Mar 25, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
They’re using the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest regional as a dress rehearsal for the 2009 Final Four, planting it in the home of the NFL Lions in downtown Detroit.
Aside from all the lame jokes about the good folks of the Motor City finally being able to see good teams play at Ford Field, the regional offers top seed Kansas the best possible chance at shedding its underachiever label.
However, that’s not the best story. The Jayhawks were supposed to be here. Davidson and Villanova, two double digit-seeded breeds of Wildcats, were not.
Even as it won 22 in a row and ran the Southern Conference table, Davidson garnered a fair share of skepticism. Sure, it had tested big boys (UCLA, North Carolina, Duke) early in the season, but hadn’t won any of those times, and a big deficit to Gonzaga in the first round in Raleigh only added to the questions.
Enter Stephen Curry, in the role of the tournament’s biggest breakout star. All he did in the second half against the Zags was put up 30 points, 40 overall. And the son of Dell was far from done.
With no. 2 seed Georgetown seemingly safe on Sunday afternoon, up by 17 with less than 10 minutes left, Curry went off again. His 25-point second-half eruption (30 overall) provided for an improbable comeback, a 74-70 shocker over the Hoyas, and instant national celebrity.
Many high schools have a larger enrollment than Davidson, who claims just 1,700 (really good) students on its modest campus near Charlotte. Now, with able Bob McKillop at the helm, Curry unconscious and point guard Jason Richards leading the nation in assists, the Wildcats are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since Lefty Driesell was coaching them in 1969.
To do a full George Mason imitation, though, Davidson might have to beat the top three seeds in the Midwest, with the second step being Friday’s regional semifinal against no. 3 Wisconsin.
True, the Badgers aren’t fun to watch, but they’re even less fun to play against. Bo Ryan preaches patience and defense, and his Wisconsin players listen, to the point where it swept to the Big Ten regular-season and conference titles — and didn’t stop there.
Cal State-Fullerton didn’t come close in Omaha. Neither did Kansas State, who followed up its impressive conquest of chic pick USC with a clunker against the Badgers. Michael Beasley can have his inevitable NBA millions three months from now, but Wisconsin prefers the methodical approach.
No doubt, it should be loud and red in Detroit, with a big Wisconsin contingent counteracted by the passionate Davidson followers living the dream. You can imagine Curry and friends springing one more surprise, but two?
Kansas would prefer that all the surprises in the Midwest are done for. If so, then Bill Self could sleep soundly again, having gone the one step further than his teams had done at Tulsa, Illinois and KU had gone through — Elite Eight in each place, but no further.
Certainly the Jayhawks took care of the first part of the equation. In Omaha, it disposed of Portland State, then let UNLV linger for approximately 30 minutes before laying down the hammer on the Runnin’ Rebels in the late stages.
With players like Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush, plus terrific depth and a willingness to be unselfish and play defense, Kansas is close to ideal as far as championship contenders go. All it lacks is the proof that it can win games late in March.
Vanderbilt and Clemson were teams that could have put the Jayhawks to the full test — but neither got out of a wild first round in Tampa, allowing Villanova to push itself to the Sweet 16.
In the Commodores’ case, it ran headlong into MAAC champion Siena and never once got the lead, proving that it was a mediocrity beyond its quirky home court in Nashville. As for the Tigers, it started right against Villanova, but got everything else wrong.
Remember, Villanova was, if you believe the seeding, the last team in the field as a no. 12, meaning that Syracuse would have likely danced if it had won that first-round Big East game at MSG.
Taking full advantage of its invitation, these other Wildcats, with Scottie Reynolds at the helm, followed the rally over Clemson with an easy win over Siena on Easter Sunday. It figured that Rollie Massimino, the coach of the Villanova miracle of 1985, was in attendance, seeing yet another low-seeded Wildcat team go deep into the tournament.
There’s enough magic in the air to think Davidson can beat Wisconsin, but Villanova (without center Casiem Drummond) will just get overwhelmed. Kansas, regardless of the opposition in Motown, has the goods to go to the top of the charts — or at least get to San Antonio, anyway.
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