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March Madness: The Final Four and National Championship Game

Twenty observations about the final weekend of the 2012 NCAA tournament

1. Kentucky’s top seven players surprisingly have very few tattoos

Let’s pretend you didn’t just read the above bolded text and you didn’t know anything about Kentucky’s players. Now, if I told you that the college basketball national champions featured six guys who will likely be on NBA rosters next year, that three of those six will likely be lottery picks, and that a seventh guy has a chance of making the league down the road, and then I asked you to guess how many combined tattoos they all had, wouldn’t you say somewhere in the neighborhood of 257? Yet from what I can tell, there are only five tattoos among the top seven guys — one on the left deltoid of both Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague, one on Teague’s left wrist, one on Teague’s right biceps, and one on Teague’s right triceps. Chances are that I missed a few — they could be hard to see or covered by their uniforms, or maybe I didn’t realize that Anthony Davis’s unibrow was a tat — but the point still stands that Kentucky poses a serious threat to the 2007 Florida team for the title of “national champion with the fewest tattoos in the last 20 years.”

2. As a matter of fact, I do still think that college athletes are dumb jocks

The NCAA has tried all they can throughout the tournament to change the stereotype of college athletes through a PSA that features unconvincing statistics and a condescending women’s basketball player who needs to lose the attitude. But as impressed as I’m supposed to be that NCAA athletes have better SAT scores than other students, the fact remains that a bunch of athletes that nobody cares about are included in that data. The dumb-jock label is only used by the general public to describe guys who play football, basketball, baseball, hockey, or wrestling, and I’m guessing that if you figured out the average SAT score of that group it would be considerably lower than other students’ scores. So no, NCAA, I’m not going to stop thinking that all of the college basketball and football seniors who are majoring in “exploration” are dumb jocks just because a bunch of Division III women’s fencing teams did well on their entrance exams.1

3. William Buford, who is usually the scapegoat for Ohio State fans after losses, was the only Buckeye who had what could be called a “good” game against Kansas

If there’s a silver lining to my alma mater blowing a 13-point lead Saturday night and losing to a less talented team that played awful for stretches,2 it’s that Buford ended his career on a positive note from an individual standpoint. For a guy who very well could be the best four-year player in the history of the program, Buford has been largely unappreciated by OSU fans because of the perception that he disappears in big games.3 But against Kansas in the Final Four, Buford was the only Buckeye who played well on offense, while Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas struggled and Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. were just average.

4. Jeff Withey exceeded my expectations against Jared Sullinger

I didn’t mean any disrespect to Withey when I predicted last week that Sullinger would have his way against the Kansas big man. It’s just that Sullinger typically struggles against bulkier players and has success against guys who could use a little more time in the weight room, no matter how tall they are. But to his credit, Withey held his ground all night long, and with the help of double-teams coming from all angles, Kansas frequently forced Sullinger to take bad shots that led to a 5-19 performance for the Buckeyes’ All-American forward.

5. Ohio State has lost in the tournament by three points or fewer in each of the last four years

If you are or know anyone who is an Ohio sports fan, as you read the above observation, chances are you thought to yourself, Sounds about right.

6. College basketball referees are evil

I don’t mean that they’re evil in the sense that they would ask your freshman sister to prom, bid one dollar higher than you on The Price Is Right, or cut you in line at lunch so they could take the last two Crispitos. No, college basketball refs aren’t quite that evil. But because they call so many charges, they aren’t far off. How does calling charges make them evil? Well, it’s simple: When refs call charges, they typically take something away from an offensive player in an animated fashion and feel no remorse in doing so.

Determining whether a play is a charge on the offense or a block on the defense is thought of as a 50-50 call, in that typically half the time the refs call a charge and half the time they call a block. But in the Final Four, it’s been about a 90-10 split in favor of charges, even though many of the plays were obvious blocks. I initially thought this could be because the act of putting one’s hand behind the head while throwing a punch with the other creates more of an adrenaline rush for the refs, but then I realized that calling a block is essentially a modified version of the D-Generation X “suck it” crotch chop.4 This means that the only explanation as to why the refs called so many charges is because they get some sort of sick pleasure from seeing the look of disbelief on an offensive player’s face after he hears the whistle and thinks he’s about to shoot free throws, but is instead charged with a foul.

7. There’s a chance Rick Pitino has killed someone

I know his Italian heritage has a lot to do with me thinking he has ties to the mafia, but how well Rick Pitino dresses, his ability to go from red-in-the-face angry to suspiciously calm in minutes, and the fact that his hair slicks back without the aid of gel also contribute to this notion. I’m not saying that he has definitely killed someone, but I am saying that if I would’ve been in the room when he was coaching the Celtics and he said, “Larry Bird is not walking through that door,” I would’ve assumed that it was because Bird crossed Pitino and got a mouthful of tommy gun as a result.

8. I’m pretty sure I’m the only non-Louisville fan who didn’t hate the Cardinals’ jerseys

Ever since Oregon football popularized alternate uniforms a few years ago and apparently offended every senior citizen sports fan in the process, various college football and basketball teams have followed suit and created unconventional alternate uniforms for special occasions. The most notable examples in college basketball this year were Adidas’s postseason uniforms for Baylor, Cincinnati, and Louisville, which featured highlighter colors and Zubaz-like shorts. Like Oregon’s uniforms before them, most fans criticized Adidas’s special threads throughout the tournament, including when Louisville wore salmon-colored uniforms on Saturday.5 And as with Oregon’s uniforms, I don’t understand why there’s such overwhelming disdain for them because I thought they were pretty awesome.

9. The Fray

Their national anthem was so awful that I don’t even need to say anything more than “The Fray” for you to know exactly what I’m talking about. I know that for a lot of people the atrocious anthems from Carl Lewis and Roseanne Barr can never be topped, but it’s not hyperbole when I say The Fray’s anthem last night was the worst I’ve ever heard. And I say this as a guy who considers himself somewhat of a fan of The Fray, which is really just my way of saying that I got to third base with a chick in high school as The Fray played in the background.

What made their rendition so bad was that even though they sang the right words, it was in no way the right song. I get the concept of putting their own twist on the anthem, but what they did wasn’t like what Steven Tyler does with his national anthems. No, what The Fray did was just have a couple of dudes play random chords on their out-of-tune guitars while a third guy sporadically banged a drum and tambourine, and the bald guy sang the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I mean, if they’re going to just sing the lyrics over a random tune, they might as well have had a guy playing a pan flute and a guy playing a recorder join … well … the fray.

10. Nobody in America improved more from November to April than Marquis Teague

In November and December, Teague looked like he would be Kentucky’s weak link for the entire season. A lot of this has to do with the fact that he was a freshman point guard getting his feet wet in big-time college basketball, but most of his teammates were also freshmen and they didn’t seem to be struggling as much. Back then, Teague looked lost on offense and very unsure of himself. Throughout the tournament, however, it was a completely different story. Teague took care of the ball, managed the offense, knocked down jump shots, and picked his spots beautifully.

11. At no point during the national title game did Conner Teahan not have a furrowed brow

I implore you to prove me wrong.

12. The two best players in the country played like it in the biggest game of the year

Even though Kansas made it mildly exciting in the end, there wasn’t anything too memorable about the championship game, except for the performances from Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson. Davis went just 1-10 from the field and finished with six points, yet if you knew nothing about who was supposed to be good in college basketball and you watched any three-minute stretch of Monday’s game, you would’ve been able to tell right away that he was by far the best player on the court. Meanwhile, Robinson, right after publicly saying he thought he should’ve been named national player of the year over Davis, overcame a rocky start to back up his claim with 18 points and 17 rebounds.

13. Kentucky’s bench prematurely peeled off their warm-ups in the national championship game

Shortly after halftime, Kentucky’s walk-ons took off their warm-ups as they sat on the bench. I get that it was the national championship and they wanted to show off their last names for the fans sitting behind them, but no matter the circumstances or how big of a game it is, the most sacred rule for walk-ons is that you never peel off the warm-up top until it’s time to go into the game. Never. It’s no wonder that Kansas came back and made the game interesting. And honestly, blatant sacrilege like that is more than enough for Kentucky’s national title to be vacated, so I’m curious to see how the NCAA handles this one.

14. Kyle Wiltjer and Eloy Vargas blew their shot at immortality by ruining their national championship trillions

First, let me give props to Kansas’s Justin Wesley for getting a 2 trillion in last night’s game, which is something I’m sure he’ll be proud to tell his grandkids about in 50 years. Now, I’d hate to take anything away from Wesley and I have no shame in admitting that I’m jealous of him, but at the same time it’s hard to ignore the fact that his accomplishment loses a bit of its luster because Kansas lost. This is why I was hoping that someone on Kentucky would appreciate the magnitude of the game and put up a legitimate championship trillion. But instead, Vargas committed a foul in the first half and Wiltjer took an unnecessary 3-point attempt in the second half, and in the process each blew his chance at greatness. I’m sure they both had their reasons for keeping their names out of the history books, but I just hope that the overwhelming regret they’ll feel in the next few years doesn’t haunt them to their graves.

15. Jim Nantz’s line as the time ran out Monday night was a half-assed effort

Nantz has made it a tradition to unleash a scripted corny pun as the clock runs out in national championship games, and last night was almost no different. The only problem was that his line, “And the Kentucky coronation is complete — champions 2012!” wasn’t a pun at all. By definition, all puns are stupid and worthy of a facepalm (except, of course, my previous pun about The Fray), but I still enjoy hearing what Nantz comes up with every year if only because I’m a fan of awesomely bad things. This year, though, he was a huge disappointment, not only because his line wasn’t a pun, but also because it was bad without being awesome and it was clearly scripted.6 Nantz can do better and he knows it.

16. Kentucky’s championship hats were as awful as their shirts were cool

In case you went to bed after the game and didn’t see the postgame celebration, here are the shirt and hat I’m referring to. There’s no denying that the shirt is something we’d all be going crazy for if our team won the title, but the hat looks less like a national championship hat and more like something a skateboarder who is sponsored by a company called “No-1” would wear.

17. I’m not sure what this championship will mean for John Calipari’s legacy

For the past few years, Calipari has been considered by many to be the best active college basketball coach to have not won a national championship, presumably because those people aren’t aware that Bob Huggins is still coaching. Anyway, now that Calipari has a title under his belt, you would think that he would be considered one of the five best coaches in the game today. But for a majority of college basketball fans, it’s impossible to ignore that each of his Final Four trips before getting to Kentucky were vacated for NCAA violations committed by two of the best players he’s ever coached.
Kentucky fans and Calipari apologists will tell you that Coach Cal had nothing to do with the violations, while haters think he took Derrick Rose’s SAT for him and struck a deal with an agent to float Marcus Camby some money under the table. As is always the case with these things, the truth is somewhere in between. But whatever the case, it will be interesting to see if 15 years from now this Kentucky title hasn’t been vacated by the NCAA, and to see whether the general public will acknowledge it as a legitimate championship or will continue assuming that Calipari cheated to win.

18. From start to finish, this was one of the most boring NCAA tournaments in recent memory

If I remember anything about this tournament 10 years from now, it will likely be one of the following things: the terrible officiating, what-ifs for Syracuse and North Carolina, Missouri and Duke getting upset in the first round, Syracuse almost getting upset in the first round, no Gus Johnson, no buzzer-beaters, CBS’s SkyCam giving me a migraine, Kentucky dominating, Bo Ryan saving his timeout for the offseason, The Fray taking a dump on the national anthem, or the same seven commercials being shown 493 times each. Of those 11 things, only Missouri and Duke losing and Syracuse almost losing in the first round are things that could be classified as “exciting.” So yeah, even though this year’s national championship was infinitely more entertaining than last year’s, the tournament altogether was pretty bland.

19. “One Shining Moment” never fails to deliver

Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that it never fails to deliver. But the Jennifer Hudson debacle aside, after spending four weeks picking on everything CBS screwed up in their tournament coverage, it’s only fair that I praise them for yet another chill-inducing “One Shining Moment.” With how boring this year’s tournament was, I had my doubts as to whether CBS would be able to make lemonade out of the lack of highlights, but they most certainly did. I guess if Luther Vandross’s smoothness was laid over a video of Jeff Withey shaving his neck beard, it would probably still give me chills, but CBS deserves credit for another job well done.

20. Like it always does, the tournament flew by this year

It feels like the tournament started last week, but as impossible as it is to believe, it was actually 21 days ago that … IT STARTED WITH A WHISPER!!!

Filed Under: Anthony Davis, Events, Kentucky, Louisville, March Madness, Ohio State, People, 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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