Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Go ahead, just try and pick the Final Four
Florida's Billy Donovan, head coach, gives a thumbs up to players Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Gators were one of the four, top-five teams to be upset last week.
LITTLE ROCK Trying to pick a Final Four right now is like playing one finger catch with cooked spaghetti.
But that’s what could make this one of the more interesting championship weekends, when the field of 68 is finally cut to four.
Any number of teams could make it, although at least two programs shot themselves in the foot last week.
Michigan wounded itself with a horrible loss to Wisconsin. The Wolverines took a 60-57 lead on a tough three pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. with 2.4 seconds left.
Michigan had two fouls to give. Instead, the Wolverines didn’t contest the inbound pass, and Ben Burst got free and threw in a half-court shot to send it to overtime. The Badgers won 65-62, handing the Wolverines their 14th consecutive loss at Wisconsin.
Then, there was Kansas, which was riding an 18-game winning streak after a victory at West Virginia on Jan. 28; since then, the Jayhawks have lost to Oklahoma State at home, at TCU and at Oklahoma.
It was the Horned Frogs’ first and only Big 12 victory of the season.
The Jayhawks hosted conference leader Kansas State on Monday night. How hard would that be for Texas to swallow if the Wildcats won football and basketball titles in the same school year?
The once-powerful Longhorns are not an NCAA Tournament team this year. They are 2-8 in league play and 10-13 overall. Rick Barnes’ North Carolina accent is probably starting to bother the T-sippers.
On the flip side, Kentucky has pulled itself out of a mediocre season and won five in a row and could move into a tie for first in the SEC with a victory at Florida tonight. It was inevitable that Kentucky would put it together.
The Gators bounced back from their loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks by crushing Mississippi State 83-58.
Incidentally, the SEC looks now like it could get as many as five teams in the NCAA Tournament, but Missouri, Alabama and even Ole Miss have to take care of business the next four weeks.
As for the Final Four, Florida looks like the SEC’s best hope, but the Razorbacks exposed some softness in the Gators that could haunt them come tournament time.
Two schools that could make the Final Four more interesting - and understand, every team has to have some luck - are Gonzaga and Butler.
The Zags’ only losses were to Illinois in early December and to Butler, 64-63.
Rotnei Clarke leads the Bulldogs in scoring, averaging 16.9 points per game, but this team has a balanced attack with five guys averaging 10 points or more.
Of course, any conversation about possible teams for the Final Four must start with Indiana and Duke.
The Hoosiers were upset at Illinois on Thursday, 74-72, but bounced back with a strong victory at Ohio State, 81-68.
The Blue Devils’ only losses were on the road, and they avenged the one to North Carolina State with a 98-85 victory at home. This is not a great Duke team like some in the past, but it is hard-nosed and, of course, well-coached.
On sheer numbers, the Big East has to be considered likely to have a team in the Final Four as it could get as many as 10 bids.
It might be a terrible football league, and one that is in trouble, but it was developed in 1980, practically for ESPN, and it has continued to be a very good, and sometimes great, basketball conference.
February frenzy is here, and March Madness is just around the corner.
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/12/2013