Posted on: April 3, 2010 11:48 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 8:17 am
If you're a West Virginia fan, things really couldn't have gone much worse for you on Saturday night. Your team got beaten on the boards and their usually stout defense suddenly disappeared, allowing Duke to shoot 53% from the field and their "Big 3" of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith to combine for 63 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds. And, worst of all, your All-American senior Da'Sean Butler put up one of the worst stat lines you could have hoped for: 10 points, three rebounds and one awful knee injury.
It was that knee injury, though, which occurred about midway through the second half, that gave West Virginia something they could smile about on a night that they'd been waiting for since 1959.
Mountaineer fans don't have to be told what a great coach they have in Morgantown. They've seen it on the court the past three years as the homegrown coaching titan has racked up 80 wins, 31 of which came this year. But, outside of West Virginia's state lines, Bob Huggins' name doesn't quite carry the same reverence.
Few coaches in the game get as much flack from fans and media as Bob Huggins (including the devilish one on the opposing sideline for this game). Some of it's because he's short with the media. Some of it is because of the physical nature of his teams. Some probably stems from his DUI arrest and, honestly, some of it is probably because the guy has more track suits than Carl Lewis. But, as his star player laid twisting in pain after his leg gave out on him, Bob Huggins was as far removed from that "monster in a track suit" reputation he's found affixed to himself.
After taking a verbal shot at the referee in defense of Butler, Huggins huddled over the senior, held his head and tried to calm him down by whispering closely. He wiped tears off of Butler's eyes and clutched him as if he was his own child. When it was time for Butler to leave the court, Bob Huggins stood, visibly shaken and teary-eyed.
It was a glimpse into a close bond that Huggins so famously develops between his players and, I'm proud to say, it's the type of kindness that I've been privileged to experience.
When I was 13, I attended the Bob Huggins Basketball Camp at the University of Cincinnati and, despite being about 6'5" and in the eighth grade, no one was mistaking me for a prospect. I was one of the kids who was there just to step on the floor at the Shoemaker Center and see Danny Fortson up close. You didn't have to pass a skills test to get into the camp and I can promise you that none of the coaches were starting a "Thomas Beisner" file.
I learned pretty quickly, though, that that didn't really matter much.
On one of my first nights at the camp, stuck without a roommate or a television, I left the dorm and wandered over to the gym, figuring that I'd just shoot around and kill some time. After messing around for awhile, I heard someone walking through the gym behind me and turned to see the man whose name was printed on my t-shirt in size-52 font. Yep, Bob Huggins was in the building. And I was terrified.
I figured this encounter would end with me either getting in trouble and getting kicked out or with Cincinnati's head coach completely ignoring the most awkward evening workout in Bearcat history and just walking away. Instead, much to my 13-year old surprise, I got an introduction and a private 20-minute instruction session with a coach who was just a few months removed from the Elite Eight and surely had something better to do at 9pm than work with a talent-less eighth-grader.
For those twenty minutes, he was a lot more "Huggy Bear" than he ever shows on TV and he helped me with mechanics on my jump shot, making me flick my wrist and bend my Osgood Schlatter knees more. Not realizing what a hopeless endeavor it was, he had me fire off jumper after jumper, observing and rebounding (when they came close to him), giving me the attentiveness one would show their own kid. He made small talk with me about my Texas high school and I think he even smiled a few times. He seemed to be enjoying working with this lanky, acne-faced teenager as much as this lanky, acne-faced teenager enjoyed working with him.
As you might expect, my basketball career didn't work out too well. Despite Huggins' best efforts that night in the Shoemaker Center, I never got a sniff of a D-1 scholarship and I never ended up in Rivals' database. I'm pretty sure that I didn't even get to meet Danny Fortson that week. But, for the past 13 years, I've carried an incredible memory and a great deal of respect for Bob Huggins that has nothing to do with his wins and losses. After watching his touching moment with Da'Sean Butler on Saturday, I think the whole nation just might too.
Posted on: April 3, 2010 4:05 pm
In almost two hours, one of the greatest televised events of 2010 tips off. I am, of course, talking about Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story, airing at 6:00 on CMT. There is also, of course, a little game called Michigan State vs. Butler followed by another matchup called Duke vs. West Virginia. Yes, it's Final Four time in America, that beloved moment every division 1 school in the country wishes it could experience right now.
These are games, by and large, which could go either way. It's almost pointless to truly try to project anything that will happen. But just for kicks, let's do a little prognosticating of our own:
Tom Izzo confounded by Butler. Izzo is one of the most resourceful, quick-thinking coaches in NCAA history, a virtual Napoleon of X's and O's. Will he figure out a Butler team that has shifted thus far to make adjustments to beat some of the best teams in the country? This Spartan team hinges on Izzo's mind for unraveling a team's mysteries -- but if Butler can keep switching things up and disallow Izzo to figure out a game plan, the Bulldogs could leave Michigan State confused and spinning its wheels.
West Virginia may not have the magic they did against Kentucky. Part of Kentucky's loss to Huggins' squad was good old-fashioned out-coaching, to be sure, paired with an unwillingness to concede to the number one seed Wildcats. But from the Big East tournament finals magic to a pack of Mountaineers who simply couldn't miss and a bench that had an almost Angels In the Outfield-esque magic in the Elite eight, if all the pieces aren't there tonight, Duke may well walk away with the game.
There will be a lot of people at Lucas Oil Stadium who have never cared about Butler at all this season until this game. Mark it down. If you think all the Indianapolans (Indianapols? Indianapolians?) filling the stands rabidly for the Bulldogs today have been there all along, you're crazy. The biggest bandwagon in the country is parked six miles off Butler's campus right this second.
There will be more hair product in the Duke locker room tonight than an episode of Tabatha's Salon Takeover. The Blue Devils know that to be a winner, you have to look like a winner. That's why every Faux Hawk and front-spike will be in full effect tonight.
Hope you like Hoosiers, 'cause a huge helping of it is going to be crammed right down your throat. You know why. Don't make me tell the story that every sportswriter in the nation has attached himself to over the past week. Yes, we see all the parallels. Please, shut up.
Bob Huggins will continue to dress like your unemployed uncle. There's something to be said for dressing comfortably. And I'm all for that. But if we keep encouraging Huggins to wear whatever he wants, in the finals he's just going to wear an old Iron Maiden tour shirt and some tighty-whities.
The beauty of this thing is that anything can happen. Especially this year, for some reason. So let's get this party started.
Posted on: March 30, 2010 1:20 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 2:47 pm
And then there were four. Four teams from a field of sixty-four (sixty-five counting Winthrop), each having braved the bullets meant for them and emerged a contender for the national championship. Over the past two weeks we've grown to know and follow teams we may have, in some cases, had precious little exposure to before (I'm looking at you, Saint Mary's) or grown more respect toward (nice going, Cornell). But the four that matter now are the Final Four. It's their party from here on out, so let's get to know 'em.
"The Resourceful One"
Michigan State is that friend who saves one-fourth of a meatball sub to eat two hours from now. He's the one who can figure out how to get beer. He's the guy who always has a plan -- and he can get himself out of a squeeze simply by being practical. When things get tough, count on Michigan State to come through just by being smart -- like that time he figured out how to get front row Widespread Panic tickets the day before the show by calling his cousin whose friend was a college radio DJ who knew the band's promoter. He's good people to know and always cool under pressure.
Why Michigan State will win: They'll size up the situation, tweak accordingly, and find a way to get things done.
Why Michigan State won't win: By overthinking things, sometimes the big picture gets lost. Plus, there's that ruptured achilles tendon.
"The Pretty Boy"
Duke's got it all. He's cool. He's charming. He's got great parents. He's been raised well. And he's all the ladies can talk about. Everything seems to go well for him, especially when things look bleak. He's just that kind of guy. His perfectly coiffed hair and dashing good looks make him a favorite of many, though when things aren't going well for him he's quick to complain about it. Good thing, then, that things perpetually seem to go his way.
Why Duke will win: They're arguably the strongest team left, and they haven't even really had a scare yet. They're a tournament team and have a huge shot at the title.
Why Duke won't win: When the cops bust the party, Duke calls dad and then tells on everybody.
"The Quiet Type"
No one ever expects Butler to show up. He always says he's going to, but at the last second goes home instead. Everyone likes Butler, but no one really knows him all that well. He doesn't normally run with this kind of crowd, but fits in well. He keeps a low profile, but get him going and he's the life of the party. He's fun while he's there, but you never know how long he's going to stay, and he's never been to a party this big before. He's either going to flame out with the cool kids or make a lot of new friends.
Why Butler will win: As Butler stays modest and says very little, few realize how much they're capable of accomplishing.
Why Butler won't win: More experienced partiers could drink them under the table.
West Virginia told you it would be here, but you didn't think that slacker could get its act together and get motivated. Now you're eating your words, because West Virginia -- who you really only know in passing because he hangs out in auto shop class all day -- is showing up and he's ready to par-tay. He's a wildchild: funny, unpredictable and probably going to get into a fight before the night's over. Having him at the party makes everyone a little nervous, but he seems alright. For now.
Why West Virginia will win: Things seem to be aligned for them and they're stone cold rollin'.
Why West Virginia won't win: They could go nuts, flame out and lose it. They also won't stop requesting John Denver songs.
Posted on: March 29, 2010 1:38 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2010 12:24 pm
When the NCAA tournament resumes Saturday and coverage continues every waking moment, you're going to see plenty of love shown to the four teams who have overcome poor seeding, easy brackets and point guard injuries from all your "real" media types. What you won't see, though, is any affection thrown toward your "Almost Final Four" who fell just short on Saturday and Sunday. What about at Tennessee where an Elite Eight has never happened or at Kentucky where the Elite Eight might start getting treated like the Final Four after coming heart-breakingly short yet again?
Is it fair that these teams are supposed to be forgotten? Not in a society where participation ribbons will probably replace testing scores one day (not a Derrick Rose joke). So, with that in mind, let's take one last look at the four teams who fell just short of appearing on those corny Final Four banner t-shirts.
What Went Wrong: Tennessee actually didn’t play a bad game. They shot the ball well and held their own on the boards with a very physical Michigan State team. Outside of Scotty Hopspon’s missed free throw-foul combo and the worst half-court shot in NCAA tourney history, Tennessee showed a lot of character in a run to the Elite 8 and a comeback from down 8 points in the second half.
What Really Happened: They tried to mess with The Izzo. And you don’t mess with the Izzo in March.
On the bright side: They made it out of St. Louis without anyone getting arrested, which, according to odds makers at least, is more of an upset than their run to the Elite 8.
Kansas State (West)
What Went Wrong: Kansas State couldn’t hit their free throws and they got out-rebounded by a team that hadn’t out-rebounded a team in the tournament yet. Just like their previous coach, they came in reeking of their last battle with Cincinnati and struggled to keep their legs under them. Kansas State won the battle on Thursday but Xavier won the war on Saturday.
What Really Happened: Furious with how they ousted The Prophet Jimmer Fredette in the second round and the way they’ve glorified a beard that strictly prohibits BYU’s grooming code, Salt Lake City’s BYU alumni group decided to fight back against Kansas State. They turned to former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, a BYU grad and SLC resident, who, not surprisingly, is also an alien. Jennings snuck into the Wildcats’ hotel Friday evening and, just like in Space Jam, sucked all the talent out of Frank Martin’s team while they met for their “One Blogging Moment” reading club. Look for another Jennings run of dominance in the near future, this time on Pros vs. Joes.
On the bright side: They get to leave Salt Lake City and return to civilization Manhattan.
What Went Wrong: Everything. In the back of their minds, Kentucky fans had feared all year that their team might not be mature enough to handle the pressure or that they might not be sound enough from the free throw line or the three-point line. In Syracuse on Saturday, the bottom fell out in the worst possible way as they struggled in every aspect. DeMarcus Cousins, a model citizen most of the year, appeared to lose his cool at points and DeAndre Liggins got T’d up for, well, we still don't know. They shot 4-32 from three and hit only 55% from the free throw stripe. It was just a fundamental beating. And, it was just as Kentucky fans dreaded it would be.
What Really Happened: Kentucky’s freshmen all struggled to maintain the proper focus late in Saturday’s game as concerns over the strength of Russian ruble continued to linger with experts. Is it the right time to enter the job market or is this a sign of greater economic issues to come?
On the bright side: Just over 2.6 million Kentuckians already vacated this game from their memories.
What Went Wrong: Another team that really didn’t play a terrible game. They got decent, if not great, contributions from their big three and locked up Kyle Singler, who shot 0-10. But, Nolan Smith abused the Bears for 29 and it seemed like every three ball was falling for the Devils. Even Andre Dawkins came in and knocked down two big ones in the first half. It was the type of game that you have to just move on from with your head held high, knowing that you’re proud of your effort and that you didn’t get punked out after a Jon Scheyer elbow. Oh, wait….
What Really Happened: This game was decided well before Demond became Tweety or Scott started drawing. Coach K has a pact with the devil, which was agreed upon while he played for him at Army, and ensures that hell must freeze over before Duke stops making Final Fours with rosters that just don’t seem Final Four caliber. It appears the forecast is as blazing as ever.
On the bright side: Unless you’re a Duke fan, there really isn’t one. Sorry.
Posted on: March 27, 2010 11:30 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2010 4:42 pm
Going into the East Regional Final, all the talk was about one thing: The Kentucky Wildcats. And why not? Kentucky has four, possibly five, first round picks in this year's NBA Draft, the coach that causes controversy everywhere he goes and a fanbase that is unrivaled in America. Add in the fact that the school hasnt been to the Final Four since 1998, and it is no wonder that every story on nearly every site (we dont read newspapers at One Blogging Moment ), was about the Cats.
That isnt how it will be today. West Virginia gave Bob Huggins his long-awaited second Final Four , beating the Cats 73-66 in a victory that showcased everything that makes Bob Huggins one of the top-tier coaches in college basketball. Huggins thoroughly outcoached his friend John Calipari by coming at him with a 1-3-1 defense that cut off penetration from UK's guards, made it nearly impossible for Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson to get looks on the block and set up three point bricks from Kentucky that could have built a second Carrier Dome. Kentucky missed its first TWENTY three-point attempts, and with a statistic like that, nothing else really matters.
For Huggins, the win was like nearly everything he does...bizarrely unconventional. The man who paces the sidelines in a track suit saw his team take a two-point lead into the half even though it had scored 28 points without making one two-point basket. Yes you read that correctly. In the first half, West Virginia made eight three-pointers and four free throws and that is it. Yet Huggins' team had the lead due to their control over the glass and stingy defense. The Mountaineers then broke down Calipari's attacking defense in the second half, saw De'sean Butler finally get good open looks, and always found a wide-open layup anytime the Cats threatened to make it close.
After the game, Huggins had his same dour expression on his face and was asked if he felt any excitement at getting to his first Final Four since 1991 2. His face did not change as he said, "yes, cant you tell?" While it might not show outwardly, the pride Huggins must have in taking his alma mater to the Final Four for the first time since Jerry West roamed the sidelines must be immense. It is sometimes easy to forget what Huggins has done in college and there are very few coaches who create more strong feelings, both positive and negative than Huggy Bear. But everywhere he has gone, two things remain consistent: (1) His players love him and (2) he wins. This year both have been true in abundance and the forgotten team of the East Regional is now heading to the Final Four as potentially the best team left in the field.
Posted on: March 26, 2010 2:03 am
Well that dream is now shattered. All week long every lazy columnist in America wrote the same article. Cornell, the loveable Ivy upstarts would be playing bad 'ol Kentucky and their future NBA talents. Wouldnt it be great if they won and got a victory for the little guy and all that is good? As played out as the storyline was, it got the attention of Kentucky and they came out and exerted their will on Cornell, dominating the Big Red 62-45.
Cornell came out early and took a 10-2 lead, but soon thereafter, the Big Blue put on a defensive performance that is likely the best we have seen in college basketball this season. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and the rest of the Cats closed out on every shooter and made it impossible for Cornell to get open looks. And when an Ivy team isnt able to take open shots and has to beat you off the dribble...well that is an Ivy team that will not last long. The Cats held Cornell to 6 points over the last 15 minutes of the second half, took a 16 point lead to the locker room and coasted on to a rather comfortable victory.
After the game, the Kentucky players noted that the media hype of the loveable underdogs motivated them. John Wall said, "we knew everyone wanted us to lose and I was ok with that. If people dont like you, there isnt anything you can do except go and prove them wrong." And prove them wrong they did. Kentucky was clearly the superior team on the court during the entire game, laying waste to those (like PTI's Mike Wilbon) who called the game a "pick em."
It is however a great season for Cornell, as their 8 seniors leave a great legacy and an amazing Tournament run. Kentucky gets West Virginia next. Its Huggy Bear vs Calipari, two of the three or four most disliked coaches nationally going for the Final Four. Defense will rule and you can guarantee the winner will be tough as nails.
Posted on: March 25, 2010 10:01 pm
Not surprisingly the game was brutal to watch. Both teams spent the majority of their time hitting each other and then complaining to the officials about those hits. Washington held a two-point lead 29-27 at halftime, but then slowly, methodically, West Virginia took control of the paint and the game, building a 8 point lead with ten minutes to go that they essentially kept for the entire game.
The game was played in the cavernous Carrier Dome that was rendered especially hollow by a significant majority of the fans following the Syracuse game on their Blackberry rather than the action on the court, and the rest sitting on their thumbs waiting to cheer on either Kentucky or Cornell in the nightcap. But like with his wardrobe, Huggins doesn’t mind if you don’t pay attention or enjoy the product, so long as his team wins and moves on.
For his part, this is Bob Huggins’ first time in a Regional Final since 1993, a statistic that would probably shock most college basketball fans. But this team may be different. With its back against the wall after the loss to injury of its point guard, this West Virginia team moves to the final against either Kentucky or Cornell ready to give Huggins only the second Final Four of his career. If they make it, don’t count on it being pretty or Huggins being dressed for the occasion. But a win is a win, no matter how poor it may look.
Posted on: March 23, 2010 1:01 pm
Final Four: The baby Cats have been the most impressive team of the first two days by far. From the opening tip in both their games against ETSU and Wake Forest, the Cats came out rolling and quickly put away both teams by halftime. They have averaged 95 points a game, seen twenty-point performances by 4<sup>th</sup> and 5<sup>th</sup> option scorers and have emptied their bench in both contests. If Kentucky can simply repeat the level of performance that they have shown so far, they can’t be touched in this field.
Loss Next Game: The hot pick of the basketball writing elite is to argue that Cornell can beat Kentucky in the next game. Jay Bilas even predicted the upset before the Tournament started, a rather gutsy selection. To win, Cornell must come out quickly, hit threes in the opening minutes and establish a cushion. They the Big Red must deflate the ball, hope the Cats begin to take bad shots and sustain a lead until the final minutes. At that point, Cornell hits a couple of late threes and the Cats lose in the second shocking upset of the Tournament.
Final Four: The Big Red were very fortunate that their two first-round opponents both played a slow-down style to which Cornell could adapt. This Regional however doesn’t have the same makeup. Kentucky and Washington like to get up the court and West Virginia is as physical a team as there is in America. For Cornell to become the new George Mason, they have to hit threes in masse, slow the games down to a crawl and hope their big men stay out of foul trouble. It’s a long shot, but possible.
Loss Next Game: Cornell runs into a set of talent they simply can’t match. No defense the Big Red can produce slows down John Wall or Eric Bledsoe, Demarcus Cousins controls the paint and Patrick Patterson is left to roam and score inside and outside. Cornell keeps it close by hitting outside shots but has no ability to stop Kentucky from scoring. They go down valiantly, allowing New York Times writers to wax poetic for at least one more column.
Final Four: While the focus has generally been on the surprise of seeing Cornell in this Regional, Washington may be just as big of a shocker. Two weeks ago, they weren’t even likely to go to the NCAA Tournament, but then the Huskies got hot in the Pac 10 Tourney, won a slugfest over “tough as nails” Marquette and crushed the hopes and dreams of an over-seeded New Mexico team. Washington has the toughness to hang with West Virginia and can put up a lot of points, which could lead to a late win. Then if they see Kentucky, they are one of the few teams left in the Tournament with the athletes to guard UK. If the Wildcats go cold and the Huskies play great defense, they could be the most improbable Final Four team from a major conference since LSU in 1986.
Loss Next Game: West Virginia usually imposes its will on opponents, and when that happens, the Mountaineers are successful. The Big East has shown itself to be rather unimposing this Tournament, but West Virginia has hung on for victories, even when shots aren’t falling. If they control the paint, get offensive rebounds and keep the pace from going manic, WVU should end the Huskies’ dream run.
Final Four: Going into the Tournament, West Virginia was everyone’s sexy pick to make some noise and upset Kentucky to head to the Final Four. But after some early struggles with Morgan State and a close game with Missouri, the experts have backed off. I am not sure why. No team left in the field is tougher than Bob Huggins’ group and they have one of the five best scorers left in De’sean Butler. They should outman the Washington group and win a test of willpower and then face Kentucky in the Regional final. If Butler has one of his crazy days and hits big shots, WVU can keep Cousins and Patterson off the glass and steal Bob Huggins’ second trip to the Final Four.
Loss Next Game: You could look at WVU’s success as simply a fluke. They are one banked three-pointer from Butler from having lost in the Big East Quarterfinal and their NCAA Tournament performance hasn’t been exceptional. With poor guard play plaguing at times, Washington gets an early lead and the Mountaineers simply do not have the fire power to fight back. Washington wins and a Huggins coached team loses to a lower-seeded team…again.