Why should anyone be surprised?
From the nascence of the 2010-2011 college basketball regular season, it was obvious that this was going to be a wildly unpredictable year.
Okay, so maybe not this unpredictable, but still there was never a clear-cut favorite. Ohio State and Kansas were the closest things, followed by Duke, especially when Kyrie Irving returned to the rotation, but what had any of those teams done to stoke confidence in the hearts of their fans?
The number one overall seed in the tournament field, Ohio State, may have had the most impressive resume in the country. It went 34-2 in the regular season, losing only at Wisconsin and Purdue, two extremely difficult places to play.
But alarms, bells and sirens should have fired off everywhere when Northwestern took the Buckeyes to overtime in the Big Ten Tournament. Northwestern is terrible.
The great teams of the past decade, like the two North Carolina clubs, the Jayhawks from 2008 and even the Florida teams who won back to back championships, take teams like Northwestern and reduce them to piles of Wildcat manure; they certainly don’t let them hang around.
The rest of the Big Ten, aside from maybe Wisconsin and Purdue, two teams who themselves had looked terrible at times during the season, was really bad this year. Indiana can barely make shots, Iowa is not much better, Michigan State was a ghost of itself and Northwestern was, well, Northwestern.
It all amounts to a conference for Ohio State to beat upon and bolster a regular season record that was rendered meaningless when Kentucky, a team that struggled in an SEC that was much worse than the Big Ten, beat the Buckeyes in the tournament this past weekend.
Then there’s Kansas. It is probably the biggest mystery of the tournament. In every game it played, including round one (or two or one and a half or whatever the NCAA wants to call it), it looked and played uncomfortably tight.
Kansas let Boston U and Illinois, two teams it has four times more talent than, hang around until the late stages of each game. The Jayhawks then proceeded to shoot 2-21 (that’s 9.5% if you’re keeping score at home) from the 3-point line in their loss to Virginia Commonwealth.
It’s a problem for Kansas that’s beginning to evolve into a trend, as last season the Jayhawks, who were once again a one-seed, were bounced unexpectedly in the second round by Northern Iowa.
If Bill Self hadn’t brought his team to the promise land in 2008, it’s quite possible he might be out, or at least placed upon an extremely warm chair, after another wildly disappointing finish to a season with a roster that should have at least made it to the Final Four.
The final question mark on probably the most unpredictable tournament of recent memory is fixed behind Duke.
It might deserve a pass this year because of the situation it was put in when freshman standout Kyrie Irving returned right before the tournament.
What does a coach do when the talented freshman, who proved before he suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the majority of the season and could take over games in the flash of an eye, returns?
Could Mike Krzyzewski have sat him out in fear of sacrificing the on-court chemistry of his team?
Of course not. When the most talented player (possibly) in the country is available on the roster, he’s got to play.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference. National Player of the Year Candidate Derrick Williams and Arizona looked like a team possessed by greatness that night, and Kyrie Irving or not, Duke probably would have lost that game. Probably.
In any case, the Final Four has arrived, where the four teams remaining have seeds that add up to 26, which is an NCAA record.
On one side of the draw (that’s tennis lingo for those not versed in the sport), there are in fact some marquee names! Hoorah!
Kentucky takes on hall of famer Jim Calhoun, Kemba Walker and the hottest team in the country, otherwise known as Connecticut.
In any normal year, it’d be easy to say that the winner of the Kentucky-Connecticut national semifinal game will certainly go on to beat whichever team comes out of the other side between Butler and VCU.
But it’s not any other year; it’s this year. And who the heck knows?