It was an exciting day and night of college basketball and we thus learned a great deal. Here are a few notes….
(1) For all the excitement, energy and enthusiasm Bruce Pearl has injected into the Tennessee basketball program, ultimately they are still not ready for primetime. I generally consider a team to have a successful season on an elite level by either (1) winning the conference title, (2) winning the conference tournament title or (3) making the Elite Eight. Pearl got one of those done (to his credit), but postseason success still eludes him. Ultimately I think for Pearl to ever really win a big game in the postseason, he has to get a team that isnt reliant totally on three pointers and he MUST learn to play defense. His teams play the worst transition defense in basketball and they got killed tonight on the defensive end of the court. For all of the success Pearl has brought to the program, when it comes to Xs and Os and the big game, he is simply not an elite coach. Rick Pitino took him to school tonight and showed that Pearl has a lot of work to do to hang with the big boys. A good season for Pearl….but not a great one. Let the IU speculation begin….
(2): Louisville is really good. I thought the lock bet of the century was Louisville (-3) over Tennessee and it panned out. The reason….the Cards are a lot better than people think and Tennessee was overrated. But the way Louisville played was impressive. Yes, they turned the ball over a great deal, but they got the ball inside, didnt jack up too many threes and played GREAT defense in the half court. They will lose to UNC next round and not make the Final 4….but they are one of the four best teams in the country right now.
(3): UCLA is still my pick to win it all. Western gave a valiant effort to stay in the game and cut the big early lead to four, but ultimately UCLA simply has too many weapons. They could have lost round and they will get a run from Xavier. But they do what they need to do when it counts. They have had the easiest road to the Final Four and they will complete it on Saturday.
(4): Xavier is good, but we dont yet know how good. A great win tonight for the Musketeers and a great game by former UK recruit Josh Duncan. I like the way Xavier is playing and the way they dont ever give up. However they still havent beaten a team in the tournament at this point ranked higher than a #6 seed. West Virginia should have won with the Joe Alexander free throw, but the 2nd leading free throw shooter in the Big East choked and the Musketeers showed great heart in overtime. I still expect to see Xavier go down to UCLA, but you have to give these guys credit for beating three good major conference teams in their first three games. Now they must beat an elite one….and it aint happening.
(5): UNC is still the team of the tournament. While I may still pick UCLA to win the title, UNC is clearly the best team so far. When guys like Danny Green can help the Heels while playing bad, still take a double digit lead, you know you are onto something. They are clicking on all cylinders and look like a freight train to San Antonio. The only problem they have is that they have to play one of the best four teams in the next round. I expect them to beat Louisville, but it will be very close.
(6) As I wrote about earlier today, Bill Keightley makes too little money. Sure, maybe he doesnt look like he is doing too much….but he is an icon of the program….he should at least make more than Ryan Seacrest earns for one episode of American Idol.
More throughout Friday, including our continued work to find out the name of a big man for 2008 that is apparently catching the Cats’ eyes. We will keep digging and try to have a name soon…..