I had trouble starting this post. It’s a tad chatty in the place I’m working, and I don’t work too well when I can hear other people talking. So I decided to put the headphones on, start up my instrumental music playlist, and get the flow going with “Samwise the Brave”. And now I’m here.
Do you know what is also mildly irritating? Reading tweets from fans of one of the teams you’re watching on television. It’s also kind of addicting, which is why at just about every commercial break during the Wisconsin-Kentucky game last night I got my phone out and scrolled through Twitter to see what the Badger fans were saying. It can be a very enhancing experience to open Twitter after a controversial call to see the reaction of fans and experts.
The thing I found while reading is that Wisconsin fans really missed out on a great game. It’s not a unique case; it’s one of the downsides of rabid fandom. And sports are made for being a fan of particular teams. However, neutrality has its wonderful benefits. That game last night was a first-rate basketball fight for a spot in the championship game. We saw two teams play very good basketball basically to a draw until we got a nice bonus of a game-winner.
It’s not a criticism of Wisconsin fans, as I’m sure it’s like this pretty much anywhere (it’s a little wearying living in Wisconsin and being neither a Packer nor Badger fan). It’s just rather unfortunate that many Badger fans probably focused on the wrong things in that game and missed out on a terrific game of basketball. Here’s some thoughts:
Julius Randle is special. It’s tough to project what he will be like in the NBA, but he’s a unique player that could be very, very good at the next level. For a freshman to have that blend of strength, quickness, agility, ball-handling, body control, and toughness is rare. While other starlets underwhelmed in this tournament, Julius Randle confirmed everything we thought we knew about him and then some.
Wisconsin caught Spike Albrecht syndrome with Bronson Koenig. In last year’s championship game, Michigan’s little-used reserve Spike Albrecht came into the game and provided a burst of offense. However, he stayed in the game a little too long and started missing some shots before he was taken out and had no further contributions. Same thing kind of happened with Koenig. The Badgers needed the freshman’s offensive outburst, but he ended the game just 4-10 from the field (1-4 from 3) and had two turnovers. That nifty pass he had in the lane was his only assist. And one of his baskets was a simple breakaway layup. Koenig gave the Badgers a needed jolt, but in the big picture he didn’t advance their cause as much as the halftime crews would have you believe. The problem with unexpected offensive contributors is that it can take your regular guys out of their rhythm. If not for another stop-gap contribution, this time from Duje Dukan, the Badgers could have gotten blown out of the game.
Those dunks by Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee were sick. I freaked out and did some sort of Quaker dance when Poythress posterized Dekker. It’s those kinds of things that you sort of miss out when you’re cheering for a particular team.
Wisconsin should have looked to Frank Kaminsky more often. I said it before the game, and it turned out to be true: Wisconsin needed a big game from Kaminsky. They didn’t get him involved the way they could have. Part of that was the smart double teams employed by Kentucky, but I didn’t sense a genuine effort to make him the focal point of the offense.
Why why why why why did Bo Ryan draw up a “play” for Traevon Jackson at the end of the game? I hope he didn’t spend too much time dreaming that one up. There was enough time to throw the ball into the middle of the floor and do something creative. If he was intent on coast to coast hero ball (which isn’t the worst idea with that much time left) then the ball should have gone to Brust or Dekker. Jackson did not play well, but that last play is on Bo Ryan.
Good work by John Calipari to get his team to constantly attack the paint, even though they have been excellent from 3 recently. They only took five threes all game (compared to Wisconsin’s 20). Some of the drives by the Harrison brothers were a little out of control, but I like the philosophy.
After Randle, I think of all the players on the floor James Young probably has the best potential as a pro.
Wisconsin, once again, lost the turnover battle. Go figure.
I know Badger fans won’t admit this, but Kentucky is way more fun to watch. I appreciate the things that Wisconsin normally does (hard work, smart play, team offense) but Kentucky’s toughness in the paint, skill from the perimeter and high-flying dunks make them a lot of fun.
Bottom line, Wisconsin could have won that game. They could also have been eliminated the first weekend of the tournament versus Oregon. They had a good season, and were a good team that now and then played great basketball. They found themselves matched up with a really talented, really athletic, physically imposing, mentally tough, well-coached team playing their best basketball of the year. It was a good game, and it’s a shame if Badger fans are bitter about this one.
On the other side, UConn is legit. My goodness what a convincing win. They outscored Florida 59-37 in the final 29 minutes of the game. Granted, Florida did not play particularly well, especially because of Scotte Wilbekin’s struggles, some of them due to an injury. But Wilbekin and the Gators also looked bad because UConn made them look that way. Shabazz Napier only took 6 shots, but he had 6 assists and 4 steals. He has continued his Kembaesque run in the tournament. His backcourt mate Ryan Boatright was also fantastic. He’s a different guy than the cocky freshman taking ill-advised shots that I remember playing Marquette. DeAndre Daniels, who has impressed me since I started watching UConn this year in March, looks like a future lottery pick, and his inside outside abilities are going to be a tough cover for Kentucky.
This upcoming championship game is as good a matchup as we could have hoped for. Rankings, records, and seedings don’t mean much in college basketball. They can be very misleading. In this case, although it’s a 7-8 matchup, this championship is going to feature the tournament’s two “best teams”. They’ve proved it. They’ve earned it. And even if you don’t believe they’re the best, are championship games really about determining who the “best” teams are? I’m sure for some people this tournament has been a mess and the results have ruined it. A lot of fans probably won’t even watch the championship game, and if they do it may just be to root against the team that beat their team.
And here I am, someone who likes the NBA a great deal more than college basketball, who thinks the NBA Playoffs are just about the greatest thing in sports, and I’m saying March Madness was freaking awesome. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that my team wasn’t in the tournament, but either way this was great entertainment from the first round (the real first round) right to the championship game. It’s a game I’m really looking forward to, and will probably enjoy immensely.
Here’s to you, basketball. Here’s to you.
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Soli Deo Gloria