Monday, March 24, 2014

Requiem for Wichita State (And Other March Madness thoughts)

Wichita State finally lost their first game of the year, as most expected.  There have been some voices who feel vindicated because WSU didn't survive the first weekend. I'll politely say that those folks are idiots who want to feel smart because this plucky mid-major didn't deserve the attention they got.

So Wichita State didn't play a tough schedule. Do folks realize how hard it is for teams to win every single game? Only two teams in my lifetime have gone perfect through the regular season (1991 UNLV, 2004 St Joseph's before the conference tournament).

2008 Memphis - maybe the best team I've witnessed since 1999 Duke - lost one game prior to the national title game. 2012 Kentucky lost one before they lost again in the SEC title game. I don't care who you are, to win every game is not easy regardless of schedule. One bad game and that's a wrap.

I compare it to watching the No. 1 high school team in California this weekend. Mater Dei is 34-0 and heading to their fourth straight state final appearance. They've played through a tough nonleague schedule, a league that included a fellow state finalist in St. John Bosco and one of the toughest playoff roads in the nation.

Saturday, they were down six to a very good Westchester team with 2:46 left. Mater Dei went on a 12-1 run and hit only one shot. That's right - 10 of 10 free throws.  Their best player, Arizona-bound Stanley Johnson, only took three second half shots and missed them yet he did his damage from the foul line (10 of 11 in the second half)

Sometimes, when you're on a roll, you just find a way to win games where it looks like you shouldn't. It comes down to preparation and execution, not just some intangible like toughness, luck or karma. Winning every game when you know you're facing the best from everyone is not easy. If so, why don't more do it?

That's where I salute Wichita State. They took the best game from a inconsistent Kentucky team and lost by two. They heard the whispers they couldn't compete with a power conference team and they did just that for two brilliant halves. Forget the fact they proved themselves already last year getting to the Final Four.

Yes they took a loss but unlike the 2007 Patriots, they were still underdogs. Instead of criticizing them and calling them frauds/overrated/nitpicking their flaws because that's what folks love to do, salute them for going down fighting. Salute them for battling and without elevating them to the level of a 91 UNLV, 04 St. Joe's or 08 Memphis that was loaded with future pros, just give them respect.

I watched Creighton's last two games to get a read on Doug McDermott's game. I've ignored most of the McDermott hype this year so I didn't feel like he was being an overhyped White guy a la Jimmer Fredette or Adam Morrison. Some made the lazy comparison to Larry Bird (I see you being sly, SI) because that's what folks do whenever a White guy puts up points with a butter jumper.

From what I saw, McDermott has decent footwork. He knows how to score in the post and coming off screens, he's deadly. He's not leadfooted like Morrison and at 6-8, he's not undersized to be an NBA small forward.

He benefited from an offense geared around him. I saw his teammates drive to the basket but look for him at any chance they got. It reminded me of what I read about another father-son college duo - Pistol Pete Maravich, who's father Press built the LSU offense around him so he could be the first/second/third option. Much easier with him as the ballhandler vs. McDermott who benefited from others.

Now for the criticisms. I'd like to see if McDermott can consistently create his own shot in the NBA. Against Baylor, he faced long, athletic defenders that made it tough for him to get open. He also needs to work on his defense since he'll face guys who'll be ready to test him from Day One.

He'll also have to refine his post game even though he has some solid moves down. But he should be a first-round pick. Teams can't pass up a 6-8 guy who knows how to score and is willing to battle down low. It'll be up to McDermott to see if he can thrive in the NBA like his former HS teammate Harrison Barnes.

Oh look!!! Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins played terrible in their regular season (college?) finale. Let's rain down all the criticism about how flawed they are and forget what they did during the season (or how well Stanford and Mercer played them)

Parker and Wiggins are far from finished products. Of course they are, because they're still young. Very few players get drafted and dominate from Day One. But if one game is an indictment of them, thank God those folks aren't paid to be scouts.

Parker is a very good offensive player who could work on finding more ways to affect a game besides scoring. Wiggins has a great nose for the ball, whether it be scoring, offensive rebounding or defense, but needs to more assertive. Neither are fully NBA ready but NBA teams would be foolish to pass them up in the top 5.

I agree there's too much weight put on potential but if guys have way more incentive to go, go get paid to develop. If you want them to stay, then maybe we need some incentive to keep them in school and develop for free. If only we could pay college athletes with something worth more than a scholarship and exposure.....

Yes, I made the mistake of having too much faith on Ohio State and Syracuse despite their fraudulent behavior that made them suspect. Yes, Duke and Kansas let me down. BUT, I still have my Final Four intact! Cheers!!!!

Okay okay, I'm still not near the top of most my pools but fear not. It's not about winning the first weekend, but the second. It's cute seeing folks celebrate their "first-round" winnings but I'm all about celebrating how many Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final 4 teams you have left.

While folks are sprinting out to celebrate, I'm just coasting and then by Sunday, don't be surprised to see them fall back while the real bracketologists parade to the final weekend.

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