A Game For The (Dark) Ages

It probably wasn’t the worst tournament game ever played. And it was hardly the least competitive NCAA final played in my lifetime. But last night’s final was a pretty miserable affair and I think it’s safe to say that Maryland and Indiana no longer hold the distinction of playing the most tortured NCAA final of the post-Wooden era.

By my count, there have now been five terrible NCAA finals since 1976. Two were ridiculous blowouts, the first in 1990 between Vegas and Duke and the second happened in 2009 when UNC ran Michigan State off the court. Both those games were over by 9:40 EST.

Two other names that make the list are 2002 and 2006. The first pitted Maryland against Indiana and here is all you need to know about that game … Jared Jeffries was the best offensive player on the floor for Indiana. If that wasn’t enough, Steve Blake was awful that night, the MOP (Juan Dixon) turned the ball over seven times, Indiana couldn’t make a shot and Maryland comically teased bettors all night by keeping Indiana right around the number. For my money, until last night, that was the biggest shit show of the past thirty-five years.

But it was challenged in 2006 when Florida and UCLA tossed up an epic clunker in Indianapolis. I was at this one with my Dad and our relationship hasn’t been the same since. And that is because I was so appalled by what I was watching that I bailed on him after the game and decided to wash my disgust down with a steak sandy and a “$5 Shake” from Steak n’ Shake . The keys points from 2006 … UCLA shot 36%, missed 14 of 17 threes, fouled 22 times and never made Florida break a sweat.

All four of these were terrible games but I am afraid that last night set the bar just a bit lower. That is because Butler did something that I thought impossible …. They took the second half of Kentucky’s 1984 semi final loss to Georgetown and they doubled it!

Less you don’t remember, that afternoon in Seattle, Kentucky was 3-33 in the second half. As woeful as that sounds, Butler basically did that all night and against a defense that was NOWHERE near as stout as the 1984 Hoyas.

Listen, I enjoy great defense. And as poor as the shooting was in the first half last night, I excused part of it because both teams were getting after it. But that second half was not about defense. It was about complete futility as Butler missed open shot after open shot.  And UCONN was not much better. In fact, UCONN’s 35% shooting is the second worst I found over the past 35 years, only topped by their opponent last night. In total, there was better offense at the Battle of Somme in 1915 where the two sides fought for months and never advanced more than a few thousand yards.

So it is with great disappointment that I bump 2011 to the top of my list of NCAA Final car wrecks. I had great hope for last night, thinking a Butler win, no matter the specifics, would have been pretty special. But it it just didn’t come together. So instead of remembering 2011 as a watershed year where a true mid-major busted out, it will be remembered as the year that Jared Jeffries was relieved of his belt.

Just a smattering of thoughts to wrap up this tourney ……..

* I would give this tourney a solid B. The Regional Finals obviously carried this year as the Semis were forgettable and the Final was awful. Other rounds grade out like this … The first round fell asleep after the first four hours and came in below plan. The second round had some big moments, including the Pitt-Butler classic, but it doesn’t really stand out. And the regional finals, outside of the Ohio State-Kentucky game and The Derrick Williams Show, came in a bit light. So really, this tourney was all about those Regional Finals which were smoking hot.

* Best Game of the Tourney: My vote goes to Butler-Florida, with Butler-Pitt and Arizona-Connecticut rounding out the podium.

* The best performance of the tourney goes to Derrick Williams and his 32-13 against Duke. There is some competition here (Shevlin Mack versus Pitt) but as always, I give bonus points to the guy who knocks out Duke.

* Worst Coaching Performance of the Tourney: Tie, Tom Izzo’s asinine decision to not press UCLA’s woeful ball handlers until it was far too late and Billy Donovan’s head scratcher against Butler where he stopped feeding his bigs late in the game.  Two NCAA winners: one is guilty of not watching the tape and the other is guilty of not watching the game right in front of him.

* A Special Lifetime Achievement Award for Poor Coaching goes to Bill Self who once again did not have his team focused and energized to play an underdog. Makes you wonder if Self would still have a job if Memphis hadn’t handed Kansas that title in 2008.

* For the record, the Final Four MOP went to a guy who shot 11-34 in the two games. That begs the question, is there any scenario where UCONN won and Walker wasn’t given the award?

* I can’t say I am too thrilled that Jim Calhoun won another title. He remains number one on my list of biggest pricks in coaching and to see him further elevated on account of this win is a bit nauseating. Hopefully, last night will be the catalyst that pushes Calhoun into retirement.

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