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Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Parallel for Villanova to the Phillies

Say what?

When the Phillies' made the National League's "Final Four" last fall, few talked about them. The Cubs were favored to go to the World Series, the Dodgers had Manny Ramirez and his all-world second half, and the Brewers had C.C. Sabathia. The Phillies? They didn't hit for 2 1/2 months during the summer, got hot in mid-September and won their division over the fading Mets. They were an afterthought.

As is Villanova. Yes, Dante Cunningham is the most improved player in all of college basketball since the beginning of the season. Yes, Scottie Reynolds is clutch, yes, they can shoot it and defend it. And, the scuttlebutt out of New York after the Big East tournament was forget who won it and forget the six-overtime game, the team to watch was. . . Villanova.

So here we are in the Final Four, and while they're not George Mason, they're being treated like their guests, poseurs, the long-lost relatives from the Ozarks who really don't belong at the Four Seasons overlooking the park. They haven't been to the Final Four in 24 years, and while Jay Wright is a good coach, his pedigree pales in comparison to that of Roy Williams (in his seventh Final Four and one national championship under his belt), Tom Izzo (five Final Fours and one national title) and Jim Calhoun (two national titles).

So, while 'Nova played a great game against Pitt to win its region and got good ink, that ink flowed away after the Final Four was set. All of a sudden, Carolina is the favorite to win the whole thing, Michigan State gets a serious look for busting the brackets and knocking out Louisville, the favorite of many, and Connecticut has returned, again. So that leaves Villanova as the odd team out.

And they should like it that way. The pressure, of course, will be there, but the pressure will be greater on Carolina in the semifinal game. I love the Carolina program, and I like Roy Williams' strategy of getting the ball down the floor before the other team sets its defense. But Carolina's defense has disappointed me, and I'm not certain that it was the Tar Heels' defense that compelled a decisive victory over Oklahoma or whether the Sooners' outside shooting was so bad that the defense could collapse on first-team All-American Blake Griffin with impunity. Put differently, the Sooners had plenty of good, relatively open looks that they missed.

Villanova plays very hard, they shoot it well, and they might run by Carolina. The Tar Heels will know that they've been in a fight, and while they have a size advantage, to quote old, sage philosophers, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. It's hard to go out on a limb to pick Villanova, but I'll do just that. They gave the last full measure of basketball battling against Pitt and prevailed, and their confidence is high. Their program might not be as storied as Carolina's and their coach not as well-known or successful, but theirs is a fine program with a mighty good coach.

I know that to a degree this is hometown wishful thinking, but the 'Cats have that certain spark about them.

Call it Villanova, 94-89.


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