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Defeat Tastes Almost Sweet

The Fairly Detached Observers

Mar. 25, 2009
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The first week of the NCAA basketball tournament began well but ended sadly for local fans. Marquette beat Utah State, 58-57, but lost to Missouri, 83-79, despite a stirring second-half rally. Wisconsin upset Florida State in overtime, 61-59, but went cold against Xavier and lost, 60-49. Scanning the survivors in the Sweet Sixteen, the Observers lamented the state’s near-misses and their own battered brackets.

Frank: Have you wrung yourself out from that MU vs. MU heartbreaker?

Artie: I’d like to wring out the refs for allowing that bogus “I’m too hurt to shoot the free throws” deal that gave Missouri the points it needed.

Frank: You think J.T. Tiller, who got fouled hard with 5.5 seconds left in a tie game, exaggerated his injury so the coach could use a better free-throw shooter?

Artie: Absolutely! They put in that amazing freshman, Kim English, who torched the Golden Eagles in the first half. He hits both free throws, Lazar Hayward steps over the end line on the inbounds, Missouri makes two more free throws and it’s goodbye to the genuine MU.

Frank: To quote Woody Allen in his cinematic classic Bananas, you call the freethrow switch “a travesty of a mockery of sham.”

Artie: As always, the Wood-Man speaks for me.

Frank: I should note that entering the game, Tiller was a 76% free-throw shooter and English was at 68%.

Artie: Um, I’m sure Woody has some line about never letting statistics spoil a good rant.

Frank: There’s no denying the loss was excruciating, and so typical of Marquette’s fate since Dominic James broke his left foot against Connecticut a month ago. They lost six of eight games, all against heavyweights—including the five Big East teams that made the Sweet Sixteen. And all games in which the short-handed Eagles left every ounce of their sweat and heart on the court.

Artie: I never saw any team play with the intensity they did in coming from 16 points down against Missouri.

Frank: They got an emotional lift from James’ surprise return. He couldn’t do much, but gave them 17 gutsy minutes against Missouri’s pressing defense.

Artie: Buzz Williams did something at halftime that had the Eagles shredding that press in the second half.

Frank: And when the ball hit the front court, either Jerel McNeal or Wesley Matthews basically said, “Do whatever you want, Tigers, but I’m getting to the rim.”

Artie: They were like “Terminator” robots. Relentless!

Frank: At 25-10, this isn’t the most successful Marquette team, but it may be the most inspiring. They gave their fans and each other everything there was to give. Wisconsin Badgers probably got the max out of themselves, too.

Frank: Winning one NCAA game and finishing 20-13—yeah, UW always played hard and had nothing to be ashamed of.

Artie: Adding to the rotten Sunday, Matt Kenseth finished way back in the NASCAR race at Bristol, and I forgot to pick up a jar of Miracle Whip when I was at the grocery store in the morning.

Frank: A gearhead even on a hoops day. But back to the NCAA: How did your predictions compare with those of the Bracketologist in Chief? Mr. Obama went 20 for 32 in first-round games, three games worse than I did.

Artie: Hey, I was 25 for 32! That makes me the best-qualified to lead the free world, ain’a?

Frank: Comforting as that thought is, The Prez rallied in the second round and tabbed 14 of the Sweet Sixteen teams. I had 11.

Artie: Hmmm, I have... cripes, only 10. I stupidly put my trust in Clemson, Wake Forest, West Virginia and the wrong Arizona, the one with “State” on the end. And my “take it to the bank” special, North Dakota State, was as reliable as an AIG policy.

Frank: Still, I’m sure our fans are eager for our Final Four picks.

Midwest Regional

Frank: Friday in Indianapolis, we’ve got Louisville vs. Arizona and Kansas vs. Michigan State.

Artie: Tom Izzo has won it all and always seems to have Michigan State ready. The Spartans are well-balanced and have a Milwaukee kid, Korie Lucious from Pius High School. So I’ll pick State.

Frank: Kansas lost a bunch of guys from last year’s NCAA title team and needed time to regroup. Now the Jayhawks are looking great. I’ll take them.

Artie: Louisville brings up one of my big things in evaluating a team: freethrow percentage.

Frank: The Cardinals are around 64%, virtually�tied with Syracuse for worst among the Sweet Sixteen. It made it tough for them to put Siena away.

Artie: Arizona is about 73% from the line and almost 40% from three-point land. On the other hand, Louisville also has a Milwaukee guy, Jerry Smith of Tosa East, and in my original bracket Cardinals win it all.

Frank: I say Arizona beats Louisville but Kansas gets back to the Final Four.

Artie: Hell, I’m gonna re-bracket and have Michigan State take out Louisville and Kansas both.

West Regional

Frank: Thursday in Glendale, Ariz., it’s Connecticut vs. Purdue and Missouri vs. Memphis.

Artie: The Boilermakers screwed me up by beating Washington, and because they’re a rival to UW I’m saying UConn beats ‘em.

Frank: I think Purdue can knock off the Huskies. They’re a balanced team that can work around UConn’s Big Eraser in the paint, Hasheem Thabeet. Plus, UConn is free-throw challenged at 67%.

Artie: In the other game, how can I not root for Missouri, since they beat the real MU? And to hell with Memphis; they’re a recruiting violation waiting to happen.

Frank: I like Missouri, too, based on depth and defensive pressure. And I think they’ll make the Final Four.

Artie: I’ve gotta go with UConn. They

East Regional

Frank: Thursday in Boston, we have Pittsburgh vs. Xavier and Villanova vs. Duke.

Artie: Oklahoma State gave Pitt all it could handle Sunday. The Panthers need their big hoss, DeJuan Blair, to stay out of foul trouble.

Frank: I think the Panthers swagger too much, but they sure wear teams down. I think they get past Xavier.

Artie: Me too. Just too relentless.

Frank: Villanova looked strong playing the first two rounds at home in Philadelphia, but I don’t think they’ll beat Duke. It took the Blue Devils a while to get their lineup straightened out, but now they’re playing super.

Artie: I am so NOT a Duke fan! It’s a privilege to pick against them. And anyway, I think Pitt will beat whoever wins Duke- Villanova.

Frank: Just for fun, I say Duke hits enough outside shots to survive Pitt’s pounding.

South Regional

Frank: Friday in Memphis, it’s North Carolina vs. Gonzaga and Syracuse vs. Oklahoma.

Artie: North Carolina was my favorite to win it all until Ty Lawson got that toe injury. He came back Saturday and scored 23 against LSU, so if he’s close to full strength the Tar Heels can’t be beaten.

Frank: I’d pick Gonzaga against Syracuse or Oklahoma, but unfortunately the Zags drew the top dogs.

Artie: To me, Gonzaga is like Duke/West—too many guys who look like they came from a privileged prep school. But the Zags are balanced and play good defense.

Frank: And besides everything else, North Carolina is the best of the Sweet Sixteen in free-throw shooting, about 76%. Lawson’s at 81% and Ty Hansbrough hits 85%.

Artie: Unlike Oklahoma’s big star, Blake Griffin, who shoots under 60% from the line.

Frank: Syracuse is 64% as a team, so that game could be a clank-fest.

Artie: But Syracuse is playing awfully well. Jonny Flynn is a fabulous guard and has a great supporting cast—better than Griffin’s.

Frank: I like the Orange, too, but only against Oklahoma. After that, it’s Carolina Blue.

Artie: Amen. I see Hansbrough and Lawson just willing the Heels to the Final Four.

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