10 observations from NCAA Tournament leading up to Final Four
Ten observations from another wild weekend in the NCAA Tournament that produced a most improbable Final Four, featuring No. 3 seed Connecticut, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU:
1. jra004 leads the KUsports.com bracket challenge with one weekend left. It appears no one predicted more than two correct Final Four teams in the challenge. The contest was wide open this year as a result of the parity that took over the tournament.
2. Speaking of parity ... Butler and VCU, really? Both remarkable stories. It proves that pre-tournament analysis and all those television shows we love to watch that break down each region on Selection Sunday are pointless. They just make for interesting conversation and friendly debating. This is the first time in the history of the tournament that neither a No. 1 nor a No. 2 seed will participate in the Final Four.
3. I feel for the Kansas fans who looked forward to the tournament all year, only to feel disappointment in losing to another mid-major in March. VCU joined Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa on the list of mid-majors that have recently taken out KU in the NCAAs. The frustration is both visible and understandable.
Taking out all those frustrations on coach Bill Self, however, is completely absurd. Self did not shoot 2-for-21 from three-point range, nor did he only convert 15 of 28 free throws on Sunday against VCU. And spare me the "he should work on free throws more in practice" rebuttal. KU practices are closed to the public. No one knows how many they actually shoot aside from the players and coaches themselves. Considering KU is a combined 68-6 in the past two seasons, who is anyone to question the team's practice routine? Self will and should be on the KU sidelines for as long as he desires.
I'm not a big fan of the 2008 argument either. It goes something like this: If not for KU's national title in 2008, Self would be mocked and his job would be in jeopardy. Well, uh ... he still did win a national title in 2008, and that was just three years ago. He has three appearances with KU in the Elite Eight.
My one question for those who don't think Self is right for KU: Who would be better?
Answer: No one.
4. The Self situation is somewhat similar to Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, who, like Self, has lost his fair share of postseason games despite having a wildly successful overall record.
Stoops had suffered five straight BCS bowl defeats before winning the Fiesta Bowl this past season. But he also owns seven Big 12 championships and one national title.
Self owns seven straight regular-season league titles, five Big 12 tournament titles and one national title. But the unfortunate reality for these coaches is that the last game of the season is the one that's remembered most. For Stoops, much of the time, it's Boise State's miracle in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. For Self, much of the time, it will be VCU.
Stuff happens, though, especially in postseason college basketball, where, as Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan recently pointed out, the playing field is becoming more and more even. It's not like VCU took down Kansas in the first round. It was the Elite Eight. VCU did the same thing to USC, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State. The Rams are hot at the right time, one of the most basic products of March Madness stunners. As unfortunate a loss as it was for KU fans, it doesn't mean Self isn't the right coach for the foreseeable future.
5. A large reason KU fell to VCU was due to its inability to hit outside shots.
The Jayhawks were just 4-of-30 from outside the paint on Sunday. Think about that for a second. OK, maybe don't, because it's probably too painful to mull over any more. But KU needs someone who can consistently knock down outside shots next year.
6. KU's lack of bench production greatly affected the outcome on Sunday. The Jayhawks' bench scored only three points against VCU. Thomas Robinson, KU's sixth man, didn't score and was plagued by three fouls. Against Richmond in the Sweet 16, for example, the KU bench erupted for 31 points, and Robinson had 12 points and 14 boards. KU won that game, 77-57.
7. If you told me before I filled out my bracket that a team from last year's Final Four would return again this year, I would have immediately picked Duke to win it all. What Butler accomplished is incredible, especially since the Bulldogs had such close calls against Old Dominion and Pittsburgh. They could have easily been knocked out of the first round by ODU.
8. Most impressive player of tournament: All due respect to Kemba Walker of UConn, I'm going with Derrick Williams of Arizona. The guy flat-out destroyed Duke's interior defense, and I didn't think that could be done by one player. Williams, who poured in 32 points and grabbed 13 boards against the Blue Devils, provided an incredible show each time Arizona took the floor in this year's NCAAs. The Wildcats had a rigorous road, but it made for exciting drama against Memphis, Texas, Duke and UConn.
9. If you could have a do-over, who will win the national title, now that the Final Four is set? I'm tempted to go with VCU, but I'll be boring and go with UConn.
10. Speaking of UConn ... Thank you, Huskies, for proving once and for all that the fatigue argument has no merit. I'm as guilty as anyone on this issue. I had UConn getting bounced in the Sweet 16 because, I reasoned, it played five games in five days a week before in the Big East tournament. But recent momentum outweighed any questions of fatigue with UConn and Kentucky, which won the SEC tournament.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.