Men's Final Four Preview, Take Two

Daniel and Michigan Nick take two (well, actually take on questions six through ten) as they preview the Final Four right up to the opening tipoff. Who's this year's can't-miss media star, who is an entire state falsely pinning their hopes on and... Villanova? Seriously? How'd they get here? The Bootleg explores, read on!

(Continued from Part I)

6. Michigan Nick: What will CBS do with all their camera time now that Blake Griffin's parents won't be at the game?

Daniel: Talk about "the quarterback you most want your daughter to marry," Tim Tebow? Not to go all Rush Limbaugh on you, but there does seem to be a preference for white stars in the media. I think it's less some covert racism than it is just stupidity and simplicity – football or basketball are way too complicated for our viewer to fully appreciate, so let's just focus excessively on the only player most casual fans can name. [Plus, of course, white players are more likely to be the ones throwing the pretty touchdown passes and swishing jump shots, perfect for next morning's SportsCenter.]

All this to say, of course, there is a player in the Tournament who happens to fit every key media crush metric. White? Check. Plays for a brand-name, East Coast team? Check. Most visible player on the team most likely to win it all? Check.  Senior, so CBS can wax poetic about doing things the right way? Check. I'm talking, of course, about Tyler Hansbrough, and I expect his parents to be this game's Mr. and Mrs. Griffin, this game's Jack Nicholson, this game's Brady Quinn's sister/AJ Hawk's girlfriend... you get the idea. Just don't shoot the messenger when you want to tear your eyeballs out Monday night.

7. Daniel: It's sixth grade all over again, where any and all writing can contain only one main idea. Your job: summarize the Tournament's first two weeks.
[Since it's sixth grade, after all, I'll be kind enough to provide you with a model. My thesis statement: The Tournament has been utterly predictable. Paragraph One: We've had few dramatic finishes. Paragraph Two: We've had even fewer upsets. Paragraph Three: We've absolutely no Cinderellas. Concluding paragraph: Restate the above.]

Nick: How would I summarize the tournament?  As boring as an NCAA Tournament can be, which is to say still awesome.  The best part of any tournament is a heroic little guy knocking out a high-major in the first round.  Eric Maynor had a chance, but it wasn't to be. Cleveland State over Wake Forest was the biggest upset in the Tournament, but even that game was bereft of any drama.  The first and second rounds are usually the best four days of the year, but only Ohio State-Siena actually had viewers at the edge of their seat. Add that Arizona was the only surprise team in the Sweet Sixteen and we have a pretty lame tournament.  This is the second year in a row that the Tournament has been tame for the first four rounds (Although last year, Stephen Curry was all anyone really needed to stay interested.)

There were still great moments (Nova-Pitt, MSU-Kansas) to remind us why we watch basketball for eight hours in a row in late March.  And Blake Griffin provided some memorable performances. Then again, with so many games, you will always find some justification for wasting so much time in front of the television.  Hopefully the Final Four makes up for the First Sixty One.

8. Michigan Nick: How much will playing in Detroit help MSU?

Daniel: Two points.
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(Pause.)
(Pause.)
What, Nick, you won't take my word for it and want an explanation? Can't see why, given my dark-horse Final Four pick of West Virginia, but I'd say this: based on Sagarin ratings, the line should be four. The line is four. Readers know I've messed up simpler (although have anyone perform a simple task thousands of times and I'll bet he makes a few mistakes), but I think that works out to home-court giving Michigan State a whopping edge of zero points. Given that the average home-court edge in college basketball is four points, and that that zero value sounds funny, let's average the two together (I'm not getting a masters in stats for nothing, people) and, tada, quasi-home-court gives the Spartans a whopping two points. That makes sense, because playing in Detroit's Ford Field and East Lansing's Breslin Center aren't the same thing either – Ford Field is 90 minutes away, there are going to be tons of corporate suits, neutral fans and UConn fans there given that it's the Final Four, and an 80,000-seat stadium just isn't going to get as loud as a college gym. Okay, take your one-layup handicap MSU – you're going to need a whole lot more to get past UConn.

Speaking of Michigan State and Detroit, as a Detroit product through and through, I have a point I need to make. I happened to go to school with the kids of the Chrsyler CEO and (now-former) CEO of GM, Mommy's worked at GM for going on 30 years, knock on wood, heck, I even pulled the Mommy card and interned at GM as a high school senior. (Ironically, I told them that then they could use more hybrid cars; they told me some of my model's assumptions were wrong.) But anyways, I'm far too close to the whole auto industry to know what to think politically, and whatever I do think I think, you guys can all make up your own minds and don't want me to tell you how to vote anyways.

So no political speeches out of me in a sports column, and in a roundabout way then, I've kind of arrived at my point. Something that bothers me is the whole sports-as-a-solvent thing. I tolerated the inevitable first few columns--with Michigan State in the Final Four, the event in Detroit, and the state in the economic sewer, they were wholly expected. But then I saw our Governor being interviewed on ESPN, I read one article too many (natch, make that two articles too many) connecting success on a basketball court to buoying spirits in the face of an unyielding unemployment rate. It's not that simple. People don't get back lost jobs on a basketball court, people don't feed their families on a three-pointer, and to imply any sort of connection between the two is, in my opinion, insensitive to people who are truly suffering.

9. Daniel: Vegas has UNC at 10:11 to win it all, significantly better odds than Connecticut's 9:5. I know your original bracket had Connecticut emerging victorious, but if you could pick it anew today, you're not still going with the Huskies, right?

Michigan Nick: Call me crazy, but I am still going with the Huskies.  I don't know whether this speaks more to my stubbornness than my powers of prognostication, but I don't see any reason to change my pick.  UConn has risen to number one in the KenPom rankings, and they have looked dominant at every step of the Tournament.  UNC has looked just as good, but I like UConn's length in this matchup. [Daniel: Oh, god, now you sound like ESPN on NBA Draft Day.] Hansbrough will struggle with Thabeet clogging the lane, and Adrien might be able to get Media Darling into foul trouble on the other end.  The one thing that really worries me, though, is Ty Lawson.  His three-point shooting has been out of this world in the Tournament.  Fortunately, UConn does a good job of defending the three (19th in opponents' three-point percentage), so that calms my nerves a little.  I'm taking UConn over UNC, 78-74 in a game that is close the whole way.

10. Michigan Nick:  How big a surprise is Nova this year, and how did they make it this far?

Daniel: They were in the bottom of the preseason top-25, but when the other Final Four teams are the AP No. 1, 2 and 6 squads preseason, I guess Villanova would qualify as a surprise. As far as how Nova made it this far, I hear the SportsCenter anchors talk about Scottie Reynolds all the time, so I figure he must be pretty good. Looking at the stats, two things jump out. One, Reynolds is overrated and the rest of his teammates are underrated, especially Dante Cunningham. Statistically, they're nearly as strong as he is. One-man team, this is not.

Two, Villanova is incredibly balanced – top-20 in offense and defense, top-100 in a whole slew of statistics, but in the top-50 in none. The good but not exceptional statistics suggest Villanova is a good three seed who can rack up on non-top-25 teams, which is exactly what the Wildcats did en route to a 26-7 Big East record. Sure enough, the losses all came to top-25 teams -- which is really bad news for ‘Nova come Saturday.

Enjoy the games, folks!


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