Mar 21, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Continuing our tour through the NCAA Tournament at the Sweet 16 stage, we venture into the East regional, where a familiar sight might greet long-time basketball fans at some point this Sunday.
You just knew that North Carolina was not going to lose in Winston-Salem. Still, the top-seed Tar Heels got the test it needed in front of blue-clad Tobacco Road partisans, when it battled Michigan State after its cruise through Eastern Kentucky.
Having already shut down Marquette, the Spartans knew it couldn’t do the same against Carolina, yet led deep into the second half. But the Heels’ depth, combined with the inside dominance of the mask-less Tyler Hansbrough, assured that the ACC would not get wiped out in the Dance’s opening weekend.
As UNC lived on, so did another school known by three initials. Southern California could make a case as the most impressive team of the tournament’s opening week, blowing through Spokane.
First of all, the Trojans proved that Arkansas had no business being in the field (sorry, bitter Syracuse fan talking). Then it played twice as good against Texas, whose scare against New Mexico State suggested that youth isn’t always a good thing.
Somehow, USC made Kevin Durant irrelevant for much of that second-round meeting. There was just no way the Trojans were going to let another Texas superstar ruin a national-championship dream (see Vince Young, 2006 Rose Bowl).
Now the question is whether the Trojans’ magic can transfer across the country to the New Jersey Meadowlands. With lots of hunger and absolutely no pressure, USC will make it tight all the way to the end, but UNC will survive.
Georgetown fans have waited a generation to be this good again. Much has been made of names like Thompson (John III) and Ewing (Patrick Jr.) being part of the mix, but the more critical point is the way the Hoyas play defense.
It was that defense that allowed Georgetown to dominate Belmont in Winston-Salem. Then, in an affair guaranteed to satisfy all Big East partisans, the Hoyas rallied past Boston College because it found a way to shut down Tyrese Rice and Jared Dudley when it counted the most. Two days earlier, the Eagles beat Texas Tech, leading a despondent Bob Knight to ramble about fishing — and maybe ponder retirement.
Few people noticed the way Vanderbilt was performing in Sacramento. Having surprised the SEC in the winter, the Commodores went west and crushed George Washington for an opening act. Washington State was next, the Cougars having knocked off chic upset pick Oral Roberts.
Vandy and Wazzu promptly spent 40 minutes and two overtimes exchanging blows before the Commodores pulled it out. Just like in 2004, Vandy, led by SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars, has parlayed a no. 6 seed into a Sweet 16 date — with a Georgetown team it lost to in Nashville back in December.
It’s hard to imagine the scalding-hot Hoyas dropping a rematch with Vandy. And if the top two seeds survive, just the thought of a regional final between Georgetown and North Carolina is quite juicy.
Exactly 25 years have passed since Carolina and Georgetown met for the national title, an epic night in New Orleans. Patrick Ewing smothered the middle. James Worthy soared to the rim. A loose-tongued freshman named Jordan hit a big shot. And Fred Brown made an ill-timed pass to the opposition that’s still talked about.
When it was done, the older John Thompson comforted Brown as Dean Smith celebrated his first national title, earned in his seventh Final Four trip. Now, Thompson’s son (and Ewing’s, to a lesser degree) could get a long-awaited chance at payback, even if the stakes are not as high.
The sense here is that it’s Georgetown’s time. Few teammates in the country are playing better than Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. With their presence, the Hoyas will get North Carolina this time around and march to Atlanta.