It’s hard to believe that…

…I’m going to try something new with the blog. So I will need some feedback from my myriad of readers to let me know how the audience receives it.
The Final Four is set. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet almost no one was expecting it to turn out as it did. So, I’m going to take a page out of our good friend Defibrillator’s book. In that blog post, he used a sort of theme for the entire time. I’m going to use a similar theme. It’s basically an “It’s hard to believe that…” section. I will mix in some personal stuff and fill a lot of it with sports. Here goes nothing.

It’s hard to believe that:
-It’s almost April of my junior year.

-@bryce_stuck just got married. ‘Twas a beautiful ceremony and celebration enjoyed with some great people. A special shout out and congratulations to the newest Mr. and Mrs. Stuckenschneider. Defibrillator had a great song on his blog that I feel beautifully portrays an event like last night’s.

-The NCAA Tournament is almost over.

-Bob Huggins is in the Final Four with a team not wearing red and black. Even though it’s been five years since Huggs left Cincy, it’s hard to think he wouldn’t have had the Bearcats in the same spot if he’d have stayed. I’m happy as can be that he’s in the Final Four and I picked his Mountaineers to win it all, but it makes me think of what could have been.

-Donald Little hit this shot. The ultimate “No no no no…YES!” shot. What a game it was. Dwyane Wade vs. Steve Logan. Even though the world only remembers one of them now, little Mr. Logan was the real deal with the Bearcats.

No real reason to post that video except for the fact that I wanted to remind myself of the Golden Age when Huggs was at the helm.

-The John Wall Dance has become such a phenomenon. Really, it’s not even a dance. What is amazing, though, is how he can look so cool doing it and so many other people can look so stupid doing it. Except for a certain little kid and Dora the Explorer (1:32):

-The John Wall Dance is so much cooler and more satisfying to watch when players from West Virginia are doing it after beating UK in the Elite Eight (:46).

And, to any friends from Mizzou who may be reading this, how much does Deniz Kilicli remind you of @amicks_beard? The resemblance is uncanny.

-People have taken the time to not only research all of this info about the NCAA Tourney, but that someone else was willing to put it all together in one place. An absolutely great read/time-waster for someone who loves March Madness as much as I do.

-K-State/Xavier game on Thursday night. An absolutely unbelievable effort from both sides. Jordan Crawford is just silly good. Not a chance he’s back to Xavier next season which, as a Cincinnati fan, is good news. Kid averaged almost 30 ppg in the tourney. He’s as cocky as they come, but his extreme confidence is probably justified. I mean, honestly, did you see that triple he hit to send the game into double OT? Ridiculous.

But, as I tweeted right after the game, the real winner of this instant classic was Butler. That proved true a few days later.

-I was right (haha…not really “hard to believe”, though). I was heavily criticized on air no more than four nights ago by 5th Down co-host Chris Vlahos for boldly predicting that WVU would defeat Kentucky. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what they did.
I said inexperience would hurt the Wildcats. I don’t know how much that was really a factor. Maybe a more experienced team stops firing threes after missing their first 20. Or maybe a more experienced team keeps shooting them because they don’t get rattled. I wasn’t able to watch the game (due to the wedding mentioned above), so I don’t know if it was simply poor shooting or if WVU’s defense played a big role.
I don’t know if inexperience was the reason Kentucky only made 16 of 29 free throws. I do know poor free throw shooting has hurt Calipari’s teams in the past.
I said physical team defense would frustrate DeMarcus Cousins and slow down John Wall. Cousins had 15 points and eight boards while Wall chalked up 19/9/5. That’s not exactly a frustrating performance for Cousins and it doesn’t sound like Wall was slowed down all that much.
Joe Mazzulla was huge. After one of the sloppiest wins in the tournament thus far (23 turnovers, I believe) in the Sweet 16 against Washington, it looked like the Mountaineers were really going to miss Truck Bryant. After what Mazzulla did Saturday, maybe they won’t. A career-high 17 points and only two turnovers. Pretty solid considering the circumstances.
Essentially I’m telling you my reasoning for why West Virginia would win that game was way off. But my prediction that they’d win it was spot on.

-Hitler was expecting Kansas and Maryland to win their second-round games. I know there have been a bunch of these – like the one about the Reds or the one about Bronson Arroyo – but this one’s still kinda funny.

And not only did Kansas lose, but someone else ruined the Fuhrer’s projected Sweet 16 match-up between the Jayhawks and the Terps…

-Michigan State keeps finding a way to win. I said it’d be all Tom Izzo if the Spartans were going to stay alive. While I think his basketball genius has played a huge role, the play of guys like Darrell Summers and Draymond Green has kept Sparty afloat. Summers was a disgustingly good 8 for 10 from the field yesterday for 21 points. He averaged about 10 ppg during the season. That’s up to 20 ppg during the NCAA Tourney. Green has made two great passes to set up the game-winning scores against Maryland in the second round and Sunday against Tennessee.
That being said, the foul on JP Prince was not a foul. Everyone expected it to be a foul, so the ref blew the whistle. It’s unfortunate when the officials decide a game, especially when it means the end of a season (and possibly career) for some of the players.
But you’ve gotta give Michigan State credit. This team looked borderline dysfunctional at times this season after lofty pre-season expectations. Now, they’ve got injury issues on top of that, yet they’re still playing, and playing better than they have all year.

-Tom Izzo’s been to six Final Fours in the last 12 years. The man is a master in March. It shouldn’t be surprising anymore, but it’s still pretty freaking impressive. 6-1 in regional finals all-time. He’s now 16-3 on the second day of the weekend in an NCAA Tourney. So, when he has only one day to get his team ready for a new opponent, he wins 84% of the time.

-Duke won without Kyle Singler making a single field goal. And that was the first time in his college career (108 games, I think) he didn’t hit a single shot for an entire game. Baylor has exceptional athleticism and length inside. They have two stellar perimeter players, as well. You’d think if Singler, Scheyer or Smith had a really bad day, the Bears would be headed to Indy. Instead, Brian Zoubek, the Plumlee brothers and (especially) Lance Thomas show up big time in the second half, grab offensive rebound after offensive rebound, then find Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer to hit big shots and secure the victory. It was especially neat watching Nolan Smith fill it up: a career-high 29 points when his team needed it most in a game he dedicated to his late father, Derrick.

Nolan Smith's pre-game tweet before a career game in his father's memory.


Really neat to see him come out and play like that for his dad. ESPN’s Dana O’Neil writes a great piece on Smith’s career game and his love for his father. The OTL video at the time is a good one, too.

-People act like Duke had been in some sort of “drought” because they hadn’t been to the Final Four since 2004. I barely even remember the last time my favorite team made the Final Four (1992). Baylor hadn’t been there since the 1950s. Tennessee still has never made it. I get that Duke’s a perennial power and Coach K’s amazing at what he does, but one Final Four in six years as a drought? I’d say that pretty much sums up how ridiculous our society’s expectations are.

-Butler is in the Final Four. Not that Butler isn’t a great team. Not that they don’t deserve to be there. Not that it’s even all that surprising that they are there. Quite the contrary, actually. It’s just hard to believe that a “mid-major” team from the Horizon League is in the Final Four and it isn’t shocking. This isn’t George Mason. This team’s been highly touted for most of the year. They’ve gotten respect from the pollsters. They’ve beaten plenty of good teams. Hell, they’re on a 24 game winning streak. They haven’t lost in 2010. This team is legit. Before being criticized for that West Virginia pick mentioned above, I had said Butler had the best chance of a Sweet 16 upset because they shoot the ball well and their defense is fantastic. I don’t know if those things will translate to victories at home in Indy, but don’t think this is some sort of “Cinderella story.” Butler’s legit.

-It took 1000 Awesome Things 460 “awesome things” before realizing the awesomeness that is “The TV Treasure Chest Moment.”

-Pat Forde and Dana O’Neil picked Butler to make the Final Four back in November. In fact, both of them had two teams correct. Those two teams will be facing off against each other next week in Lucas Oil Stadium: Michigan State and Butler.
And both of them said the same things I mentioned above when making their “bold predictions.”

“…its shooting and defense will see it through to a homecoming in Indianapolis.”
–Pat Forde

“Butler more resembles a legit power team than anyone’s classic underdog. Call the Bulldogs whatever you want. I call them one of the last four teams standing in April.”
–Dana O’Neil

And while we’re talking Final Four, Andy Katz put together some good stuff to preview college basketball’s last weekend of the season. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish breaks down the unexpected Final Four, as well.

-People don’t realize how amazing this Final Four really is. You have three coaches with hall of fame caliber resumes. Huggins probably isn’t all the way up to the top tier just yet, but he’s close. Coach K and Tom Izzo are the two winningest coaches (percentage-wise) in NCAA Tournament history. Brad Stevens is college coaching’s rising star. He’s taken Butler somewhere it’s never been before, and I think his success will do one of two things: 1) Take him to a bigger program where his success will continue or 2) He’ll stay at Butler and build something like we saw with Mark Few and Gonzaga.
Still, even apart from the coaches, it’s a great Final Four. There are some very good players: Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Kory Lucious, Durrell Summers, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Pretty solid line-up on the sidelines and the court. You’d be crazy to not want to tune in.

-The boneless filet from KFC isn’t nearly as disgusting as one might initially think. Even though the box (one boneless filet, one biscuit, one side and a drink) is pretty overpriced at $5, it wasn’t half bad. But the boneless filet (which I dubbed a “fist full of chicken”) isn’t as big as they make it out to be. So kudos to the KFC marketing team; you fooled me.

The boneless filet from KFC - not as big or as disgusting as you might think.

-A walk-on has become such a big deal in Columbus. Mark Titus has done almost nothing for the Ohio State basketball team over the last four years (which he openly admits). But his blog is oustanding. Even Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle talked about how much they loved it on SportsNation. I showed you his “Mr. Rainmaker” video at some point here. Even though one writer thinks he should be kicked off the team (because of this article), Titus has done some pretty neat things.
One of those things is simply the idea of his blog. It gives us a unique look at the inside. Not many athletes do that, and he does it in an entertaining way.
He even gives some kids hope. In a great reflective post after Senior Night about his time at Ohio State, Titus made a point that I thought was really, really cool.

“It was meant to be a place for me to screw around and tell funny stories (and in a lot of ways it still is), but when I get e-mails from high school kids telling me they were depressed about riding the bench until they saw my blog, it makes this so much more than a forum for my subpar jokes.”

The man knows how to celebrate. Here he is after Evan Turner’s game-winner in the opening round of the Big Ten Tourney (he’s the guy in the sling, with the towel):

And his ability to get some serious TV time is impressive, too. Check him out after the Big Ten Championship, beautifully setting up shop over Thad’s shoulder.
On top of that, Titus has also sold “Club Tril” t-shirts to benefit “A Kid Again”, a local charity in Columbus that looks to enhance the quality of life for kids suffering from life-threatening illnesses. You can knock him all you want, but that’s pretty freaking cool.
And now, Titus can lay claim to a new honor: The Extra Special Buckeye Award. Oval Brewery honors an OSU student-athlete every year. Titus takes home the prize this year. So that’s pretty cool.

-I could win every bracket pool I entered if West Virginia wins it all in Indianapolis this weekend.

-That would mark the first time in my life that it’s ever happened.
**I made that two different “It’s hard to believe that…” entries because I assume all my loyal readers are astonished to find that such a brilliant mind has never won a bracket pool with my extensive sports knowledge.**

-This kid would really do these 23 tasks to keep LeBron in Cleveland. As much as athletes tell the fans they appreciate them, more often than not, they don’t really care what you do to “show your loyalty.”

-Guys don’t give this application to girls before a first date. I think we can all agree most guys are mentally filling it out for their dates anyway. They’re just too lazy print it out and bring it. So, to the (probably countless) girls looking to date me, please print that out and fill it out before I (possibly) spend money on you.

-There haven’t been more great athlete rants with this guy writing them.

Okay, enough with the themed part. Now I move on and give you my predictions for the Final Four. I know you’ve all been anxiously reading wondering when they’d come, so here it is:

-As I said before, Tom Izzo is incredible. Michigan State is hot. They’ve played great basketball in the tourney, even without Big Ten POY Kalin Lucas. Summers has been huge and everyone else is contributing enough to help the Spartans keep winning. With the mastery of Tom Izzo in March, it’s really tough to pick against this team. They’re finally playing like everyone expected them to in the pre-season.
-Butler’s even hotter than Michigan State. They’ve won 24 straight, including knocking off Big East regular season champ Syracuse, and Big 12 runner-up Kansas State and beating two very underrated squads in UTEP and Murray State. They’ve dictated the pace of the game all season long. Their sharp defense and good shooting has made them the “darling” of the Final Four. They’ve got the whole “Hoosiers”-esque storyline as they play in Indianapolis only seven miles away from campus against the “big boys” of college hoops.
PREDICTION
-Michigan State can grind it out and they can run. They’ve got athletes all over the floor that could give Butler trouble. Syracuse and K-State were two teams that liked to get out and run. It’ll be tough for Butler to really dictate the pace when the Spartans are comfortable going fast or slowing it down.
Michigan State plays very good defense – you have to when you play in the Big Ten. Butler will throw a very balanced attack at them. Tennessee did, too, on Sunday in what was one of the most well-played games we’ve seen in this tournament. The Spartans stood strong, fought off everything the Vols had, and held on for the win. But I think that balanced attack of Butler shoots the ball a lot better and poses more versatile threats than Tennessee did. Butler also plays great team defense and rebounds very well. They’re really pretty similar to a Big Ten team. And they’re comfortable slowing it down, too.
All things considered, you never bet against Tom Izzo in March. But this game’s being played in April. Butler coach Brad Stevens says his team has talked about “resolve” all year. Like he said, “It’s hard to measure, but they’ve got it.” I take Butler to continue the dream with a win. 66-58 sounds good.

-Duke rebounds the ball extremely well (39.5 rpg), especially offensively. They’re very deep in the frontcourt with the Plumlee’s, Thomas and Zoubek. They’re experienced. The Plumlee brothers and Andre Dawkins are the only players who get significant playing time that aren’t upperclassmen. The rest of them, from Thomas to Singler to Zoubek, are juniors or seniors. The guys Duke has handling the ball most often (Singler, Scheyer, Smith) are unflappable. All three of those guys don’t mind having the ball in their hands at any time and all three can shoot the ball from everywhere, including free throws down the stretch.
-West Virginia has played only one team seeded better than 10th. Of course, that team was Kentucky – a team many people thought would win it. They played a zone to try and slow down an explosive Wildcat offense. They slowed them down and controlled the pace of the game (just like they did to Missouri and Washington) and made Kentucky work for everything. Partially due to the Mountaineers’ defense and partially due to Kentucky’s poor shooting (nerves? inexperience? we may never know), UK went 4 of 32 from three-point range. West Virginia is a great rebounding team, as well (38.9 rpg). But they were outrebounded by Kentucky’s big men, 45-39, including 22-9 on the offensive glass. You could attribute that to the fact that Kentucky missed a lot more shots, but I don’t know if that’s the case.
PREDICTION
-West Virginia can’t count on Duke shooting 12.5% from distance like UK did. Singler, Scheyer and Smith are better shooters than Wall or Bledsoe. West Virginia can’t expect to shoot 43% from deep like they did against UK. They actually only shoot 33% from beyond the arc on the season. And Duke has more size in the middle than Kentucky. While Calipari’s squad could throw Cousins and Patterson at you, Coach K’s got Zoubek, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Lance Thomas.
Baylor had more size and athleticism than Huggins’ squad has and the Bears couldn’t keep the Dukies off the boards. West Virginia does average more offensive rebounds per game (15.5) than Duke (14.4), though, and they did it in a very strong and physical conference – far more physical than the ACC. But after watching Zoubek take a pounding inside in each of the Blue Devils’ tournament games, I have a hard time saying the Mountaineers can control the game physically.
Both teams play good team defense. I think this might be the one place West Virginia has an advantage. The Mountaineers’ starting five has size and length that might help disrupt Duke’s shooters. Guys like Ebanks or Butler can defend the perimeter and they stand at 6’9″ and 6’7″, respectively. They can both move like guards. The shortest guy West Virginia would start would be a 6’2″ point guard (Mazzulla or Bryant). That size and the team’s athleticism could help disrupt Duke’s perimeter players.
This semi-final also matches two of the better coaching minds in the game right now. But only one of them has made it past this point before. And he’s done it more than once. On the sideline, you have to give the edge to Coach K. That’s the one advantage WVU had against Kentucky (Huggins moved to 8-1 against John Calipari with the Elite Eight win). On paper, you have to like Duke. Just like you had to like Kentucky. It may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but I will take the Mountaineers to win, 75-72.
CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
-Butler runs into the same problems with WVU that they (in my prediction above) have already overcome two nights prior against Michigan State – an athletic team that can run or grind it out. Both teams play great man-to-man defense and do a great job of defending as a team. Butler packs the lane and really cuts off penetration. West Virginia challenges shots and crashes the boards. Everyone wants to see Butler make the dream come true – to witness a real-life “Hoosiers” ending, if you will. “Everyone” doesn’t include me. Again, it might just be wishful thinking, but I say Bobby Huggins brings home his first national title and I win a bracket pool for the first time in my young life. Go Mountaineers.

Then we all get to watch “One Shining Moment”. There are no losers when you’re watching it. Unless, of course, it’s Jennifer Hudson performing it. I feel like a few of my (approximately four) readers have significant influence in CBS. Maybe one of you could convince the network to go back to Teddy Pendergrass or Luther Vandross. Because both of them were awesome. I fear Jennifer won’t do it justice. But, really, how can we expect her to live up to something like this:

Or this:

The Masters is also right around the corner. Get excited. Because I am. I will be back after the Final Four to give you a little Augusta preview. It’s gonna be awesome!

Now I leave you with some fun little videos.
-Remember when we all used to try to jump up and grab the net? Then how we’d have to prove to our friends we could touch the backboard? And eventually even the rim? I’ll bet you never thought that was dangerous…

-That kid could have taken some notes from these guys. They’ve got mats under the hoop to break the fall. They probably thought the fall would be the only thing being broken, though…

The glass didn’t just break. It freaking exploded. That was cool.

-This one will either be really annoying or really funny. Hopefully you don’t judge me based on the fact that it’s on my blog.

-I’m too embarrassed to end with “Who Let the Clowns Out”, so here’s one of the best beer commercials you’ll ever see.

Altiora.

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~ by nchaney3 on March 29, 2010.

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