I am trying to talk myself into this Final Four, I really am. I look at the field and see the loveable underdog (Butler), the mighty unlikeable power (Duke), the coach looking to break through (West Virginia) and the consistent, “How Do They Do It?” performer (Michigan State). In theory that looks like a good bunch and would seem like a group I could rally behind. But I am just not feeling it and I must admit I am a bit depressed.
See this was to be the Tournament when the stars came out and we got to see the best of the best . The Midwest Region had Kansas and its pack of old school veterans and new school talent. I was certain they would win their second title in three years and we would all have to accept that Bill Self is more “NCAA Champion” than “loser to Bradley and Bucknell.” And if Kansas fell, it had to be Ohio State and Evan Turner, right? He is so good AND he wears braces, a combination that almost surely is deserving of a Final Four.
And then in the West, old Jimmy Boeheim was going to be there, that much was certain. Wesley Johnson was going to do his thing on a national stage and we were all going to be able to see the power of a perfectly executed zone. And if for some strange reason, the Orange fell, well then Kansas State and their manic coach would be there to entertain and potentially scare us. Throw in the fact they have a player with an Amish beard, and the excitement would have been at a fever pitch.
Then there was Kentucky. You KNEW Kentucky was going to be there . It was certain. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, John Calipari….it was a murderer’s row of storylines. The Cats were the most talented team in America and had at least four future NBA Lottery picks on the roster. There is no way that team doesn’t make the Final Four and dazzle us with at least a few amazing fast breaks and gravity-defying dunks. There was no way that group could lose, could they?
Well they all lost, and some of them in brutal fashion. And now we are left with four teams, none of which is really good enough to be the National Champion. Yeah I said it. None of these teams are very good. In fact, if I were to have ranked the teams in terms of national championship worthiness going into the Tournament, only two of the teams in the Final Four would have even been in the Top 10, and West Virginia would have been highest at #5. Now one of them will join Arizona in 1997 and Florida in 2006 as the only champions of the 1990s that were not among the four best teams in the country (for the record, my four this year were Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State…in that order).
Look I love the scrappy underdog. And if Butler becomes the most unlikely champ in NCAA history, then I will cheer. But we know that will not happen. Instead, we will likely either see a flawed West Virginia team or a mediocre Duke bunch with a gift-wrapped path to the Final Four, cut down the nets. And that is fine I guess, but it doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities. I either want to see greatness rewarded, or true “out of nowhere” underdogs capture the nation and produce a champion to remember for eternity. None of these teams fit that bill.
So I guess I will root for Michigan State. Tom Izzo has 6 Final Fours in 12 years and that record is beyond impressive. And even though this bunch is one of the worst teams of the group, he is a great coach who deserves the second title that elevates him into the discussion as of the all-time best to roam the sidelines. While this particular group doesn’t really deserve the title, he does for his overall resume of work. So I will take Izzo and root for Sparty this weekend. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.