Final Four Daily Diaries: Friday

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media.  What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium.  Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure.  Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Friday, April 1 – Houston, Texas

  • Houston sucks.  I’ve never been to a place that angers me more than this city.  Ok, maybe Vegas after a specific trip to the Luxor Hotel & Spa a few years back, but nowhere else I’ve been in this country enjoys such a harmonious mixture of horrendous traffic, non-walkability, preponderance of bad chain restaurants, paucity of natural beauty, unbearable heat, and a culture-less culture than this place.  I’ve been to most major US cities before, and there’s a reason I’d yet to make it to this one — now I know why (as I prep for my credential to be rendered invalid around 4 pm CDT tomorrow).  Credential or not, you’ve got three more days, Houston — my poison pen is raring.  Other than that, it’s great.

There Are a Lot of Roads That End Here, Not Just This One.

  • On to Final Four Friday, as it’s called in the local parlance.  Not to go all Negative Nancy on you all in this diary, but the four practices this afternoon couldn’t  have been more sleep-inducing.  I was lucky enough to bring the RTC Babe along for the ride this weekend, and she put it rather succinctly when asked about her impressions of the four-hour snorefest — “It was boring, but I did get to see Jimmer,” her voice lilting at the end.  That she did, and as she’s somehow managed to convince herself in the last three weeks that BYU’s Jimmer Fredette possesses a hotness that most mere mortals cannot reach, we say bravo.  After all, The Jimmer is in fact the guy we all want to be anyway, and it could be worse — she could have mentioned somebody like, ugh, Chandler Parsons.

Jimmer, Clearly Awkward But Playing Along...

  • Back to the practices, though, and although it was cool to be in the building and to look around, enjoy the decorations and speak with some colleagues, the practices were by and large worthless.  A few light drills, a lot of jump shooting, coaches and players taking it all in — these were the activities of the day.  No Big Country tearing the backboard down or Kevin Love hitting 100-footers or a horrific injury to a notable player today — just a lot of quiet.  Even the Kentucky fans were largely muted, a completely unexpected occurrence given that it’s been 13 long years since the BBN last saw a F4 Friday practice.
  • Other than finding my way around the place, the real value of today’s practice sessions were the press conferences that were being held simultaneously in the media interview room.  Keeping in mind that everyone is in an exceptionally good mood roughly 26-30 hours prior to their game, there were several interesting and funny moments from today’s pressers.
  • The singular highlight came during the John Calipari (who else?) interview.  CBS Sports columnist Dennis Dodd, prefacing his question by stating that he’s being facetious, asked the Kentucky coach how it feels “to coach in your first Final Four,” clearly referencing two vacated runs to the final weekend at UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008).  It received a few chuckles among the room of assembled media, but Calipari didn’t bite, simply stating that he’s been at the Final Four three times and that he’s proud of those teams’ accomplishments.  A previous question from an Israeli reporter (?) asked Calipari if he feels he’s “the 2000[s] Jerry Tarkanian?”  Presumably, he was asking if the UK coach felt vilified by the NCAA and media as the head of a (presumed) lawless program.  Again, no bite from Calipari there either.

Shaka is Larger Than Life This Weekend

  • Shaka Smart impressed us with his honesty in facing a couple of tough questions where many coaches might have just glossed things over.  When asked whether his team paid attention to what the media and prognosticators say about VCU’s chances to win the national championship this weekend, he said that their video people find and print out “every single article that talks about our game.”  This of course goes back to the Jay Bilas quotes from Selection Sunday about the Rams not passing “the laugh test,” and it definitely appears that Smart’s team gets off on proving people wrong about their abilities.  The other thing he admitted was that when he was an assistant coach under Keith Dambrot at Akron, he said that he never believed that a mid-major program like George Mason, Butler or VCU could win the national title — obviously, he has a very different opinion on that now.
  • The most interesting point that Brad Stevens made (and he always makes several) is that the two mid-major schools are one year removed themselves from losing a player to the NBA Draft early — Gordon Hayward at Butler; Larry Sanders at VCU.  Folks are somewhat quick to mention Hayward’s absence, but hardly anyone has discussed the loss of the 6’10 Sanders for Shaka Smart’s team.  Jamie Skeen has picked up the slack admirably, but his point is a salient one.  For all the talk about NBA early entrants, the discussion has been mostly limited to schools like Kentucky and UConn rather than some of the higher mids such as those playing in Houston this weekend.

A Lot of Standing Around Today...

  • What was notable about the Jim Calhoun interview session was just how Connecticut the guy is.  Calhoun is UConn basketball, and he’s eminently proud of it.  He’s been in Storrs as head coach of the Huskies for 25 years, which is three times as long as the collective number of years the other three guys have been at their current programs (Stevens: four; Calipari: two; Smart: two).  In response to a comparison question about the defensive capabilities of former UConn guard Ricky Moore versus current Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins, he said, “I’m going to say Ricky Moore is better because he’s a UConn kid.”  He brought up a number of other former Husky stars during the course of his interview, and he talked about being a true New Englander in reference to Calipari when he was competing for local hearts and minds back in the 90s.
  • You know what happens tomorrow, so this diary should be chock full of goodies then.  Check back each day throughout the weekend for updates.
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