Reliving the first weekend and picking the Final Four
Posted: Tuesday March 22, 2005 4:20PM; Updated: Tuesday March 22, 2005 4:20PM
Arizona's Ivan Radenovic could hold the key to any Final Four hopes for the 'Cats.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
As thrilled as I was last year to be invited to work in the CBS studio during the NCAA tournament, my only disappointment was it meant I would not physically be at any games during the first two weeks. There is, however, a delicious flip side: From my perch behind that desk, I get to see every moment of every game, thanks to a wall of monitors in front of me and a hard-working research staff behind. Here, then, are my Hoop Thoughts from the best seat not in the house:
First, one note: At the bottom of this column, I've set the stage for this week's Sweet 16 edition of my pickoff challenge. If you think you can eliminate me from the postseason, check it out and send in your picks.
Looking back: The best news for Illinois is that it got solid production from center James Augustine during the win over Nevada. People have been questioning the Illini's inside game all season, but their problem isn't that they don't have anyone, the problem is they don't use the guys they have enough. They'll need to continue to use Augustine if they're going to advance to St. Louis.
Boston College is a perfect example of a team that got hurt by not utilizing the 3-point line enough. If you can't make 3s, it's like playing four-on-five, because you're not using everything available to you. The Eagles' loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee also demonstrates the importance of speed over size in the NCAA tournament.
Arizona was the best team of the four who advanced to the Sweet 16. Though I'd like to see the multitalented Ivan Radenovic be more involved in the offense. The Wildcats are at their best when they're getting balanced production, instead of just waiting for Salim Stoudamire to rescue them. They have more talent and a far better inside game than Oklahoma State.
I'm sorry to see Southern Illinois' season come to an end. Watching them go toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State, it occurred to me that they were the two most fundamentally sound defensive teams in the tournament. The Salukis simply couldn't overcome their lack of explosiveness on offense, and their small front line couldn't contend with Ivan McFarlin, who isn't exactly the second coming of Hakeem.
Looking ahead: Wisconsin-Milwaukee uses its speed, its 3-point shooting and its fullcourt press to run opponents off the floor. Unfortunately, it's facing the one team in this tournament who is capable of handling that type of style. If Illinois is even remotely mediocre on defense, the Illini should clamp down on the Panthers' 3-point shooting and create transition buckets of the Illini's own.
One thing about Oklahoma State, it's not going to pull a Kansas/Syracuse and play a horrible game that lets the underdog win. Arizona is going to have to play well to beat the Cowboys. I've watched the Pokes play a ton of games this season, and they never look like a great offensive team. Yet, they're in the top 10 in the nation in field-goal shooting, 3-point shooting and free-throw shooting. Arizona should be worried about the way Eddie Sutton has been publicly calling out Joey Graham for the way he played the first two games. The last thing the Wildcats need is for that guy to play with a chip on his shoulder.
The pick: Arizona. Yes, I'm as surprised as you are, but I simply can't shake the feeling that Illinois can be had. Illinois is hard to beat because of the chemistry between Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. But when a team needs a big bucket with the shot clock winding down, the best thing to do is not to share the ball. You need a designated go-to guy and Arizona has that guy in Stoudamire. It has the most overall talent of the four teams remaining. If the Wildcats bring their A-game, they'll advance.
Looking back: Yes, you can count me among the so-called experts who have egg on our faces after doubting the mighty-mite Washington Huskies. I've loved this team all year, but I thought they would be more affected by the pressure of being a No. 1-seed. Again, the Huskies are a perfect demonstration of the importance of speed over size. You can also add a big dose of heart from the magnificent Nate Robinson and his vastly underappreciated sidekick, Brandon Roy.
I'm a big Mark Few fan, but I really thought Gonzaga made a serious mistake by not continuing to go with Adam Morrison in the second half against Texas Tech. Morrison scored 10-consecutive points during one stretch and proved to be an impossible matchup. Yet, Gonzaga tried to go to Ronny Turiaf, which slowed down the game and allowed the Red Raiders to seize momentum. Texas Tech did a brilliant job utilizing -- yes -- its speed to overcome its size disadvantage on the glass. It won because it was simply quicker to the ball in the second half.
I don't think anyone who saw that West Virginia-Wake Forest double-OT thriller last Saturday will ever forget it. It was the end of a very, very long day in the CBS studio, yet we were all going nuts watching the drama unfold. Frankly, it's hard to blame Wake for losing. I thought the Deacons' defense was pretty solid, but once Justin Gray and Chris Paul fouled out, Wake wasn't Wake anymore.
It's a shame -- but hardly a surprise -- that Bob Knight has already sullied his return to the Sweet 16 with another potshot at Mike Davis, whose only unpardonable sin was to accept the job as head coach at Indiana after Knight was fired. Knight can say all he wants about Davis, but Indiana did the right thing in inviting Davis to coach next season, when the Hoosiers will be a much-improved team. Davis might be easy to criticize but he's also easy to root for. Knight isn't.
Looking ahead: The Washington-Louisville game comes down to one question: Will the Cardinals make shots? Francisco Garcia was shooting more than 40 percent from 3-point range in early January, but his percentage has sunk to 35 percent. However, he was brilliant in the first half against Georgia Tech. Louisville is suspect at the point (Taquan Dean is a converted two guard), but in Garcia, Dean and Larry O'Bannon, they have three guys who can kill a team from behind the arc. The question is whether they can find a hot hand and stick with it.
Texas Tech and West Virginia had very similar seasons, including a surprising run to the final of their respective conference tournaments. The question becomes, then, who will still have that magic Thursday? If you're looking for a difference-maker, look at Kevin Pittsnogle, the Mountaineers' center who can stretch a defense as well as any big man remaining in the tournament.
The pick: Louisville. I've gone back and forth between Louisville and Washington here, but I believe the Cards can handle the Huskies' pressure, simply because Louisville practices at that pace all the time. Louisville also has Ellis Myles, a tenacious rebounder who has grown into a remarkably adept passer. Little things make a big difference at this stage of the season, and Myles provides them in spades.