Editor's note: We've reached the Final Four in our college hoops dream tournament: LSU-North Carolina and Georgetown-UCLA. Scoop Jackson and Eric Neel hooked up to discuss the matchups.
Scoop Jackson: So what do you think of the Final Four, E? Did it end up the way you thought it would?
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Eric Neel: More or less. I couldn't imagine the Final Four without UCLA and Carolina. I thought LSU was vulnerable, mostly to itself, and Georgetown had some weaknesses, but their matchups (Illinois, Michigan State and Kansas) were pretty favorable. I could see Houston in LSU's spot without a lot of trouble, really, but otherwise I'm not surprised by how it's turned out. How about you?
Scoop: Even though I feel different than you -- in fact, I was very sure about LSU and Georgetown -- I do agree that Houston maybe, shoulda, been there. From the fan standpoint as far as getting voted in, no, I'm not surprised about the squads left standing. What I am shocked at is that Duke is not there. I thought people would vote Duke in on general principle. Maybe I underestimated our peoples.
Eric: Yeah, the Duke thing was one of those illuminating elements of the tournament. Duke has had some very strong teams, relative to their competition in a given year, but they just haven't had big-time players over the years. It's interesting, because on the one hand, it reinforces the Coach K mystique, and on the other hand, it shows the Dukies have clay feet. Try this one on for size, in fact: Best NBA player Duke has ever produced is Elton Brand (and G-Hill second), and he's a guy who walked out on Coach K early
Scoop: I still gotta put G-Hill at No. 1, EB at No. 2. Even though Elton is a beast and has been for years, what Grant did in a short period of time almost puts him in a Gale Sayers type of category. But I'm glad the peoples recognized the fact that great college teams are not always made up of great players. Coach K has a system that's sick, just like Bobby Knight's -- but in this tournament, coaching's not going to win it or else Dale Brown wouldn't still be in it.
Eric: Grant-to-Sayers is right on. Including the brilliant-but-too-brief flash across the nighttime sky. We should call Grant the Durham Comet, actually. Brand's just getting rolling and he's built to last, too. But yes, let's discuss Master Brown. How do you not predict a Dalelicious Meltdown somewhere along the way for this club? When is it coming? Is it the semis? Is it the finals? They've got Shaq, Dale and Pistol rolled into an ego jelly roll even Stanley Roberts can't imagine eating, baby. They're going to go poof at some point, aren't they?
Scoop: See, I figure Press Maravich is on the bench too. And not that Press was a genius or anything, but he's a good balance against Dale. But that's the fantasy of it. Regardless of coaches, to me it's very hard to disregard what these players did on the court. Both Coach Ks (Krzyzewski and Knight) had great college programs, and Coach Wooden and Dean Smith are geniuses, but for LSU to be one of the programs that historically possibly turned out the best basketball players is something I don't think anyone would have thought of. Just look at the averages and combine that with what the players did in the pros. They are unbeatable on paper. I think.
Eric: I'm with you on that. And that adds an appealing against-the-grain element to our Final Four, I think. To me, LSU-North Carolina, for instance, is a little like the old Steelers-Cowboys matchups. The Cowboys were polished and practiced. Smooth as a buffed table top, and just as pretty to look at. But they were kind of robotic, too, kind of cool; not in the Miles Davis way but in the Michelle Pfeiffer way, if you know what I mean. There was always something too detached and inhuman about them. The Steelers, on the other hand, were full of personality and swagger and talent that was volcanic if not always perfectly rehearsed. They smashed mouths. They threw long balls. They messed up on one play and then made up for it with the next. And they never, ever panicked. Maybe LSU is our Steelers, you know? Maybe instead of the safe bet, instead of the iconic programs like Carolina and UCLA, the smart (and fun) pick is the Tigers.
Scoop: I agree. But never did I think Miles Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer in the same sentence. Only you, E. Anyway, with the Tigers being the Steelers, and the Tar Heels being the Cowboys, who wins? I mean, both organizations have rings, so in a one-game battle, who represents? Now I know this may be blasphemous to say, but I don't know if MJ at his best is great enough to overcome Shaq, Pistol, Petit and Mahmoud on their A-games. I know the fans are going to vote UNC over LSU (just like they would the Cowboys over the Steelers), but I'm not sure. Nothing against God23, but I'm just saying
Eric: I'm taking LSU over Carolina. I'll go further. It won't be close. The Tar Heels are quick and they can shoot all over the floor and, of course, they have His Royal Badness (apologies to Prince, but I've just never thought "Airness" sounded near mean enough for what it is Jordan does to folks). But their strengths are matched, as you say, by the Jackson-Pettit-Maravich super hydra, and their weakness, the low blocks, the paint, the bucket, are exposed and abused by Shaq (and even Stanley) the way, frankly, Bugs exposes and abuses MJ in every scene they share in "Space Jam."
What about G-Town vs. UCLA? If Game 1 is Cowboys vs. Steelers, what's Game 2, Redskins vs. Cowboys?
Scoop: Probably not. Even though they have that crazy front line (no small forwards), they don't have enough scoring to keep up with the Bruins. The battle in the paint will be good, I think. Ewing against Lew Alcindor, Mourning against Walton, classic. And again, no one on UCLA's squad is used to seeing anyone like Michael Graham. But Reggie Miller will kill the Hoyas from the outside, and as much as I love AI, he wouldn't shoot a high enough percentage to keep them in this game. His missed shots will be like turnovers against this UCLA team because of how dangerous they are every time they have the ball and how they execute. I hate to say this, being the Georgetown and Coach Thompson fan that I am, but UCLA will have this one wrapped. Easy. Speaking of which, what happened to the upsets in this tournament?
Eric: There were some votes on reputation in the early rounds. Providence got hosed. DePaul was slighted. And Minnesota didn't get the love they deserve. Some of that has to be name-on-the-jersey voting, facts and possibilities be damned. But as the tournament wore on, upsets were harder and harder for me to imagine, too. And that wasn't about rep. It was about these super-all-star squads from the very top programs being nearly unbeatable. I mean, Maryland's got a terrific squad, but the Terps are nowhere near as good as Carolina. And when we're polling the people, we're asking them to pick likely outcomes, to do some armchair analysis, not to imagine one crazy night when the world might get turned upside down the way it was when NC State beat Houston or 'Nova took out Georgetown. Could such a thing happen in our tournament if it were real? Sure it could. Providence could take out Houston or even LSU; on any given night and all that but would I expect someone to vote for that? No way.
Scoop: I feel you. To ask for a collection of upsets in this is naive on our/my part. I'm with you, the Terps had a whip. As did DePaul. But I think it's hard for people to wrap the theory of upsets around teams that have two or three NBA Top 50 players on them. What about the selection committee? I caught some drama on ESPN chat about schools being overlooked. Do you feel that the selection crew did a good job of picking schools and do you feel any school(s) that were missed had a shot at making any real noise?
Eric: The committee did right. Although the St John's faithful can make a legit case for a play-in game, I'll say that. To me, the nagging absences weren't teams so much as players. It was sad not to have Jerry West doing his thing in this imaginary arena. Where, I ask you, were his recruiting coattails, and who left them to shrivel up? And it would have been fun, and it felt wrong not to, imagine the damage the Hick from French Lick could do in all this madness. The same goes for Bernard King and Jason Kidd and, of course, The Doctor. And all that's before we get to talking about the all-time high school squad, right? Which includes Kobe, KG, Tracy, Moses, Jermaine, and who am I leaving off?
Scoop: You are leaving off the great Shawn Kemp and LeBron James.
Eric: Yikes. They can play a little, huh? And what about Amare and Chocolate Thunder? So who are the Bill Willoughby All-Stars, my good man?
Scoop: The starting lineup: Moses at center, Kemp and KG at forwards. KB and LBJ at the guards. Jermaine O'Neal and T-Mac off the bench. Maybe even replace JO with Amare. The question is: Could they win this thing?
Eric: I'm looking at that lineup thinking: Is it even a question?
Scoop: Let's throw it out there. Let's even throw out the all-international, no NCAA team. Dirk, Peja, Yao, Drazen, Oscar, Manu, etc. What would they do in this tourney? As far as the high school squad is concerned, I don't think they lose. Especially if you include Amare. He's the only player who could neutralize the Michael Graham factor that G-Town has over everyone.
Eric: Yeah, bad as he was, Graham is Amare-lite, short on both skills and strength. The Prom Night team is a Final Four lock. They handle Carolina and Georgetown, I think. UCLA gives them trouble and LSU is the one squad with the firepower to match them.
Scoop: I agree, my friend. Just to see Amare and Shawn Kemp in their prime on the court at the same time damn! Who could really stop them? Especially with Moses in the middle. Shaq on his best day would have serious issues with Moses. As would Alcindor and Walton.
Eric: Moses got a big ol' butt and he knows how to use it, but Alcindor and Walton would throw things his way he wouldn't know how to deal with. Like, say, defense out beyond 18 and a little bit of that running game thing. Still, the pre-frosh are a legit challenge to UCLA. And here's the thing that makes them maybe more than just a challenge: KG and Kobe play defense like exactly no one on the UCLA team.
Scoop: The INT squad would hold it down for a minute. But I can't see them in the Final Four. No defense and no superstar big man in the middle. Yao is good, but all four teams have greatness at the 5 spot. Yao ain't there yet. He'd get killed going against any of these dudes. Easily. And you're exactly right about H.S. vs. UCLA! But in a close game, UCLA has the Reggie factor. We cannot forget that. And if UCLA pressed them -- which we know Wooden would do -- the Prom Squad has no true ballhandler to bring the ball up against pressure. That could be their weakness.
Eric: Yeah, the Wizard likes his chances in the cool ballhandling department. But Kobe says the legend shouldn't get too cocky, because No. 8 was planning to bring it up on his own all along. So much for this tourney being straight fantasy, eh?
Scoop: What do you think would have happened if Larry Bird were allowed to be on IU's squad, E? How different would this thing have been?
Eric: They lose to UCLA in the round of eight. Bird is brilliant, but he can't turn Scott May into wine
Scoop: So who do you have in the Finals? And who wins the consolation game? We gotta have the consolation game!
Eric: I've got UCLA vs. LSU in the Final.
Scoop: Me, too. But for some reason I don't see that happenin'. I think the general public is going to have UNC vs. UCLA. That's the dream matchup that began the argument that started this whole thing, and ultimately I think people are going to roll with the programs over the players. Which I can't really be mad at.
Eric: I'm going with Georgetown in the consolation game. They write FB on their shoe rubber and win it for Fred Brown. Your call?
Scoop: Naw, gotta give the conso to UNC. MJ'll give AI drama on D, and pay him back for that cross he gave him in 1996. Plus, Patrick never beat Jordan. I don't think that would start in our tournament.
Eric: You got me. I'm just a sentimental fool at heart. Until Wednesday then
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.
Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2.