The Hoops Weekly: Part Four
It’s finally here, Fidelity faithful: the most highly-anticipated Final Four in college hoops history!
All the right teams are here: undefeated Kentucky, looking to etch its name into the annals of hoops antiquity; the classic, pure, throwback the Wisconsin Badgers, who have more than a bit to prove; another uber-talented, high-scoring, love-em-or-hate-em Duke team led by Captain America himself, Coach K; and in case three HOF coaches weren’t enough, representing the bracket’s most stacked division, the 7-seed Spartans are back, led by H-to-the-Izzo.
I could write a four-hour Final Four guide, but I’m worn out, and it’s Friday, so let’s keep this mug neat and tidy. Half-court official, give me four minutes on the clock and no timeouts! In the words of Jay-Z on the dopest beat of all time (Blueprint 2, circa 2003),
“Unleash the flutes on ‘em, Guru!”
Duke vs. Michigan State
You really think a 7-seed is going to make the National Champ Game in a year stacked with best-ever teams from Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Virginia, Villanova, and Gonzaga? No chance.
I mean, Sparty’s good. They were downright gritty in outlasting UofL over the weekend—which, by the way, was one of the funnest sports games I’ve ever witnessed, as I joined a few hundred die-hards (and even a handful of Spartan fans) at Drake’s in St Matthews. But even though they’re coming out of the packed East Region, they got a bit of a cake walk after beating a very sporadic UVa team in the second round. Sure it’s possible the Spartans get Duke’s bigs in foul trouble and the Blue Devils go cold on offense. But the best H-to-the-Izzo can hope for is covering the spread (5.0 for Duke).
But remember, this is the early game, and even though MSU will have more fans in Indy, Duke wants UK for all the marbles the way a hound dog wants a bone. And I’m scanning through the Spartan roster looking for someone who can be trusted to keep Okafor under eight dunks… Nothing. Sure, they’ll play Hack-a-Okafor (he shoots about 50%), but my boy Jahlil can easily kick it to a shooter, find a slicing Justise Winslow (who suddenly is looking like a top-5 NBA pick), or just drop-step-and-dunk while getting fouled. This pick is too easy.
Michigan State 66
Kentucky vs Wisconsin
The winner of this game will also win the Championship, simple as that. Vegas has UK a 5.0-point favorite, with a projected final score of 68-63. Last year, these two teams met in this same place—the Final Four—and Wisconsin was clearly the better team. But they lost on a deeeeeeeep Aaron Harrison three, 74-73. It was one of Fidelity’s top ten moments of 2014.
This year’s Kentucky team would have beaten last year’s team by 20 points. So they should win easily, right? Nope. This year’s Wisconsin team would have beaten their team last year by 20 also. So to put it simply, this is the College Hoops Game of the Century.
Don’t sleep on the Three Rules here. It’s a classic matchup between a Built-to-Last team (Wisconsin) and a Get-Rich-Quick team (UK). It’s a Level III coach (the Team Builder: Calipari) vs a Level IV coach (the Program Builder: Bo Ryan). Sure, the Cats play as a team, play ridiculously good D, are fantastic passers, do everything well, use their bench well, and take disciplined, high-percentage shots. Plus, they are the most physically-gifted college basketball team ever. But as we all know, a team’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. This is the Kentucky Kryptonite: they’re too talented, too disciplined, too strong defensively for their own good. Their weaknesses—a lack of dominance on offense, sloppy wing defense, occasional lapses in defensive rebounding—were all exposed against Notre Dame, and their talent bailed them out (who else has three seven-footer who can keep pace with the nation’s best point guard for the entire length of the floor to ensure he doesn’t get a clean look at ending their undefeated season?).
Wisconsin wants this thing, they’ve got nothing to lose, and they’ve got the ability to finish that the Irish lacked. Frank the Tank Kaminsky’s good enough to keep the UK bigs busy, and he’s smart enough to stop KA-Towns on the block without fouling. And this year’s Fidelity Hero, Sam Dekker, is hotter than Hansel right now. The kid’s got range. The over/under on me yelling “Dekker Heat Check!!!” at my TV tomorrow night? I say Seven. And I’m taking the over. (Also, has anyone claimed the phrase TRIPLE DEKKER!!! for his every made Three? If not, intellectual property on that mug.)
Again, I’m saving you the full analysis, but trust your Fidelity Committee here. (After all, we just got published in CAPC Magazine; that’s right, ya boys’ gettin’ PAID for this stuff!)
National Championship Game
Sure, a Kentucky/Duke finale would be THE GAME. But Wisconsin’s just too good to give it to us. But while we’re dreaming—see, ideally, UK-Duke would play tonight, and the winner would play the Badgers on Monday night—just imagine what it would be like to see a 39-0 Cats team playing a Duke team with nothing to lose. As the game comes down to the wire, and as CBS is flashing commercials of Laettner’s turnaround J on repeat, how anxious would Cats fans be!? Oh, the hysteria if Kentucky goes 39-and-0, making it all the way to the Champ Game, and…. loses on a buzzer beater to Duke! While part of me wants to see that more than anything all weekend, I am a pastor in the Commonwealth of KY, and I realize how many counseling requests would come in over the weekend, and I’m not looking to spend my spring/summer doing grief care for middle-aged UK fans. So, I’m picking UK to lose to UW first, then…
It’s destiny, man. This is Wisconsin’s one chance. UK/Duke/MSU could lose half their roster and their name recognition and coaching could get them right back to the F4 next year. Bo knows this is his one chance. That’s probably the only thing keeping him in the game. Expect Old Man Bo Bo to call it a career as the champagne is raining.
Sorry, Kentuckians, on Monday night, these nets belong to the Tank, Triple Dekk, and Bo Bo.