For UConn, no pleasure in the pain
WASHINGTON -- The cruelty of the Tournament is also its beauty.
The best teams, the most talented teams, don't always win in a one-game-and-done deal.
Connecticut had the most talent. The Huskies were the favorite from the first day of the season and certainly the choice of many once the bracket was unveiled.
Now they're done, beaten by George Mason to conclude the Patriots' historic run to the Final Four.
"Right now, it's hard to look (at the big picture)," UConn's Rudy Gay said. "We didn't play up to what we were supposed to."
The Huskies were supposed to reach the Final Four, but should they really be judged by not earning a berth? You might be able to make the case if Duke, Villanova and Memphis were all waiting in Indianapolis. But none of the four No. 1 seeds made it and this season's "fifth No. 1," Texas, didn't qualify either.
By any measure, UConn had a stellar year. The Huskies won the power-packed Maui Invitational in November, finished 30-4 and shared the Big East regular-season title with Villanova. Sure, there were bumps -- like getting blown out at Marquette -- and some near misses, but the Huskies never lost to a team that didn't make the NCAA Tournament and the Marquette game was the only one in which UConn didn't have a shot to win on the final possession.
"We had our ups and downs, but we had a great season," UConn junior guard Marcus Williams.
The unfortunate aspect of the Huskies' loss is the expectations that are put on this program. Dee Rowe, the former coach at the school, said it's remarkable what Calhoun has done with a program that was hardly a blip on the national radar. There was a time where there wasn't much going on in Storrs, making it hard "to buy a suit, go to the movies, anything." And yet now the expectation is for UConn to be in the Final Four every season. UConn's two national titles and its place among the basketball elite is hard to fathom.
Still, the Huskies were stopped short of Indy and now the chore of retooling begins. No one expected any player to discuss his NBA draft plans after the game, but the reality is Williams, Gay and Josh Boone all could bolt. The Huskies also will lose senior center Hilton Armstrong, forward Ed Nelson and wings Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson.
Don't think the Huskies' cupboard will be bare, though. With power player Jeff Adrien, a rising talent in Marcus Johnson and point guard Craig Austrie returning, and a recruiting class that is one of the best in the country, UConn shouldn't take too much of a step back. That doesn't even include the possible return of highly touted point guard prospect A.J. Price, who was suspended for this season for his role in campus laptop thefts (and also was not medically cleared to play after suffering a brain hemorrhage last season).
After the game, head coach Jim Calhoun had some good perspective.
"This team is walking out 30-4," Calhoun said. "If we keep winning 30 games a year I think we'll be in pretty good shape and we'll win our championships again. We didn't get there this year but we'll do it."
For a team its size, Villanova has been an exceptional rebounding squad all season, but the Wildcats' positive rebounding margin wore down as the season wore on and bottomed out Sunday in Minneapolis.
The Wildcats were pounded 53-40 on the glass by the tall and athletic Florida Gators. Villanova is full of players who rebound well "outside their box," to use a coach's term, but Florida has players who could do the same -- and stand a head taller.
"When you look at the [rebound] stats, they can make you upset," Villanova guard Randy Foye said. "When you look back, you think what you could have done to change it, but you don't do anything now because the game is over with. Florida, they are great. They have a great all-around team. Joakim Noah and (Al) Horford, they are just great on the glass."
Noah and Horford combined for 30 rebounds, with Horford snatching eight on the offensive glass.
Every winter I'm asked the same question: Is this the year all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four? And every winter my answer is the same: The opposite will happen first (as in all four No. 1 seeds falling short).
So here we are. In the 22nd tournament of the 64-team era, one of the top-seed extremes finally has occurred. And, as predicted by both probability and common sense, it is the "no No. 1" extreme we celebrate everywhere except Storrs, Villanova, Durham, and Memphis.
The truth of the matter is that this should have happened sooner (and will again long before 22 more seasons pass). Think about it. For all four No. 1 seeds to advance, the outcome of 16 separate events has to go exactly right. For each of the top seeds to miss, you're essentially taking a 60-team field against only four others (and "the field" gets up to four whacks apiece).
No matter how good the No. 1 seeds are in any given year, their chain is only as strong as the weakest link (or, in this case, the weakest No. 1 seed). The chance that all four top seeds will be head-and-shoulders above the field and be lucky enough to have 16 events go their way is, well, about as likely as George Mason being in the Final Four.
In fact, statistically speaking, it's far less likely.
So today we rejoice in the long-overdue demise of No. 1 seeds. Tomorrow -- later this week, actually -- we'll celebrate the Patriots and use their success to plot a new course for college basketball's postseason.
That, too, is long overdue.
|PHOTO OF THE DAY|
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
George Mason's Folarin Campbell, doing his best impression of Western Kentucky's logo, waves his jersey around in celebration after the Patriots stunned UConn to advance to the Final Four.
Dickie V recaps Sunday
Player of the day
George Mason's Will Thomas, who went for 19 points and 12 rebounds (six offensive) in 44 minutes against the bigger UConn frontcourt to help spearhead the Patriots' 86-84 OT win in the D.C. Regional final. You could have given it to all five Patriots starters, but Thomas' will to win (and funky lefty jump hook) was extraordinary. It also could have gone to Florida's interior tandem (see below).
• Al Horford: 12 pts, 15 rebs (8 off) (75-62 W over 'Nova)
• Randy Foye: 25 pts, 8 rebs (75-62 L to Florida)
• Jai Lewis, GMU: 20 pts, 7 rebs (86-84 OT W over UConn)
• Rudy Gay, UConn: 20 pts, 6 rebs (86-84 OT L to GMU)
• Lamar Butler, GMU: 19 pts, 4 rebs (86-84 OT W over UConn)
• Jeff Adrien, UConn: 17 pts, 7 rebs in 25 mins (86-84 OT L to GMU)
|STATS OF THE DAY|
24.7% -- Villanova's field goal percentage against Florida, leading to a 13-point loss despite taking 19 more shots and committing only six TOs.
25 and 3 -- The number of minutes and points, respectively, George Mason received from its bench in the upset of UConn.
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