Mar 19, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Whether it’s Roy Williams or Bill Self at the helm, the Kansas narrative of the last 20 years hasn’t changed all that much.
First, the Jayhawks have a great regular season, camp out in the top five of the polls and grab a no. 1 or 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Then it goes to the Dance, makes a deep run, sometimes even gets to the Final Four — but falls short of the summit. Recriminations in the heartland abound.
In fact, Kansas has been a top-three seed 14 times in the last 18 tournaments without winning it all. Perhaps it’s fitting that the last Jayhawk national championship team, in 1988, was an underdog, a no. 6 seed that rode Danny Manning’s coattails (plus saw every top seed fall in front of them) to earn the crown.
So, in that regard, 2008 isn’t any different. Kansas is a worthy top seed that goes seven-deep with star talent and experience. At times, it simply crushed Big 12 opposition. Anything less than a trip to San Antonio will be seen as a profound disappointment.
Portland State, the Big Sky champs and a first-time participant in the Dance, is just happy to be on the floor. Once KU handles this small task in front of friendly fans in Omaha, it will meet Kent State or UNLV, and either could be a handful.
Having dominated the Mid-American Conference, the Golden Flashes bring balance and tough defense to the table. Meanwhile, the Runnin’ Rebels defended its Mountain West title (playing at home in the tournament didn’t hurt) behind a stout backcourt that included Wink Adams, who proves that there are other Winks in the world beside Mr. Martindale.
Vanderbilt built its no. 4 seed on a perfect home mark (19-0 in quirky Memorial Gym, where the benches are at the ends of the court) and the work of SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster, who can just go nuts if he has to. Aussie A.J. Ogilivy adds an inside presence for a Vandy team still burning over its Sweet 16 loss to Georgetown (did Jeff Green travel?) a year ago.
But the Commodores better beware — Siena is far from a brick house. The Saints from Albany won the MAAC by running, gunning and wearing down opponents, and even beat Stanford this season. If any no. 13 seed has a chance to prevail in the first round, Siena does as it takes on Vandy down in Tampa.
Clemson came oh-so-close to knocking off both Duke and North Carolina for its first-ever ACC Tournament title. These Tigers bite with a relentless tempo, in-your-face defense and enough physical play to suffice. Only bad free-throw shooting (barely 62 percent) keeps Clemson from being even better.
Given that, the Tigers better not get into a close first-round game against Villanova on Friday night. Based on the seeding, the Wildcats were the last team to make the field, that win over Syracuse at MSG likely keeping the Orange out. Someone other than Scottie Reynolds will need to produce if ‘Nova wants to go anywhere.
The Big Ten took quite a bashing this year, so is it any solace that Wisconsin came out on top? The Badgers are painful to watch, even more painful to play against, as it led the nation in scoring defense. Other than Brian Butch, no one stands out, but no one in Bo Ryan’s system needs to, either.
Yet if Wisconsin has a cold night from the field, it can be beat, maybe even by no. 14 seed Cal-State Fullerton. These Titans will be remembered for ending the school’s 30-year tournament absence by winning the Big West crown and will attempt to pick up the pace to take the Badgers down.
And yes, that first-round game between Southern California and Kansas State will get a bit of attention. Half the crowd in Omaha might be NBA scouts, given that O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley will not stay one more minute in college once this tournament is done.
The key here is that the Trojans have far better talent, far more experience around Mayo, and have been playing far better than the Wildcats in recent days. USC is battle-tested and quite capable of a deep tournament run, while K-State’s youthful inconsistency doesn’t generate much confidence in them.
Don’t be too fooled by Georgetown’s defeat to Pittsburgh in the Big East final. The Hoyas are still the conference’s best chance at a Final Four berth, with Roy Hibbert in the middle and lots of experience and toughness around him. Teams unaccustomed to playing the Hoyas (which means anyone outside the Big East) get frustrated, which helps Georgetown take over late in games, even if Jeff Green isn’t carrying the load anymore.
Maryland-Baltimore County, a first-timer and champions of America East, serve as the Hoyas’ first victim in Raleigh, leaving Georgetown with quite the intriguing second-round game, whether it’s Gonzaga or Davidson as the opponent.
No longer the mid-major upstarts, the Zags are just plain consistent, having gone to the Dance 10 years straight. This isn’t Mark Few’s strongest entry, though, and Davidson, winners of 22 in a row (it was perfect in the Southern Conference) and featuring an awesome scoring threat in Stephen (son of Dell) Curry, are poised to break through and at least get to the second round.
A four-team showdown in Motown awaits the survivors of the Midwest’s first weekend. Kansas is sure to get there, and look for Clemson to knock off Vanderbilt to join them. And while it might sweat with Davidson, Georgetown will also make it to Detroit, joining a USC team that will prove too explosive for Wisconsin to handle.