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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Final Game, Leonard Zelig and Echoes of Wilt Chamberlain

Bear with me. . .

First, I thought that Jay Bilas's comment about Florida's best player being "the open man" was a great observation. The Gators, throughout the past two years, have had a great knack for moving the ball around and getting it to the open man. Last night, that player delivered, big-time, and the Gators won their second straight national championship. That's twelve straight NCAA tournament games.

Second, the Gators' defense on Greg Oden was brilliant. How many fouls did Oden draw on the guys guarding him? It was 12 or 13, wasn't it? He fouled out one guy and put two others in foul trouble for much of the night. Still, that strategy enabled the Gators to defend a future NBA Hall of Famer one-on-one, hampering the Buckeyes' ability to take advantage of double teams (which many teams used against Oden) and thus finding the Buckeyes' version of "the open man." In the 1950's, Carolina used a double- and triple-teaming defense against Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain to defeat the Jayhawks in triple overtime to win the NCAA title. People remember that Wilt lost (which isn't fair) and that Carolina basically dared the other guys to beat them. People will remember that Oden did his part and more last night, didn't get into foul trouble, and showed that he was the best player on the floor and, yes, that his teammates couldn't provide much help in the championship game. People also will remember that Florida's five starters returned after their previous national championship and showed that talent, when combined with unselfishness, almost always prevails on the basketball court.

Third, the "Zelig" reference. I couldn't help but notice the ESPN clips of the Gators' posing with the national championship trophy. You had the players, the coaches, some family members and, in the lower righthand corner, a guy in a suit who was smiling widely and looking gleeful. Who was that guy? Was it a poseur? Someone on one of those Bud Light commercials? No, it was the head of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee, Princeton Athletic Director Gary Walters, who had presented the trophy to the Florida Gators. I don't know whether Walters got stuck in the group photo or was supposed to be in it, but his presence reminded me of the Woody Allen character Leonard Zelig from the movie "Zelig", the guy who always seemed to be in the background of famous photographs or present at famous events. Of course, Gary Walters belonged in those photos, but somehow he looked Zelig-like (perhaps it's because Princeton's hoops program is low DI and, unless it drops to DIII, won't be winning a national title in men's hoops in the near future, and perhaps it's because he just looked too Ivy for the photo). At any rate, was it just me, or did any of you notice it too?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sportsprof I agree w you the Gators were amazing and Oden did all he could. As for Larry Brown going to Princeton, it just brought up for me how unstable these transitional moments are to produce such fanciful speculation. Unless alma mater is everything to Craig R. and--as you once suggested--he might have a contract out to go to Princeton (which clearly would have been a preferable job to Brown--my sense is tha
t in IVY b-ball honor would actually keep him in at the unfinished job in Providence.

But here's my provocative sort of past subjunctive question for you (I've laid low on these for awhile). Could it be argued that Georgetown with a Princeton offense was doomed to lose to TOSU?

Here's the theory. If the PU offense was based on "The Smart Take from the Strong," is that not fundamentally an underdog POV that works with Princeton's otherwise superior self-image vis academics and makes athletics something that can be won in part at least by intelligence? (and I grant you this year that the smart couldn't take from the smart.)

However, because it requires the selflessness and discipline you and other P-ton faithful have noted, the system even in JT3 modified form seems to downplay the role of individual team saviors. The commentators constantly noted a couple of the most talented G-town players not "stepping up" (afavorite cliche)in the manner of say an AC Law or Oden (even in a losing effort). In other words, does the Princeton offense, whether Yoda wants to call it that or not, make it less likely for an Alpha player to "take over the game" (another regular cliche)? I grant you we are talking about a G-town team that went almost as far as you can go as fast as you can go. But as with the Ivies and other places where Princeton style gets some advance looks, not only can a good team anticipate and undo it, but I wonder if it too much de-emphasizes the very oversized individuality that seems to win the big games these days.


10:03 PM  

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