Perhaps the destruction of your bracket can be traced to the fact that you actually thought you could learn something by analyzing the regular season, and especially the latter stages of the regular season. Silly you.
Let’s examine the momentum three of the Final Four carried into the postseason:
The first team lost its final home game to a 21-15 squad, allowing 29 points to the player it was trying to contain. In its final road game this team, now suddenly considered a defensive juggernaut, allowed 91 points in the loss, including 55 in the second half, and surrendered 41 to one player on 15-of-18 shooting.
The second team staggered into its conference tournament by losing five of its final 10, including one to a team that entered 0-14 in league play.
The third team closed its regular season with an underwhelming 61-39 loss in which its two most productive perimeter shooters went a combined 1 of 17 from the field.
The fourth team is the one you probably pegged to reach Atlanta, top-seeded Louisville. Even the Cards had their moments. Do you remember that CIT-bound Northern Iowa outscored them 22-5 in the second half in the Bahamas before they recovered to win a close one despite 30-percent shooting and 20 turnovers?
It’s the beauty of basketball, and the NCAA tournament. Your team’s current complexion isn’t necessarily what it will be next month, or even next week. That’s why coaching is such a demanding profession, because as hard as it is to play at a high level, it’s even harder to stay there.
No one who watched Doug McDermott score at will at CenturyLink Center on March 2 expected to turn on Saturday’s Final Four and see Wichita State, the first team mentioned earlier. Just like no one who watched Penn State on Feb. 27 improve to 1-14 in Big Ten play with a home win against Michigan, the second team, expected the Wolverines to reach Atlanta. Same with the fans at Georgetown, after watching their team throttle Syracuse, the third team, by 22 on March 9.
So then, how did those three orchestrate such impressive about-faces? It all starts with the players running the attacks, point guards Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State), Trey Burke (Michigan) and Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse). The fourth point guard, Peyton Siva (Louisville), has been equally impressive.
All have outstanding numbers, but it’s so much more than numbers. Becoming an elite point guard requires almost a sixth sense for the game. You have to know when to take over the scoring load, when to get others involved and — perhaps more important — how to get others involved.
Burke has demonstrated that better than anyone in the tournament, masterfully making his teammates better while also hitting clutch shots. The 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams has been a close second. Always a gifted passer (7.4 assists per game), he’s become a feared scorer, evidenced by a 24-point effort against top-seeded Indiana in which he overpowered its smaller guards. Both sophomores likely are first-round draft picks if they leave school.
At Louisville, Siva’s running mate, Russ Smith, gets more attention with his uncanny ability to score at any tempo, a la Ben Gordon, who led Connecticut to the 2004 championship with a similar skill-set. But Siva is the unsung star, handing out 5.8 assists per game and keeping the Cardinals organized, which allows Smith to do his thing. In the absence of Kevin Ware, Siva’s ability to stay out of foul trouble is even more crucial.
That brings us to Wichita State’s Armstead. You don’t have to convince Creighton fans of his toughness, after his 28-point, nine-rebound, four-steal effort in the Valley tournament final. He hasn’t exploded like that in the tournament, but his fearlessness is well documented, and one of the reasons the Shockers are two wins from completing this tournament’s most improbable championship.
So forget about the ugly side of college athletics that has dominated the past week. Forget about your crumpled bracket and pick a team. There are plenty of reasons to back each one. Just remember that the team you saw last weekend won’t necessarily resemble the team you watch this weekend.
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