A basket full of Final Four questions

April 01, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS - You've got questions about the Final Four? We've got answers.

Q: Does this Final Four have any chance at topping the excitement of the regional finals?

A: Fat chance, simply because Saturday and Sunday were probably the most thrilling 28 hours in the history of college basketball. From Magic and Larry in 1979 to Michigan and Rumeal Robinson in '89 to Connecticut over Duke in '99, nothing in memory surpasses the sustained drama that ensued last week from Albuquerque to Syracuse.

Q: What preconceived notions have been blown out of the water?

A: That kids don't work on their game and that they don't know how to shoot. Laziness isn't the reason field-goal percentages are lower than one and two generations ago. Defensive intensity is the primary cause.

The next time it's on ESPN Classic, study the Maryland-N.C. State Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game from 1974. Compared with the tacklers shooters have to shed today, the game was dainty then.

Q: Why has the tournament had so many great comebacks?

A: No lead is safe, thanks to the three-point shot. The eight regional finalists were a combined 46.8 percent beyond the arc, and coaches were too quick to milk a lead. Lute Olson paid for Arizona's inability to close the deal. Tom Izzo didn't for Michigan State's.

Q: Given that hot shooting, is the NCAA going to move the three-point arc back to the international distance?

A: Collegians everywhere, not just Arizona's Salim Stoudamire and Duke's J.J. Redick, constantly audition from the NBA line. Instead of sharing a 19-foot, 9-inch arc with the preps, there's no reason the colleges can't move back nine inches like the Olympians, but it doesn't seem like that will happen soon.

"It might be on everyone's minds after what happened last week," said Towson coach Pat Kennedy, the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, "but we've got bigger priorities at the moment."

Q: And what would they be?

A: There are too many junior-college transfers with suspect academic standards, and the authorities don't seem to have the stomach for policing alleged under-the-table payments, but what the coaches want most is more influence on their players.

Something is amiss when NBA people are allowed more access to the McDonald's All-American Game than college coaches who have signed some of those kids. The college coaches know that they can't stop high schoolers from turning pro, but once they're in college, they would like to see them stay for at least two years.

"We feel very positive about a two-year rule," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of possible changes to the NBA collective bargaining agreement. "I pray to God that it passes, for the kids' sake."

Speaking of the Huskies ...

Q: Is Charlie Villanueva the only UConn player going pro early?

A: Yes. Baltimore's Rudy Gay and Josh Boone have told Calhoun they'll be back next year.

"More importantly," Calhoun said, "both of their moms have told me that. Rudy can be as good as any player in the country. Josh needs to find an offensive game."

Q: Coaches are perturbed that Mike Krzyzewski's commercials are getting more airtime than President Bush and John Kerry combined last October. Is the NCAA worried about what appears to be a recruiting advantage?

A: No, despite the complaints NCAA president Myles Brand has heard from conference commissioners and athletic directors.

"I have heard that this might create an unfair recruiting advantage," Brand said. "We cannot directly control coaches' outside earnings. ... Any time a coach speaks well of college sports, I'm pleased to see that on TV."

Q: Who's your favorite player here?

A: The vertically challenged will thrill over the backcourts from Illinois, Louisville and North Carolina, but the Tar Heels' Sean May is putting up numbers nearly as good as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton did during the UCLA dynasty. He leads all Final Four players in scoring (21.5), rebounds (11.8) and field-goal percentage (.673).

Q: Who will cut down the nets Monday night?

A: Nothing's changed since Selection Sunday, when our bracket had North Carolina beating Illinois in the final. The Tar Heels are hungrier than you think. May is primed to match the title his father, Scott, won at Indiana in 1976, which would make them the second father-son duo with NCAA rings, after the Bibbys, UCLA's Henry (1970-72) and Arizona's Mike (1997).

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