… And Then There Were Four

Barry Rothbard

The chant “Are You Tar Heels?” (half of the North Carolina fans say Are, the other half You, etc.) echoed throughout Continental Airlines Arena during the latter half of the team’s Elite Eight loss to Georgetown last Sunday. Georgetown’s surge could not come quickly enough as the annoying chant and sea of baby blue seemed to overwhelm the building. Thankfully, the chant ceased once Jeff Green and Jonathan Wallace got hot in the second half. While this chant (accompanied with my dislike for UNC) had me feeling queasy for a bit, the intensity, athleticism, and suspense in that building made me forget about what a Tar Heel is and if Doc Rivers’ son is white. The game was so good that the three hours in that arena felt like a half-hour. In what has been the year of the comeback and the “chalk” (higher seeds winning), this game stood as a complete metaphor for March Madness and the whole sport itself. If a game is somewhat close until crunch time, this tournament proved that anything can happen in the closing minutes. I’ll spare the evidence, but it has become clear that no lead is safe whenever that proverbial light turns on for a team. The reliance on the three-pointer can be a lethal weapon, but it is a dual-edged sword. It’s great when those shots are falling, but when a team goes cold (a la Tennessee, Winthrop, Butler), the unthinkable becomes routine and 15-20 point deficits are gone in a matter of minutes. After attending three games this weekend (the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in East Rutherford) and watching every minute of the tournament (that CBS allows for) up until this point, here are some other observations from the past two grueling and thrilling weeks of college basketball.

Mid-majors are still good, but the BCS schools are exceptionally good this year. First of all, three “mid-majors” (Butler, Southern Illinois, UNLV) made it to the Sweet 16. Butler and Southern Illinois were close to knocking off number one seeds Florida and Kansas, respectively. Additionally, Winthrop and VCU won their first games, proving they had the talent to compete in the tournament. Xavier would have taken down Ohio State if Ron Lewis didn’t make one of the most clutch shots in tournament history. The lack of a George Mason in the Final Four should not make the mid-majors appear any worse because there were simply an abundance of loaded and experienced top seeds and a low number of at-large mid-majors to begin with. Mid-majors are still alive and the better ones can beat any of the Elite Eight teams on any given day.

Every Final Four team this year is led by an experienced group of players. Florida and UCLA essentially have the same teams as last year and have proved that they once again know how to handle the pressure. Georgetown basically has the same starting five as last year, plus the stellar Dajuan Summers. They also gave champion Florida its toughest game during last year’s tourney. Even though Ohio State’s best two players are first-years, they have many experienced players from last year’s Big Ten Championship team in Jamar Butler, Lewis, and Ivan Harris. Each of these teams has experienced an adverse situation in this year’s tournament and has escaped unscathed. Coupled with the plethora of other experienced teams that made the Sweet 16 and the youthful teams that underachieved, it is clear that experience has a huge impact on this tournament.

Florida will become the first team in over 10 years to repeat as National Champions. The Gators have taken down every opponent they have faced thus far with relative ease and have proved that last year was no fluke. As evidenced by this year’s NCAA tournament, a champion must handle pressure situations well, hit clutch shots, and play as a team both offensively and defensively. Florida epitomizes the definition of a team and its balanced attack allows them to take down teams from the inside, the outside, or both. This Final Four promises to be one to remember and Georgetown, UCLA, and Ohio State all pose serious threats to the Gators. However, I’m sticking with whom I picked from the start and predicting a repeat. I can’t wait to see how Joakim Noah dances this time.