National Semifinals Wrap Up

“When I was a kid I got no respect. The time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, ‘We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.'” – Rodney Dangerfield

A Night Of Great Games

Tonight we were treated to two truly exciting games, which is always preferred to Final Four flops.  I find it oddly coincidental that both games were decided by crucial rebounds in the closing seconds, and both games were won by the #1 seed.  After all of the drama and Cinderella stories this year’s tournament provided with the likes of Xavier, Michigan, and South Carolina, the Championship match up followed the path of the chalk, pitting two top seeds against one another in what should be a truly titanic struggle.

  • I Tell Ya, I Get No Respect – While the numbers say the national final is #1 vs #1, it still has the feel of David vs Goliath, heavy favorite vs underdog, storied program vs mid-major.  On the one hand, we have North Carolina vying for its 6th national championship, and on the other, we have Gonzaga who before this year had never made a Final Four much less a championship game.  Gonzaga, whom Bill Walton said didn’t even deserve the #1 seed in the West in his now infamous “Truck Stop League” comment.  Gonzaga, who lost one game and dropped three spots in the national polls behind teams that are long gone from the tournament.  Gonzaga, who were constantly questioned about everything from being able to win a close game (they have now won two against two of the best defenses in the nation…except for THEIR defense, of course, which is, by the way, the top ranked defense according to to getting monkeys and other jungle creatures off of Coach Mark Few’s back.  While I do certainly recognize the special nature of South Carolina’s story and their accomplishments, it seemed to me that CBS made THAT the story, and Gonzaga’s victory was almost an afterthought.  There’s only one way this Gonzaga squad will earn the respect it deserves, and that is to win on Monday night.  To be sure, it will be no small task, but Gonzaga has proven that they are balanced, steady, poised, resilient, deep, and resolute.  If anyone can slay the mighty Tarheel giant, it is these Zags.
  • The Steve Harvey Award For Bumbling Winner Announcements goes to CBS announcer Greg Gumbel who mistakenly referred to the winner of the first game as either South Carolina or The Gamecocks not once, but twice in the post game show.  The media seemed so captivated by South Carolina’s story that they just couldn’t get away from it.
  • Live By The 3, Die By The 3 – Much will be made about Oregon’s inability to get a defensive rebound not once, but twice at the end of the game on North Carolina’s missed free throws.  Down a single point and smartly fouling Kennedy Meeks, one of the worst free throw shooters on the team, Oregon’s Jordan Bell made no attempt at all to box out North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, who back tapped the ball to a waiting Joel Berry, whom they then had to foul AGAIN.  Berry, who is an 80% foul shooter, unbelievably missed both free throws himself, but once again, Bell could not get the rebound, this time being essentially run over by Meeks.  While one could argue that Meeks deserved a foul on that final rebound, that one play, or even the one before it, are not really why Oregon lost this game.  Instead, Oregon inexplicably shot itself out of the game in the second half, repeatedly jacking up three point shots – sometimes very deep, longer-than-NBA-range three point shots – at a time when they had the game close and needed only to score.  One has to wonder if the absence of Chris Boucher finally caught up with the Ducks.  They seemed to lack any confidence in their inside game, or their ability to drive to the basket, instead settling for those jumpers that they continued to miss.  As a team, they were 7-26 from three point range.
  • Making Sure The Coast Is Clear – Tonight my wife, Heather Little and our son, Graham, attended a birthday party for one of his friends at the local Pizza King. This was during the Gonzaga-South Carolina game, which I was watching here in the command center, and they were watching at the pizza joint.  Heather would later tell me after they came home that she refused to live Pizza King until the game was over, explaining to the other parents, “I need to know what kind of environment I’m going to be coming home to.”  That’s wisdom only 24 years of marriage can bring, folks.  I will confess that there was a fair amount of screaming at the television.  The offensive foul call on Zach Collins late in the second half was preposterous.  Yes, I am biased.  In fact, the Zags were called for 21 fouls versus just 14 for the Gamecocks, a disparity that my friend, Brian McBride, noted on Facebook could be attributed to playing styles.  South Carolina drives to the basket whereas Gonzaga tends to spread the floor and throw the ball inside to the big men.  Still, for this Gonzaga homer, it sure felt like South Carolina’s “amazing comeback” was due at least in part to them being put in the double bonus at the 10 minute mark while only being whistled for four fouls themselves.  And speaking of fouls and double bonuses…
  • Is It Time For College Hoops To Go To Four Quarters? – The NIT conducted an experiment this year where they set the foul limit to an NBA-esque five fouls and you shoot two free throws on every subsequent team foul, eliminating the one-and-one altogether.  They also reset the foul count at the 10 minute mark, effectively dividing the game into four, ten-minute quarters for foul purposes, though they still kept the traditional 20-minute halves for the overall game structure.  One of the goals was to cut down on the early parade to the free throw line when a team collects several fouls early in the half, such as in the aforementioned Gonzaga game.  Reports coming back say the referees really liked it.  I’m not sure what I think.  The one-and-one single bonus is a feature long lost from the pro game, and I don’t know if removing it from the college game is a good thing or not.  It would certainly be consistent with the latest push to simplify the game as evidenced by the removal of the five second closely guarded above the hash call (last season, I believe).  The women’s college game has already gone to four quarters.  What do you think?  Is this something you would like to see in the men’s game?  And speaking of the women’s game…
  • What’s The Statute Of Limitations On A Flagrant Foul? – Did you happen to catch the end of the women’s national semifinal between Mississippi State and the undefeated Connecticut Huskies?  The UConn women boasted the longest winning streak in collegiate basketball history at 111 games.  Weirdly, their handful of losses over the last decade or so have all come in overtime.  Anyway, this game was, indeed, in overtime, with Mississippi State up two and around a minute to play.  That’s when a Connecticut player took an elbow to the chin on a rebound that wasn’t called a foul.  The Bulldogs played an entire possession – about 20 seconds or so – which ended in some kind of dead ball situation without them scoring.  In a bizarre turn of events that followed, the team of officials went to the monitor and reviewed the elbow-to-the-chops play that happened earlier to see if there was a flagrant foul.  Now, riddle me this, Batman.  Why didn’t they stop the game immediately after that play for the review?  If they didn’t see it, so to speak, who or what prompted them to perform the review a full possession later in the game?  Did UConn coach Geno Auriemma request a review?  Was it some other official on the sideline?  I have no idea, but the whole thing seemed really sketchy to me.  After a ridiculously long delay, they ended up calling the flagrant foul after the fact, which gave UConn two shots and possession!  UConn made the free throws to tie the game, and the Mississippi State coach was understandably livid.  In what might be viewed as poetic justice, Mississippi State ended up winning the game anyway on an incredible buzzer beater after UConn made a boneheaded turnover instead of playing for the last shot.  Anyway, add this rant to my long list of reasons why the review process in college basketball has to change, especially in the area of flagrant fouls.  It would be one thing if a foul had been called, and then a review was made to determine if the foul actually called was flagrant, but in this case, no foul was called.  Somebody please explain to me how you justify a review in which a not-called foul became a flagrant foul AFTER THE ENSUING POSSESSION BY THE OTHER TEAM.  It sure feels like we’re making up rules as we go, and that’s bad for the game.
  • What’s Up, G? – In the spirit of my earlier rant on the frequent mispronunciation of Xavier, I would like to point out to Bill Raftery and Clark Kellogg that the word length has a “g” in it.  The g is not silent, so I am not sure why they pronounce it “lenth” rather than “length”.  Perhaps they don’t like the length of length and therefore shorten it to lenth?  Regardless of the reason, it makes me cringe every time they say it, and because today’s college game is stocked with tall players with long arms, they say it A LOT.

Quick Awards

And now for a few appetizer awards before the main course, the final awards that will come on Monday night.

  • The Benedict Arnold award goes to 5th place minion Rob “Tar Heel Die Hard” Foley who, after correctly picking both Gonzaga and UNC for the final game, picked Gonzaga to win.  I guess that Tar Heel fandom doesn’t die too hard after all.
  • The I Made It Out Of the 800s award goes to Paul Sopke who rose from 835th to 756th thanks to his one good pick of UNC.
  • The You Did The Math award goes to 8th place contestant Brian “How can I get 4 bonus points” Gerlach for realizing that even if his championship pick of Gonzaga pans out, he will still lose by 3 points.
  • The Breaking The Ties That Bind award goes to Alicia Davis, currently in 4th place, who leads the aforementioned 5th place contestant, Rob Foley, by virtue of the second tiebreaker ONLY.  They have the same total score and the same win-loss percentage, but Alicia scored one more bonus point than Rob.  One.  It doesn’t get any closer than that.
  • And finally, the Sharpest Knife In The Drawer award goes to contest leader Shawna Sharpe, who also leads by virtue of a tiebreak, in this case, the first tiebreaker, which is win-loss percentage.  Shawna can win the contest if UNC wins the championship on Monday night.  If Gonzaga wins Monday, then Alicia Davis will be our champion, yes, by the thinnest of margins, with Rob Foley coming in second because of the second tiebreaker.  That would absolutely be the closest photo finish in the history of our contest.

Only one game to go before we have a national champion and contest champion.  The only thing I have left to say this evening is, Go Zags!

The Wizard of Whiteland

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