BOZICH | NCAA Tournament Losers (CBS coverage) & Winners (Frank Martin, De'Aaron Fox)
The 2017 NCAA Tournament is over. But the scoreboard never sleeps. It's time for a final look at the Losers and Winners from the last three weeks.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The college basketball season is over, but the scoreboard never sleeps. As the North Carolina basketball team rushes back to Chapel Hill to attend Tuesday classes, there is time for one final roll call of Winners and Losers from the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Actually, better make that Losers and Winners because the Losers outnumbered the Winners over the last three weeks.
LOSER – CBS Sports Final Four coverage.
Reasonable people can disagree about the five biggest stories at the Final Four, but only a hopeless Pollyanna could ignore these two topics:
North Carolina academic scandal.
I’m still waiting for the folks at CBS to share their views on either subject. As the Whistlefest accelerated in North Carolina’s victory over Gonzaga Monday night, it moved casual basketball fans (like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) to race to Twitter and wonder what was going on?
Man I can't watch this anymore man! I would like to see the kids decide who wins the game! I mean Bruh!! Smh— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 4, 2017
I’ll tell you one thing that was going on – Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill had absolutely no zest for a serious discussion about why Mike Eades, Verne Harris and Michael Stephens averaged more than one personal foul (44 in 40) per minute.
Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.
Raff made a few wise guy cracks about nickel and dime calls, hinting the officials should let the teams play. But they contributed nothing thoughtful about why the game lapsed into a stage for the officiating crew instead of the two teams.
Were the officials trying to maintain control? Were the players mauling each other more than expected? What was the issue?
It got worse. The officials missed a potentially critical call in the final 50 seconds. North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks was locked in a held-ball situation on the baseline under the UNC goal. The possession arrow ensured that the Tar Heels maintained possession.
Viewers took a closer look at a detail CBS essentially ignored: Meeks had a hand on the end line during the scrum.
Gonzaga ball, right?
Wrong. The officials failed to review the play, which led to a basket by UNC forward Isaiah Hicks. Goodnight, Zags.
After the game, CBS analyst Charles Barkley certainly sounded like a guy who wanted to vent on the officials.
CBS never gave Barkley the chance.
There was another story that CBS danced around: The North Carolina academic scandal, which had resulted in an NCAA investigation that has gone on and on and on. On Saturday, Nantz made the unfortunate decision of calling the investigation “swirling innuendo.”
His attempt to diminish the fine reporting by Dan Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer and others merely confirmed the notion that the network remains committed to remaining three club lengths away from controversy with its precious $1 billion product.
WINNER – Frank Martin, South Carolina.
When the tournament started, the Gamecocks were just another seven seed, losers of six of their last nine games, led by a coach whose face was locked in a perpetual scowl.
When the tournament ended, the Gamecocks had traveled deeper into the bracket than Villanova, Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky and 60 other teams.
You know the other seven seeds?
Didn’t think so. They were Saint Mary’s, which lost in the round of 32; Michigan, which lost in the Sweet Sixteen and Dayton, which lost its tournament opener.
The story of Martin’s unlikely rise from high school assistant coach to East Regional champion is one that should resonate on recruiting trails as gives the Southeastern Conference another program to appreciate.
LOSER – Kentucky fans.
I know there were bad calls in the Wildcats’ South Regional final loss to North Carolina. I know there were also missed calls. I know that only a minority of Kentucky fans overreacted to what they saw in the Wildcats’ two-point defeat.
But death threats and trying to damage the livelihood of official John Higgins, a solid pro who was given a spot in the national semifinals, is a terrible look for any fan base. Credit former Kentucky players like Tony Delk and Cameron Mills for urging fans to find a more civilized way to express their unhappiness and become agents for change. They simply needed more reasonable fans to join them.
WINNER – SEC Basketball.
One team in the Final Four. Two others in the Elite Eight. A solid effort by Arkansas against North Carolina. A two-point loss by Vanderbilt.
Improving programs at Tennessee, Auburn and Alabama. Intriguing hires by Louisiana State and Missouri.
Better days ahead for SEC hoops.
LOSER – Bill Self, Kansas.
Yes, he will be making a trip to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. Yes, his program continued to dominate the Big 12 Conference.
But the Jayhawks had the friendliest path to Phoenix of any Number One seed – and they were dominated 42 miles from Allen Fieldhouse by an Oregon team playing without its starting center.
The loss made Self 2-7 in Elite Eight games – and gave him another reason to take Mario Chalmers to dinner.
WINNER – De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky guard.
When the tournament began, UCLA guard Lonzo Ball was considered no worse than the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. You had Ball, you had Markelle Fultz of Washington and Jayson Tatum of Duke.
Then Kentucky vs. UCLA happened.
Fox, Kentucky’s dynamic point guard, left Ball looking as if he belonged in the preliminary game. Fox outscored Ball, 39-10 – and delivered his points without making a shot from distance. Fox looked quicker, wiser and more efficient than Ball – and likely inspired intense debates in NBA Draft war rooms.
LOSER – Tony Bennett, Virginia.
Make no mistake. Bennett is a wonderful coach, a two-time winner of national coach of the year awards. His program has become a persistent contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Virginia scored 13 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half and first 10 minutes of the second half of the Cavaliers’ ugly 65-39 second-round loss to Florida.
Without Austin Nichols, Virginia lacked a dependable low-post player all season. The Cavaliers’ lack of sizzle on offense was enough to cue the debate about whether it’s possible to make a deep, successful NCAA Tournament run without more weapons on offense.
WINNER – Gonzaga basketball.
Yes, the Zags did not finish the job. But their tournament performance ensured that critics must uncover another program and coach to identify as the symbol of NCAA Tournament futility.
LOSER – ACC basketball superiority.
Thank heaven North Carolina slogged through six games, especially the Tar Heels’ ability to fight off a dangerous second-half rally by Arkansas.
Even with UNC’s 6-0-tournament performance, the ACC went 11-8 in NCAA play, generating a winning percentage of .579. The West Coast Conference (6-2, .750), Pac-12 (10-4, .714), SEC (11-5, .688) and Big 12 (9-6, .600) were all better.
A closer look inspires more ACC heartburn.
Virginia Tech, Virginia, Notre Dame, Florida State and Miami lost by double figures.
Duke, Louisville, Florida State and Miami lost to teams with lower seeds.
WINNER – Northwestern basketball.
The Wildcats not only made the tournament for the first time, they defeated Vanderbilt and then played Gonzaga tougher than any program not named North Carolina.
A missed goal-tending call followed by an unfortunate technical foul against coach Chris Collins stopped their advance through the bracket.
There is plenty of good news in Evanston. The Wildcats should return at least their four leading scorers. Collins did not pursue another job. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has two more seasons to cheer for her son, Charlie Hall, a Northwestern walk-on..
Expect CBS to cover Elaine Benes more thoroughly than the officials.
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