Five things we learned
The Dance's two hottest teams, an ugly winner, more
Posted: Friday March 28, 2008 2:22AM; Updated: Friday March 28, 2008 10:18AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five things we learned while trying to figure out why Tyler Smith disappeared in the second half against Louisville:
Louisville and North Carolina are playing better than any other teams in the tournament right now. And they're meeting in the East Regional Final, not the national title game. In a throwback to the 2000 regional final between Michigan State and Iowa State, Saturday's showdown between UNC and Louisville will match the two teams playing at a higher level than anyone else. I didn't think Washington State could be blown out, but Carolina found a way, blasting through the Cougars' lockdown defense and preventing WSU from making shots on the other end. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' defensive crackdown on Tennessee slowly broke the Volunteers, forcing Chris Lofton into a miserable 3-for-15 shooting night. We thought we'd get to see Louisville-Carolina in Las Vegas back in November, but BYU's upset of the Cards in the four-team tournament kept it from happening. That's OK. The way these teams are playing, we'll take it in March with a Final Four berth on the line.
UCLA keeps winning, but winning ugly. Kevin Love continues Carmelo-izing the Bruins (29 points and 14 boards vs. Western Kentucky!), but the Bruins need to put out a consistent 40 minutes of effort against Xavier if they want to show the country that they're serious contenders to win this tournament. Giving up 58 points in the second half to the Hilltoppers is a truly shocking statistic -- and something you never would have seen happen on UCLA's last two Final Four teams. If James Keefe hadn't come up with a surprise 18 points in 26 minutes, UCLA might not have survived against WKU.
The NCAA rewarded referee Curtis Shaw. You may remember our harangue last week of Curtis (Inspector Javert) Shaw, the out-of-control ref who tossed Stanford coach Trent Johnson against Marquette for the coaching equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread. There was no way in our mind that Shaw should have been rewarded for his performance by getting to work another tournament game, but that's exactly what happened. Shaw is working in Phoenix this week, and it sends a bad message that look-at-me refereeing is not only tolerated but encouraged.
The Magic Eight is looking pretty good (with one big concern). Loyal readers will know that in early January we came out with our annual Magic Eight, the eight teams from which we guaranteed the national champion would emerge. This is the eighth year we've put out the M8, and in all but one season (Syracuse in 2003) it's come through. We'll add the usual disclaimer: we like to go out on a limb with the Magic Eight, which is why we wanted to eliminate one of the Big Four (Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, North Carolina) in January. Long story short: We nixed UNC because it didn't defend as well as the other three.
How does the Magic Eight look with 12 teams left in the field? Not bad at all. Three teams are out: Tennessee, Georgetown and Indiana. But the remaining five are still alive: UCLA, Memphis, Kansas, Louisville and Xavier. We're not sure how many people would have included Louisville and Xavier back in January, so we'll take some dap for that. Then again, if the Tar Heels continue on their rampage and win it all, Roy Williams can go ahead and name our "guarantee payback."