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NCAA Tournament 2015: Some Rambling Notes

We started with Virginia and finished with Utah. Go figure.

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Mar 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook (2) and center Jahlil Okafor (15) hug during the second half against the San Diego State Aztecs in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Mar 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook (2) and center Jahlil Okafor (15) hug during the second half against the San Diego State Aztecs in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

We're sure that Tony Bennett and the Virginia team (and fans) have been down since losing to Michigan State, but maybe being named the National Coach Of The Year takes some of the sting out of it. He's certainly deserving.

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As we said the other day, people who are down on UVA should consider where they've been since Terry Holland retired. 

In Chapel Hill, it would seem that Kennedy Meeks does not require surgery on the knee he injured vs. Arkansas, which is good news, but he's not certain for UNC's Sweet Sixteen game against Wisconsin.

This brings to mind a long UNC tradition, first mastered by Dean Smith and then passed down to ever subsequent coach: the miraculous recovery.

Basically it works like this: the public is first told that the injury/illness is very serious and the player most likely won't play. Then it's said that the player will dress but almost certainly won't play. And in the final bit of the routine, the player tears off his warmups, comes in to the game and plays extremely well, thus firing up fans and teammates alike.

It reminds us a great deal of this.

State had the applause meter; UNC has the miraculous recovery. Great theater in both cases.

Former Syracuse reserve BJ Johnson has picked a new school: he'll be heading back to Philly to play at LaSalle, where his father played.

On Sunday after losing to Michigan State, Virginia's Darion Atkins said that Virginia "played like a bunch of p****es" and questioned his teammates' desire.

It's revision time! Through UVA's Twitter account, he said this: "I would like to apologize for my inappropriate comments to the media in Charlotte. I let my emotions get the best of me during the NCAA Tournament and I did not intend to offend anyone. In hindsight I wish I had used more appropriate words to express myself. I’ve met with my teammates and coaches to express my remorse for this unfortunate situation. I want everyone to know that I care so much about this program, and I hope this does not become a distraction from all that we were able to accomplish this year."

We haven't heard anything from State after Cat Barber cursed President Obama for picking Villanova to beat State...but we did find the blog post which offended (we think) Trevor Lacey.

It's pretty foolish stuff. The author signs himself Young Buck, which maybe gets him a bit of a pass, but stuff like this? Geez: 

"This is not your father’s Jimmy Valvano-coached NC State Wolfpack. They are headed by Mark Gottfried, who is a player’s coach in that he's technically responsible to coach players. Gottfried employs an ‘inmates run the asylum’ type philosophy, which isn’t exactly equipped for something already called ‘March Madness.

"They are not a team that does the little things: diving on the floor, making the extra pass, and taking the charge. NC State is the St. John’s of the ACC, minus the toughness and redeeming chip on their shoulder. I guess that makes Gottfried a member of Steve Lavin’s ‘Used Car Salesmen Lampooning as a College Coach’ brethren. This is exactly the type of loosely-bound roster that plays right into Villanova’s hands.

"'Nova has established themselves as one of the most clockwork-like teams in the country; they make the occasional mistake but overall are a finely-tuned machine. In stark contrast, NC State is as erratic a team as you'll see in the round of 32. There is almost no chance that NCSU can go forty minutes playing mostly-perfect basketball, and that is what it takes to defeat these Wildcats.

"NC State was handed [the LSU] game on a silver platter, and did the bare minimum to limp their way into the second round.

"Villanova awaits, and it will take a completely out of character, mistake-free, Herculean effort by the Wolfpack to still be in the game by the second half. Villanova has earned every bit of their one seed, and as the statistics show, NC State similarly 'deserved' their eight seed and stumbled into the second round. Have faith in the stats, Nova Nation: Villanova is very much in the driver's seat, and NC State is merely a speed bump."

Villanova, of course, ended up road kill, a speed bump for State instead.

To his credit, Young Buck posted that he had said something foolish and praised State - good move.

In a funny way, though, he kind of underscores a difficulty just about everyone this side of Jay Bilas has: seeing enough games to have a rational opinion on various teams (he also said the ACC was overrated, a mistake which he probably regretted fairly quickly). He probably didn't realize that State is still a young team and that early in the season, it was still overcoming the loss of TJ Warren, who was so dominant last season.

This is a problem for us, for instance, with West Coast and Rocky Mountain basketball.

We just don't see enough of it to know it as well as we know, say, the SEC and Big Ten. We have a good sense of Kentucky, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Auburn under Bruce Pearl, Georgetown, Villanova, Florida, Cincinnati and UConn, to name a few. Might as well toss in Davidson and VCU.

It's hard to know everything and everyone. As much as we admire the MAC, we miss the old WAC and the old Southwestern Conference. We miss the older regional styles. The ACC had one which Everett Case and Frank McGuire pioneered. A lot of what took hold in North Carolina in the '50s was imported from Everett Case from the wonderful basketball culture of Indiana.

There were the segregated styles of the Old Southwest, the patterned, patient game of the Iba School and the wide open style which developed in JUCOs and, after integration, at larger schools like UTEP and (later) Arkansas. 

The Rockies developed a style too, and while we're not as familiar with it, we're guessing that a lot of it came out of Mormon gyms (many, if not most Mormon temples have a gym). In its heyday, the WAC was a superb conference, full of passionate basketball schools.

But it goes deeper than that. Utah State has had some great teams. Wyoming has had some great stretches. And of course Weber State has always been a tough program. Further south, New Mexico and New Mexico State also have powerful traditions, and in Nevada, both Nevada and UNLV have their own.

When you look at the barns at BYU and Utah, you get a sense of the importance of the game there. Here is BYU and here is Utah

Utah is our main concern this week, obviously. The late Rick Majerus recognized the assets of the fan base, calling Mormons "the best goddamn people in the world," thus simultaneously flattering and insulting them.

He left Utah in 2003-04 though and since then the Utes have been up and down and mostly down.

There are two obvious ties between Duke and Utah: Bill Foster left the Utes to come to Durham and lead the Blue Devils to the 1978 national title game, and Chris Burgess went the other way, leaving Duke after his sophomore year to play for Majerus.

We're doing our oppo research on the current Utah team, but our favorite aspect of the Utes currently is coach Larry Krystkowiak (spoiler: expect lots of Polish jokes in press conferences this week) who, when he's not busy coaching, apparently fights crime in his spare time. As a bit of trivia, he's the second significant basketball player we know of to have been born in Missoula, Montana, following Duke great Mike Lewis.

He's overhauled the program remarkably well. When Krystkowiak showed up, his first team finished 6-25. Since then he's gone 15-18, 21-12 and 26-8.

He's only been a college coach for six years and succeeded at Montana (42-20). At Utah he's currently 68-62 and heading up.

We'll have more on Utah as the week progresses.