Peek-a-boo, guess who's in the Final Four? Syracuse and Malachi Richardson, seen here celebrating a key 3-pointer made in Sunday's Midwest Region final, disposed of No. 1 seed Virginia, 68-62, after rallying from a 15-point deficit with 9:33 remaining.
Atlantic Coast Conference dominance my arse.
They can crow all they want down on Tobacco Road about their beloved conference, its self-appointed place atop the college basketball world and good ol’ North Carolina making this season’s Final Four, but for those of us with memory and a pulse for the romantic side of sports knows in their heart that next weekend’s extravaganza is another showcase for the Big East.
Hell, if carpet-bagging Notre Dame had anything left in its tank Sunday night after rallying from a double-digit, second-half deficit to take a short-lived lead, we could be talking about a repeat of 31 years ago – when Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova joined Memphis State for the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend of dancing.
You know, just in some updated – read: distorted and mutated – form.
Kidding aside, Syracuse, fortunately, will never be able to shake the Original Big East stink from its program. Good, it’ll be forever tough as nails because of that. Just like Villanova, a former OBE foe of the Orange which has taken up resident in the updated – read: distorted and mutated – Big East.
Both, ahem, gritted their teeth through the second week of March Madness and willed their way into the national semifinals.
Indeed, if anything stood out this weekend, even beyond the great plays, the key shots, the critical fouls, the ill-timed blunders, it was the neon-bright evidence displayed by those two of what was so great about the immortal Dave Gavitt’s creation four decades ago.
Put it this way, if you’re gonna take on an OBE bad-arse, you best beat them to death, because they’re gonna keep coming if you don’t – no matter the score, or the line set by Vegas.
’Nova … no chance against top-ranked Kansas, huh? Think again. Behind inspirational leader Ryan Arcidiacono, the Wildcats prevailed in the South finale, leaving mindless, Trump-like hoops followers to bitch and moan about mid-majors being lame and traditional powers being down this season. Puh-leeze. ’Nova hasn’t been a mid-major since, well, ever … and, not for nothing, has a spot on the traditional powers list itself.
But, really, truly, the story of this tournament now is the Orange. Four games in, having raised their shaky-bid 19-13 record to a somewhat respectable 10 games over .500, they still have everyone shaking heads and wondering what the heck happened. Frankly, a case could be made that they were better than just one of the teams they’ve toppled, and even that’d be debatable considering Middle Tennessee State knocked off one of the favorites win the whole damn shebang in the opening round – Michigan State.
The No. 1 fave, by the by, was Kansas.
Never disliked Jim Boeheim. Never had the inkling to ridicule his coaching chops, either. So, for me, seeing ’Cuse muscle its way through the likes of Dayton, MT, Gonzaga and then the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, Virginia, was entertaining and fascinating. Trailing by 15 with 9:33 to go in the regional final to a fellow conference member that had beaten it by 15 three straight times, ’Cuse proceeded to close with a 29-8 run that almost looked embarrassingly easy.
Once the favored Cavaliers saw the Orange weren’t going away and, gasp, had the audacity to slap a full-court press on them, yo, this one was OHHH-va. Either lucky or having a feel for his squad like no coach ever has, Boeheim was, as he has been throughout the tournament, the ultimate puppet-master. A beady-eyed basketball Geppetto, manipulating all on display to perform as he wanted.
Forget Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon stepping up for his Orange. What was truly amazing was seeing Cavs such as ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon completely crumble.
Kinda had you wondering if Cavs coach Tony Bennett somehow skipped the videotape of Syracuse’s comeback win against Gonzaga two nights earlier. The Orange did the EXACT same thing, using the press to rally from nine down with 6:28 to go for a 63-60 victory.
Now they get current ACC rival UNC this coming Saturday in Houston. But the real prize would be meeting up with a true rival in Villanova in the championship game the following Monday night.
Long live the Big East ... the Original Big East.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
National semifinalists Oklahoma and Villanova already met this season, on Dec. 7, 2015 at the Pearl Harbor Invitational. Let’s just say, the latter went down with the ship in that one, losing 78-55. Game got outta hand late, especially with the Wildcats unable to shoot straight. Don’t assume a repeat. The Sooners were ranked seventh entering that game and ended the regular season ranked seventh. The Wildcats were ranked ninth entering that game and ended the regular season ranked sixth. They both sat atop the polls for three weeks. OU is 23-7 since then with two losses to Kansas. ’Nova is 26-3 since then and just beat the top-ranked Jayhawks.
Kevin Stallings as the new Pitt head coach … really? Sorry, just can’t wrap the head around the Panthers hiring a guy from a relatively comparable program who had less success there than the guy who just bolted for his alma mater. Now, those in the Steel City saying Stallings’ current resume trails that which Jamie Dixon had when getting the gig back in 2003 are being ridiculous. That was Dixon’s first HC job. Stallings does have 455 wins as a Division I HC, but he was hardly “lights out” awesome at Vanderbilt during any point of his 17 years there, and, if reports were correct, he likely was going to be let go by the school after another early NCAA exit.
Gotta say, really don’t have any issues with Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski sharing some postgame, um, advice with Oregon’s Dillon Brooks after the latter celebrated a little too much in Coach K’s eyes when sinking a “take that” 3-pointer as the Ducks were finishing off the Blue Devils Thursday night. The guy even put it, if anything, in POSITIVE developmental terms by telling the kid that he’s TOO GOOD of a player to be acting like that. OK, so it’s a bit pompous on his part. But no biggie. The problem, though, is when questioned about it, K denied ever saying it. Sorry, that’s gutless. Just own it.