EDITOR’S NOTE: Inside Sports is very pleased to welcome noted sports commentator Jake Stevens to our lineup of conributing writers. Each Monday, Jake will add a new column, which will be his ‘Six-Pack of Thoughts’ for each week. We’re also going to begin incorporating Jake into our weekly show, so look for him in future episodes as a senior contributing analyst. To check out any of Jake’s previous six-pack entries, click on this link.
How crazy has this edition of March Madness been? Not a single #1 or #2 seed reached the Final Four for the first time since 1979. If you want to get an idea of how long that’s been, consider these facts from that year:
- The Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series (and will never win it again)
- The Seattle SuperSonics won the NBA title (and don’t exist anymore)
- Sony introduced the Walkman, a portable music device for consumers (and if you’re too young to know what that is, look it up on your iPad!)
It’s been more than 30 years since that happened and will likely be another 30 before we see another Final Four like these four.
1. “The run ends here.” One of the Morris twins uttered those words during a captains’ meeting before Kansas played VCU. “We’ll see,” VCU guard Joey Rodriguez responded. Turns out they were both right. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, it was their run that ended as we all saw the Rams improbable journey from First Four to Final Four continue with a 71-61 upset. Which of course led to one of the Morris twins crying on the bench. I doubt Rodriguez offered any words to console him.
2. Shutting off the power. Not only has VCU won five games to make the Final Four, it has beaten teams from power conferences in every round. They’ve now bashed the Pac-10 (USC, 59-46), smashed the Big East (Georgetown, 74-56), trashed the Big Ten (Purdue, 94-76), snuck past the ACC (Florida State, 72-71) and stomped on the Big 12 (Kansas, 71-61). If the Rams can get past the Horizon League (Butler in the Final Four), the SEC (Kentucky) could be on the horizon for the title game.
3. Butler’s mascot more than a nickname. According to the Official Bulldog Standard, the animal’s disposition should be resolute and courageous (like winning four regional games by a total of 13 points). They should be equable, kind and even tempered (like coach Brad Stevens, who runs the best out-of-bounds plays in basketball history but then heaps praise on his opponent). Unfortunately for the rest of the field, this team never grew out of its puppy phase, in which it jumps up and bites people (and Gators).
4. In like a lion, not out thanks to Lamb. UConn roared through the Big East postseason tournament, winning five games in as many days. Kemba Walker led them to the regional final, where freshman Jeremy Lamb scored 19 points, including two jumpers down the stretch to help the Huskies hold off Arizona, 65-63. Too bad UConn’s march to the title doesn’t continue until April.
5. It all adds up. It had been 13 seasons since Kentucky made it to the biggest stage. The Wildcats will now play in their 14th Final Four, mainly because they hit 12 three-pointers to defeat North Carolina. John Calipari became just the second coach to take three different schools to the Final Four. And with two more wins, Kentucky would finally be #1 again. Calculator anyone?
6. This sums it up. Not surprisingly, only two brackets out of more than 5.9 million in ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge correctly picked the Final Four. But shockingly, while one of them is in first place overall, the other is in 6,343rd place. That’s right, somebody who picked Butler, Kentucky, VCU and UConn to make it to Houston has no chance to win the contest. Now that’s March Madness !
THERE IT IS!
Jake Stevens is a featured conributor for INSIDE SPORTS, and has been a sports journalist since 1993. Check out archives of his past radio shows by clicking here.