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20 Vital Observations From the Elite Eight

How Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, and Kansas advanced, and how I came to crave the $10 box from Pizza Hut

I apologize for being a day late with my thoughts on this weekend’s tournament games. I had a debilitating migraine all day Sunday that I’m pretty sure was caused by the CBS SkyCam. Anyway, here are the 20 vital things I noticed, starting with the most important.

1. The CBS SkyCam is the worst

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I can’t think of a single reason why any camera angle should be used while a game is in progress except the one from the main camera at half court. Had the SkyCam been stationary when CBS cut to it, I don’t think it would’ve been as bad, but all the movement made it difficult to follow the game and surely caused more headaches than just mine. And then there was the issue of the SkyCam occasionally obstructing our view of the game when the half-court camera shot was being used. Hopefully this failed experiment taught CBS that if they want to show dizzying overhead shots during basketball games, they should do so by attaching cameras to remote-controlled flying sharks. That way, at least someone will get some sort of enjoyment from the use of the overhead camera.

2. This year’s tournament has lacked the level of excitement we expect from March Madness

Lehigh beating Duke and Norfolk State beating Missouri certainly were historic and exciting games, but there have been fewer upsets than usual this year and we’ve yet to see a single buzzer-beater in 64 games. Translation: CBS needs to bring back Gus Johnson and they need to bring him back now.

3. Roy Williams is 1-3 as a head coach (for either team) in North Carolina vs. Kansas games

Saturday’s game was surprisingly the least important of the four. The other three meetings all took place in the Final Four, and Williams won only one of them, when his Kansas team beat the Tar Heels in the 1991 national semifinal before losing to Duke in the title game. I know it’s definitely not the case, but because Williams has always struck me as one of the nicest and most down-to-earth coaches in college basketball, a small part of me wonders if there’s something about coaching against his alma mater (UNC) or “second-favorite” team (Kansas) that softens his killer instinct.

4. Florida and North Carolina both fell apart offensively toward the end of their games

Louisville deserves a ton of credit for playing great defense in the second half, for clawing their way back into the game, and for gutting out a win, but Florida certainly helped the Cardinals out by choking. The Gators had one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country all season and scored 41 points against Louisville in the first half, yet in the final eight minutes they could only muster three points. North Carolina didn’t really choke — they were in a dogfight with Kansas all night and they didn’t have their starting point guard. But the Tar Heels still deserve to be called out for having the second-highest scoring offense in the country, pouring in 47 points in the first half, and then managing only three points in the final 8:34.

5. Far too many future NBA players in the Elite Eight showed a tendency to be passive

I’m thinking of forming a support group for fans of North Carolina, Baylor, and Ohio State to meet and complain about how good Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III, and William Buford would be if they asserted themselves and performed with anything resembling consistency. Hell, even though Terrence Jones has been playing his ass off in the tournament, I’d be willing to let Kentucky fans join our meetings if they wanted. And based on Tyshawn Taylor’s rocky tournament, Kansas fans would also be welcome. I’m not sure what it is about them that makes them so nonchalant, but I do know that the potential wins in a season with these guys as a starting five would range anywhere from seven to 37.

6. After seeing their trailers 20 times each, I can’t decide if American Reunion or The Three Stooges will be worse

On one hand, there’s a movie with characters nobody cares about anymore and I honestly can’t figure out why anyone cared about them in the first place. On the other hand, there’s The Three Stooges. The Three Stooges always struck me as a five-minute skit that stretched out way too long, but I still think it will be better than American Reunion because the Stooges trailer gives me the impression that it will be somewhat similar to the original films. That means there’s a chance that some scenes will be mildly amusing. Plus, it’s not the fourth installment of a franchise that should’ve died 13 years ago. But most important, Kate Upton and Sofia Vergara are in the movie, and they offer four reasons why it won’t be a complete waste of time.

7. The Big East tournament is the only conference tournament that matters

After UConn used the momentum they built in last year’s Big East tournament to run the table in the NCAAs, Louisville is taking a similar path. The Cardinals entered their conference tournament having lost four of their last six games, but they have now rattled off eight straight wins and are two wins away from a national title. Meanwhile, the only other conference tournament winner from a BCS conference to make the Sweet 16 was Michigan State, and the Spartans were completely shut down by Louisville Thursday night. To me, this says that the Big East tournament is somehow a great tune-up and momentum builder, while every other conference tournament just makes its winner tired for the big dance.

8. The officiating in the NCAA tournament has become a parody of itself

After the opening weekend featured a couple of needless lane violation calls, an atrocious call at the end of the Syracuse-UNC Asheville game, and a no-call on Alabama’s attempted game-winner against Creighton, NCAA tournament refs were under a great deal of scrutiny heading into weekend no. 2. But rather than rising to the occasion, it’s almost as if they got together and said, “Let’s take our incompetence to another level, so fans will have no choice but to laugh instead of getting mad at our calls.” This became evident when 45 fouls were called in the Kentucky-Indiana game, 48 fouls were called in the Syracuse-Ohio State game, Quincy Acy was called for a flagrant foul on a play that wouldn’t have even been a foul in the 1980s, and Rick Pitino got called for a technical foul for yelling at his own player.

9. Fab Melo’s absence proved to be a bigger deal than Kendall Marshall’s absence

Don’t get me wrong — North Carolina desperately missed Marshall’s ability to control the tempo of the game and get the ball to his teammates when and where they wanted it. But Syracuse lost to Ohio State primarily because the Buckeyes exploited Melo’s absence by attacking the middle of the Orange zone with Jared Sullinger, whereas I never really saw North Carolina struggle as result of the lack of good point guard play. In fact, Stilman White and Justin Watts both played much better than expected.

10. I demand a public apology from whoever is responsible for picking the Most Outstanding Player in the South and East regions

Here are the stats for two Ohio State players in the tournament so far:

Player A — 21.8 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 0.75 assists per game, 52.2 FG%

Player B — 18 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 46.7 FG%

If your job was to pick which of those guys has had a better tournament, wouldn’t you choose Player A without hesitation? And yet, Player B (Jared Sullinger) was named the East’s most outstanding player over Player A (Deshaun Thomas). Sure, Ohio State wouldn’t have beaten Syracuse without Sullinger, but they also would never have made it to the Elite Eight to play Syracuse without Thomas. I initially thought Sullinger won just because he’s a marquee name, but that theory was thrown out the window when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was named the South’s most outstanding player despite this comparison of tournament stats:

Anthony Davis — 14.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.8 apg, 4.5 blocks per game, 54.8 FG%

Terrence Jones — 13.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 bpg, 52.6 FG%

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — 13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 bpg, 51.3 FG%

At least a small part of me could possibly be talked into buying the Sullinger decision. But as great as Kidd-Gilchrist has been, I’m far too rational to ever understand how he beat out Davis and Jones for the South’s MOP award.

11. Kentucky looks unbeatable

If Kentucky wins their next two games as comfortably as they’ve been winning all their tournament matchups, I really think a strong argument could be made that they are the best college basketball team of all time, which is scary for the rest of the country, considering that with a ton of freshmen and sophomores on their roster, most of their team will be back next year.1

12. The Anthony Davis near-catastrophe

Anyone who saw Davis go down holding his knee and furrowing his unibrow in pain with about 18 minutes left in Sunday’s game against Baylor was certain that they had just witnessed college basketball’s best player tear his ACL.2 Like any selfish fan of a team still in the tournament, I was immediately thrilled about this because it meant Ohio State’s title chances got a little better. But then I realized that cheering for an 18-year-old to have a serious injury makes me a terrible person, so I changed my mind and crossed my fingers that his injury wasn’t anything dire. But right as I started patting myself on the back for taking the high road, I realized that I am in fact a terrible person because when Davis stood up from the bench and checked into the game a couple of minutes later, all I could think was, Sonofabitch.

13. Kentucky vs. Louisville on Saturday will be the biggest rivalry game of all time

There are at most only five rivalries in college basketball that have any sort of claim to being a bigger deal than Kentucky-Louisville, and even that is a liberal estimation. Still, of those five, none have ever been played this late in the tournament. In fact, the biggest rivalry game to take place in the Final Four or national title to date is either Georgetown vs. St. John’s in the 1985 Final Four or Michigan vs. Illinois in the 1989 Final Four, and neither of those is in the forefront of most people’s minds when they discuss college basketball rivalries. So yeah, if you live in Louisville and aren’t an 18-25-year-old male, I strongly suggest getting out of town this weekend, because if the Cardinals pull off the upset, there will be all sorts of rioting going on, and if the Cardinals lose, there will be all sorts of rioting going on.

14. The Quincy Acy vs. Sam Thompson underneath-out-of-bounds dunk contest

Acy’s is the dunk of the tournament and is clearly better than Thompson’s, but I still think Thompson has the no. 2 spot locked up and isn’t getting the respect he deserves, probably because CBS was focused on Aaron Craft’s family, cut to the dunk at the last second, and never showed a replay of it. In case you missed either of them, here you go.

15. Clark Kellogg’s vocabulary is superfluous

Kellogg is as nice of a guy as there is in the business, and he is great at what he does, but every time he calls a game I can’t help but notice his vocabulary. I’ve always chuckled at how ridiculous it is when he refers to a basketball as a “pumpkin” or “the orange,” and nothing consistently prompts a facepalm from me more than hearing him say that a player who has fouled out has “Dairy Queened.”3 But this weekend I noticed he also has a habit of using unnecessarily big words, like “effervescent,” “galvanize,” “blitzkrieg,” and “scintillating.” Now, the average person knows what all these words mean and Kellogg never uses them incorrectly, but it still sounds funny when he says them because they’re not words you hear every day. Anyway, the point is that if you didn’t know any better, you might get the impression that Kellogg is using big words just so he sounds smarter, which would be an abominable stratagem forasmuch as most of the populace is adversarial to such affectation.

16. How much will it matter that Kansas and Louisville have had close calls in the tournament, and Ohio State and Kentucky haven’t?

With four narrow wins between both Kansas and Louisville so far in the tournament, even Dick Cheney thinks the Jayhawks and Cardinals are on borrowed time right now. Meanwhile, Kentucky and Ohio State haven’t been in any games yet where they needed to make big plays in the final minute to win. Depending on who you ask, close calls are either good because they show that the team knows how to win, or they are bad because they show that the team isn’t great and is lucky to still be alive. I’m more of a believer in the latter than the former, but I’ve been wrong before, so maybe that experience in close games will prove useful for Kansas and Louisville.

17. All three remaining games could potentially be rematches

The national semifinal games are both rematches from earlier in the year, and if Kentucky and Kansas meet in the national title game it will be another rematch. Part of me thinks this doesn’t really matter because all three games were played before January, but I also think there has to be some sort of psychological element at play. In December, Louisville gave Kentucky a good game in Lexington and Ohio State gave Kansas a good game in Lawrence, so there’s reason for both of those teams to believe they can win on a neutral court, especially in Ohio State’s case since they lost to Kansas without Jared Sullinger.

18. This is about as good of a Final Four as college basketball fans could’ve asked for

With how well they looked for most of the season, it wouldn’t have been all that bad if Syracuse and North Carolina made it instead of Ohio State and Kansas, but without Melo and Marshall it wouldn’t have been the same. As it stands, this semifinal round is stacked with four of the most historic programs in college basketball,4 four of the best defenses, four teams that were ranked in the top five at some point this season, the three best big men (all of whom were just named first team All-Americans), five potential lottery picks in this year’s NBA draft, and one of the most intense rivalries in the sport. If you can’t get excited about that, well, it’s probably because you’re a Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin, or Syracuse fan, in which case I offer my condolences.

19. Which is the better Findlay, Ohio, export — Aaron Craft or Domino’s Parmesan Bread Bites?

Craft is the best perimeter defender in college basketball and plays an irreplaceable role on a Final Four team, which are two things that can’t be said about the Parmesan Bread Bites. But the Bread Bites have also never fouled out of the biggest game of the year like Craft did against Syracuse on Saturday, and since you can get 16 of them for $1 while Craft’s yearly scholarship is worth at least $20,000, the Bread Bites are a far better bargain. This is why I’m giving the slight edge to the Bread Bites for now, but this could easily change if Craft plays well in the Final Four or I actually try the Bread Bites only to find out that they taste like wet farts.

20. The $10 box from Pizza Hut looks phenomenal

Since we’re on the topic of pizza, I feel compelled to mention that if I were in college, every Saturday night would consist of drinking way too much cheap beer, hitting on girls that are much more attractive and sober than I am, convincing myself that they’re irrational lunatics when they turn me down, and heading home alone to order the $10 box from Pizza Hut, which I’d polish off by myself while watching Steven Seagal movies. I know that Pizza Hut is pizza just as much as Tim Tebow is a quarterback, but that commercial has got me hooked either because it’s a ton of food for next to nothing or because they doctored the pizza to look much better than the actual product. Either way, commercials have been a huge subplot to this year’s tournament, and while advertising has made me loathe the Buick Verano, the Chevy Malibu Eco, and whatever the hell Greg Anthony is selling for LG, I want to make sweet, sweet love to some Domino’s Parmesan Bread Bites and the $10 box from Pizza Hut.

Filed Under: Anthony Davis, Events, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, NCAA tournament, Ohio State, People, Sports, Teams

Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

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