Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Final Four a Tale of Four Teams

he idea behind the NCAA Basketball tournament is what keeps people tuned in every single game for years and years, and its a very simple yet powerful idea - surprise factor. Movies try so very hard to have a plot-twist or climax that leaves people blown away, shocked, saddened, or frightened upon coming across it in a film, thus being a huge factor in what makes a movie a great movie. Yet, most times, a movie still needs good content surrounding the climax or plot-twist, or the movie will fail.

College basketball has a long and proud history, which serves as the content for its surprise factor or plot-twist. Every generation has had great memories of college tournament games, and the idea that there are millions upon trillions upon God knows how many possibilities we could see during a three week span of tournament play, people are attracted to it. The sole reason college basketball is so big come tournament time is that people want to see a genuine story of one team making it amongst a field of 64. Deep inside, we all want to see another George Mason. We want to see something that is unique and inspiring - because life elsewhere is not always so delivering.

Each of the four teams in this tournament have a story that is different than the other three. Each have had doubts they would make it this far, and some certainly more doubts that others. The stories are not always positive, but there is always inspiration to be found.

The University of Connecticut, by far the hottest team of the tournament in regards to media coverage and face time, has not exactly made their chapter of the story respectable this past week. Allegations suggest that the basketball program recruited a former player
, and the rest of the story is known by now. They also came into the tournament as the fourth number one seed, with few wondering if teams like Duke or Memphis would steal the top seed from them. Yet, they are back again, with another dominant big man and stout defense. Calhoun is possibly the best coach in the tournament this year, behind the likes of Roy Williams if anyone. The Huskies can win, and they have done well during this tournament, enough to make a naysayer second guess.

Villanova is the definite team of the tournament. After a surprising close match with American. They have blasted the likes of storied programs, UCLA and Duke, then upset the Pitt Panthers on a last second, Scottie Reynolds, hook-and-ladder type play, which ended with the go-ahead bucket with half a second left. Outside of UConn, they have been the most dominant team throughout the tourney, and Jay Wright has his team running and pushing harder than any team left. After Saturday's Elite 8 victory over Pitt, it is very hard to bet against the Wildcats of Villanova at this point.

Michigan State, another storied program dating back to Magic's run, has also impressed me, probably more than Villanova. They defeated the defending national champions and the top seeded team of the tournament, and looked great doing it. Tom Izzo, who I never had a hint of liking for, since my Big Ten favor is toward the Wolverines, has produced a great team when it wasn't expected to be. There is no Drew Neitzel or Maurice Ager, but they do have dominant big-man Goran Suton, who worked over Louisville in the Elite 8 win. MSU as a two-seed probably stands a better chance at UNC than Louisville would have had, granted that Lawson continues to heal and produce like he has. There is little talk, still, about this team, rather the focus has been on the success of Izzo during his tenure in East Lansing, and maybe a national championship will bring more face time for the Spartans.

Finally, North Carolina, the team that everyone predicts to win every year, because they are just that good every year. This year, they have reaped the benefits of Ty Lawson more than that of Tyler Hansbrough, but together, they have brought UNC to a second consecutive Final Four as a one-seed. Roy Williams is looking to bring another championship to Chapel Hill, and as strong a team they defeated in Oklahoma, it would be hard to count them out after making it to the Final Four, yet again. To defeat Michigan State would be a large task, and facing UConn or Villanova would be just as challenging - but the best coach in the country knows just what to do, I am assured.

Monday, March 9, 2009

East vs West

The NBA regular season ends in a little more than a month, and there seems to be a shift of power and depth between the Eastern and Western conferences. Mathematically, there are absolutely no teams from the Eastern Conference eliminated as of yet, although the magic number for the Wizards lies at three. On the other hand, the playoff race realistically only extends out to the ninth place team, which is Phoenix, who is trailed by Golden State - by 13 games. Although the West has better records from one to eight (at this point, Philadelphia and Chicago are in with sub-.500 records), the East is far more competitive with their own. This does not mean that we will have a back-to-back champion in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the Bulls won three straight from 1995 - 1998. We have seen the Lakers take beatings from and deliver them to the East, as well as San Antonio, Utah, and Denver. LeBron was run out of L.A. and Boston has not repeated their magic against the Lakers in this regular season, so both sides seem to be even. The three best teams in the NBA consist of two Eastern Conference teams, however, with Boston and Cleveland. Lakers may be the best, but if they are outed in the Western Conference Playoffs, the Spurs, Nuggets and Jazz, all virtually out of reach of a number 1 seed, will likely be candidates to play in the Finals, against three likely teams that all look better than the rest of the West, the aformentioned Cavs and Celtics, and the Orlando Magic. The scenarios are many, but unless the Lakers do not find a way back to the Finals, it could be a beginning of the Eastern Empire rebuilding itself.

Scenario 1: Lakers vs any team in the East - more than likely will end in a Laker championship, considering the way they played against Boston and Cleveland, although they have dropped both games against Orlando, the loss of Jameer Nelson would help the Lakers if it came down to these two teams

Scenario 2: Lakers are ousted by the Spurs, Nuggets, or Jazz - The series between the Lakers and Spurs are split, with an upcoming game on March 12, and the Lakers have done well against the Spurs in the playoffs the past ten years, so hoping for such is a stretch. Same situation with the Jazz, although it has been quite some time since the Jazz and Lakers played in the postseason against each other since last year's meeting. The Jazz have had some success against the Lakers, although there is no Mail-man or Stockton. The Nuggets have become quite the team this year with Billups, and would need a big lift from players like J.R. Smith and Nene to even win a game, much less an entire series. Part two of the scenario, any of the top three teams of the East (ORL, BOS, or CLE) make it to the Finals, the East is sure to win, although a few matchups would be interesting (Timmy vs Dwight, Melo vs LeBron, Deron vs Rondo).

Scenario 3: The final scenario I would see possible is that the Lakers and the Big Three of the East (again, CLE, ORL, and BOS) are all out of the picture. That leaves nothing in the East, except the Hawks, at any chance of winning the Finals against the likes of San Antonio, Utah, Denver, or even Houston and Portland. The everyone-but-Lakers tier in the West is much better than the anyone-who-didn't-win-the-division tier in the East, but considering the one really good team in the West against three really good teams in the East, it seems probable that the East will win again.