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As the clock hit zero in Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX) there was Kemba Walker pounding his chest, with his teammates celebrating around him as his school, The University of Connecticut Huskies punched their ticket to the National Championship Game.
The Huskies will take on the Butler Bulldogs who have reached the National Championship for the second straight year, one of few teams to ever do so. Butler who knocked off this year’s Cinderella team, VCU. Led by Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, Butler can play both inside and outside in their half-court system led by head coach Brad Stevens.
While it’s a great story for the Butler Bulldogs, no one should be overlooking the story of UConn and more importantly the story of Kemba Walker. Sure they’re a storied university but not like Duke, North Carolina, or Kentucky (who they beat to reach the National Championship).
Led by head coach Jim Calhoun, who has over 850 wins in his coaching career he might have one of his best team’s ever in this year’s UConn team. The growth of his team has been led by Naismith candidate, Kemba Walker.
Most of us know about what Walker brings as a player, this year. but the numbers were there his last two seasons because unlike most highlighted college players, Walker is an upperclassman. The numbers are there, Walker’s point average (23.7), rebound average(5.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.02) have all risen over his past two seasons, but it’s the leadership that matters most.
Any coach whether they have 850 wins or 85 wins, wants a team leader and by all accounts, actions speak louder then words. No actions have been more impressive then Walker’s, the kid from Bronx, NY has not only put up the points but has led by example, it seems as if almost every game, Kemba is not only scoring, but allowing his teammates to take the game over, whether it be freshmen Jeremy Lamb hitting from deep or big man sophomore, Alex Oriakhi grabbing rebounds and defending the paint.
All college basketball fans loved “The Jimmer”, all fans and scouts jumped through their chairs for Derrick Williams of Arizona, and everyone took notice of the skills of Duke’s Kyrie Irving. Yes, all these players were deserving of the attention they received but with Walker, he has a great game but it seems to go under the radar.
This is not saying Walker is underrated because everyone is now paying attention. Keyword is, now. Now that UConn is left out of all the powerhouse colleges, now everyone goes back and looks at what he’s done. Here is exactly what he’s done this year:
Walker has had ten games in which he has scored 30 points or more, he has had one triple-double this season but has nearly had a triple-double in many games. Walker went only two games without having a steal, contributing to his defense, and the most turnovers he’s committed in one game was five which came against Louisville, a game UConn eventually won.
The point trying to be made is that Kemba Walker is the NCAA’s flavor of the year, but that was after Jimmer, after Derrick Williams, after VCU and still doubts are arising. The NBA doubts that is, there is no debate that Walker has great NBA draft stock at this current moment, but whispers of Ben Gordon have come up with his name.
It can’t be true, with all due respect to Ben Gordon, he is nowhere near the talent level of Kemba Walker. Walker takes a game over, he leads by example, and his emotions drive him. He grew up with basketball in his veins as almost all college players have, but as told to ESPN in an interview after the Big East tournament Walker admitted that hitting his game-winning shot against Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden was a “dream come true”.
The spotlight is on, the stage is set, we’ve been blessed to watch plenty of great college talent, and one remains above the rest and will showcase not only himself but his entire team come Monday night against the Butler Bulldogs with the Championship on the line.
Fun fact: UConn is 13-0 in neutral-site games this year (all tournament games) and Kemba Walker has been MVP of both tournaments that UConn has won (Maui Invitational and the Big East Tournament)
Here’s Walker in “Beast Mode”
The Southwest Region, doesn’t provide fans with many intriguing match-ups as almost everyone, including the President himself, have Kansas coming out of this region. Actually President Obama has the Jayhawks taking it all.
So, is he right?
While I don’t have the Jayhawks winning it all in any of my brackets, they will more then likely come out on top of this region. Led by Marcus Morris, who is one-half of the Morris twins along with Markieff bring the Jayhawks into the Big Dance, with storming effort. Marcus averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds this game, and should be force in every game for the Jayhawks.
Player To Watch: #2 Preston Knowles, Guard, Louisville Cardinals
Averaging 15 points a game, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and nearly 2 steals a game, Knowles has almost every aspect of the game down. Knowles finds himself with veteran coach Rick Pitino and has veteran-ship himself, being a senior for the Louisville Cardinals. No one wants to lose early during the NCAA tourney, and certainly want to make a run during the senior season. All this put together makes Preston Knowles, one of your key player’s to watch in this year’s Big Dance.
Darkhorse “Team To Watch”: Illinois
Potential, if nothing more, that is what can make Illinois one of the surprise teams in this year’s tournament. It’s been a repetitive story for the Illini who find themselves in close games with good teams, but always seem to fall at the end. With that being said however, Illinois has knocked off North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan during key-times of their season. A lot of great young talent surrounds Bruce Weber, if they can get it together, Illinois might be the team to surprise many.
Letdown “Team To Fall”: Notre Dame
Yes, Notre Dame deserved their #2 seed. Yes, Notre Dame has five seniors starting and they all will play a key-role for their team. Yes Ben Hansbrough was the Big East Player Of The Year, over UConn’s Kemba Walker. Like his brother Tyler, who plays for the Indiana Pacers, Hansbrough is a great college player, who paces himself perfectly so that he can come up big in clutch situations late in games. Notre Dame has the tools to make it, but they haven’t been to a Final Four since the ’70s. Notre Dame’s run can be ended at the Sweet Sixteen against a surprising Georgetown, or they could continue this great season. They are a great team this year, but have the potential to fall.
With all the preview fun stuff done, here are the picks, round by round, for each game in the Southwest Region of the 2011 NCAA March Madness Tournament.
With the play-in games all finished we start with Round 2
Writers note: Winners labeled in bold
#1 Kansas over #16 Boston University
#9 Illinois over #8 UNLV
*Upset Notice* Although I have #5 Vanderbilt over #12 Richmond, don’t be surprised if Richmond pulls off the upset.
#4 Louisville over #13 Morehead State
#6 Georgetown over #11 VCU
**Upset Notice** I know it sounds crazy but it could happen I have #3 Purdue over #14 St Peter’s, but St. Peter’s may just pull this off.
#10 Florida State over #7 Texas A&M
#2 Notre Dame over #15 Akron
Round Three Winners:
#1 Kansas over #9 Illinois
#4 Louisville over #5 Vanderbilt
#6 Georgetown over #3 Purdue
#2 Notre Dame over #1o Florida State
Sweet Sixteen Winners:
#1 Kansas over #4 Louisville
#6 Georgetown over #2 Notre Dame
With a trip to the Final Four on the line, and overlooked Georgetown making it to the Elite Eight, here is my winner, advancing to the Final Four:
#1 Kansas over #6 Georgetown
The favorite pick in this region, comes out on top. The Morris brothers will rise and veteran coach Bill Self will once again lead his team to the Final Four, while I don’t have them winning it all, there is once again, no doubting the Jayhawks.
As March Madness turns the corner and teams prepare to join the dance, there are a lot of new teams that find
themselves among the top, and many surprising teams who have knocked down the powerhouses.
Leading the way among the new teams reaching the top are BYU and San Diego St, and in both head-to-head matchups with these two teams, BYU has come out on top. While one of the most surprising teams this year has been, St John’s who has knocked off the likes of Duke, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, and Villanova while catching the attention of college basketball fans across the country.
While we’ve all heard of BYU and San Diego St’s Cinderella’s season, on a player aspect we’ve mainly heard of the NCAA’s scoring leader, Jimmer Fredette, who just so happens to play for BYU.
While Fredette has been BYU’s leadman, he’s also had another big time player beside him in Brandon Davies. Davies a sophomore, averaged eleven points and six rebounds a game this season. Davies has not only helped Fredette rise but has also been a main factor in helping BYU reach a top five spot in the rankings, before losing to New Mexico.
Davies, was dismissed from the team due to an honor code violation in which he had premarital sex with his girlfriend, which is against the Mormon faith, BYU, is a Mormon-based university. After the loss to New Mexico, in which Davies did not play, BYU fell to the number eight spot in the rankings and lost BYU’s hope of a #1 seed.
While all students and student athletes do sign an honor code before attending BYU, religion and sports should never mix together. BYU should run its program by university standards but they should not effect a student-athlete’s athletic career. It is right to honor you school but how strict should the code be? Davies has already been dismissed from the basketball team, yet he is still fighting to remain a student at BYU.
The honor code has effected not only Davies but it has also hurt the BYU basketball program, and while blame is to be on Davies, is this honor code to much?
During the time in which BYU is recruiting a student-athlete one must feel that the honor code is brought to the student’s attention. If it has been presented is BYU at a disadvantage when scouting players? Davies is not the first ever NCAA student-athlete to violate his school’s honor code and he certainly should have been aware of the consequences that would lie ahead.
NFL player Tim Tebow, who is very strong in his faith and NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire who has taken time out of his life to learn about other faith practices have both came out and said it best when defending Davies saying “a young kid in that situation deserves a second chance.”
While BYU heads to the dance, Davies heads to find about his future at BYU. Sports and religion should not be mixed, but a school still deserves to have an honor code, a certain line should be made.
BYU won their MWC championship, and BYU coach Dave Rose broke the school’s ruling of Davies not be allowing to represent the team, when he allowed Davies to cut down the net after the Cougars’ championship win.
As Rose gave hope to Davies coming back next season, BYU fans cheered, as they should. A young student-athlete who has violated an honor code, should be given a second chance, for his own honor.
When LeBron James was announcing his decision millions gathered on ESPN to watch, and James announced live on ESPN as we all know that he would be teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
That’s when everything started, the predictions the NBA title talk, the NBA’s best-ever record, all the hype was filled to Miami. While the season started off great for the Heat, things in the past couple of months have gotten chippy.
With last second shot attempts missed by LeBron in games vs Chicago and a reamped Knicks team this past week, the doubters have now filled in just like the pre-season hype.
There is no doubting the Heat’s talent, including recent pickup, Mike Bibby to stabilize the point guard position but the questions come about team leadership, work ethic, and what is the reason the Heat have been falling to the top teams in the Eastern conference?
With the battle of Florida taking place between the Heat and the Magic, Miami looked to bounce back after their loss at home to the Knicks, while the Magic were looking for redemption after the Heat beat them earlier in the season.
The Heat came into the game on fire (no pun intended) and seemed to be coasting to a victory, until the Magic went bombs away. With six of them coming from Jason Richardson, the Magic went 16-29 from the perimeter while the Heat went 3-17. Dwight Howard had another double-double for the Magic while LeBron scored 29 points for the Heat and Wade had 28, respectively.
That is now three big time losses in a week’s time for the Heat all against top Eastern Conference teams (Chicago, New York, and Orlando) and problems must be fixed. With under ten seconds left in the game, Chris Bosh fired up a three, and the ball was tipped out to LeBron who heaved a desperation three as time expired and missed.
The Magic show true toughness, grinding it out, just over a week since Dwight has called his team out and their desire to win. Nothing more was shown that the depth of their team, and the chemistry led them to this come-from-behind victory against a Miami team who face many questions and concerns from those in the basketball world.
The lack of a true point guard was “filled” with Mike Bibby, but the Heat still lack that true big center to hold the paint down, which would allow Chris Bosh to play his game.
The Heat must get it together if they want the NBA title this year, and with more teams around the league looking to get stronger, nothing is promised for Miami and their “Big Three” . While Orlando, Boston, Chicago, and New York continue to make strides in the East, and the San Antonio Spurs already clinching another 50-win season, the Heat have some problems.
The Magic simply outplayed, outworked, and never quit against the Heat and when it comes to playoff time, those traits will knock the Heat out of the playoff picture, if they don’t get things right.