Friday, April 12, 2013

SHOUP SHOTS: Lessons learned in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Editor

The month-long NCAA men’s basketball tournament ended Tuesday night with Louisville cutting down the nets after knocking off Michigan 82-76. Analysts instantly heralded the game as one of the best national championship games in recent history.
  

But watching the championship game of the tournament is always bittersweet. Not because one of my teams did not win the title, or even come close really, but because we now have to wait 11 months until the tournament starts again — 11.
  
But before lamenting the long wait for next season because next year is “your team’s year,” it is necessary to look back at the storyline-dominated tournament and what we learned from it.

1. Louisville is the best team in basketball

Okay, this one is obvious since they are the national champions. But every once in a while, a team that does not necessarily deserve it will win a title, regardless of the sport — cough, cough the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL, Seahawks fans. That was not the case this year.
  
The Louisville Cardinals are indisputably the best team in college basketball. The national champions finished the season on a 16-game winning streak that included a run through the Big East tournament, regarded as one of the toughest in the country.
  
The Cardinals’ last loss came on Feb. 9 in a five-overtime marathon at Notre Dame.
  
Trailing by as much as 12 in the first half of Tuesday’s title game, the Cardinals mounted a furious rally in the waning minutes to temporarily take the lead before going into the locker room just down one at the half.
  
The rest was “in the Cards.” Zing.

2. The final four was ‘shocking’

What do you mean you didn’t have ninth-seeded Wichita State in your final four?
  
Neither did I. Or likely anyone else outside of the Wichita State fan base.
  
Finishing in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference at 26-8, the Shockers went on an improbable run to the final four, finishing two wins short of becoming the highest seed ever to win a national title.
  
The Shockers fell to eventual champion, Louisville, 72-68. The upstart squad led by as many as 12 in the second half before the Cardinals took over.
  
Wichita State eliminated controversial one seed, Gonzaga, 76-60, in the round of 32. The win came as a result of in-the-gym range late in the second half. The Shockers could have beaten anyone in the country that night.
  
In my preview of the tournament, I said mascots matter. Meaning anything can happen in the tournament, and I’m bested each year by someone who picks teams based on something arbitrary, like the team’s mascot.
The Wichita State Shockers — I will learn eventually.

3. That was disgusting
  
There are some things no person should have to endure. For Louisville’s Kevin Ware, it was tragically breaking his leg against Duke in the elite eight on Easter Sunday. For America, it was witnessing it.
  
I was on a boat during the game so I didn’t see it live, but I instantly knew the severity. Social media buzzed — no, screamed — about the gruesomeness of the injury. I was kind of curious to see the injury once I got home. I was mostly terrified.
  
I watched the highlight an hour or so after the game. I saw the sophomore jump in an attempt to block a three-point shot. And I saw Ware’s shin snap in half as he landed. I yelled and ran out of the room.
  
That was disgusting.
  
The injury was so bad you knew its  gruesomeness simply by watching the people who saw it. His teammates crumbled to the court instantly. The players on the bench looked like they had just witnessed their own birth.
  
Pictures popped up all over the Internet of Ware’s bone sticking six or seven inches out of his leg and making a 90-degree turn in the middle of his shin.
  
As he was carted off the court, he told his teammates to win, and they did, then twice more en route to a national title — for Ware.

4. A 16 seed will win, soon
   
A 16 seed has never beaten a one  seed in the first round of the tournament but Southern got incredibly close against Gonzaga in the tournament’s first round before falling 64-85 late.
  
One-seeded Kansas almost slipped up in the first round too before pulling away from Western Kentucky late and winning 64-57.
  
With so many college basketball players leaving for the NBA after one year, the talent is becoming more diluted.
  
A veteran underdog will knock off a young powerhouse in the next three years.

5. Griner NBA talks must stop
  
During the NCAA tournament, Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said he would give NCAA women’s basketball superstar Brittney Griner a shot in the NBA if he thought she was the best player available given the spot in the draft.
  
Griner obviously heard and tweeted to Cuban saying she would love a shot at the NBA and that she wouldn’t let him down.
  
Yes, she would.
  
If a woman is to play in the NBA, she will need to be as tall as Griner at 6’ 8” but she will also need to be able to hit shots from outside. Griner is a post player.
  
At just more than 200 pounds imagine her trying to defend Dwight Howard at 6’11” and 265 pounds. Not going to happen.
  
Griner playing in the NBA — not going to happen.