Wally’s Wednesday … the Houston Homestretch

by Wally

The race to crown a national basketball champion is in its homestretch as the four finalists and hordes of media have gathered in my (new) hometown of Houston.   It’s a great time of the year down here … lots of sun and still not “hot” … daytime highs between 70-80 … not too muggy.   Astros haven’t lost a game (yet) and the Rockets are making a run at the playoffs.    In fact, I’m going to the Spurs vs Rockets tilt Friday night.   But the best thing of all … I’m going to all three Final Four games with my brother and a coupla friends, including Crash.    Yaaaahoooooo … another BLT to go … that’s a “Bucket List Trip”,  not a sandwich.

Anyway, I’ve been watching the tournament games like a hawk and since the semi’s are on my mind at the moment, I thought I’d take a few minutes this fine Wednesday to get you thinking about them as well.    What’s gonna happen?   How are these 3 games gonna play out?   Who will be wearing the crown late Monday evening??

Heck, I don’t know … given how the tournament has been so wild and unpredictable to this point, how is anyone gonna be confident predicting these three games?   Let’s take a stab at it!

VCU vs Butler (Sat.  5:00 Central): Call me crazy, but I think VCU is fearless enough to win another game.    Butler has been here before … but as the underdog … so there are actually heavy expectations on them this time.    VCU has assumed the underdog role as “the new Butler”.     That carefree, underdog aspect, combined with some real good talent and an attacking style from the opening tip, are signs that VCU will emerge as the victor in this game.   Maybe I’m putting too much stock in their win over Kansas, but I came away sooooooo impressed with how they punched KU in the mouth right at the start, kept the foot on the accelerator and never really panicked.   Why should we expect anything different against a Butler team that’s not as talented as Kansas?    It’ll be close for awhile, but VCU pulls away to win it.    (Note:   I’ll actually be rooting for Butler given my prairie state roots and family ties to Indy, not to mention an admiration for what they’ve done and for coach Brad Stevens).

Kentucky vs UConn (Sat.  7:40 Central): I’m actually more uncomfortable picking a winner in this one.    We’ve got two very seasoned big game coaches with Calipari and Calhoun.    We’ve got an intriguing “best player” match-up of Kentucky frosh Brandon Knight vs POY candidate Kemba Walker.    Will this game be won in the trenches … and on the boards?    Or is this gonna be a coach’s game where Calhoun’s wits are up against Calipari’s fire?    If it’s the latter, wits wins just about every time.   So I don’t know … it’s a coin flip to me … so I’m gonna go with my rooting interest and then find a reason to support that.     I want to see Kentucky win … so here’s why that’s gonna happen:    To get here, they’ve had to play better than UConn has had to play.    Kentucky was clearly the underdog in both games preceding this one … the wins vs Ohio State and Carolina … they had to play nearly perfect to win, and they did.   I also think Josh Harrellson brings the fire and toughness to this fight … the type of player I’m not seeing on the UConn roster, at least among the bigs.    Kemba Walker has both fire and plenty of notches in his gunbelt from winning shootouts all year.     But I see a more balanced team on the Kentucky side … and for that reason, plus the Harrellson factor, I’m picking the Wildcats to eek out a real close one.    (God help ’em, though, if Calipari has to draw up a play … THE PLAY … to win a one point game.   Yikes).

Championship Game  (Mon  8:30 Central): The fairytale ends for VCU in this one.    The 3’s stop dropping, Rodriguez actually turns it over a few times, the ball just doesn’t bounce their way.    It’s close … REAL close in fact … but the Kentucky Wildcats will be crowned National Champion for the 8th time.    That actually sounded confident … let me rephrase …. I kinda hope Kentucky has enough left to pull this one out.   In Josh, we trust!   (That’s Harrellson for you novices out there).


So …. there are obviously smarter hoops fans than me out there.    What do you guys think?   Let us know how you see this Final Four playing out!!!    Tell me where I’m gettin’ it all wrong … but be nice  🙂

Good day …

20 Responses to "Wally’s Wednesday … the Houston Homestretch"

  1. Crossword Pete   March 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Since the start of the BE/CCYO tournament I have been touting UConn as a team to fear. Kemba Walker came out of a slight “slump” and has been on fire. I now tout UConn as the team to beat. I do not see Walker cooling off. If that is true he has already proven to me that a hot Kemba Walker is good enough to carry UConn past ANY opponent. Kentucky is certainly more balanced than UConn, but bottom line – Kemba Walker carries the day.
    VCU is probably good enough to beat Butler. They will be the most fearless opponent Butler has seen yet. Butler/VCU is a match-up of 2 good teams, but I am more intrigued by the coaching match-up; 2 of the youngest and brightest stars on the coaching horizon (or maybe already in the high sky). I find that match-up even more intriguing than Calipari/Calhoun.
    Whatever happens though, I can guarantee this much; Wally will be spending some quality time in an electric sports atmosphere. Have fun buddy!

  2. Crash   March 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Well I’m hoping VCU goes all the way ! I like both coaches a ton…Gotta go with Shaka this year…Great story either way…UCONN is peaking at the right time and Kemba is capable of being the difference…He’s amazing…Cannot wait to get to see the Final 4….This one was near the top of the “bucket list” 🙂
    Spurs/Rockets outta be a good one too…Lakers only 2.5 back if Spurs lose and Lakers beat Mavs tomorrow night…Lakers were 12 back a month ago !!! Doesn’t really matter though 3-peat is on ! See ya Friday…

  3. Wally   March 31, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Guys —
    Can’t argue that Kemba won’t be the difference. He’s done it all season. Like I said, for that game, I was looking for an argument to support the conclusion I wanted.

    Will be interesting to see how smart Shaka really is.

  4. Rey   March 31, 2011 at 11:54 am

    What a crapshoot of a Final Four, eh? Wally – I think I’m with you on VCU…for now. Probably change my mind 50 times before tip-off. But one thing I like about VCU is they’ll go man-to-man in a heartbeat with anybody and they have the length on the perimeter to wreak havoc! I really haven’t paid attention to Butler for some reason.

    *NC State has been rumored to have narrowed down their coaching search to Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s coach. Smart has been a coach for 2 years. Is that enough time to prove you can recruit talent???

    In the second game, I hate both cheating coaches, but probably Calipari even more so. HOWEVER, I love the way Brandon Knight is playing right now; almost looks like he’ll go shot-for-shot with Kemba at times. But he has more weapons, especially #55 Harrellson and Jones. Ahhh – give me the ‘Cats, too.

  5. Wally   March 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Rey —
    Good question on Shaka. I don’t care if VCU wins the national title …. if I’m an AD looking for a coach at NC State, Mizzou, etc … I’m not gonna leap at Shaka Smart just yet. Two years is not long enough to get a good picture of what a coach really is. I’d go after someone else who has a much longer strong track record. Smart and VCU could be a 1 year wonder – flash in the pan for all we know.

    What did he do before coaching at VCU … what’s the track record there?

    Did ya know? Bobby Knight was even younger than Smart and Brad Stevens when he won his first title at Indiana.

  6. Rey   March 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Wow – did not realize that about Knight. Re: Shaka – I know he assisted at Florida under Donovan and a couple other DI schools. He has the background obviously to become a DI coach for a while, but like we both said – I wouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet and make him my #1 choice right now. Same thing happened to Jim Laranaga when G. Mason made it, right? I remember him turning offers down pretty quickly.

  7. Wally   March 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Bobby Knight coached what may be the best single-season NCAA team EVER … the undefeated ’75-76 Indiana Hoosiers. This Hoosier squad started 4 future NBA players: Kent Benson, Quin Buckner, Scott May and Bobby Wilkerson. Scott May was Player of the Year (and the father of UNC’s Sean May who was dominant in the tournament a few years ago).

    Anyone want to nominate a comparable team? I suppose a few of John Wooden’s UCLA teams with Alcindor or Walton are in the same stratosphere.

  8. Crossword Pete   March 31, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    The only competition I would see for 75-76 Hoosiers is the Alcindor team that beat Elvin Hayes led Houston (was it 1969, 1970?) Hayes led Houston to a win over UCLA in mid-season when Alcindor (Abdul-Jabbar to you youngsters) was sub par. I believe the score was 71-69. In the tournament semis or final Houston again scored in the same range (69 I think) but Alcindor was back to top form and UCLA scored 101. The Walton teams, which were major part of the 88 game win streak did not have competition on par with Houston and the Big E. UCLA destroyed them in the rematch and everybody else they saw that year. I also might give some consideration to the Jordan/Worthy UNC team of the early 80s and Duke’s 2 year run with Hurley/Hill/Laettner.

  9. Crossword Pete   March 31, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    I did not realize how young Knight was when he won that first title. Unlike guys like Lucas and Siegfried from that OSU team of the early 60s, Knight (the 6th man) went immediately into coaching rather than a pro career.

  10. Casey   March 31, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Jordan, Worthy and Sam Perkins was a great team. Who was the point guard for that Tar Heel squad.

    I tend to NOT put the Hurley, Hill, Laettner teams among the best because they had some bad losses. But Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier and Chris Duhon? That was a really good team.

  11. Wally   April 1, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Was Kenny Smith the PG for one of those Carolina teams, or did he come later?

    Phil Ford was a great PG, but he was earlier than Jordan and Worthy, right? He played with Walter Davis, I think.

    There’s also the great San Francisco team with Bill Russell and KC Jones in the late ’50s, I believe… they went undefeated.

  12. Rey   April 1, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Answer is Jimmy Black. I think Kenny Smith was mid-80s. Here’s a short excerpt about Black’s importance to that ’82 Carolina team:

    “And no discussion of the 1982 season would be complete without including point guard Jimmy Black. Senior leader, coach on the floor, rock steady defender and ball handler. Ask any member of his team, and they will tell you, “Without Jimmy Black, we don’t cut down the nets in New Orleans.” That’s a Matt Doherty quote, but it could be James, Sam, Michael, Coach Smith, or any other member of the team. “Boss” as he was called, was just that – in charge. “When you win there’s glory for everyone,” Guthridge says. “We couldn’t have done it without Jimmy Black.””

  13. Wally   April 1, 2011 at 7:26 am

    We can always talk about some of the great teams that either didn’t go undefeated or didn’t win the title. Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squad with Hakeem, Clyde and Otis Birdsong, et al. The UNLV teams with Larry Johnson, Stacy Augmon, NIck Van Excel, et al.

    Pete — Which single season ND team was their very best ever, in your opinion??? Right now, I’m thinking it was the ’78 Final Four team with Tripucka, Laimbeer, Woolridge, Jackson and Hanzlick … 5 NBA players … and ND’s only Final Four team. But I’m sure there was at least one earlier than that that’s worthy of mention. An Austin Carr or John Schumate team?

  14. Wally   April 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

    It’s Friday already … I’m still waiting for more predictions for Sat & Mon from you guys! Casey, Smitty, Chas, … others?!?!

  15. Crossword Pete   April 1, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I think the best ever ND team ( I rate the Final Four team as second all time) was actually the 1973-74 team. Dantley was a frosh, the other starters were Gary Novak, John Schumate (who lived across from me in Fisher Hall), Dwight Clay, and Gary Brokaw. Bill Paterno and Ray Martin were also freshmen coming off the bench. That team went 26-3. It ended UCLA’s 88 game win streak and it spent many weeks ranked #1. My greatest frustration; it was the season AFTER I graduated (as was the 1973 national championship in football)! Austin Carr teams were only as good as Carr could make them. Very little depth on those squads. Guys like Collis Jones and Sid Catlett were decent, back when the Irish had a strong pipeline to the DC area at places like DeMatha) and the Irish went 21-8 in ’69-’70 (top 10) and 20-9 in ’70-’71, but were never the caliber of ’74 or ’78 teams.

  16. Wally   April 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Pete —
    Yep … looks like that 73-74 team was pretty awesome at 26-3. What did they do in the tournament???

    I vaguely remember some teams with Don “Duck” Williams, Toby Knight, Rich Branning and maybe Bruce Flowers … wasn’t Dantley also on some of those teams? And weren’t they pretty good? Sometime between the ’74 team and the ’78 team?

  17. Crossword Pete   April 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    73-74 lost in Regional Finals. Dantley’s teams were between 74 and 78 and of course were followed by the Tripucka years. Those teams usually won 20 games, but were never up to the national potential of 74 or 78. Good memory for names. The only other key player would have been Dave Batton. ND stayed relevant through the 88-89 season with guys like Tim Kempton, Donald Royal, David Rivers, Jamere Jackson and LaPhonso Ellis but again these were 20 win seasons, but not national prominence years. Then a long dry spell leading to the Brey years, a long almost-dry spell!

  18. Crossword Pete   April 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    BTW, in checking records turns out 73-74 team lost to UCLA in a rematch only one week later, so they were only atop the polls for 1 week. Seems longer than that in my memory. they were #2 or #3 for much of the season.

  19. Rey   April 3, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Wally – You and I should never go to Vegas together.

  20. Wally   April 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Rey —
    Good point. I can’t pick basketball games to save my life … although I was one of only two people out of 27 folks in the local pool to have UConn going to the title game and hence will finish second. I wanted KY to win so I made an argument to back that up.

    Despite picking VCU to win, I’m delighted that Butler won and they are actually better than I thought … they really controlled the game in the second half. The only team from Indiana to EVER go to consecutive Final Fours … now the only to ever go to Consec Title games.

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