NCAA March Madness Elite Eight Review, Part II

I intended on posting this about 12 hours ago. Unfortunately, I spent the entirety of the morning cuddling with my toilet. Nonetheless, I’ve overcome sickness, fever, and sleep deprivation to bring you a recap of Sunday’s events. You can thank me later.

VCU 71 Kansas 61
The only top seed to advance to the Elite Eight put on the worst performance of any team vying for a Final Four berth. For the second consecutive year, the Kansas Jayhawks are heading home after another devastating upset in the NCAA Tournament. In 2010, it was the sharp shooting of Northern Iowa that did in the Jayhawks. This year, it was another barrage of threes from VCU that ultimately ended Kansas’ run at a national title.

I like Kansas and I like Bill Self, but Self did little to help his players in the first half on Sunday afternoon. With Kansas trailing by double digits and having little success on neither the offensive or defensive end, Self looked panicked on the sideline. That can’t happen. Coaches need to be stoic in the face of turmoil. Even if the roof is caving in, act like you knew it would happen. Players, especially collegiate athletes, need such guidance from their coach. Because Self was flustered, the Jayhawk players followed suit. They were scrambling on defense, taking ill-advised shots, and missing easy layups. Being heavily favored and the only remaining top seed put enough pressure on Kansas. Having their coach add to the intensity of the pressure didn’t help. If you don’t believe me, watch the last 12 minutes of the first half. Self was screaming at his players, the officials, and relentlessly paced the side lines when he wasn’t throwing his arms up in disbelief. Great coaches get angry. Sometimes, they’ll even throw a tantrum. But a good coach never believes he’s lost control of the game. Self’s body language indicated he’d lost control of the game. Naturally, his players lost control, too.

While Kansas certainly played one of its worst games of the year, VCU did almost everything right. By harassing the Morris twins and making them earn every basket, VCU took away Kansas’ bread and butter. Kansas found few easy baskets in the paint and were forced to beat double and triple teams when they did convert. Without its post game in top form, Kansas needed its shooters to step up. Unfortunately, they did the opposite, finishing a dismal 2/21 from beyond the arc while VCU hit nearly half of its three point attempts (12/25). Even with the disparity from long range, Kansas was still in the game and had its chances to win.

It was at the free throw line where the Jayhawks gave the game away and proved they were neither prepared nor focused for the biggest game of the season. Missing threes and open shots happens. Every team has an off night where nothing falls. It’s basketball. It happens to the best teams. Part of what makes March Madness great is that to win, a team can’t afford an off night. What can’t be excused is finishing 15 of 28 from the foul line. Missing almost half of your free throws is laziness. It’s a failure to concentrate. A failure to own the situation instead of allowing the situation to overwhelm you. Kansas, and Bill Self, too, were clearly overwhelmed by the stage of the Elite Eight and the relentless energy brought by VCU. As a result, Kansas fell to another Cinderella.

Kentucky 76 North Carolina 69
Although John Calipari isn’t the most popular coach in college basketball, you can’t question his results. After leading Kentucky past North Carolina on Sunday, Calipari reached the Final Four with his third different team. The naysayers will argue he always has the best players. That doesn’t matter. Even the best players need coaching. Look at Kansas and tell me whether it’s easy to win just because you have more talent on your bench. College basketball coaches are the most important cog to a winning team.

As for the game, I have few thoughts. Obviously, watching Harrison Barnes and Brandon Knight go back and forth down the stretch was a great battle. Both proved why they were the two most heralded recruits out of high school this season. Unfortunately, Barnes came up short after single-handedly dragging the Tar Heels back into the game in the final minutes. Still, Barnes is a rising star. He has that unwavering poise that only great players own. He’s fearless, too. Barnes will take any shot in any situation. As he proved Sunday, he’s also not afraid to hoist a team on his shoulders when necessary.

The same qualities can be attributed to Knight. A freshmen point guard leading an overwhelmingly freshman roster into the Final Four is rarely seen. Considering Kentucky eliminated what experts believed was the most complete and mature team (Ohio State) along the way speaks volumes to Knight’s ability to quarterback his team. The only downside is both Knight and Barnes will probably turn pro this summer forfeiting their final three years of eligibility and robbing us of the opportunity to watch both mature and develop as college superstars.

One final note and maybe I’m completely alone on this, but do they practice cutting down nets throughout the season? I’m completely amazed by this. If someone handed me a scissor and told me to cut a piece of twine from my basketball hoop, I’d have no idea where to start. More importantly, how is it that the players always cut the nets down so perfectly that the coach makes the final cut. Teams must, must, must practice this throughout the season. You absolutely cannot convince me otherwise.

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