2009-10 college basketball review
Let's take a trip down memory lane, recalling some of the great moments in a super college basketball season:
The madness of March
Duke gave Mike Krzyzewski his fourth national championship. The change in the Blue Devils lineup, adding size with Brian Zoubek in the post, was a big difference-maker. Who could forget his performance against Maryland, when the big man put up 16 points and ripped down 17 rebounds? From that moment on, he became a major force on the glass and on defense.
The Big Dance magical moments that immediately come to mind are Northern Iowa's stunner over No. 1 seed Kansas and Ohio University's upset of a talented Georgetown squad. Who could forget the likes of Jordan Eglseder and Ali Farokhmanesh? And Ohio University, a team that went 7-9 in league play during the regular season, blew out the Bulldogs behind the play of Armon Bassett.
There were also great runs by St. Mary's and Cornell. Omar Samhan and the Gaels dominated against Richmond and Villanova. Meanwhile, Steve Donahue and Cornell sent a great message by making it to the Sweet 16 with wins over quality opponents, Temple and Wisconsin. The table was set earlier in the season, when the Big Red went to Lawrence, Kansas and gave the fans in "Rock, chalk, Jayhawk" country something to think about.
Yet the biggest story in the tournament turned out to be Butler. Brad Stevens led his team to wins over UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State before falling two points short against the Dukies in a classic championship clash. Imagine if Gordon Hayward's last shot went in! They would still be rocking and rolling in Indy!
It was still pretty special though. The Bulldogs won the hearts of so many across the nation and even Duke won some over with its guts in getting to the winner's circle in the nail-biter. Kids like Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler did it the right way, as student-athletes working hard. They did it with integrity, my friends.
Coach K joined select company with his fourth title. Only John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (4) and Krzyzewski (4) have accomplished that feat. Coach K loves where he is at, so he said no to the piles of cash reportedly discussed by the New Jersey Nets.
Regular season roundup
Looking back, the season started with an incredible bang out in Lexington, Kentucky. The beginning of the John Calipari era was special as the Wildcats raced out to a 19-0 mark before falling in an upset city game at South Carolina. Calipari enjoyed watching three diaper dandies succeed and develop as players: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe were hot! Their play sent into motion a revitalized Kentucky program that will be a force in the future. The Wildcats will simply reload next season.
Wall was the clear-cut Diaper Dandy of the Year. He was even in the hunt for Player of the Year until Evan Turner came on strong.
Turner's story in Buckeye land was inspirational. He returned from a back injury that sidelined him for six games and went on to become the national Player of the Year. This multi-talented player will be a force on the NBA level, while Thad Matta welcomes in one of the premier recruiting classes in America, led by Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas.
Changing gears, it was a tough season down in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels were 12-4 with wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Nevada. Then the roof caved in for the young squad. Who would have thought that they would falter and not perform like a vintage North Carolina team? Roy Williams' club won five ACC games and lost in the opening round of the league tournament. At least the team rallied and had a strong showing in the NIT, losing to Dayton in the final. That built some momentum going into next season. There will be a chip on their shoulder and Harrison Barnes coming in should help the Tar Heels bounce back.
Syracuse had a superb season as Jim Boeheim won national Coach of the Year honors for the first time in his illustrious career. The Orange had the best All-Marco Polo performer in Wes Johnson, a real difference-maker.
Then there was South Florida. Yes, Stan Heath's club had a great stretch with four straight wins in late January and early February. Two of the victories came against Pittsburgh and at Georgetown. Dominique Jones was brilliant during that run, averaging 35 ppg. He got great basketball publicity at the national level.
It was a fairly rough season in the Pac-10, but I think league success happens in cycles and that it should bounce back. Usually reliable UCLA finished 14-18. Arizona saw its streak on NCAA tournament appearances end at 25 in a row. Washington, however, was able to salvage its campaign. The Huskies made a strong showing in the NCAA tournament, knocking off Marquette and New Mexico en route to the Sweet 16. The club lived up to its potential late, led by Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas.
The Big East, from top to bottom, was the premier conference. The only problem was that they beat up on each other during the regular season. Eight teams made it to the Big Dance, but the Mountaineers were the lone Big East team standing in Indianapolis.
Think about West Virginia and Bob Huggins. Many consider him a tough, hard-nosed guy, but we saw a different side at the Final Four. Huggins shared a tender moment when his star, DaSean Butler, went down with a serious ACL injury in the national semifinal in Indianapolis. Huggins was not worried about Ws and Ls at that point. He was concerned about his player, embracing him and giving him encouragement while he laid there in pain.
Notre Dame lost Luke Harangody to injury and things looked bleak in South Bend. Mike Brey's team staged a great rally and made it into the Big Dance with Harangody back, but they couldn't make it all the way.
The aftershock of a great season has been felt in the coaching profession. So many guys with winning records and longevity at their schools have gotten the ziggy. The pressure of the tournament is obvious. It is all about "What have you done for me lately?" If a coach can't get his program to climb the mountain, it is bye-bye, baby!
Look at what happened to the likes of Dino Gaudio at Wake Forest, Bobby Lutz of Charlotte, and so many others. Close to 40 coaching moves already!
The topic late in the season was expansion. It is not a question of whether or not the tournament will go to 96 teams, but when the change will happen. Is it good for the game? No. But it will put money in the till to help support 88 other NCAA championships. Remember, basketball and football are the two big time revenue producing sports that support everything else. I wish they would look in the camera and say they are doing it for the piles of uncle George Washingtons, the dollars baby! It will ultimately be a great tournament, though it will be watered down.
It was an incredible season for college basketball junkies everywhere. It was magical, and I have been court-side for 31 years. It just gets better and better, baby!
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