Any fan who has ridden the emotional wave to the Final Four and the very lucky ones who got to watch CBS’ One Shining Moment with a tear in their eye knows that feeling. You get that feeling pretty early on in the tournament and sometimes even during the season. However, you refuse to even acknowledge that feeling or let it grow, but you know it’s there. It can be a game you weren’t suppose to win, a realization that a team is coming together, or seeing a player become the best player alive (in college; no offense, LeBron) right before your eyes. In order to spare my editor the pain of rehashing old moments, I will not go through my experiences with the feeling, just know it would involve, UNC at FSU in 09, Duke at UNC in 05, and Sean May. All of these have been on display over the last two weeks, unfortunately not for my beloved Heels, or the Wolfpack.
The week between the Elite 8 and the Final Four can seem like an eternity to the fans involved. The country is introduced to these teams, often for the first times so stories are rehashed ad nauseum. The fan is itching to get going as I assume the players are as well (we often ignore the fact that there are actually players involved). The fans of the remaining four teams all have pretty strong claims to that feeling and they should enjoy every minute of it.
Lets take a look at the case for each:
UConn – UConn fans are most assuredly comparing this incarnation to the 2011 team (at some point I will write about how the NCAA should remove the ’10 and ’11 seasons since they were crap), which was led by Kemba Walker. Shabazz Napier has all the makings of “best player in the tournament” and this team, a 7 seed, does have the makings of a team of destiny a la Oklahoma State, George Mason, Georgia Tech, or LSU from years past (I bet you forgot those teams made it to the Final Four in the last 10 years).
Wisconsin – This one is tough. I hate the Big 10, I hate the awful way in which they attempt to set basketball back to the ’40s, and Wisconsin is the number one offender. However, they appear to be different this year. For a change, they seem to rely on offense more than defense. They have serious “best player in the tournament” potential with Frank Kaminsky. He is averaging 22 points, 7 rebounds, and shooting 60 percent from the field. The win over Arizona makes me question my preconceived notions, but I think karma will come back to them in the form of a poor offensive performance which will lead to the awful clutch and grabbing.
Kentucky – Another tough one for me personally. Kentucky is up there with UCLA, Kansas, UNC and Duke as the best programs all time. The tide had been shifting to UNC during the first half of the Roy Williams era, but Cal has taken the momentum and signed it to recurring one year contracts (sorry, I had to). I don’t hate Cal, I hate Kentucky fans, and that is a big difference. He has figured the system out and built a brand the will lead to success for as long as he keeps it going. That being said…this was a team that started the year as #1 with talk of 40-0; a team Cal even said would be special, so any talk of this team overachieving and Cal’s mastery of motivation needs to back the truck up. This team surely has the look and they are absolutely on fire. They have Julius Randle, who, in the year of the freshmen, is the only one who has actually backed it up when it matters.
Florida – They won’t admit it, but they have been feeling it most of the season. Their only losses are to fellow Final Four teams UConn and Wisconsin, which could have gone either way. They are on a 30 game tear. They have Scottie Wilbekin who can own a game. They have that seasoned coach who wins with veteran teams. They are certainly feeling it and rightly so.
Are you ready to live in a world where Billy Donovan has 3 National Championships? Well get ready.
Florida 65 – Kentucky 61
Remind me to add this year to my discussion about NCAA seasons that should be stricken from the record.
Photo Credit: Will Thomas, Forge Mountain Photo, via Flickr