NCAA Basketball: The Final Four, But No Cinderellas

by Hayden Alfano*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Everyone loves a Cinderella in March. People brag more about picking that big first-round upset in their office pools than they do about getting the national champion right. Therefore, when Jason Richards’ last-second three-pointer missed off the backboard yesterday, there were more than a few disappointed college basketball fans. If you aren’t a Kansas supporter, you probably wanted to see Davidson pull their third straight upset of a major conference team and reach the Final Four.

But hold on a minute. Maybe that disappointment is misplaced. As much as the Wildcats (and their sublime shooting guard, Stephen Curry) were the story of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Jayhawks made history with their win on Sunday. For the first time, all four number-one seeds won their first four games, and will meet this weekend in San Antonio to decide the national championship.

What this means for fans is that the four best teams – and make no mistake, Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina, and Memphis have consistently been the four best teams in college basketball this year – will be taking the court on Saturday, with the winners squaring off next Monday night. There’s no precedent for this kind of talent meeting on the sport’s biggest stage, and that means a higher likelihood for an unprecedented level of play.

Let’s face it: there isn’t a great track record for underdogs in the Final Four. Two 11 seeds and three teams seeded eighth have made the national semis, and only one of them – the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, who beat St. John’s and Georgetown to capture the title – won a game. Most recently, No. 11 George Mason beat North Carolina, Michigan State, and Connecticut to reach the 2006 Final Four. As fun as that run was to watch, however, the Patriots were overmatched in their 73-58 loss to eventual national champion Florida.

So, college basketball fans, take some time early this week to mourn Davidson’s loss, to appreciate their scrappiness, to marvel at Curry’s brilliance. But don’t hang your heads for too long. If you feel yourself getting down, picture Derrick Rose going one-on-one with Darren Collison, and Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, and Sasha Kaun doing their best to contain Tyler Hansbrough. Think of Kevin Love’s outlet passes, Joey Dorsey’s rim-rocking dunks, Ty Lawson’s blazing speed, and Mario Chalmers’ sweet shooting stroke.

The clock has indeed struck midnight on Cinderella. But a story doesn’t have to be a fairy tale to be enjoyable, and this one might have the best ending of all.

(Television Basketball Viewing Advisory: UCLA and Memphis play in the first national semifinal this coming Saturday, April 5, at 6 p.m. EDT. Kansas and North Carolina play immediately following that game, with the winners playing for the national championship on Monday at 9 p.m. EDT. All three games will be televised on CBS.)

*Hayden Alfano is the author of the blog 19'9" which is mostly about basketball.

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