Well the NCAA Tournament has left us with four teams who are highly skilled , well disciplined when it comes to coaching . And if anything their play has to be respected.
In Michigan State, U Conn , Villanova and North Carolina you’ve as diverse a quartet of teams that are looking to achieve the same goal. And that’s to win the NCCA Tournament and to be crowned the national champions of college basketball.
To my mind however if there was a surprise , it was in the Elite 8. And if anything it was the lackadaisical play of the Louisville Cardinals and their play against Michigan State. Coached by Rick Pitino this team had played a stellar brand of exciting basketball. And it was easy to see why they were given that number one seeding throughout the tournament. In almost every facet of the game it’d appear that this Louisville team could do no wrong. But it’s always easy to state without seeing the obvious. And that’s the fact that the team had hardly been challenged through much of the tournament. They’d laid waste to their opponent in the previous rounds . Much like Greeks laid siege to Troy , only in this case it was the Cardinals who came short in this particular battle. No Greeks came bearing gifts. Just a great deal of over confidence and the fact that they’d underestimated Tom Izzo and his team.
As the title of this piece alludes had Pitino spent more time coaching his team not merely on the fundamentals . But the fact that a game of college basketball has to be played for the entire 40 minutes and not just as and when his players see fit. Then perhaps the outcome might’ve been somewhat different. For a team whose previous game against Arizona ended in a 103-64 blowout of the Wildcats. It was easy to see and understand why Pitino’s team would be considered to be the presumptive favorites in the game. Coming off that win why wouldn’t they be ?
But sometimes it’s just best not to prognosticate and just watch a game to see what’ll transpire. I’d dare say that there were a number of people in Vegas who lost their shirts on the outcome ? And a great many who just profited from it all. I wasn’t one of those in this case. But I still ended up losing as my pick to win the tournament outright Oklahoma , fell at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels (72-60). So now I’m like a dog without a bone in search of the nearest fire hydrant.
Michigan State came into the game knowing that if they were to beat Louisville. Then it’d take them playing at the optimum level and not rendering any mistakes that would allow Pitino’s team to dictate the pace of the game. Far from being an offensive juggernaut .Tom Izzo’s team was one that plays stifling defense when needed and who if anything takes care of the ball when it comes to rebounding. This game bore this out as their defensive play harried Louisville into making mistakes at the most inopportune of times. The end result being a thoroughly and unexpected win 62-54 win for Michigan State and a berth in The Final Four. A compliment to the play of the Spartans and in particular the coaching acumen of Tom Izzo. He left his opposing counterpart Rick Pitino searching for answers and his neatly coiffured hair still in tact.
As to Michigan they now have the unenviable task of having to face Connecticut in semis of the Final Four. In the other match up also to be played on April 4th will be between Villanova and North Carolina. It would be easy to dismiss Michigan’s chances at this juncture. But that may well have the same feeling that many of us had when they faced Louisville. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how favored a team may be . The games themselves are played on the courts and not as we the fans envisage to be in our own minds. I’ve got to admit that Pitino may well have felt the same way about this game as well. Not one hair was out of place but at the culmination of the game. I’m sure that he felt like tugging at his mane and pulling out a some strands of his hair just to keep his sanity in tact. God knows lesser men may well have done more ! As for Tom Izzo he now sits but two wins away from bringing a second championship to Michigan State and a second to add to his already stellar resume’ .