Nov 12, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Some folks really don’t like the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. But it’s impossible to look back on the most recent college basketball season, especially the wondrous 2010 NCAA Tournament (which had enough storylines to fill three novels), and not ponder the full stream of what-ifs.
Like, what if Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokkmanesh hadn’t taken, or made, that audacious 3-pointer that helped sink Kansas? Or what if Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku, or Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas, or Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, had not been sidelined by injuries?
And most of all, what if Gordon Hayward’s heave near halfcourt, at the end of the championship game between Butler and Duke, gone through the net, instead of off the rim?
Safe to say, Hayward would become immortal, Bobby Plump times 100. All the other memorable buzzer-beaters in the history of the Dance (yes, even Christian Laettner) would have faded into background. And the great Mike Krzyzewski would have taken a historic flogging for having Brian Zoubek intentionally miss the free throw that led to the memorable final sequence.
So much history turned on those couple of inches that separated the rim from the net. It’s difficult to imagine that 2010-11 will end up as exciting – after all, there isn’t any highly regarded mid-major based anywhere near Houston, site of this year’s Final Four.
Oh, but there’s still a whole lot of tasty storylines to ponder in the four-plus months ahead.
We start where we ended last year, the Dookies on top. This time, though, the Blue Devils are a clear favorite, returning Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and adding a point guard, Kyrie Irving, which Coach K is Bobby Hurley-wild about. And that means we’ll hear about him, a lot.
Michigan State is the other obvious favorite. Lucas is back, and so is Durrell Summers, and so is Delvon Roe and Korie Lucious and Draymond Green. Most of all, Tom Izzo did not take those fat NBA dollars. You simply can’t imagine him anywhere else but East Lansing.
As far as conferences go, the Big Ten trumps everyone. Just to win here, Sparty has to ward off Ohio State, and Illinois, and Wisconsin. What a shame, too, that Hummel tore another ACL at the start of practice, or Purdue would occupy a spot on the short list of national title contenders.
By contrast, all Duke really has to worry about in the ACC is if North Carolina’s super frosh, Harrison Barnes, really is all that. In fact, the Big 12 is deeper with guys like Kansas, K-State, Baylor, Missouri and Texas all carrying high expectations. The SEC is solid, too, with Florida ready to zoom past too-young and too-NBA-interested Kentucky.
Now what of Syracuse? No Onuaku, no Andy Rautins and no Wes Johnson, but still plenty of reason to think Jim Boeheim’s men of Orange can win 30 times again and, maybe, get to Houston.
Rick Jackson and Brandon Triche return. Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine step into larger roles and are more that capable of handling them. Most of all, if Boeheim is right (and he usually is), the 7-foot Fab Melo will prove an instant force in the middle.
SU will get helped, too, by a tougher schedule that includes a Michigan State encounter at MSG and the usual Big East behemoths like Pitt (who has everyone back), Villanova and Georgetown. West Virginia, Louisville and Marquette might step up, and St. John’s, in the first year of the Steve Lavin Experiment, might step up.
Who else might enter the picture? A rebuilding Pac-10 will coalesce around Washington and a guy named Isaiah Thomas that (happily) has nothing to do with the Knicks. Memphis is poised to roar back, Jimmer Fredette, the pride of Glens Falls, is set to light up scoreboards at BYU. Mid-majors like Gonzaga (again), Murray State and Wichita State might make quite a loud noise in March.
One more question – what to make of Butler, one year later? Baby-faced Brad Stevens, bless his heart, did not chase after the bigger dollars and the bigger programs, and for good reason. Hayward is gone, but Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are still present and accounted for, with the full knowledge and confidence that they can take down anyone.
It might not prove as easy for some of last year’s other unlikely heroes. Northern Iowa doesn’t have Farokhmanesh. Saint Mary’s doesn’t have Omar Samhan. Cornell saw its stars graduate and Steve Donahue take his coaching talents to Boston College.
Even the season-ending Dance has undergone a tweak, which many thought was unnecessary. Now it has 68 teams instead of 65, but regardless of the number you just know that, come March 13 and Selection Sunday, team no. 69 will scream from the rooftops that they were robbed. Or Dickie V will scream it for them. Especially if it’s Notre Dame.
Regardless, someone, on the first Monday night in April, will take home a gold trophy, a couple of nets and shining moments to last a lifetime. And every other team will wonder if, but for a few bad breaks or an unkind rim, it might have been them.