As has been repeated incessantly by the media recently, this is the first time in Tournament history that all four #1 seeds have made the Final Four. That seems to excite a certain group of college basketball fans who want to see the best teams face off while disappointing another lot of fans who find it predictable and boring when there are no Cinderellas this late in the Tournament. How do I feel? I don't know, I'm kind of confused.
UCLA's got the talent.
There's a part of me that's happy that the four best teams in the country made it to the Final Four. From the time that Going Mad hit the road in mid-January, it was very apparent to Cyrus and me that Kansas, UNC, Memphis and UCLA were the best college basketball had to offer. In fact, by blending the names of these programs together, we even came up with a word that encompasses this top tier of college basketball - Kanucmemlina. (Pronounced: Ka-nuc-mem-lina.)
And our experiences witnessing Kanucmemlina play during the season just backed up this assertion. We saw Kansas beat Texas Tech so badly that I thought Pat Knight was going to cry. We were witness to UCLA's dominant run through the Pac-10 Tournament, punctuated by the Bruin's third win of the season over a solid Stanford team.
Even the losing efforts of the Kanucmemlina juggernaut highlighted the championship capabilities of both UNC and Memphis. We saw UNC lose to Duke, which shot the lights out, while playing its first game without Ty Lawson and even then, the Tar Heels managed to ride Tyler Hansbrough long enough to keep the game close. When we visited Beale St., Memphis lost its only game of the season in a nail biter to Tennessee, but there wasn't a reporter in the arena that would deny the Tigers' talent and depth. In fact, most thought that the loss would only make Memphis stronger come post-season.
Not today, but Louisville got Psycho T'd on Saturday.
So, in the sense that I'm a basketball fan that appreciates talent and athleticism on the hardwood, I'm happy that Kanucmemlina is heading to San Antonio. But there's another side of me that's pissed that, in the end, the Tournament has ended up pretty much exactly as I thought it would. Where are the small teams? The ones without the McDonald's All-Americans and multiple NBA prospects and egos the size of small Asian countries?
I can't deny it, even though I appreciate skilled basketball, deep down inside, I really really wanted a team like Davidson to make it to the Final Four. No, the Wildcats don't have the breadth of talent of Kanucmemlina, although they're far from being short on skills - Stephen Curry is God's gift to basketball and Jason Richards led the nation in assists this season. But Davidson makes up for its lack of size and skill (in certain positions) by playing what my dad calls, "smart ball". Coach McKillop squeezes the most out of his players by having them all, even Curry, play within a system that's perfectly suited to reward hustle and desire.
Davidson's victories over Georgetown and Wisconsin, much like George Mason's victories over UNC and Connecticut, prove that basketball is a game in which practice, poise and execution can overcome athleticism and talent. And I love that side of basketball, the side where the best overall team doesn't always win. It gives hope to the smaller programs and, frankly, the smaller guys, who can't grab a quarter off the top of the backboard or bench 350 while getting scripture tattooed on their bulging biceps.
There was more to Davidson than just Curry.
This is not something that happens often or overnight. It takes time for a team like Davidson to emerge as a unit capable of knocking off teams twice their size. Cyrus and I saw Davidson once during the regular season and then we were at all three of the team's Tournament victories and each time we saw the Wildcats play, they got better. Yes, they went undefeated in the SoCon, but when we saw them beat Furman in early February, we never would've predicted a Wildcat route of Wisconsin.
How'd they do it? A lot of casual fans credit Curry for Davidson's impressive run through the Tournament, (these are the same fans that needed Stewart Mandel to state the obvious and tell them that Curry was returning for his junior season) but if the team was just Curry, the Wildcats never would've made it out of the first round. The Wildcats achieved so much because they weren't just a one-man team. Andrew Lovedale, Max Paulhus Gosselin and Thomas Sander not only hung with the Hibberts and Stiemsmas, but shut their more acclaimed counterparts down. They set the screens that got Curry open and rebounded like they were playing for a scholarship at a Five Star basketball camp. Jason Richards outplayed both Jeremy Pargo and Jonathan Wallace, not just in point production, but in game control. And then, of course, there was the White Lobster, Bryant Barr, who stepped up and nailed clutch three after clutch three in a losing effort to Kansas.
Every one of these "small time" players believed that they could beat the best of the WCC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12, maybe not individually, but certainly as a team. (And hey, they beat three out of four.)
How great would it have been to see this come Saturday?
After each Davidson win, I'd always make a point of searching out Dell Curry, Stephen's father, and talking to him about the game. This is a man that's seen a lot of basketball and rarely shows emotion. During the regular season, I never even saw him smile, and this was while his son was averaging 26 ppg . But after successive Wildcat wins over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin, Dell was pretty much dancing in the aisles. What made these games so special? Dell always talked about the team - the team creating opportunities, the team overcoming seemingly impossible odds, the team. He never mentioned his son. He believed in the team.
On Sunday, when Richards' last second three drifted left and Kansas barely knocked Davidson out of the Tournament to complete the Kanucmemlina conglomerate, I couldn't help but feel a touch of disappointment. Okay, so maybe the better players had won, the Final Four was now truly the four most skilled teams in the country, but for those that aren't Kanucmemlina fans, what's left to believe in?