NCAA Finals - April Brings Best from May

Size definitely mattered in the NCAA championship game, as North Carolina rode the broad shoulders of Sean May to Tar Heel Coach Roy Williams' first national title.

ST. LOUIS – The deadline for John R. Wooden Award ballots was March 26, five days before the Final Four semifinals in the Edward Jones Dome and two days before the national title game that was played in the same building Monday night.

Just a hunch: Do you think there are a healthy percentage of those 1,000-plus voters for the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball who'd like the opportunity to re-cast their ballots before the winner is revealed Saturday morning in Los Angeles?

I thought so.

Utah sophomore Andrew Bogut seems likely to make it near-clean sweep of every major piece (USBWA/Oscar Robertson; Associated Press; Naismith; and JRW; J.J. Redick of Duke won the Adolph Rupp Trophy) of Player of the Year hardware.

But, even if convincing arguments could be made that Bogut or Redick (whose teams were eliminated in Sweet 16 games) was the best player during the regular season, there's little question as to who was Numero Uno during the three weeks when even non-college hoops fans go a little Mad over what happens in late March and early April.

North Carolina junior center Sean May added the last piece of evidence to a very convincing brief on his behalf in that argument Monday night in the Tar Heels' 75-70 victory over Illinois, scoring 26 points with an almost business-like display of the kind of footwork and low-post efficiency that a lot of tall gentlemen drawing mega paychecks in the NBA would kill for.

If you want your "Why did North Carolina win the national title?" explanation short and sweet, it goes like this:

  • Illinois, despite winning 37 of its first 38 games, did so with a set of post players that would have come up second in a comparison with any of its counterparts on almost any past national champion you'd want to suggest.

  • And in May, the Tar Heels arguably had the most polished and powerful low-post presence in a college uniform this season.

    Illinois, which trailed by 13 points at intermission and 15 a couple of times early in the second half, was able to avoid the blowout that the game seemed to be tittering toward and finally tie the score (at 70) on a Luther Head jump shot – the team's 12th three-pointer of the night – with 2:39 to play.

    But the Illini, who now have the somewhat-dubious distinction of being the fourth team to win 37 games yet still not put scissors to nets on the final night of the season, came up empty on their final six possessions, with five missed threes sandwiched around a Raymond Felton theft of a Head pass.

    When it became apparent early that they weren't going to get much accomplished inside the lane (either in transition or on follow shots) against the likes of May and Marvin and Jawad Williams, the Illini almost always terminated their halfcourt offense with jump shots.

    They hit more than enough of them to get back into the game but, ultimately, they were firing on empty chambers in the final two minutes.

    They got away without ever being much more than "pretty good" in the post while winning 37 of their first 38 games. Monday night, against the guy who just might be the best player, low post or otherwise, "pretty good" finished just where you would expect it would.

    Michael Jordan (who watched the game from a luxury suite) and The Godfather of All Things Carolina Blue, Dean Smith, joined Roy Williams and his players as they celebrated the program's first national title in 12 years.

    When Williams made his much-discussed – and, in reality, much anticipated – return to his alma mater two years ago after turning down the opportunity to do so in 2000, it seemed inevitable that the Tar Heels would move to the top of the college basketball world in relatively short time.

    Thanks in very large part to the players recruited by another Tar Heel alum – Matt Doherty, forced out after three seasons two years ago – that wait wasn't very long at all, was it?



    Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at FrankHoops.com

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