Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Monster Mash - The Madness Continues (Part 2)

Editor's Note: Because both of these teams decided to hang around for another round of the NCAA Tourney, let's run with J-Till's second contribution to the Monster Mash before this post becomes irrelevant. I was trying to wait up for the other contributions (you know who you are), but I can't chance either one of these teams going down in the meantime. Remember to check our Tillman's stylings at Fundamentally UnSound. It's all yours, Tillman-san...

Oh YEAH. Sorry to interrupt, but my Final Four picks are as such: Louisville, Memphis, Xavier, and Gonzaga. If you have a problem with that, COME SEE ME IN THE COMMENTS! Also, did anyone from Morgan State even bother to read my post about them from Monday? Geez. Todd Bozeman's guy almost killed a guy.

That's the last time the MEAC gets a #15 seed for a WHILE. At least it got the MEAC some negative press without Joseph Okoh's name in the byline. Yikes.

(I'm going to stop rambling now. Promise. J-Till, back to you...)


When I first started watching basketball with an analytical mind, it was around the time that Lute Olsen had the University of Arizona atop the college basketball mountain. I was particularly influenced by Jason Terry, because he is the influence behind me wearing the high socks and he has the same first and last initials…just like me. Today, he's still one of my favorite players to watch. I only give you that brief moment of nostalgia because looking back on me at that time; I understand now why I enjoyed watching them. To me, if there's one flaw in the spirit of college hoops is that it's so focused on making the coaches the stars. Instead of giving praise to the individual and the true ideal that players make coaches (see: Gillespie, Billy), they favor the false understanding that coaching is paramount. Arizona is one of the few schools that actually lets players be themselves and adjusts accordingly; instead of putting them in a box for the "greater good." It's the reason why they've churned out so many NBA and overseas players over the past decade or so; while other programs have enjoyed similar or greater success, yet have their best players be scrubs in the Association. Let me stop and take a rest break before this becomes a full-on rant about Coach K. Enjoy a random picture while I go calm down…

Okay, where was I? Oh, right. This year's U of A Wildcats. Sure, they underachieved for a good part of the season and down the stretch. And yeah, teams like Saint Mary's and Penn State have legit arguments about why they should be in over them. But if you look at it closely, you'll see that Arizona's better than both of those teams and have one of the ten most talented teams in the country. Chase Budinger has been a lottery pick at forward since he was a freshman, and big man Jordan Hill will go very high in next year's draft. Guard Nic Wise has filled in nicely at the point for a team that lost lottery pick Jerryd Bayless; and that #1 high school recruit Brandon Jennings jettisoned for the quick paycheck in Italy. The 'Cats underachieved so much that they squeaked in the tournament as a #12 seed, and have a first-round matchup against Utah (I see what you did there, NCAA Selection Committee). I look for Arizona to make a little ruckus and further destroy brackets around the globe.

On a lesser, still not-so-heralded plane, Mark Few has built a very sturdy program at Gonzaga. He has taken Lute Olsen's methodologies and tweaked them to get the higher-caliber West Cost players that the big schools (and certain coaches) pass upon. For example, I bet plenty of teams would love to have Stephen Gray and Austin Daye, 6'5" and 6'10" athletic scoring machines, respectively. They're like shorter and taller versions of Adam Morrison, only with more ability and less horrendous moustache. But the beauty of the 'Zags is that they don't have one guy with the ability to take over a game: they have five. Moving guard Matt Bouldin to the point has steadied the previously erratic Bulldogs' offense, and it allows Jeremy Pargo do the things that show that he's vastly better than his brother. Center Josh Heytvelt has his head on straight now, and with the addition of Kansas transfer and former HS All-American Micah Downs, and that's a starting five with tremendous size and length at their respective positions, coupled with outstanding shooting and scoring ability. Mark Few plays the uptempo style that gives his players the free reign to be themselves, and look to outscore their opponents at a frenetic pace.

Gonzaga, like Pitt, has been one of those teams that build bandwagon and true fans up to break them down with early tournament exits. If there's one hindrance to them is that they're not a physical as some of the elite teams and wouldn't stand up to 40 minutes of high-level defensive pressure. Plus, with all that talent they have, they were placed in the region with the team with the most talent, the team with the best player in the nation, and the team with all the momentum as higher seeds. A possible Sweet 16 duel with UNC is over the weekend's horizon, and that will probably be one the tourney's most entertaining games. This is where I see Gonzaga bowing out, but it won't be do to anything they could've avoided. It'll just be because North Carolina is better than them—their kindred spirit on the East Coast. The Tar Heels are like a sensei that has mastered the art of the uptempo game and teaching his pupil the Way of the Samurai, and the 'Zags haven't quite harnessed their full potential.


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