Cinderellas shine, but time's about up
Shaka Smart is the guy whose Virginia Commonwealth team soiled your NCAA tournament bracket, and he deserves to call out Jay Bilas, Charles Barkley and President Obama if he likes. I feel for you, Shaka.
Think about this: There are more Sweet 16 teams sitting inside a 10-mile radius in Richmond, Va., than there are in the entire basketball-obsessed states of Kentucky or Indiana. Take a bow, Chris Mooney and your Richmond Spiders.
But make it a quick bow. Because if you know the history of the NCAA tournament and you take a closer look at the bracket, you understand one thing:
This is the weekend when Cinderella burps and the Super Coaches take over.
And trust me, despite all the inspiring stories like VCU, Richmond, those persistent kids from Butler, Jimmer and Marquette with those Technicolor uniforms that stir memories of Al McGuire, the Super Coaches still have both hands firmly wrapped around this tournament.
They’re in control, folks. They’re always in control in college basketball.
Think about this: The five coaches who have won the past seven NCAA championships are still in the game.
After you’ve finished Googling the backgrounds of Smart and Mooney, the Cult of the Coach still rules.
Six of the 16 coaches still working in this tournament have won a combined dozen NCAA titles.
Steve Fisher was the first guy to put his name on the list way back in 1989 when he was at Michigan, not San Diego State.
But the other five all have demonstrated their relevance over the past seven seasons.
Jim Calhoun won his second title at Connecticut in 2004.
Roy Williams broke through at North Carolina a year later and backed that championship up with another in 2009. There are only four guys who have won more than two titles. Sooner or later, Williams is going to make it five guys. Might be this season.
Billy Donovan did the back-to-back thing at Florida in 2006-07. Then he disappeared for three seasons. Didn’t win another NCAA tournament game.
People started whispering that Donovan lost his mojo. No more whispering. Check the New Orleans regional. Pittsburgh is already gone. Florida is the team favored to get to Houston.
Bill Self stepped up at Kansas in 2008. You have to like the Jayhawks’ position. They’re surrounded by a trio of double-digit seeds in San Antonio.
And, of course, there is Mike Krzyzewski. There is always Duke and Mike Krzyzewski. Last season, he stepped past Bob Knight and pulled even with Adolph Rupp by winning his fourth NCAA title.
If the Blue Devils get through Arizona, UConn and San Diego State in Anaheim, it should be some celebration. That would give Coach K 902 wins, tying him with Knight as the game’s all-time wins leader, as well as 12 Final Four appearances, pulling him even with John Wooden in that category.
The first weekend of the tournament is about those feel-good moments. Start with VCU. If we were playing with the same rules as last season, the Rams don’t even make the field. Some argued they shouldn’t have made it in 2011.
But Smart, their 33-year-old coach, redirected the disrespect they were feeling into overpowering energy. Smart turned a First Four team into a Final 16 team.
Mooney didn’t play the disrespect card. He just asked his team to play sound basketball — and the Spiders did, popping Vanderbilt and Morehead State.
Add Florida State (a 10 seed) and Marquette (an 11) into the discussion and you’ve got four double-digit seeds playing well beyond the single game the bracket seedings told us they were supposed to play.
But the feel-good moments come with an expiration date: Sweet 16 weekend.
Only one team seeded lower than a five (George Mason, an 11 in 2006) has made the Final Four in the past decade.
This weekend and Final Four weekend are the weekends when talent prevails. The guys who have won have done it with great players, and they’ve gotten more great players because they have won.
There are 24 McDonald’s All-Americans who are still a part of the tournament — and 11 are playing for North Carolina and Duke.
Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler of Duke are the only two guys still playing who competed against Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and the other studs in the 2007 McDonald’s game in Louisville, Ky.
All the great stories are nice. But this is the weekend the Super Coaches take over the NCAA tournament.