MARCH MADNESS- And then there were Four

Two wild weekends of craziness and general uphoria for the average sports fan have ended, and the field has narrowed itself down to a very worthy four teams, two of which are #1 seeds and the other two of which is are #2s that had strong arguments to be #1s. This certainly wasn’t a tournament filled with upsets as last season’s was, and in return we are likely to receive a much more exciting Final Four weekend. I picked seven of the Elite Eight teams correctly and then managed to only get one team into the Final Four. Oh well.

The most interesting story of the whole weekend had to be Georgetown, who pulled off an improbable comeback against North Carolina after trailing by 10 with only seven minutes to go. The Hoyas hit a deep three late in the game to tie and force overtime, and were no match for the Tarheels in the extra period, outscoring them 15-3. This comes two days after star forward Jeff Green hit a controversial last second shot (he clearly traveled before the release) to beat a game Vanderbilt team that led most of the game. But, that’s the nature of the game- sometimes you get a second chance that you may not have deserved, and when you make the most of it like the Hoyas did today, everyone forgets about the controversy. North Carolina’s youth definitely showed late in this game, although one has to wonder how many of its players will return to gain more game experience.

Ohio State’s story is equally intriguing. The never-say die Buckeyes were seemingly beaten to gigantic underdogs Xavier in the second round and almost certainly beaten when trailing by 20 to a fast-paced, athletic Tennessee team in the Sweet 16 round, but pulled together and miraculously won both games. Then they trounced an inferior Memphis team that was lucky to get as far as they did and was way overmatched. Since I no longer have any chance of winning any of the pools I am in, I suppose I be rooting for the boys from my high school alma mater, Greg Oden and Mike Conley, to win it all.

Of all the games that really surprised me over the weekend, I would have to say that I was most taken aback by Kansas’ performance against UCLA. The Jayhawks had no excuses as they were outplayed wire to wire by a team with inferior talent but much better coaching and team play. UCLA joins East Regional Champs Florida (who beat a fiesty Oregon team that should be very proud of their season) for a rematch of last year’s championship game. A couple quick pieces of trivia here:

1) When was the last time two teams returned to the final four in consecutive years?

2) When was the last time we had a national championship rematch in the Final Four? (Answers at the bottom after my picks).

So let’s weigh both of these matchups. First of all, the aforementioned battle between last year’s title game should be a classic, although I can’t help but thinking what I’ve been thinking all year about these two teams: Florida has all five starters back from a team that was no match for UCLA last year in the championship, while UCLA was probably more talented last year. That analysis would lead me to conclude about a 20 point victory by the Gators, but the more I think about it, maybe UCLA actually is better this year. Nick Collison has proven to be every bit as good as Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo has improved and shown his ability to absolutely take over a game, and the rest of the team remains very experienced deep in the tourney. I still think Florida will win, but probably in narrower fashion than they did in last year’s championship.

The Georgetown-Ohio State game is also incredibly interesting but for different reasons. I for one can’t wait to see how the matchup between the duo of seven footers Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert plays out. Oden is probably the more explosive player, but Hibbert’s ability to rebound offensively has been absolutely killing in this tournament. It will probably come down to the foul situation. Ohio State’s backcourt has a huge edge in this one, although they don’t have a swingman player like Jeff Green which almost makes it a draw. Additionally, Georgetown will be able to play their game in this one, which is a slow down, stingy defense, half-court game that they had to adjust against a fast-paced team like North Carolina. In the end, something tells me the Buckeyes have the basketball gods on their side and also have the slightly deeper team. I expect a low scoring, small margin victory for Ohio State.

And saving the best for last, did anyone just realize the possible scenario that I just predicted? That’s right, Ohio State vs. Florida for the National Championship of college basketball. A second chance for the Buckeyes with a different shaped ball? The whole situation is just sick. Which brings me to trivia question #3:

When was the last time that two teams played for the National Championship in college basketball and college football in the same calendar year?

Answers:

#1: North Carolina and Kentucky, who both made the Final Four in 1997 and 1998.

#2: UNLV vs. Duke, who played in the 1990 Championship and then again in the 1991 Semifinal. Anyone remember who won the rematch?

#3: Never, to my knowledge/ research.

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