Sunday, March 30, 2003
Being wrong never felt so right
By Andy Katz
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was called a travesty on Selection Sunday. It became moot on Saturday.
Arizona and Kentucky on the same side of the Final Four? The two favorites to win the national title scheduled to meet in the national semifinals?
|Roy Williams and the Jayhawks just added to the annual madness Saturday.|
So much for predictions, let alone controversy surrounding the selection committee's methods. Both top 'Cats got beat in the Elite Eight. The Final Four will feature Marquette vs. Kansas in a week. Kansas stunned Arizona 78-75 in the West Regional final Saturday at the Pond, a few hours after Marquette crushed Kentucky 83-69 in the Midwest Regional final in Minneapolis.
"That's what you all get paid to do, make predictions, so I'm not upset about it," Kansas sophomore guard Aaron Miles said.
"That's the beauty of this tournament," Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "The NBA went to 4 out of 7 in the first round so that means the best teams will win. But this tournament is so unpredictable (with one and done)."
Irony dripped all over Kansas' win. This was payback for 1997 when the Jayhawks were the favorite to get to the Final Four, not to mention win the national title, and Arizona beat Kansas in the Sweet 16 and went on to win the national title.
So, trying to project what might happen Saturday was pointless. Who could have guessed Marquette would dominate Kentucky inside and been the better defensive team? Marquette fans may have hoped to win, but to lead by 19 at halftime and win going away? Talk about "Holy Mackerel!"
Kansas over Arizona was a shocker, even though the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks two months ago. But there were so many expectations from Day 1 that the Wildcats would be in New Orleans. Beating Kansas was almost a formality.
"The nature of this tournament is to predict who is going to make it. But we did take offense to all of the talk about Arizona and Kentucky on the same side of the bracket," said Kansas sophomore guard Keith Langford, who is now a remarkable two-for-two in Final Four appearances. "I'm sure a lot of people's brackets are messed up."
||The nature of this tournament is to predict who is going to make it. But we did take offense to all of the talk about Arizona and Kentucky on the same side of the bracket. I'm sure a lot of people's brackets are messed up. ”
||— Keith Langford,
Kansas sophomore guard
At least Kansas would certainly rely on Nick Collison to beat Arizona, right? Nope. Just 48 hours after putting up 33 points against Duke, Collison was held to eight points -- only the second time this season he didn't reach double figures.
Instead, Kirk Hinrich continued his unpredictable week by scoring 28 points and making 10 of 23 shots (6 of 17 3s). This coming two days after making just 1 of 9 shots against Duke.
"I knew this could be my last game so I had to go out firing," Hinrich said. "I didn't want to settle for as many 3s as I did, but it was tough to get through their zone."
Of course, the Jayhawks wouldn't rely on their bench. Wrong again. The much-maligned Kansas role players did everything they could to ensure a Jayhawk win. At one point Saturday, Kansas actually had a lineup of Jeff Graves, Michael Lee, Hinrich, Keith Langford and Bryant Nash on the court when the game was tied at 66-66 with six minutes left. For those keeping score, that's only two preseason starters (Hinrich and Langford).
"I grabbed Keith and told him this isn't a scoring lineup so suck it up and be aggressive and make big plays and we'll win this game," Hinrich said. "Everyone said at the beginning of the season that Nash, Lee and Graves couldn't play. But coach gave them a chance and they got confidence."
But, by the time Collison came back into the game with four fouls, the Jayhawks were ahead 70-69 with 3:45 left. The bench held their own and as a result Kansas was in a position to win.
Graves, who was practically off the team before he was ever on it, scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. The same Graves, get this, who the 52-year old Williams lapped on a daily basis on the Kansas track back in August.
"It's the best I've played so far," said Graves, a transfer from Iowa Western College who ballooned up to 293 pounds after getting into a car accident. "I'll have to continue for us to go further. This is real satisfying because it shows how much heart I have after everything I went through."
"He was so out of shape," Williams said. "But we stayed on his case all year and he responded. I still think he'll do more."
Lee came in to relieve point guard Miles after he got into foul trouble and a scrap with Channing Frye. Lee contributed eight points in 20 minutes.
Who could have predicted that? Oh, and remember, Kansas did all this without forward Wayne Simien, who had surgery Friday to repair his separated shoulder that kept him out of all but 16 games this season.
"When Wayne went down I didn't think we would make it to the Final Four," Lee said. "But Nick and Kirk are two of the greatest leaders I've ever been around."
Collison and Hinrich said this Final Four is even more satisfying than last season because they weren't expected to get there once Simien went down. And that's what makes the Elite Eight exit so much harder for Arizona.
Seniors Luke Walton, Jason Gardner and Ricky Anderson expected to be in the Final Four. When Arizona was down by three with 43 seconds left, the easy thing to predict would have been that someone would take a 3-pointer. Instead, Walton tried to spin inside and was called for a charge.
"I'm going to have to live with it (the charge)," Walton said. "I probably should have shot the 3."
"I can't explain how I feel right now," said Anderson. "A lot of people favored us, but we lost because we didn't come out aggressively to start the game or in the second half. You can't do that against Kansas. It's over now."
And, as for those predictions of Arizona and Kentucky meeting in the Final Four?
"That's why they call this March Madness," Anderson said.
That's right, the NCAA Tournament is unpredictable, which is what makes it such a tremendous sporting event. The selection committee didn't have to be right. The four No. 1 seeds didn't have to reach the Final Four. And it was OK to project that at least these two -- Kentucky and Arizona -- would get to New Orleans.
It's called speculation, and won't stop Sunday or into next week. Neither will the unpredictable nature of the best three weeks in sports.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.