By Rich Levine
Welcome back for Part 2 of 16 Thoughts on the Sweet 16
Hope everyones been well.
9. Its time for GusThe day was April 1, 1991.
New Jack City was still in theaters. Coming out of the Dark by Gloria Estefan was No. 1 song in the US (those were the days). Jeff Bagwell was still a week away from making his Major League debut.
In Indianapolis, Duke beat Kansas 72-65 to win their first ever National Championship, and on that day, CBSs Jim Nantz was in the booth to call his first ever title game.
Hed go on to call every Final Four for the next 20 years, and this April will make 21.
Obviously, Nantz has built up a ridiculous resume over that time. He also has 20-plus years of hosting The Masters. Hes done 20-plus years with the NFL. Hes done the NBA, college football, and everything short of the ADAA Dodgeball Open. Like him or not, the guys a legend, and hes only 51. Who knows how much longer hell keep cranking out Final Fours, Super Bowls and traditions unlike any other.
But, as far college hoops is concerned, I hope the end comes soon, because we cant keep Gus Johnson from his destiny for much longer. He needs to take over the Final Four!
There are so many factors, hurdles and all sorts of frustrating politics that stand between Gus and his rightful place on the tournaments biggest stage, but with every passing year, the truth becomes far more obvious
Gus is the best play-by-play guy college basketball has.
Yeah, maybe he turns into a raging lunatic when the game gets close, but for the most part, hes actually relatively cool and level-headed and loves to talk about the hoops. He understands the game, and the players, and how to say as much as he can in as few words as possible. Then things gets tight and Gus blows a gasket, but its always genuine, its always about the game. And even when he steals the show, you never feel like hes trying to. It just sort of happens. And everyones better for it.
Anyway, when it comes to the Final Four, you can certainly do a lot worse than Jim Nantz, but it doesnt get much better than Gus Johnson, and hopefully someday (soon) hell have the chance to prove that.
(First off, I dont count a nine seed beating an eight as an upset, so for the sake of this section, they wont be counted.)
With that being said, there were only six upsets in the first round this year, which obviously isnt a ton, but isnt completely out of the realm of what weve come to expect. There were eight in 2010, eight in 2009 and, again, six in 2008. So while Cinderella didnt party too hard in the first round, she was at least a little buzzed, and with a quarter of the Sweet 16 teams rocking a double-digit seed, theres still a chance for a classic underdog to emerge especially when you consider that three of the four are in the same region, alongside always-vulnerable Kansas.
But even if that doesnt happen, well be all right. One of the benefits of fewer upsets is the fact that three of four No. 1 seeds are still alive, so are three No. 2 seeds and two No. 3 seeds. Even if college hoops isnt as deep with talent as it used to, the top talent is still there, and will put on a good show.
(OK, Im hoping for a Cinderella too.)
11. Block PartyHoly Mutombo, have you seen all these blocks? Every single game of the tournament so far has featured at least one, often times two and three and four unbelievable blocks. And not that awkward looking Mark Eaton kind of rejection, but were talking explosive, athletic; the kind of block that must make Theo Ratliff feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And its not only the big time ballers who are delivering these erasures. In round one, BU's 6-8 senior center Jeff Pellage went Olajuwon on the No. 1 seeded Jawhawks.
Fine, he only had two blocks, but they were ferocious. He sent the ball out of bounds (Dwight Howard LOVED it!), and you dont see that very often in the college game. But in this tournament, its been more prevalent than jokes about Marv Albert's toupee
12. The NBA on TNT on the NCAA on CBS
(Kanye voice) Charles Barkley doesnt care about college basketball.
I think thats the main takeaway from Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson invading to the NCAA stage, and the main reason why the coverage doesnt work like it does in the Association. Barkley just doesnt care about college hoops. Its so obvious. Hes never been much for subtleties. He cant hide it.
Not that we can blame him. Chucks an NBA guy of the highest order. Can we really expect him to watch the diluted college game and pretend that hes in any way impressed? Of course not. Otherwise, he wouldnt be Sir Charles.
Every once in a while, ESPN will pull that switch where they have Dicky V announce an NBA game, while Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson head to college for the night, and thats pretty cool. Its a nice change of pace, and interesting to see how their different perspective add (and detract) from the coverage. But to stick Charles in a college basketball studio for four days wasnt right, or at least not as entertaining as were accustomed to. Id have rather listened to Charles try to pronounce Terriers for two hours every afternoon, but whatever. Not a huge deal.
And its worth mentioning that Barkley did redeem himself a little once Rick Pitinos hair joined the fray. Barkleys Big East takedown (essentially his way of saying for the 1,500th time that college hoops stinks) in front of Pitino was classic, as was the fact that it pressured The Coach into a guaranteeing a Notre Dame win and ultimately looking even more ridiculous.
Troy Murphys not walking through that door, Rick! Luke Harangodys not walking through that door!
13. The NBA click back
On the topic of Sir Charles and Co. is one especially unique March Madness phenomenon: The NBA click back. Or whatever you want to call it. Basically, this is the feeling you get when youve watch six straight hours of college hoops, flip over to an NBA game and . . . Boom! Its hard to believe youre even watching the same game.
Its at the same time simpler and more complex, more explosive but under far better control. It gets you every single time. The difference is shocking.
Its a reminder of why Barkleys anti-college hoops sentiment may not be misguided, but also why it doesnt have much of a place on the March Madness stage.
14. Gone to soon
Here are three random guys who I enjoyed watching, but will unfortunately have to wait until next year to see again:
Isaiah Thomas, Washington: Yesterday, we talked about how he got his name, today its just about his game. Thomas is often compared to Nate Robinson, mostly because of the school he plays for, his size, and his frantic style. But Thomas is much more of a natural point guard than Nate will ever be (wordaapp!). Robinsons more of a freakish athlete than he is a basketball player, Thomas has the rhythm to his game that you cant teach. The fact that he earned his name as the result of his Dad losing a bet was enough to initially catch my interest; once I really began to watch him play, it intensified. And once I saw him try to dunk in traffic over 6-10 John Henson, I was sold. It was a glimpse of Allen Iverson at Georgetown (a glimpse, I said) and I liked it.
The obsession with Thomas is a dangerous one. As much as he captivates you with his flash and energy, he can kill (hey, Nate Robinson!) his lack of composure. In fact, his inability to control the tempo had a lot to do with the Huskies blowing a winnable game against the Heels.
Still, it was a lot of fun watching him do it.
Joshua Smith, UCLA: Ive got a fever, and the only cure is an obese big man with soft hands. Okay, maybe thats being unfair to Smith. Obese isnt the word. Hes just big boned; hes just enormous. And that size, combined with touch and dexterity, makes him a lot of fun to watch. We can only imagine what's going to happen once he gets a little older, and wiser and adds a few tricks to his low post arsenal.
He's going to be a star.
Evan Smotrycz, Michigan: This is a pretty absurd mention here. After all, Smotrycz played 16 and 14 minutes, respectively, in Michigans two games, and had a total of 21 points and five rebounds. The freshman averaged only six points a game for the entire season, and probably wasnt a priority on many Big 10 scouting reports.
But the 6-9 forward from Reading, MA caught my eye in that Duke game. In the first half, he was one of the few Wolverines who didnt look intimidated. He fought with the Blue Devils, even antagonized them a little (one time aggressively blocking a shot after the whistle, a la KG), and helped keep them a float until the rest of the team snapped out of it.
In the end, it wasnt enough, and ultimately, his effect on the game, and this tournament will be forgotten. But it was nice to see a local kid mixing it up with the best, and holding his own in the process. And hes definitely got a future.
I like different camera angles. I like that technology allows us to watch the game in certain ways and see things that were once lost in the limits of TV production.
You want to switch to a "behind the basket" shot as a guy inbounds the ball from under his own hoop? Sure. You want to give us that lying down on the sidelines view or the one where it looks like the cameramans standing at half court while the team runs their offensive set? Awesome. Keep it up. It feels a little weird now, but Im sure we can get used to it, and eventually fully appreciate its awesomeness.
But for now, lets make a rule: In the last two minutes of a close game, just stick with the normal shot.
For one of the key possessions in the TempleSan Diego State, TNT came out of a timeout with some awkward looking angle, and I spent the first five seconds finding my bearing and then another five wondering: Wait, is this even live?
16. The New Champ
I had Pitt winning it all, in case you couldnt tell from my literary sob fest over the Butler game. But while my brackets already busted, theres still time to further murder my pride, so Im taking another crack at picking the champ.
And the second chance lock for the 2011 National Championship is
On one hand, this might seem like the obvious pick since theyve clearly been the tournaments most dominant team. But they also have the toughest road to Houston with Fridays date with Grease Calipari and the Wildcats, followed by a potential match-up with Droopy Williams and the Tarheels. It wont be easy, but nothing is. Will the Buckeyes be challenged more? Yeah, but if anything that will only better prepare them for what the Final Four will bring.
I apologize in advance to all Buckeye fans.