random thoughts bouncing around our head as we come out of a pretty damn good Final Four in Indianapolis.
Coach K is the Current Dean of Coaches. But let’s get one thing put to rest right away. He’s not John Wooden. For all you presentists out there convinced that the era we’re currently in is tougher than any other previous one, get your head out of your sphincter. Make all the excuses you want, but Wooden beat all comers west AND east, year after year after year after year (ten times in twelve seasons). We could go on and on about this, and if the numbers were anywhere near each other (like if K had eight titles to Wooden’s ten), we’d entertain the argument. But they’re not, and Coach K would probably be the first to chastise you of such foolishness. Now, with that said, Krzyzewski is a clear #2 all-time with his most recent title. Tom Izzo came into the Final Four with everyone gushing about his six appearances in the last twelve years, but it’s K who has done it better for longer, now with eleven F4s and four national championships to his credit. Whenever he decides to retire, and there’s a good chance it won’t be for another decade, Coach K will have far surpassed the man whom he set his eyes on as a target way back in the early 80s — UNC demigod Dean Smith. What seemed like a herculean impossibility at that time ultimately came to pass, as Coach K is now the Dean of Tobacco Road and the Smith family tree of he and Roy Williams must combine championships at UNC to simply match those of K (something undoubtedly not lost on Williams in his lair at this very moment). Furthermore, Krzyzewski proved with this year’s team that he doesn’t have to have better talent than everyone else to cut down the nets — his other championship teams were stacked to the brim with future pros, but it will ultimately be the 2010 national titleist that raises his legacy from one of the coach with the best talent to one of the talent with the best coach.
Greatest Title Game Ever? Had Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot found net, we’d be on board with this. The storyline is just too good. Even better than Villanova taking down big, bad Georgetown in ’85 or NC State’s miracle of miracles two years earlier. The Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump comparisons would have been endless, and we’re a little more than halfway convinced that we’d have seen our first-ever title game RTC should the ball have gone through. Unfortunately for most of America, like many life-story endings awkwardly forced into a Hollywood template, reality leaves you waiting for the next moment that never comes — the Hayward shot didn’t magically bounce up in the air and fall back through… The truth is that the national championship game was a hard-nosed, calculating, defensive-minded drama between two teams where every single point came with a price tag. But it wasn’t beautiful, and in order to have greatness bestowed upon a game, it usually needs to end with a make rather than a miss. This is not always the case, but it’s difficult to buy into the GOAT argument when the last made field goal occurred with just under a minute remaining (as a comparison, the widely-accepted greatest game of all-time, 1992 Duke-Kentucky, had five lead changes in the last 35 seconds of overtime). So where does it rank? Still pretty high — for our money, this was the best championship game since 1999 UConn vs. Duke (yes, Memphis-Kansas was thrilling, but not for the entire game), and is definitely in the top 6-8 in the post-Wooden era, but let’s keep our wits about us here.
People Will Come, Ray. People Will Most Definitely Come. Mixing metaphors between sports, we found it interesting that the Duke-Butler national title game drew the highest television ratings (14.2) for a championship since 2005’s classic between UNC and Illinois. This amounted to nearly 48 million Americans tuning into the game at some point during the broadcast, which is the highest aggregate total since 1997 (Kentucky vs. Arizona). Considering that several traditional powerhouses (UNC, UConn, UCLA) weren’t even invited to the Dance, what can we draw from this? For one, Duke and Cinderella sell, showing again that casual fans do not need marquee stars such as John Wall or Evan Turner to find a reason to watch a compelling collegiate matchup. To paraphrase Vitale who has crowed about this forever, college basketball really is still about the names on the front of the jerseys rather than the backs, and people clearly enjoyed rooting against Duke and pulling for the unknown kids from Butler on Monday night. Crazy to consider but probably true, as much as we’d like to think a Kansas-Kentucky final would have been the preferred matchup, it’s doubtful that casual interest for that game would have been as high. Another thought, given that Tournament ratings were up 5% across the board this year, is to realize just how important opening weekend buzz is for the shelf life of the Tourney. If there are no great finishes and upsets, then many casual viewers are lost early, never to return. This is something that the NCAA should consider very carefully when making a determination on whether two days of expanded first round #9 vs. #24 games are good enough theater for the interst of casual fans. To someone tuning in only for March Madness, it doesn’t mean anything to him if #9 UNLV loses to #24 Morgan State, but he easily recognizes the gravity if that same #9 UNLV team beats a #1 seeded Kansas two rounds later. Put in terms the organization can understand better, what does the NCAA stand to lose by moving the Round of 32 to a random Tuesday/Wednesday when many of the biggest and best upsets happen (see: Northern Iowa over Kansas and St. Mary’s over Villanova)? Will those March-only fans still be as interested at that point or will fatigue of four days of early-round games have already set in by the time the best matchups occur? We think that these are the hard questions that the NCAA needs to ask itself and be sure about its answers before moving forward with expansion.
Da’Sean Butler’s ACL Injury. Butler’s ACL injury on Saturday night was a truly heart-wrenching moment for the charismatic forward who represented so much of the hard work, toughness and swagger that Bob Huggins has brought to Morgantown. But it also brings up as a bitter reminder the reason that many players who are projected as first rounders in the upcoming NBA Draft need to give it a long, hard look. Let’s be clear — Butler was never going to be a lottery pick in the eyes of the scouts, so it’s not as if he personally turned away guaranteed millions in previous summers, but the lesson learned is that as much as we hope and want players like Kyle Singler, Gordon Hayward and others to consider staying in a college uniform for another year or two, a single play like the one Butler suffered in the national semifinal can severely damage a player’s livelihood. As an example of the devastating impact of a knee injury, Butler went from a probable late first rounder to a possible second rounder as a result, and you really hate to see it in the case of a player who did everything the right way throughout his college career. If we know anything about the character and moxie of this particular player, though, we expect we’ll see him work his way up through the NBDL into the NBA a year or two from now.
Next Year For These Four. If Kyle Singler and Gordan Hayward stick around, it’s safe to say that both Duke and Butler are going to be even more loaded than this year. The defending champs will add superstar point guard Kyrie Irving to replace Jon Scheyer and Seth Curry will become eligible after his transfer year. You’d expect that the Plumlees will be able to provide what Brian Zoubek did for the team this year, and of course Coach K is still over there on the sidelines. Butler keeps everyone except Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes (who was so clutch in the first half on Monday night), but the biggest question mark for the Bulldogs is what, if anything, Brad Stevens will do. If he sticks around, Hayward probably will also, and the Bulldogs will enter 2010-11 as a top five team. As for Michigan State and West Virginia, it’s the Spartans who are in greater shape for next season, losing only Raymar Morgan and keeping everyone else of consequence. Don’t be surprised when MSU loses a few early games and everyone forgets about them by March, only to see Izzo put it together again for yet another Final Four run next season — the talent is there. WVU is another team with a significant amount of production returning, as Bob Huggins loses only Da’Sean Butler and Wellington Smith from a team that you know will defend and rebound their way to another solid campaign. After most seasons, you expect to see a bunch of Final Four players jumping ship to the NBA, but in this year’s star-less event, each of these teams could come back as good or better than they were in the 2009-10 season.