Monday, March 28, 2005

Best Weekend Ever

Has there ever been a weekend of games quite like that? Wow. When three of four regional finals go into overtime, and the fourth one isn’t decided until the final two minutes, you know you’ve got a good weekend of basketball. While I missed a few of the regional semi-finals due to late game times, and actually attempting to craft a social life that can exist independent of basketball games on Friday night, I still managed to see the bulk of every regional final game. A quick thought on each:

--Louisville-West Virginia was seemingly as good as it gets. West Virginia shoots the ball about as well as I’ve ever seen in the first half, despite consistently pulling up from places that no rational person would ever take a shot. Louisville fights back into the game in the second half, and overtakes West Virginia in overtime while its best player sits on the bench, having fouled out, for the final nine minutes. Instant classic. I was a tad disappointed at the outcome, since if I feel like dropping a Kevin Pittsnogle reference into conversation this week, it’s going to sound really forced now.

--Illinois-Arizona: First, let me apologize to the Wildcats for proclaiming them vastly overrated for the entire year. I was wrong, and apologize for that. However, Illinois’ comeback from 15 down with four minutes to go to send the game to overtime ranks among the best comebacks ever. My friend Kosta called me during overtime to ask what the hell was going on, since he had left his television and was hearing the miraculous comeback on the radio. You only see a game like this every couple of years, and you can’t help but enjoy it (particularly since I’m a big fan of the way Illinois has played this year).

--North Carolina-Wisconsin: Well, it’s the end of the line for my team from Madison. Much like Arizona, all year I said that the Badgers weren’t as good as people thought they were. As usual, I was wrong. They pushed one of the two best teams in the country close to their limit, and ended the season much later than I thought they would. If there’s any consolation in this loss, it’s that Sean May, my favorite collegiate player for the past two years, did most of the damage to the Badgers. I actually had the opportunity to take in this game on a gigantic HDTV with my friend Kosta, who was house-sitting for some people with a gorgeous television. Instead, I stuck around my brother’s house after Easter brunch and watched the game on his small-ish television with a group of people that, with one or two exceptions, didn’t know all that much about basketball. If I wasn’t sure before that I loved my family, I know that I do now, since somehow, I made this decision by my own free will. I think it just warmed my heart that a roomful of 5 people would defer to me and watch basketball. It was awesome. And in all the fun that I was having, it did not set in to me until I was going to bed that night that yesterday was the last time I would see Mike Wilkinson in a Badger uniform. That’s going to be a tough hole to fill.

--Michigan State-Kentucky: Well, if not for the fact that Louisville came back from a 20-point first half deficit, and Illinois miraculously charged back from 15 down in the final four minutes if its game, this would have been the game of the weekend. And when a game that goes to overtime on a wild, last second three-pointer that it takes upwards of five minutes to confirm as legitimate is the third most exciting game of the weekend, you know that you’ve got two days that likely will never be duplicated. Michigan State went to its stall offense a bit too early in my estimation, and Kentucky took advantage. I’d also argue that the shooter on that wild three-pointer at the end of regulation was fouled, but I can’t complain too much about the outcome. Watching Michigan State close out a game now was fun. Earlier in the year I heard a radio interview with Tom Izzo where he basically called his team soft. He didn’t use the actual word soft, but it was as pointed as I’ve ever heard a coach. Well, I’d say they’re not so soft now. Izzo managed to get them back after a few bumps in the road, and for that he should be commended. Oh, and one final thought: Chris Hill had all-American potential as a freshman at Michigan State, and yesterday he spent probably the last seven minutes on the bench. He can’t feel good about that.

So that’s the weekend. With Wisconsin teams done, I’m going to begin my wind-down this week and go on semi-hiatus until next season. I suspect I’ll be commenting on Bruce Pearl hitting the jackpot at Tennessee tomorrow, but after that it will be time to review my pre-season predictions, point out various places this year that I was horrifically wrong about things (see Arizona above), and look to the future. Three more games to go…


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