Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts on the tourney, from Guy Lewis' towel to Big Lew

Following in the small footsteps of last year's NCAA tournament preview, here are some more notes on the upcoming festivities.

* I've written before about the old ESPN Final Four shows that the network started in the 1980s. Hosted by a young Bob Ley, they all followed the same format: first semifinal, commercial, second semifinal, commercial, final. In between, lots of shots of cheerleaders and coaches, classic '80s instrumentals and what often seemed like fake crowd noise, as if ESPN had some guy in a studio going, "Haaaaaaaa," and then spliced it in to, say, highlights from the 1987 final between Indiana and Syracuse. ESPN always had marathons of these shows around tourney time.

Here's the 1983 program, broken down into three parts. This was one of the classic Final Fours, with one of the more memorable semifinal games - the dunkathon between Louisville and Houston - and the most memorable buzzer-beater in tourney history: Lorenzo Charles's putback dunk.

This YouTube user has many of the Final Four films.

Back to 1983. On the first video, go to just past the 7:05 mark. It's one of the oddest moments in Final Four history, when Houston coach Guy Lewis threw his famous checkered towel at Louisville's Scooter McCray as he dribbled past the Cougars' sideline. Technical. Woody Hayes with a linen.

North Carolina State's run to the title is primarily remembered because of the amazing ending. But their entire final month was filled with improbable victories. This old ESPN story recaps the run. Among the tidbits:
- In seven of their last nine victories, the Wolfpack trailed in the final minute. Against Pepperdine in the tourney, N.C. state rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 25 seconds.

The entire Pepperdine game is online, but here's the relevant portion. It starts with the Wolfpack down two with 20 seconds to go in overtime. No three-point line remember.

* At some point in this tournament, a player expected to go high in the NBA draft will struggle and someone will use this as evidence that the guy isn't made for the big time. Too slow, too short, too ugly, too something. It shows they don't have the ability to shine when it matters most. And it may all be true. But I'm leery of those types of proclamations. Why? Because of Michael Jordan's final game. It came in the 1984 Sweet Sixteen, against Indiana, when the heavily favored Tar Heels fell to the Hoosiers and Indiana's Dan Dakich contained Jordan, holding him to 13 points on six-of-14 shooting. Did Portland perhaps use that game as evidence that maybe they should take Sam Bowie? Surely no; they used other, even stranger criteria to take the big fella from Kentucky - "Sure, he's suffered broken legs a few times, but now he's got them out of the way!" But still, if the Internet was around back then, someone would have said that performance proved Jordan didn't quite have what it took to dominate at the next level. He didn't know how to seize the moment, didn't know how to handle an inferior foe. Some top player will underachieve the next three weeks. We might never hear from them again. But they also might become an NBA All-Star.

* How about that 1984 North Carolina team? Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith in the starting lineup. The Tar Heels went 28-3, with a one-point loss against Arkansas, a two-point defeat against Duke and the four-point loss to Indiana. If any team was built to be the only one since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated, it was that team. And even if they didn't go unbeaten, they had to have been an overwhelming favorite for the title. But Indiana did have Dan Dakich. And Uwe Blab.

* John Wooden's numbers remain incomprehensible. Yet it's still jarring seeing UCLA's year-by-year records during their annual stampede through the NCAAs. When the Bruins won seven straight titles, a run that went from Alcindor to Walton, they racked up an overall record of 200-5.

* Only three teams with 10 or more losses have won the title. And those all came within a six-year span: North Carolina State went 26-10 in 1983, Villanova 25-10 two years later, and Kansas finished 27-11 in 1988. In fact, Arizona in 1997 and Indiana in 1981 are the only teams to ever lose nine games and still win the title. As much as the NCAA tourney is about upsets, in the end, the teams that win are the teams that have been dominating all season.

* Trivia question: When was the last time the Final Four was not held in a dome? East Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1996.

* I like this old SI cover, commemorating UCLA's victory in the 1968 tournament. Houston had defeated the Bruins earlier that year in the Game of the Century, a game where Kareem - Lew Alcindor - played with an injured eye. Lew was healthy for the rematch and UCLA drilled Houston 101-69 in the semis.

* ESPN just broadcast a two-hour show called Bracketology. Of all of ESPN's occasional crimes against sports, journalism and sports entertainment, the popularization of that word ranks somewhere between The Decision and the old shouting matches between Sean Salisbury and John Clayton. There are bracketologists, but rarely have I seen anyone called a bracketiatrist, who has more schooling and can prescribe downers to Digger Phelps.

And now here's the first time CBS played "One Shining Moment." The song might have outlived its usefulness. But who would have ever thought that a song that began with a video highlight of Dwayne Schintzius would become the anthem for an entire sport?


Jerry said...

Uwe Blab? He went on to a how many year career in the NBA. Probably while never playing more than 100 minutes in a season.

Shawn Fury said...

Uwe was part of the great center class of 1985.
3. Benoit Benjamin
5. Jon Koncak
6. Joe Kleine
15. Blair Rasmussen
16. Bill Wennington
17. Uwe Blab

Yikes. And Bill and Uwe were both taken by Dallas. No wonder James Donaldson was practically Bill Russell for the Mavs, compared to those two.