Now that Duke has been eliminated, who should you pull for?
It’s an individual choice obviously but here are some things to consider.
While we’re grateful for Auburn knocking off Kansas, UNC and Kentucky - KU is under investigation, UNC got away with murder and UK is the birthplace of the $100.00 handshake and multiple other ways to skirt the rules - the irony is that Auburn is a member of the Situational Ethics Conference and no better than the rest. It has its own history of cheating which is fairly impressive and Bruce Pearl’s history is well known.
They get big points for being entertaining and for having immense heart though. That team is mentally tough and that’s worthy of respect.
We can't overstate our admiration for Texas Tech and our belief that Chris Beard is the next great coach in America (side note: we’re not advocating anything here but when UNC wanted a family guy to take the job they were willing to hire the disastrous Matt Doherty to accomplish it. A program that has to make a major hire that limits itself to family hires at the expense of say Beard or perhaps Brad Stevens, if he were available, could be making a historical mistake). That guy is crazy good.
You can’t go wrong here really. If they lose, you still get to pull for a plucky upstart. And if they win, well, you got on the train at the right time.
The Fighting Izzos?
There is the downside of having just lost to Sparty but Tom Izzo is a truly great coach who has turned in perhaps the finest year of his career. Moreover he has done it at a time when Michigan State, meaning the university not the basketball team, has gone through some serious stuff. There are parts of it that Izzo might have dealt with better personally but this team has restored a sense of pride to Michigan State and the school really needed a boost after the Larry Nassar disaster severely damaged it.
The Spartans have overcome so very much and would be worthy champions. Losing is no fun but losing to an Izzo team isn’t the same thing as, say, losing to Auburn or UNC or Kentucky. It’s an honorable loss, in other words. They play the game the right way and Izzo seems like about as regular a guy as you could hope for in his profession.
Finally of course, there’s Virginia. We’ve been impressed with Tony Bennett’s program and with him in particular. You have to be careful about making assumptions about people’s religion but Bennett seems to have really absorbed the higher ideals of Catholicism and in general seems to have a great perspective on the balance between sports and life. He’s never too high and never too low.
Well, scratch that, sort of anyway.
Take a look at this article which shares the same picture as this post. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a guy look happier than Bennett does as he cuts down the net after winning the South regional.
At the end of that article he says this:
“I remember 19 years ago, I was sitting in the back of a press conference. My father took his team to the Final Four. They beat Purdue. He said a quote I never forgot. It stuck with me for that long. They asked him, ‘Is this one of the greatest feelings that you’ve ever had, getting to the Final Four?’
“He said this, ‘From a feeling state, euphoria, yes, it is. But it doesn’t compare with faith, with kids, family, grandkids.’ He said, ‘Because I know what truly matters, it enables me to enjoy what seems to matter like this.’ I’ve remembered that quote and tried my best to live by it.”
For us it’s a toss-up between Bennett and Izzo. We could be wrong about them and it wouldn’t be the first time that a coach isn’t what he appeared to be. And to be sure, like all of us, they have flaws and demons to deal with.
Both men seem truly decent though, genuinely concerned about their players beyond just athletics and guys who you could trust to help your teenage sons grow into men. We’d be thrilled for either of them but in the final analysis, we’ll stick with the ACC.