Commentary: Sizing up the NCAA Tournament

By RON COLBERT, UPI Sports Managing Editor  |  March 24, 2003 at 1:06 PM
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Right off the bat, after seeing Duke and North Carolina State, I am finally convinced that ACC basketball this year lived on its past reputation. Win or lose, so did Cincinnati, Florida, Stanford, BYU and Wisconsin.

Will someone please tell John Calipari to shut up about seeding? The way his Memphis team got trashed by Arizona State his feeling that the Tigers deserved a higher seed was way off-base. Based on their performance AND effort, No. 7 was way too high.

In the regular season, Notre Dame, Memphis, and Kansas were among the most overrated teams in the country. No matter what sport we're talking about, Notre Dame is always thought to be among the best. Why? I don't know. The so-called luck of the Irish should already have run out (it hasn't yet, but stand by. The money isn't on the table yet). Not to speak poorly of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (which I picked), if ND was playing a better, more talented team, which it will now, book it.

That the Notre Dame-Illinois game was so close speaks volumes. From what I saw, the Fighting Illini had only one player, Brian Cook, and although he was valiant in defeat, it was painfully obvious why he was Big Ten Player of the Year. He had no help. If what the "experts" say about freshman not being freshman this time of year, the kid Dee Brown, the Illinois point guard, who played terribly, emphatically proved them wrong.

I don't ever want to hear anyone say that at this time of year a freshman is not a freshman anymore. That could be one of the reasons Digger Phelps and Dick Vitale are no longer coaches. They say that ALL THE TIME! If you know anything about the game, it's freshman and upper classmen playing in big games who are likely to gag under pressure. That's because they've never been there.

The only freshman who played like he belonged was John Goldsberry of UNC-Wilmington. Who? Maryland still is asking, "Where was he all year?"

Also, that three-pointer Drew Nicholas hit as time expired to give Maryland a 75-73 win over Wilmington Friday night might have been a prayer, but if you've seen the Terps play you know that's the kind of shot he's comfortable in taking. He does it all the time.

Until Saturday night, I was not a believer in Gonzaga, and am still not, even after that classic against Arizona, but the Bulldogs deserve a little credit. The Wildcats looked like they had a hangover from the Pac-10 Tournament, when they got knocked off by UCLA. Unfortunately for Lute Olson, who is a very good coach, there is an old saying: A lot of teams mirror their coaches. Olson intimated that winning the Pac-10 Tournament wasn't a high priority, and his team played like it. Lucky for them they had just enough time to overcome Gonzaga.

By the way, and this is only an observation and my opinion, was that not an awful looking shot by Blake Stepp at the end of the game? It was as if he did not know how to shoot that close to the basket. I had never seen him take a shot that was not a 3-point jumper. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Initially, my sentiment was that Duke and Kansas stink, but after seeing both in the second round, I should have known better. KU wasted Arizona State and Duke eased past Colorado State, but it was obvious that Coach Mike Krzyzewski got through to his players. In the early going, it was clear that less-talented CSU was being taken seriously and Kansas was Kansas doing what it always does (waxing an overmatched opponent).

The best thing for Kansas is that Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison are graduating. They are "good" college players. Good, not great, and they won't get any better because Big 12 competition doesn't challenge them . Heck, if my competition was Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Baylor, plus these NCAA non-conference cupcakes, I'd be "great" too. And, lest I forget, let me include Texas Tech, Texas, Missouri, and Colorado. I wish some of these so-called "experts" could see that.

Thank goodness I did not buy all the hype about Creighton. I just had a feeling that Central Michigan would win that contest, and one of my brackets indicates as much (Like a stooge, I must admit, I did buy the hype about Florida.) Fortunately, I had the smarts to play more than one this year.

By the way, let me be honest: I did not do very well in either of my polls, but my intuition let me down. For instance, how was I to know that Wisconsin would beat Weber State (the Badgers beat Tulsa, too)? How was I to know that the one year I pick Cincinnati to win, the Bearcats lose? I should have known that California would beat N.C. State. If there is one thing I know about the Wolfpack, it's that they are not famous for playing smartly. No knock on Coach Herb Sendek, but that's why they don't win when it counts.

I was a little surprised at how Purdue destroyed LSU, but only for a moment. When the Boilermakers want to play defense, that's what they do. LSU does the same thing, as evidenced by the Tigers' upset of Arizona.

What can you say about Butler and about Darnell Archey? The Bulldogs, who got snubbed last year, beat Louisville because the Cardinals never played any defense on the three-point shot. That was Butler's offense. Every time a Butler player had a shot within three-point range, it was lights out.

"It was amazing," said Archey, who hit eight three-pointers. "I was in the zone. My teammates just kept getting me the ball with wide-open looks."

That says it all. Louisville never made an adjustment and was not as lucky as Maryland was against Wilmington.

By the way, the Terps are lucky that Xavier, which has no depth, did not play solid defense and did not figure out that David West was unstoppable until it was too late. West was Player of the Year in the Atlantic-10, and he is/was fabulous around the basket. I know there must be someone on this planet at the college level who can guard him one-on-one, but whoever it is, his name doesn't come to me.

Auburn is in the Sweet Sixteen? After seeing the Tigers play this weekend, they ought to be ashamed of themselves for not playing this way before now. They beat two schools, St. Joseph's and Wake Forest, who overachieved and gave their all the entire season but could not overcome the Tigers, who have decent talent and finally came to play. They can when they want to. Maybe the losers believed all the negative headlines about Auburn.

One of the most telling indictments of college hoops this season is that Josh Howard of Wake Forest was ACC Player of the Year. Bad enough that the Demon Deacons won the league's regular season title. I'm trying to remember when he had a game where I thought he was the difference or was dominant. I just never saw it happen.

I now remember why it was a down year in the Big Ten. This is basketball, not football. The kind of hoops played in that conference usually is not successful this time of year. The only team in that conference I see having long-term postseason success is Wisconsin, and that's only because it has nice outside shooters and players who believe in that walk-it-up-the-court, grind-it-out-system (Michigan State should have won against Florida because the Gators play no defense and have trouble rebounding, and they too were overrated). Tulsa had the talent and quickness to overcome the Badgers, but not the patience or the determination, and didn't play smart when it got the lead.

I heard Indiana Coach Mike Davis say that this might have been the most selfish team he ever coached. That could be true, but just like the technical he got in the Kentucky game after storming the court WITH TIME LEFT to protest a foul call, his timing stinks! Guess he hasn't learned how or when to be quiet.

I haven't even mentioned Pittsburgh, which is the school I wish I had picked. The Panthers also play that rough-and-tumble style, but they have enough talent and smarts to know when to play basketball and not to play like they're on the gridiron. They spanked Wagner and Indiana with ease, and don't be surprised if they do some serious damage next weekend.

Also, by the way, the fact that the Big East has four schools in the Sweet Sixteen does nothing to change my opinion of hoops in that conference. The schools who are still alive, less Notre Dame, are good enough to have gotten this far, but watching Big East basketball, just like the Big Ten, is like watching paint dry.

My time is up. I thank you for yours.

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