A dozen dazzling reflections from '10-'11
Let's look at a journey back through the 2010-11 college hoop season. It really was a great campaign with a lot of super moments.
My VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) has been working overtime since the Final Four ended in Houston with Connecticut cutting down the nets. Let's start by looking at the Huskies, baby!
- Connecticut wins the national title. The Huskies were struggle city at the end of the regular season, but built up momentum by winning five games in five days to capture the Big East championship. People were waiting for Connecticut to wear down, but you could not tell that to Jim Calhoun's young team. Kemba Walker was like Danny Manning and Never Nervous Pervis Ellison when they led their teams to the national championship. Walker just carried his team on his back and got it done. He had the best single season of any Connecticut player, and that is saying a lot when you consider players like Richard Hamilton, Emeka Okafor and Ray Allen. The championship put Calhoun in select company with at least three national titles -- joining the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden; the General, Robert Montgomery Knight; the Baron, Adolph Rupp; and Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski.
- Butler goes to back-to-back national championship games. When the Bulldogs were sitting at 14-9 overall, and 6-5 in the Horizon League, could you have imagined them back in the Final Four? Give me a break! But the great combination of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard did a terrific job. They marched on, utilizing all of their strengths, sharing the basketball, making 3-pointers and playing solid defense, before going ice cold against a tough and tenacious Connecticut squad. Butler and Brad Stevens deserve a salute as they have become the gold standard for mid-majors.
- VCU makes its great run to the Final Four. Did anyone really know the name Shaka Smart prior to the big dance? Come on, few people other than coaches on the inside knew about him and understood he was a rising star after learning under Billy Donovan at Florida. Even making the tournament was impressive for the Rams, as a lot of people, including yours truly, did not feel they belonged on the bubble. Yes, my friends, I did eat some crow! VCU lost five of its last eight before making the tournament. They lost to Georgia State, Northeastern, South Florida and James Madison. Then they found a way to perform at the highest level, making 53 trifectas in five games to beat five major-conference foes --USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Bradford Burgess and company proved they belonged. They ran into a buzzsaw against Butler but had a phenomenal year, enjoying the greatest run ever in the big dance.
- John Calipari gets Kentucky to the Final Four. The Wildcats could not win a game on the road during most of the regular season. Think back to trips to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, and it was heartbreak hotel. They finally got themselves straightened out and their young kids played at the level that was expected. Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb produced but it was the veterans like Josh Harrellson, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins who stepped up and making big plays. The Wildcats beat the best team in America, Ohio State, as well as North Carolina to make the Final Four. Then the free throw line killed them in a defensive battle against the ultimate champion Huskies, going 4-of-12.
- Harrison Barnes comes through after a slow start. Barnes was picked first-team preseason All-America as a diaper dandy, and that was ludicrous. He had not played a minute in college and still got that accolade. He struggled out of the gate, but it was clear that he was talented. By the end of the year he was brilliant, including a 40-point effort in the ACC tournament. He was a legit, impact, big-time diaper dandy. Once he got on a roll he lived up to his billing. That helped fuel the Tar Heels to win the ACC regular-season title.
- Kyrie Irving has a short but sweet college career. He was special right out of the gate. Irving dominated against a pair of talented veteran guards, Jacob Pullen and Kalin Lucas. Irving made them look like an M&M'er, a total mismatch. Then came the toe injury which kept him out until the NCAA tournament. When he returned, he showed his brilliance, though Duke was stunned by Arizona. Now he is gone from the college scene, going early to the NBA draft, where he should be a top three pick.
- Michigan State and Kansas State struggle but make the tourney. Both were highly-ranked, in the top three in the preseason polls. They ultimately slid, and it was struggle city. Kansas State got rejuvenated and beat Kansas, Texas and Missouri. It looked like they turned the corner, taking a disastrous situation and making it more respectable. Michigan State did not have a vintage year, not one Tom Izzo was happy about, even though it made the tourney. Keep an eye on the Spartans next season, as Izzo will lead them to a rebound.
- The Big East puts 11 teams in the field. Wow, and all 11 belonged in the big dance. Come on, the league was the best of the best. Connecticut won the national title. While several others did not fare as well in the tournament, this league dominated the college basketball landscape. Pittsburgh had the tough loss to Butler in the NCAA tourney. Syracuse was upset by Marquette. Still, there were a lot of great moments for the conference.
- Jimmer Fredette has a season to remember. Fredette took home all of the major college hoop awards, leading BYU to a great run in the tourney and in the Mountain West. Fredette was the star of stars through the regular season, putting up a number of super performances, including 52 against New Mexico. His career ended with a tough loss to Florida.
- Ohio State goes 34-3 and enjoys a super season. Yes the Buckeyes lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but it was a great season for Thad Matta and company. Ohio State was the top seed in the NCAA tournament and dominated the Big Ten. Jared Sullinger was the best diaper dandy in America. David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and company enjoyed great success and should not forget a great campaign.
- Steve Lavin helps bring St. John's back to relevant status. The Garden was rocking and rolling when the Red Storm blew out Duke. St. John's was back in the big dance for the first time since 2002, and this program became important again in the Big Apple. They created a buzz that was special and with a top five recruiting class, this program should be back on the college basketball map.
- San Diego State celebrates its best season. Steve Fisher won Coach of the Year honors in some circles and the Aztecs were a legit contender for much of the season. Kawhi Leonard and company were the best out west in many minds.
The tournament was a reality check with buzzer beaters galore. There were bracket busters and surprises all through the tourney. There was quality competition throughout, but the play was not superb. The talent level has been watered down and depleted since my early days, when I saw the Patrick Ewings and Michael Jordans in action. It was a different scene and kids didn't usually leave early.
The competition then was keen but the Golaiths stayed strong. There is more parity now, and the mid-majors often keep their teams together like VCU and Butler. They have familiarity and they know how to play as a team. Many of the big boys face a transition and lose some steam at the end of the season.
There you have it -- a recap of my dazzling dozen reflections of a season recently concluded. I cannot wait for the next one to come along. The name on the front of the jersey is what counts, baby!
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