College basketball recap in the
By ANDY RUSSELL
greatest basketball state
The title on ESPN might as well have said “Butler gives away National Title,” which they practically had to do between the two teams. It was like watching the Bengals play the Browns, or a third-grade tickle fight. Neither Butler nor UConn wanted the trophy, or at least it seemed that way. In a college basketball season that has seen many games go right down to the wire, games filled with passion, pride and players playing for more than the name on the jersey, the National Championship, the pinnacle of college basketball, was not one of them.
On a muggy, early April evening on Monday night, two teams battled for the national title, albeit two unlikely teams. UConn, a team that was unranked to start the season and picked to finish towards the bottom of the Big East, made their first splash in Maui when Kemba Walker became a household name. Walker, along with teammates Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi and fresh newcomer Jeremy Lamb, put the clamps on opponents defensively and made an immaculate run through the Big East tournament (without a bye) and the NCAA tournament. This was one of the more historic runs made by a team and UConn truly deserved to win the title.
Butler, on the other hand, made a run to the national title game last year and then was beat by Duke after Gordon Heyward’s halfcourt attempt bounced off the front of the rim. Many said they couldn’t do it again after losing two starters simply because the mid-majors don’t have the firepower or recruiting tools to keep up with Kentucky’s, North Carolina’s and Duke’s.
However, Butler wasn’t having it: they still had Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, one of the most dangerous players in the country from anywhere in the gym. Butler proved, for the little guy, that even though you don’t have the best talent or resources in the country, if you play together, putting the team before yourself and making the extra pass, that you can beat anyone in the country.
It’s just too bad their magic couldn’t last, because when it was gone, it sure was gone. Butler shot a measly 18.8 percent from the field in opposed to UConn’s staggering 34 percent. Butler’s shooting woes were an all-time low in the season- ending game, but let’s not take credit away from UConn, whose big guys really stepped out on Shelvin Mack and made his game a shooting nightmare: 4-of-15 from the field with 13 points, the only Bulldog in double figures. Matt Howard was 1-of-13 from the field with a grand total of seven points and Chase Stigall, another deep threat for Butler, was 3-of-11 from the field with nine points. Oriakhi had the best game for UConn, going 5-of-6 from the field with 11 points, 11 boards and four blocks.
As bad as the title game was and, in the words of Kenny Smith, it was “the worst title game in history,” the season was truly one to remember. CBS does their One Shining Moment; it is time for my top moments of the season.
At number 5 I have controversy surrounding Pittsburgh. The first part, a slim loss to St. Johns in the Big East tournament, was surrounded by controversy. Dwight Hardy, a guard from St. Johns, made the gamewinning lay-up at the end of the game. However, it appears that he stepped out of bounds before he made the lay-up, but no call was made.
Pittsburgh would remain the center of controversy during their third round game against Butler with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. With little time left, Shawn Vanzant fouled Gilbert Brown of Pittsburgh and he hit one of the two free throws. Matt Howard of Butler grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 1.4 seconds left in a tie ball game. Howard hit one of two to end the game because the referee called a shooting foul on Pittsburgh when Howard threw the ball 95 feet away from the bucket. Was it a foul? Who knows?
At number 4 I have a collection of young coaches that are making a splash with the best of them: Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart and Sean Miller. Stevens has lead Butler to back-to-back title games while Smart took VCU on a magical run to the Final Four. He was recently offered a job at North Carolina State, but turned it down and signed an 8-year extension at VCU. His base salary increased from $325,000 dollars to a mere 1.2 million dollars per year. Not bad for a guy that’s 33 years young.
Miller has just finished his second season at Arizona and has guided them back to relevance this season with an Elite Eight showdown against Duke that they lost by a bad bounce of the ball off the rim. Coaching isn’t an old fraternity anymore and, if anything, it is becoming younger and more energetic.
At number 3, I have “Jimmer range.” This range, affectionately named after Jimmer Fredette, the crazygood guard from BYU, is more of a collection of stupid shots from a range that made, at times, Reggie Miller gawk. Fredette would pull-up from anywhere at any point during a game and 40 percent of the time would drain it. Fredette dominated many teams this year: he dropped 38 on Wyoming, 43 on San Diego State and 52 on New Mexico. Game, set, match.
At number 2 I have a gut-wrenching performance by Thomas Robinson from Kansas. Robinson, who went home to Washington D.C to care for his 9-year old sister towards the end of January, was compelled to do so because his 37-year old mother passed away from a heart attack. To make things worse, Robinson also recently lost his grandmother and grandfather to sickness, and his grandfather’s funeral was the same week as his mother’s. Robinson was surround by the KU family and his teammates as he dealt with this and two days after his mother’s funeral he scored 17 points to lead Kansas past Kansas State. This was a truly amazing performance and is worthy of recognition. It’s a guy like Robinson that shows the true side of sports and how passion, emotion and team can make a difference in life.
Finally, the number 1 spot, the top moment of the year. This spot is reserved not for a moment, but a state: Kentucky. The state of Kentucky basketball is at a high point this year with so many great post-season performances by teams across the board. First, Pikeville College is worthy of recognition with their first title in history by beating Mountain State in the finals of the NAIA championship. Georgetown also made a great showing in the tournament by making their way to the Fab Four and winning the Mid-South Conference again.
Bellarmine, a Division II team in Louisville, won their first Division II title and the only team outside of Kentucky Wesleyan to do so in the state. Last, but certainly not least, the University of Kentucky out-performed expectations and made an amazing run to the Final Four to put up another banner in Rupp’s rafters. They lost 5 draft picks, yet played as a team. Be proud of your Wildcats.
It has been an amazing post-season for the state of Kentucky and we, as a state, own 2 national titles and two Final Fours, which is nothing to scoff at. This truly shows where you can find the best basketball in the nation, right here in the Bluegrass and that my friends, is a real accomplishment.