Sunday, April 06, 2008

Brackets Busted: Kansas to play Memphis for NCAA title

Memphis 78, UCLA 63
Kansas 84 , North Carolina 66

So much for the experts who picked the dream matchup of Carolina and UCLA in the NCAA Championship Game.

The Memphis Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks spoiled the bracket dreams of millions of fans nationwide as they both manhandled their supposedly superior opponents last night at the Final Four in San Antonio, setting up a Monday night showdown that not many in the country predicted would happen.

How do I know this? Well I'm not about to count the entrants of every, CBS Sportsline, Yahoo Sports and other national bracket pools, but according to our own pool, made up of 43 members, 9 picked Kansas to win it all and 3 picked the Tigers to cut down the nets, while 17 had the Tarheels taking home the crown and 8 had UCLA.

Interesting though is the fact that of the 12 entries that had either Kansas or Memphis winning it all, only 1 participant predicted the final game of Kansas and Memphis. I'm no math major but that tells me that out of 43 brackets only 1 called the final game correctly, and according to my unscientific calculations that equates to not many people getting the final game right.

Using the benefit of hindsight it seems foolish that more people didn't predict this title game pairing (this coming from a guy who picked Tennessee to win it all.) The Jayhawks had been lurking in the shadows of the top teams all year, clearly athletic, talented and strong enough to give the big guns a run for their money yet content to stay hidden behind the ghosts of past tournament failures and the perceived lack of big game gumption of coach Bill Self.

Memphis meanwhile had been at or near the top of the rankings all season, losing just 1 game all year, yet constantly heard the shouts about their record being padded with fluffy Conf USA opponents and how their horrendous free throw shooting (64%, 3rd worst in D1) would surely be their downfall once it came down to crunch time in tourney games.

All the two clubs did was destroy those false perceptions about them by demolishing their more-heralded opponents.

In the first game of the evening UCLA kept the game close for a while, trailing just 38-35 at the half, but after the break the Tigers, led by super freshman Derrick Rose (25pts, 9rebs, 4ass) pulled away, jumping out to a 10-pt lead, 47-37, just 4 minutes into the half and then cruising from there as their athleticism and speed just overwhelmed the plodding Bruins.

It didn't help matters that UCLA's two stars, freshman sensation Kevin Love (12pts) and junior guard Darren Collison (2), were held to 14 points combined on 5-20 shooting, while Memphis had a balanced attack led by Rose, leading scorer Chris Douglas Roberts (28 points) and intimidating big man Joey Dorsey (15 boards).

In the nightcap things got ugly early for the (overconfident? relaxed?) Tarheeels as Kansas blitzkrieged the shellshocked Heels and former Jayhawk coach Roy Williams to the tune of a 40-12 lead with 7:00 minutes left in the first half. This promoted noted blowhard Billy Packer to exclaim the game was over right then, which shocked partner Jim Nantz as well as a nation of viewers conditioned to believe that no sporting event is ever over until the final horn is sounded. I'm sure CBS loved that little gem.

UNC kept its cool and survived the early attack to slice the deficit to a manageable 44-27 at the half, and it was as if they were attempting to make Packer seem like the crusty old windbag that he is when they cut the deficit to five, 58-53, with 9:21 left to play. But it was a classic case of a team expending too much energy to get back in the game after being down by so much so early as the winded Heels succumbed to the relentless pressure of the Jayhawks, and a final 26-13 run by Kansas made the former blowout a blowout again.

So the two best teams in the country that not many believed in will take their aggressive, physical style of play to the title game on Monday night, and fans will either watch what should be an exciting finale or shun the game while nursing their shredded brackets.

I know my son, who was in first place after Game 1 and needed Carolina to win it all to take home the grand prize, will be in the latter category.

He shoulda picked Tennessee, like me. Now I can sit back and enjoy what should be a great championship game without having to worry about that pesky "I coulda won it all" crap haunting me.

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