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North Carolina Was Worth All the Hype

I resented North Carolina somewhat this season because they were so hyped up entering the year. Actually, starting off with last year’s Final Four, as soon as Kansas won it all, ESPN was already releasing it’s top five for the next season and they had UNC at the top spot. Then before this season began, everyone was talking about how good Carolina was. All I heard was that they could be one of the best teams ever, that they could go undefeated, and that they could score 100 points at will. Couple that with the endless praise for Tyler Hansbrough who returned for his senior season despite being the player of the year the previous season and it was easy to grow tired of the charade. Then when the Heels started off the ACC season 0-2, it was hard not to think that we were watching another underachieving team full of superstars. Turns out they may have taken their few lumps at the right time.

North Carolina was easily the best team in the country from start to finish. They beat Michigan State at Ford Field in Detroit back in December by 35 and then concluded the season with a 17-point win over Michigan State at Ford Field for the national title. They really played to their full potential during the tournament, showing how good of a team they were. The only time I really saw them struggle was in the second half against LSU. Even though the Tigers had them on the ropes, UNC still rallied for a 14-point win. The Tarheels proceeded to mow through the rest of the tournament field, crushing Gonzaga, Oklahoma, Villanova, and Michigan State in order. North Carolina was so brilliant they made it seem like none of those really good teams deserved to be on the same floor.

As I said before the game, I am quite satisfied with the outcome of the season because North Carolina more than earned the title, as did Roy Williams. They were worthy and deserving champions. One question though, why wasn’t Ty Lawson named Most Oustanding Player at the Final Four? 22, 7, and 8 against Villanova. 21 points and a tournament record 8 steals against Michigan State. Am I missing something? Anyway, congrats to North Carolina for the excellent season and extremely impressive tournament.

Memphis Gets Back at Calipari by Hiring His Top Assistant, Josh Pastner

Memphis didn’t exactly get its first choice when they were trying to hire a replacement for John Calipari who left for Kentucky. First of all, the program rounded up all the boosters to come up with a monster salary package to try and get Calipari to stay. When he spurned them, they went after Bruce Pearl, supposedly offering him a seven-year $21 million contract. Pearl decided to sign an extension with Tennessee instead. Then, in what seemed like a surprise move, Memphis announced they had hired Josh Pastner as their new coach. This is the same Pastner who backed up Mike Bibby at Arizona after walking onto the team, getting exposure on the bench with the ’97 title squad. The same Pastner who was later an assistant on Olson’s staff, just a year after finishing his playing career. The same Pastner who’s ascension took him to Memphis to work under Calipari this past year.

I was trying to make sense of this move considering Memphis pays well enough and has enjoyed enough recent success to make it a desirable job. Then when I thought about it I came up with three reasons to explain the move. First of all, Pastner was going to be John Calipari’s top recruiting assistant at Kentucky — hiring him hurts Calipari and helps Memphis get even. Secondly, Memphis was already losing recruits who had committed to them while Cal was the coach. Maybe hiring Pastner will give those recruits incentive to play for the guy who recruited them the most. Lastly, maybe they feel Pastner is a young up-and-coming coach who’s worth taking a chance on regardless of his lack of head coaching experience.

I like the move by Memphis — it certainly displayed outside-the-box thinking. It also makes me wonder why Arizona didn’t bring him back home. Was Sean Miller really worth $2 million per season to recruit an area with which he’s unfamiliar when Pastner could have represented the school well at half the price? Arizona dropped the ball here. And where’s Billy Gillispie’s name for all these jobs? Just because Kentucky canned him doesn’t mean he’s not a good coach anymore.

Not All Was Peaches at Detroit Final Four

I’m not sure if this sort of crime was unique to the Final Four in Detroit because of the rough economic conditions or because there was a large cash-carrying crowd on hand. Either way, government officials weren’t exempt from crime that struck in Final Four weekend. As Deadspin points out, Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard was the victim of a crime in Detroit:

Ballard was walking back to his hotel after Saturday night’s semi-final games at Ford Field when he stopped to assist a man who appeared to be suffering a seizure on a sidewalk. When the mayor stopped, two or three other men surrounded him and stole his cell phone from his pockets, the mayor’s office said.

That’s it? All they did was grab the cellphone? I’ve often wondered why such sharp fellows don’t put their talents to use for something legal. Surely guys this smart could have do a lot more than be professional pickpocketers. Bet Ballard can’t wait for the Final Four to come to his hometown next year. It’s unfortunate that the Final Four brings out the worst at the same time that it brings out the best.

Tom Izzo and Roy Williams Are Two of the Best, Deserve National Titles

There are times when teams are getting set to play for a title and I have no rooting interest. Often times I’ll choose to root against the team I like the least. I’ve had to do that in the past few Super Bowls that the Steelers won because I have loyalties to the Bengals. When the Spartans and Tarheels meet with a title on the line Monday night, I’m pleased to say that I’ll be satisfied with either outcome. If forced to choose, there’s no doubt that I’m pulling for Michigan State. I’d love for the state to have the win during a terrible time for its economy. Moreover, I’d love to see the best coach in America, Tom Izzo, pull off another shocker.

Every time you think Michigan State doesn’t have it or that they’ll get bounced from the tournament, they win. Every time you say the Spartans are over-matched, they win. Taking on what appeared to be a more talented UConn team, Michigan State employed a running strategy, trying to move the ball down the court as soon as a shot was either made or missed. Izzo figured they had depth and that’s why he wanted to run, and it turned out to be the perfect strategy. Vegas and everyone else likes the Tarheels to win the game by a comfortable margin. Maybe we’ll all be shown one more time why you can’t underestimate an Izzo-coached team in a big game.

Ever since leaving Kansas for Carolina, Roy Williams took the Tarheels back to the top of the college ranks. UNC had fallen off tremendously under Matt Doherty, going 8-20 and 19-16 in back-to-back years. When Williams took over, he only needed one season before he turned the program back to a national championship-level. After that title team got raided for talent (Williams lost his top seven scorers), the Heels fell off and went 23-8, but still finished 2nd in the ACC. Since then, Roy has done nothing but reload, proving that North Carolina is back to being the premier national power in the country. They’ve gone 31-7, 36-3, and 33-4 with back-to-back Final Four appearances and a shot at a second national title for Williams. It’s also no coincidence that Carolina’s return to prominence coincides with Duke’s drop-off amongst the nation’s elite.

These are two powerhouse programs even if Michigan State hasn’t been considered to be on the same level historically as North Carolina. These are two of the best coaches in the game and it’s not an accident that both teams made it this far. Knowing that we’re seeing some of the best in the business square off gives me the peace of mind to be happy with the champion, whoever comes out on top. Here’s to Michigan State — it would be great to see them pull it off!

Courtney Paris Vows to ‘Make Good’ on Promise to Repaying Scholarship

A month ago I wrote the first and only story on women’s college basketball to appear on this site. Oklahoma big man woman Courtney Paris was so confident in her team’s ability that she said she would pay back her entire scholarship to the school if the team didn’t win the national championship. On Sunday, the Sooners lost to Louisville in the Final Four, two wins shy of the national championship. Paris’ season and career is over, and now she should be lighter in the wallet if she’ll make good on her promise. Paris intends to do so:

“I will make good on that guarantee – not today, though,” said Courtney Paris, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, “Obviously I don’t have $64,000 waiting, but I do make good on it.

“The real cost is that it’s over. We don’t get to come back. It’s over.”

I’m not exactly one of those investigative reporters who climb through the trash outside a steroids testing lab to see who’s on “the list,” but I actually would want to see Oklahoma’s books the next several years to see if she’s repaying that money. I highly doubt it. I want to see a television conference where she hands over one of them big ass Happy Gilmore sized checks to the university. I also came to find out from the story that her father is a former NFL player. Can’t imagine that has anything to do with her whimsical attitude in making such a ridiculous promise. Then I have clowns in Oklahoma saying she shouldn’t pay it back. Next time she should think before she tries to go Broadway Joe. Would have made for a nice story if her team handed UConn its first loss of the season. Oh well.

I Guess Tim Floyd Is Arizona’s Band-Aid

UPDATE: We can thank ESPN for posting the story up on Wed night that Floyd was gone to Arizona, no questions asked. Instead, Floyd decided to remain at USC so this wasn’t even an issue. I’m guessing I was right about Arizona treating him like a band-aid otherwise he would have signed had they rolled out a sweet deal.

I’m having a really tough time digesting the news that Tim Floyd will be the next basketball coach at Arizona. I’m not surprised that Rick Pitino turned them down — I don’t think Arizona’s overwhelming enough to make him leave the good thing he has going at Louisville. I’m not surprised Mark Few turned them down since he seems to turn down every job offer that comes his way. And I thought they were settling on Jeff Capel. And then bam! next thing you know Tim Floyd is the new coach. After mulling over the news for quite some time, I think I finally figured out what’s going on (congrats if it took you two seconds to figure it out, I’m not too sharp) — Floyd’s just a band-aid.

Though Floyd has recruited his share of talented players to USC in the past few seasons, the Trojans haven’t done anything too remarkable since he’s been there. Yes, they’ve had three 20+ win seasons and made it to the tourney three years in a row, but they haven’t been past the Sweet 16, and their record in conference play hasn’t been overwhelming. He has strengthened the program, but not to the point where I would think Arizona would be interested. The Wildcats are striving for 1st or 2nd in the Pac-10 each year, Sweet 16 appearances, and 25+ win seasons. It never struck me that Floyd’s that guy since he’s never done anything better than what I just outlined.

The only logical conclusion to which I can arrive is that Floyd will be a quick-fix for a program destined to go in the crapper otherwise. Arizona’s likely losing Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise to the NBA, and they already lost their recruiting class when Lute Olson stepped down. Maybe they’re hoping Floyd can bring his recruits with him from USC to Arizona, get some addition by subtraction going, stay respectable in the Pac-10 for two seasons, and then go out and get the real, long-term guy they’re looking for. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

DeJuan Blair Is Considering a Future in Football as a Backup Plan

I fell in love with DeJuan Blair as an athlete, so to speak, when Pitt beat UConn on the road during in February. In that game, Blair outplayed UConn’s vaunted front court, dominating Thabeet for 22 points and 23 boards. That game really opened my eyes as to what kind of player Blair was and his abilities gave me the confidence to select Pitt as the team I thought would win it all. Naturally we all saw how that played out. Anyway, apparently Blair knows how skilled of an athlete he is and how rare his wide and bulky 6’7″ 265lb frame is. He thinks it could give him a career in football if the whole basketball thing doesn’t work out.

Blair hasn’t completely put his gridiron aspirations to bed.

As a 6-7 post player, an NBA future isn’t a certainty. And with Antonio Gates having drawn the blueprint, Blair admits he has thought about an NFL future as a tight end or defensive end.

“That’s my Plan B,” Blair said.

Aaron Wilson at PFT pointed that story out to me because it related to the news of a Cleveland State basketball player who plans to try out for some NFL teams. Apparently football has interested Blair all along but he had two torn ACLs in high school that prevented him from playing back then. Maybe some NBA team won’t be scared off by the knee injury history. They shouldn’t be; I see a lot of Elton Brand in him. (Or is that only because they look alike?)