The NCAA Tournament is shaping up to be every bit as exciting as it has ever been in year’s past. However, a party ain’t really a party until a No. 1 seed is sent home. It is to that end that we pen this, perhaps as an ode to the team what was once this writer’s would-be NCAA champion No. 1 Villanova Wildcats prior to their elimination from the tournament at the hands of a resolute No. 8 North Carolina State Wolfpack team. Similar fates have befallen No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Georgetown and No. 3 Baylor.
The Shadow League was able to speak with the CBS Sports/Turner Sports NCAA coverage team before the 2015 NCAA Tournament began. Despite that, we’re still on course for an Elite Eight that could potentially feature each of the remaining three No. 1 seeds. Teams such as the 11 seed UCLA Bruins are now enjoying some rare air and are prime to be sniped in the Sweet 16.
But with the Tournament now consisting of the #1 overall seed University of Kentucky, 1 seed Duke University, 1 seed Wisconsin, 2 seed Gonzaga, 2 seed Arizona, 3 seed Notre Dame, 3 seed Oklahoma Sooners, No. 4 North Carolina, No. 4 Louisville, as well as tough 7 seeds in Michigan State and Wichita State, there are far too many talent stocked teams to hope a true Cinderella emerges between now and Indianapolis. But the truth of the matter is that, after Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin, each of the teams listed has more or less the same odds of being NCAA Champs.
With all of the media hoopla about underdogs, most of the truly dangerous teams are still in the tournament. We all know who the favorites are. (Hint: They wear blue.) But we’re still days away from the revelations that the Elite Eight will tell.
Recently, The Shadow League talked NCAA basketball and more with Charles Barkley, Len Elmore, Clark Kellogg, and Mateen Cleaves. Here’s what they had to say about the makings of a team primed for beating Goliath.
I asked Cleaves about his blueprint for a mid-major on a late March rampage against the Kentucky Wildcats, aka the best team in college basketball. The fact for underdogs is sometimes Achilles’ heel is armor plated.
“To beat them, first off, you have to believe. You can’t come out there and be intimidated. You’re going to have to make outside shots,” said Cleaves. “They do a great job of rim protecting. It’s going to be hard to make baskets in the lane. You’re going to have to make outside shots. You also have to be physical on the offensive end, keep them out of the lane, and be physical. Get them to make outside shots. Devon Booker is someone who makes outside shots consistently. Other than that, that’s how they’re going to have to beat me. If you make an outside shots, I can live with that. But, I can’t allow you to make outside shots or to penetrate to the basket. You can’t beat me that way. Get out in transition as well. A lot of teams don’t want to run with Kentucky, but I would try to. If you can get out in transition and get some easy buckets you don’t have to worry about those big rim protectors. So, I would try to get out in transition, but dirty the game up. Make them have to take a bunch of outside jump shots.”
CBS Sports sage veteran Len Elmore has been covering NCAA basketball for over 25 years. If anyone knows the makings of an upset it would be him.
“I think, if you look at the anatomy of an upset, if you’re talking about small conferences, it’s a team that usually has seniors,” he explained. “Many times, fifth year seniors. So, now there’s an age difference between schools in the major conferences losing players to the NBA draft and mid-majors with seniors playing against freshmen and sophomores. That is a significant advantage. That experience, that strength, the determination, the sense of urgency, all of those things go into the smaller schools upsetting the bigger schools. But it’s also about executing, it’s also about poise under pressure.”
Though all of the individuals at the press conference were highly sought after sports journalism royalty, Charles Barkley was one of the most popular interview subjects due to his sometimes braggadocio, sometimes self-deprecating, often controversial viewpoints.
My Shadow League colleague J.R. Gamble asked Barkley his thoughts on compensation for student athletes.
“We spend all this time talking about five or six players. Most of these kids have no chance of playing in the NBA. The most important thing is for them to get their education. The most important thing, especially for young Black men, is for them to get their education. Less than 1 percent of all college players are gonna go on to make it in the NBA. The chance to get a free education, you can’t put a price tag on that. But it’s a very interesting conversation about what we can do for these kids, but the most important thing is we have a lot of young Black men who need to get their education. I hope that these young guys use the system to get their education.”
Public relations representatives from CBS Sports were already prime to swoop in and take Charles Barkley to another engagement but I HAD to get a question in, and the first thing that came to mind was Barkley being accused of having point of views that are “un” Black.
“I don’t worry about it. I’m gonna be my own man. Black people, we’re kind of like crabs in a barrel. Black people love you until you disagree with them. I’ve always known that, every Black person knows that. People are going to take shots at you. You don’t take it personally. Because they really don’t understand how this whole thing works. But I respect their opinion and they’re going to have to respect my opinion.”
Speaking of opinions, I have 7 seed Wichita State pushing past 3 seed Notre Dame to meet Kentucky in the Midwest while No. 4 North Carolina upsets Wisconsin to face 2 seed Arizona in the West Regional Elite Eight match-up. The clock is prime to strike midnight for the aspirations of 8 seed North Carolina State as Rick Pitino’s 4 seed Louisville Cardinals are going to handle their business and meet No. 3 Oklahoma after they dispatch 7 seed Michigan State.
Lastly, No. 1 Duke University and No. 2 Gonzaga will each dispatch their Sweet 16 opponents (Utah and UCLA) with relative ease and will eventually face off against each other in the South. See you next Friday.