Wednesday Final Four Commentary

Andy Glockner, SI.com: Tom Izzo is the best college basketball coach in America. Relax, North Carolina and Duke fans. No one’s slighting your leading men or their career accomplishments. We’re talking about right now, this very moment, two days after Izzo pulled off the near-impossible and made Michigan State’s three-year turn-of-last-decade run now look more like the rule rather than the exception. Think last season’s dramatic push to the national title game in Detroit with a youthful roster was stirring? This year’s Spartans have overcome a leadership void, player-coach discontent and a back-stiffening gym-floor sleepover in addition to the late rash of injuries. Their quartet of NCAA tournament wins are highlighted by a crucial lane violation, a buzzer-beating three and the country’s largest temporary (and most loquacious) point guard dropping a delicious dime that helped beat Tennessee. And let’s be honest: On the list of legendary college basketball settings, how long after Westwood, Lawrence, Chapel Hill and Durham would it take to finally get to East Lansing? Izzo doesn’t get enough credit for the level of talent he brings in, considering he’s selling kids on winters in central Michigan. Meanwhile, Roy Williams’ office phone has a golden arches insignia on it.

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Early-week Final Four commentary

Rick Reilly, ESPN.com: There’s no point in going over all the reasons Huggins is bad for basketball. That’s just kicking a man when he’s up. And boy, is Huggs up. Eighteen years after his last Final Four, eight years after his heart attack in the Pittsburgh airport, six years after his DUI, five years after choosing to “resign” over “be fired” at Cincinnati (where he had four years of 0.0 graduation rate), three years after pulling a one-and-done at Kansas State and leaving them with a crazy-eyed, death-staring Huggins wannabe named Frank Martin, the world is cuddling The Huggy Bear again. “The first time I heard he was coming,” remembers West Virginia’s best player, Da’Sean Butler, “I was like, ‘I’m getting ready to go to Michigan.’ But I’m glad I didn’t leave. It’s been great. I’d be doing all kind of nothing right now.”

John Feinstein, Washington Post: There may not be such a thing as a perfect Final Four, but the one that will begin on Saturday in Indianapolis comes pretty close. It has a Cinderella practically playing on its home court. It has a team that hasn’t been to the Final Four in 51 years but is going back after a prodigal son came home. It has a team whose coach always seems to find a way this time of year, playing in its sixth Final Four in 12 seasons. And it has a villain, the team people love to hate, whether because it wins so often or because people have to have someone to root against once their team has gone home.

Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star: History and common sense tell you a school with an enrollment of 4,200 students, a mid-major affiliation and, most important, mid-major revenues, shouldn’t be able to stare down the likes of No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Kansas State. The coaches and players, though, weren’t satisfied with being this cute little underdog story who upsets one or two teams and reaches the Sweet Sixteen every few years… How many times have they been told this year they were too small and too, ahem, un-athletic (which, let’s be honest, is code for “too white”)? Here’s what we saw all tournament, and especially Saturday against massive Kansas State: Butler outrebounded the Wildcats by 12. Twelve… The “Hoosiers” comparisons began again after the game, when players and Stevens were asked how often they’d seen the movie. (There are some parallels: Two small schools. Two teams who built up to the moment; recall how good Milan was the year before the Milan Miracle. The shocking resemblance between Gordon Hayward and Jimmy Chitwood. Fine. I mean, it’s unavoidable, right?)

Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press: Unless Durrell Summers or Kalin Lucas pulls a surprise and leaves for the NBA, MSU should be the preseason No. 1 team in the country next fall. The Spartans will lose Raymar Morgan but bring back everybody else in the rotation and a highly regarded freshman class. What does that have to do with this year’s Final Four? Maybe nothing. But sometimes a surprise national champion is simply a team that peaks before we expect it. In 1991, Duke was a surprise national champion … but the Blue Devils dominated college basketball the next year and won a second title. In 1992, Michigan was a surprise national runner-up … but the next year, the Wolverines earned a No. 1 seed and made the title game again. In 1997, Arizona was a surprise national champion … but the Wildcats were probably the best team in the country the next year, before losing in the Elite Eight. In 2006, Florida was a surprise national champion … but the next year, the Gators were the best team in the country and won another title.

Thomas George, FanHouse: [Coach K’s] trio of seniors — forward Lance Thomas, center Brian Zoubek and guard Jon Scheyer (left to right, photo right) — took the old-school route to Final Four glory. There was nothing microwave about their journey. They went 22-11 as freshmen, 28-6 as sophomores and 30-7 last year. Yet, no Final Fours. They were labeled underachievers. They lacked Duke blue and royal blood. A sham. A bunch of louses. But this trio never stopped fighting, believing, working. Old-school values, sure, but the difference when you’re “not that good.” The Duke assistant coaches will tell you that Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek did not spend a second griping and moping and doing the things that kill a team, that kill a program. That this trio is the team’s rock. And they have been that for each other. When it was over, after they had popped Baylor 78-71 in front of a Baylor-friendly crowd of 47,492, Zoubek said the seniors just looked at each other. No words needed.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Final Four Preview

Keep the faith, people.

I know my official bracket looked rough there for a while, with a spotty performance in the first round and the loss of my overall winner (Kansas) in the second. But with Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas State losing, along with West Virginia’s win over Kentucky and Duke’s tight win over Baylor, I ended up with two Final Four teams in a year when almost no one will have three or more. That means that if you followed my picks, you’re probably sitting somewhere near the top of your pool. (Anthony Stalter didn’t look at his bracket after Kansas lost and just discovered that he’s in fourth place out of 54 entries and has a shot at second place.)

Anyway, even though I’m a Duke fan, I picked the Mountaineers over the Blue Devils at the beginning of the tournament, and now I’m regretting it a little. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s take a closer look at each game and try to predict what’s going to happen on Saturday night.

MICHIGAN ST. vs. BUTLER

By now everyone knows that Butler will be playing just a few miles away from campus. The pundits are suggesting that the Bulldogs will have a big homecourt advantage, but I’m not for sure. The Final Four crowd is largely made up of corporate types that are both neutral and non-vocal, so unless the Butler contingent can somehow get a hold of these tickets, I don’t think there will be much of an advantage. However, if Butler wins on Saturday, its fans could buy up all the tickets from the losing teams. This, coupled with a villain in the title game (Duke) could create more atmosphere. Still, it’s not like we’re talking about Indiana or Purdue — I just don’t know that the Butler fan base is that broad.

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College Football Program Power Rankings

Welcome to a new feature on The Scores Report. We thought it would be interesting to tally up all the major accomplishments of a college football program and assign a point value to each category in order to rank them against one another. Then our football guru, Anthony Stalter, wrote a little bit about each program and the direction that it’s headed.

Here’s how the points are calculated — 20 points for a national championship, 10 for a BCS title game loss, seven for a BCS bowl win, five for a BCS bowl loss, five for a BCS conference championship, three for a mid-major conference championship, two for a BCS conference runner-up and one for a major bowl appearance (i.e. a bowl that has a recent payout of more than $2 million — Capital One, Outback, Chick-fil-A, Cotton, Gator, Holiday, Champs Sports and Alamo.) You’ll see the total points in parenthesis after the team’s name.

We put some thought into the point values for each accomplishment, paying special attention to how the point values are relative to one another. For example, we figured that one national championship would equate to four BCS conference championships, or three BCS bowl wins. We only looked at the last five years, as college football has increasingly become a fluid and fickle sport, and that’s about how far back a recruit will go when deciding amongst a list of schools.

Lastly, since a program is so dependent on the guy in charge, we added or subtracted points if the program upgraded or downgraded its head coach in the last five years. A max of 10 points would be granted (or docked) based on the level of upgrade or downgrade. Again, we tried to quantify the hire relative to the program’s other accomplishments. For example, hiring Nick Saban is probably worth two BCS bowl appearances, or 10 points. (Sure, he might lead Alabama to more, but he also might bolt for another job in a year or two.)

So, without further ado, here are the rankings. Every year we’ll go through and update the numbers based on what the program did that year (while throwing out the oldest year of data), so don’t fret if your team isn’t quite where you want them right now. Everyone has a chance to move up.

1. Florida Gators (61)

National Championship: ’08-W, ’06-W
BCS Bowl: ’09-W
Conference Championship: ’09-RU, ’08-W, ’06-W
Major Bowl Appearance: ’07, ’05

It’s hard to argue that the Gators don’t deserve the top spot with two national championship victories, three BCS bowl wins, two conference championships and five bowl appearances in the past five years. Considering they play in college football’s toughest conference, what Urban Meyer’s program has been able to accomplish in the past five years has been incredibly impressive. The program dodged a bullet when Meyer rejoined the team.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (58)

National Championship: ’07-L, ’06-RU
BCS Bowl: ’09-W, ’08-L, ’05-W
Conference Championship: ’09-W, ’08-RU, ’07-W, ’06-W, ’05-RU

The Buckeyes are subjected to criticism every year because they play in a weak conference that doesn’t have a title game, but keep in mind that they have absolutely owned the Big Ten over the past five years. They have finished no worse than second in each of the past five seasons and have also appeared in two title games. While it’s true they lost in both of those appearances, just getting there helped them greatly in these rankings.

3. Texas Longhorns (49)

National Championship: ’09-L, ’05-W
BCS Bowl: ’08-W,
Conference Championship: ’09-W, ’05-W
Major Bowl Appearance: ’07, ’06

The Longhorns have been a model of consistency. They’ve made a bowl appearance in each of the last five years, won a national championship in 2005 and made a title appearance this past last year. It’ll be interesting to see how Mack Brown’s program fares in 2010 now that Colt McCoy has graduated and youngster Garrett Gilbert is set to take over at quarterback.

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#5 Villanova beats #4 West Virginia

The Wildcats upended the Mountaineers, 82-75, in Morgantown behind 21 points from Scottie Reynolds and 17 points from Corey Fisher.

In Reynolds, Fisher and Reggie Redding, Villanova certainly has the guard play to make a deep run come March, but they lack the size inside to handle the likes of Kansas’s Cole Aldrich or Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins. I think ‘Nova will run into trouble in a matchup with Kansas and Kentucky because both teams have good guard play and the requisite size down low.

The Mountaineers look like another Bobby Huggins-coached team. They’re physical and play good defense, but can go through long stretches where they have trouble scoring.

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