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Final Thoughts on the 2011 NCAA Tournament

UConn defeated Butler 53-41, in a snooze-worthy performance that didn’t come close to matching the high intensity of the rest of the 2011 NCAA tournament. Now that the tourney is done, here are my random thoughts (mostly about the TV coverage and tournament format) in no particular order.

I’m pissed that UConn won it all

I know it’s sour grapes, but I can’t stand that UConn has won — and has made it three championships since 1999. As a UMass alum, I simply cannot root for UConn. It’s ingrained. What can I say? Obviously I’m bitter because UConn has been the much better of the two bordering state schools over the last decade or so. I also can’t forgive Jim Calhoun — as if he needs my forgiveness — for refusing to continue to play UMass a few years ago. That said, it was an incredible run for the Huskies; winning five games in five days in the Big East Tournament and then winning six more to take the title. It’s just another painful reminder that UConn is on a completely different stratosphere than UMass.

Jim Nantz was as brutal as ever with his corny puns

In my most recent post I predicted some possible Jim Nantz puns for the end of the championship game. Most of mine were pretty bad, but what we got from Nantz last night may have worse than his usual predictable quips covered in cheese. He gave us a little appetizer at the second-to-last media timeout with a “Walker, Texas Ranger” reference to UConn’s star guard, Kemba Walker. What he came up with (well in advance, I’m sure) at the final horn was “Huskies are the top dog!” First of all, he had already mixed in a few dog puns in the second half — one of which was a mention of “dogfight” (I guess the statute of limitations is up on dogfight references in sports). Secondly, I’m not even sure “Huskies are the top dog” is grammatically correct; shouldn’t it be “top dogs“? After his game-ending call, he gave us a bonus a few minutes later with “Connecticut wins best in show.” It was around this time I was hoping Butler’s mascot dog, Blue, would come over and tear Nantz to pieces! See ya at the Masters, Jimbo.

Mid-Majors continue to gain ground

This was as good as it gets for the so-called Mid-Majors. Two Final Four teams, with Butler (for the second straight year) and VCU. George Mason, five years since its Final Four run, is still relevant — the Patriots beat Villanova in this year’s tourney. Morehead State beat Louisville in a thrilling first rounder. Mountain West schools BYU and San Diego State both made extended runs. Gonzaga, a tournament staple at this point, trounced St. John’s in round one as an 11 seed. Adding legitimacy to the Mid-Majors is the fact that VCU coach Shaka Smart turned down the NC State job on Monday to stay with the Rams. Brad Stevens is likely staying put at Butler, and why not? Two straight Finals appearances can only help recruiting and keep the Bulldogs in the national spotlight. He and Butler are putting the Indiana Hoosiers to shame at the moment.

The teams that won a “First Four” game did NOT win an NCAA Tournament game

First of all, I wish they would just go back to 64 teams in the field. Secondly, call these games what they really are: Play-in games. Now these four extra games are considered the first round. So eight teams play in the first round and 64 play in the second? Huh??? Why do we need to spice these games up. This is Division I collegiate athletics; no need for the “everybody’s a winner!” sentiment. And let’s get one thing straight: If you win one of these “First Four” games, you did NOT win a tournament game. When Clemson beat UAB in one such game this year I heard one of the broadcasters mention that it was Clemson’s first NCAA Tournament win since 1997. Well, the Tigers lost their next game to West Virginia…so in my mind they still haven’t won a tourney game since ’97.

Is the Big East overrated? I have no idea

On the one hand, the National Champion comes from the Big East. On the other, out of the 11 teams from the conference that were in the tournament only two made it to the Sweet 16. Either way, plenty of people from the national media and the Twitter universe made proclamations about this conference. I’ll sit on the fence on this one. Judging an entire conference based on how 11 teams performed in a two and-a-half week tournament seems a little ridiculous. I think the conference is very good, but it has 16 teams in it! Of course there will plenty of good teams. If the SEC had 16 teams, it would likely be just as good as the Big East. The conference is way too big and it’ll get bigger when TCU arrives. The fact that every team plays in the conference tournament is a joke. But I digress. It is a very strong conference that had two teams limp into the tournament (Georgetown and Villanova),  eight that were tripped up early, and one that took the whole thing.

Anyone’s bracket even close?

I did not get one single Final Four team. I’m sure I’m not alone. I thought I was going out on a limb putting San Diego State and Florida in (I also had Kansas and Ohio State). Apparently I needed a longer limb. I can’t even beat myself up about this particular bracket. I was as likely to win the lottery and be struck by lightning on the same day as I was getting this Final Four picked correctly. Hey, at least I had VCU winning one game — a real tournament game, not that “First Four” game!

Putting games on four networks was a great move

No surprise here. This worked out very well. There was no more guessing which games I would get to see in my region. No more wondering if CBS would switch to a game more exciting than the one I was watching. It was nice to be able to choose your own adventure in the first couple of rounds. The only negative was the fact that TruTV was the only channel of the four that was in standard definition only. Not a complaint I would have made a year and a half ago when I did not even have HD. But TruTV was an eyesore compared to the crisp pictures on CBS, TNT, and TBS. Overall, it was nice to have the ability to watch every game. Otherwise, just one other annoyance…as someone who notices sportscaster cliches, I think I counted four or five times when a broadcaster said something to the effect of “Make sure you have fresh batteries for your remote,” referring to the constant channel changing due to multiple games being played simultaneously. I think Ernie Johnson said it two days in a row. Gus Johnson even said it. C’mon, Gus! You’re better than that.

College basketball is not very good right now, but damn that was a fun tournament

I love college basketball, but even I have to admit the sport is not as good as it once was. There are very few great players. Actually, I’m not sure if there are any truly great players right now. Kemba Walker? Maybe. Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, John Wall, and Kevin Love would still have had eligibility at this point; imagine what could have been! I’m not the first to say that college basketball has suffered greatly with players leaving after a year. You saw it in this tournament. The level of play was OK at best. Yeah, the championship game brutal, but the quality of basketball overall in the tournament continues to be lacking in many areas. Even so, as long as we still have buzzer beaters (check), overtime nail-biters (check), and upsets galore (definite check), the tournament will always be an awesome event. This tournament, championship game aside, was one of the most entertaining in my lifetime.