Hmmm, what to make of it …
The crown jewel of the college basketball season – the Final Four of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – is about to tip off in a few hours with the first of two national semifinals in an oversized, glass-roofed football stadium situated in downtown Minneapolis, and, frankly, am still kinda up in the air here.
In short, regardless of program histories and coaching reps, we got four pretty evenly matched teams, with intense-but-understated Steady-Eddie Tom Izzo and his equally stable Michigan State Spartans serving as the headliners of a show that also includes a classic underachiever in Virginia and two newbies to this “ultimate” hoops scene in Texas Tech and Auburn.
Just begs the question, does that make for quality entertainment tonight through Monday night’s title game, or sheer boredom?
Hmmm, what to make of it …
With the clock, as noted, winding down, gotta say, leaning toward the latter.
Why? There’s no “juice” here. No David. No Goliath. Nothing real big. Nothing real small. Nothing great. Nothing awful.
We got four power-5 conference schools at the event. They’re all “name” schools, not virtual unknowns like George Mason in 2006, or Virginia Commonwealth and Butler in 2010.
The buzz is pretty low. The vibe, really, pretty much on life support.
Say one thing for Duke, when it makes it to this stage, as it gritting-my-teeth so often does, at least serves a critical role in being the team to hate, or root against, for the vast majority of non-frontrunning fans out there. North Carolina, Kentucky or such former, one-time uber-hyped outfits as UNLV and Florida have been fabulous bull's-eye fodder, too.
But that entity is lacking this April.
So, too, is a true underdog … and, sorry, anyone trying to push Auburn as that either hasn’t been following the sport the last six weeks or has no ability whatsoever to judge talent. Since getting smoked at Kentucky on Feb. 23, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers have won 12 straight, including victories against the best team in the Southeastern Conference for most of the 2019-19 campaign in Tennessee – twice, in the regular season and then in blowout fashion in the conference title tilt – and then against perennial national juggernauts Kansas and UNC, in almost embarrassingly easy fashion, before serving UK a nice payback sandwich in a Sunday matinee Midwest Regional final last weekend.
They managed that last one without their best player, Chuma Okeke, too. Suffering an obvious ACL tear that CBS announcers Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel inexplicably couldn’t grasp or even explain – “may be an ankle” … really, brah, are you that outta touch with sports injuries, especially the most incredibly simple one to spot? – late against the Tar Heels,
Okeke, a gifted junior forward, will not be available until next season, if he recovers from surgery by then. But, really, not even sure that’ll matter.
Spearheaded by the Shazam-fast backcourt of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, Auburn’s advantage over, well, every team in the country is speed. Fastbreaking UNC and UK both challenged the Tigers there, and got burned. Bad.
Frankly, the only source of electricity in these last three games of the season seems like it would come from the sparks off Auburn’s sneakers. Virginia, Tech and even MSU are energy-sapping squads to the max. Both the Cavs and Raiders rely so heavily on defense, and the Spartans on playing, well, the heavy that they come across more like old-school WWE wrestlers, outfitted in shorts instead of singlets, slapping on a sleeper hold – not just to the opposition, but the viewing audience.
Izzo, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Tech’s Chris Beard may be superstar technicians in their profession, but, my lord, they produce some serious snore sessions on the court.
If anything, to me, Auburn is this Final Four’s only shot at salvation. Should the Tigers fail to beat Virginia tonight, Monday’s finale with the Cavs systematically shutting TV-watching eyelids across the nation along with either Tech or MSU provides a perfect opportunity for an alternative.
So, that’s what to make of the 2019 Final Four. At this point at least.