#8 Kentucky defeated #2 Wisconsin
This tournament is decided by the slimmest of margins. I honestly don’t mean this as a slam against Kentucky, as I think it is better as a compliment. When Kentucky trailed Wichita St. 40-31, Ken Pomeroy’s in-game probabilities said they had only a 12% chance of winning. When they trailed Louisville 64-57 with 5 minutes left, they had only a 5% chance of winning. When they trailed Michigan 32-22, they had just a 22% chance of winning. Saturday against Wisconsin was no different. To overcome those odds is something that you can never take away from this incredible group of freshmen.
Someday they will make one of those ESPN 30 for 30 movies about this team. They will talk about the recruiting, the expectations, the disappointment.
And they will talk about redemption. Alex Poythress scored only eight points on Saturday, but I don’t think I have ever seen a player make as many momentum swinging buckets in one game.
They will talk about surprises. Kentucky supposedly couldn’t win if the Harrison twins were on the bench, but less heralded freshman Dominique Hawkins played 11 critical minutes, including several at the end of the first half as Kentucky cut the lead. (And don’t forget about Marcus Lee’s dunk over Frank Kaminsky’s head.)
They will talk about players stepping up. When Wisconsin went up seven to start the second half and John Calipari called time-out, James Young almost single-handedly saved the game. He helped force a shot-clock violation on defense. Then he drove and was fouled. Then he hit a jumper. Then he had a steal from behind. Then he had a floater that was put in by Poythress. He personally sparked a run that for a period of time, made Kentucky look invincible.
They will talk about a heroic recovery from injury. When Julius Randle sprained his ankle in the first half, it looked like Kentucky’s dream might be over. But there was Randle late in the game driving for a key basket and foul to keep his team in the game.
They will talk about family. After Andrew Harrison fouled Traevon Jackson and sent him to the line for three free throws, his brother Aaron Harrison hit a miraculous three (again) to save his brother, and his team.
And whether Kentucky wins or loses Monday’s championship game, this season will go down as one of the most amazing stories of all time.
But Kentucky fans will have to forgive me if I save a lot of this space for Wisconsin. I wrote a long game review about the Connecticut and Florida team simulcasts. (Scroll down for the recap.) But it wasn’t until I watched Wisconsin lose that I realized how powerful the team simulcasts can be.
For probably 20 years, I’ve heard Wayne Larrivee’s voice calling various sporting events in the Midwest. And just the sound of his melodious wordsmithing brings back feelings of being a teenager and hearing a regional broadcast of a Big Ten game at 11am CT. And though I watched the game on TBS with Jim Nance, Steve Kerr, and Greg Anthony, when the game was over, I switched to the Wisconsin simulcast. And I rewound and listened again as Larrivee called the final minutes of action. The beauty of the simulcasts is sometimes as simple as this. The local legends and heroes who have called games for decades finally get to call the most important games of a school’s existence. Is there anything more perfect than that?
And then on the Wisconsin channel, while John Calipari could faintly be heard giving his interview with Tracy Wolfson in the background, they simply showed the Wisconsin fans one at a time. They showed sadness. They showed distress. They showed shock. They showed pride.
Florida’s loss on Saturday will be painful for a long-time. To lose as a heavy-favorite is never easy to overcome. But to lose at the last second like Wisconsin lost, when the opportunity for a championship was at hand, is devastating.
In the post-game interview, Charles Barkley basically said two things. First, he said it was a great game. Then he said, losing is extremely painful. When you look at those two thoughts on paper, they are truly inane. But that is why Charles Barkley is absolutely the best in the business at what he does. He can take those simple statements and make them mean something.
And you cannot get over how painful this loss is for Wisconsin. Having watched the Badgers for 20 years, and having seen the team make the Final Four before, I can easily say that this is the best Wisconsin team I have ever seen play. Frank Kaminsky was a dynamic post player, driver, and three point shooter. Sam Dekker, while later posterized by Alex Poythress, opened the second half by blocking a Julius Randle dunk attempt inside. He showed spectacular athleticism. The Badgers had the perfect collection of shooters. And with Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and a suddenly emerging Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin also had a group of perimeter players who could beat their man off the dribble. For this team to end its run short of the pinnacle is truly heart-breaking.
The temptation is to look ahead to next year. Of all the rotation players, only Ben Brust graduates. If Frank Kaminsky does not declare for the draft, expectations should be through the roof. I’ve already run my Way-To-Early-Simulation for next year and I can tell you that if everyone comes back, I project Wisconsin fourth nationally.
But you cannot look to the future and assume everything will work out as planned. Ask Michigan St. how quickly a dream lineup can go astray. Ask Marcus Smart what happens when you come back to get your team deeper into the tournament. In a one-game setting, almost anything can happen. This may be as good as it ever gets.
I remember when Dee Brown, Deron Williams, and the Illini went 37-2 and returned home after losing the Championship Game in 2005. Bruce Weber had a somewhat pessimistic comment when he came back to town. People kept telling him, “We will win it next year coach.” And Weber’s response was not, “Of course.” His response was, “Enjoy the moment. Remember this season. 37-2 will not happen nearly often enough.”
And that’s what I have to say to Wisconsin fans. You don’t have to worry about falling off the map, because Bo Ryan is a winner. But also realize that the joy of this season will rarely, if ever, be duplicated. The amazing comeback against Oregon, the shocking beat-down of Baylor, and the thrilling game against Arizona, are memories that Wisconsin fans should hold dear for the rest of their life. Go buy that Final Four shirt and wear it with pride.
#7 Connecticut defeated #1 Florida
I watched quite a bit of the team simulcasts during the Connecticut vs Florida game. If you were hoping for some comedic hometown announcers that gleefully explain how their team never commits a foul, you were probably disappointed. There were the occasional hidden jabs. For example, the Florida announcers made sure to emphasize that when Florida lost to Connecticut early in the season that Kasey Hill did not play. And even though Florida trailed at the half, the Gators production team pulled out a stat from Bloomberg that said that the Gators were still favored to win 54% of the time. But, overall the jabs were pretty subtle.
To really understand the differences, I watched the exact same moments of game time. I watched both simulcasts in their entirety through the first ten minutes of game action, and for the final five minutes of regulation:
-Starting with the opener, the UConn channel showed highlights of UConn from this season. Meanwhile, the Florida channel showed highlights of Florida from this season. Both packages were well done. This was a good idea.
-The UConn channel showed a graphic that said that UConn has the sixth most NCAA titles in history. Meanwhile, the Florida announcers noted that the Gators were the #1 overall team in the entire NCAA tournament.
-The UConn channel showed a tweet from Rip Hamilton telling his team to #standup. Meanwhile, the Florida channel had a graphic that said that there were 110,000 Twitter mentions of the Gators over the weekend, and 75,000 fewer mentions of UConn.
-Opening minute: The UConn announcers bemoaned the fact that Florida’s Michael Frazier hit a three to open the game. “That’s a very bad sign.” Ironically, it was Florida's only three of the game. Meanwhile, the Florida announcers didn’t just praise the play, they fully diagnosed the play. “That was a designed set by the Gators. It is called the elevator play.” The Gator crew then showed a complete replay of what led to Frazier getting open. Frazier essentially slid between two Gator forwards who stepped together and cut off Shabazz Napier. Meanwhile, the UConn announce team moved on and did not emphasize what led to the open shot. This showed an important distinction between the two telecasts. This was not just the same set of pictures with different announcers. These were completely different productions.
-When the Gators took a 7-0 lead, again we saw a key difference between the two production crews. The UConn channel just cut to a commercial, but the Florida channel first showed a shot of the Florida student section cheering. Overall, the team channels only showed the fans of the team in the spotlight.
-At 12:18 left in the first half Patric Young blocked Ryan Boatright’s shot out-of-bounds leading to a shot-clock violation. On the Florida channel, they emphasized the incredible defense that Florida displayed for 35 seconds. But on the UConn channel they talked about what a great job Boatright did getting into the lane. They noted that Boatright just held the ball a second too long which allowed Young to recover and get the block.
-After the under 12 minute timeout, we saw the next biggest difference in the two production crews. They had different interviews with formers players. While former UConn player Swin Cash was interviewing Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb, over on the Florida channel the sideline reporter’s microphone wasn’t working. (Later the Florida channel would interview Chandler Parsons and Matt Bonner.)
In my opinion, this was a huge and important difference in having multiple channels broadcast the game. One of the most painful things that can happen when watching your team play in a sporting event is for the announcers to interview someone related to the opposing team. First, the interview almost always makes it impossible to follow the game action. And second, if it isn’t your team, you don’t care what the interviewee has to say. In this case, if you hated the interviews, you could always switch back to the primary TBS telecast. (And quite frankly, you should have made this choice. In the Matt Bonner interview we learned that he now only wears corduroy pants and he has given up jeans. This is some information I never wanted to know.)
Jumping ahead to the last five minutes of the game:
-At 4:25 left, the Florida announcers reminded us that there was “still plenty of time left.” Meanwhile, the Connecticut announcers noted that it was too early to hold the ball and run clock.
-At 3:53 on the Florida channel we got the Infiniti Spotlight. They showed a 3D view of Florida’s great court spacing which allowed Patric Young to go one-on-one and get an easy basket inside. Meanwhile, the Connecticut channel showed the Capital One Cup Impact Performance which featured a series of highlights of DeAndre Daniels.
-With 2:04 left and Shabazz Napier heading to the line, the UConn channel focused on Napier’s mom. Meanwhile, the Florida channel showed the sad Gator players sitting on the bench.
-With 1:21 left, UConn turned the ball over. On the UConn channel, “This game is not over!” But on the Florida channel, they had gone into full concession mode and were talking about the “core four” Florida Gator seniors, whose career was now over.
This, by the way, is a key feature of human nature. When you are up 10 with 1:21 left, you are still nervous and fear the loss. But when you are down 10 with 1:21 left, you usually view the lead as insurmountable.
-With 47.5 seconds left in the game, Patric Young made a miraculous play diving for a loose ball. The Florida channel praised his effort while talking about all of Florida’s great wins this season, including winning at Tennessee and Kentucky in the same week. On the Connecticut channel, they started showing shots of the UConn players on the bench jumping up and down and needing to be restrained by Kevin Ollie from stepping on the floor. They also panned to the UConn fans cheering.
-Postgame: Florida’s announcers noted that after the way the season started with all the injuries and off-court issues, no one gave the Gators a shot of making it this far. Meanwhile UConn’s announcers noted that no one gave Kevin Ollie’s squad a shot of making it to the national title game.
As for the game, I thought Steve Kerr nailed it. While Florida won the points in the paint 32-14 in the first match-up, they did not dominate in this area in this game. That was a little shocking given that Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan were in significant foul trouble and UConn had to go small on a number of occasions. Patric Young carried Florida for quite a stretch in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.
I thought former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun (interviewed on the UConn channel), also had the perfect take on the game. He said that people assume that when a team goes small, the defense will be terrible. But Connecticut’s players were able to stay closer to the ground, and that made it very hard for Florida to get by them. Florida was a team that penetrated and shared the ball for easy baskets. But Florida had just three assists in the whole game. And Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright got some huge steals again in this game. And somehow, a Connecticut team that lost to Louisville 81-48 just a few weeks ago, is playing for a national title.