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The Round Mound of Rebound… Sir Charles… Chuck… No matter the nickname you prefer, Charles Barkley’s playing and television career has spawned dozens of great quotes, commentary, and hilarious moments. To honor one of the greatest power forwards of all-time and look forward to his coverage of March Madness, we will pay homage to several of his best catch phrases in this weekly installment reviewing some of the top anecdotes and stories from around the game of college basketball, What Would Charles Say?
Let Me Tell You Something… The Final Four is set, and to say that we’re thrilled with the matchups would be an understatement. Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville and Ohio State are four of the most regal programs in the sport, collectively boasting 13 national championships and 49 Final Four appearances. What’s more is that all four of these teams this year would make for worthy national champions — each team has already won 30 or more games, each is led by an outstanding coach, and each has legitimate NBA talent up and down the roster. Oh, and one of the semifinal games — we won’t tell you which one — just happens to represent one of the bitterest rivalries in the entire sport. The last time a Final Four was this star-studded was 2008 (with Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, and North Carolina), and you certainly remember how that one ended — with KU’s Mario Chalmers hitting a massive 3 to send the game to overtime (where the Jayhawks eventually won the game). It wouldn’t surprise us to see a similar ending like that one in Monday night’s championship game.
Pulling His Weight… The Louisville Cardinals are the one team in the Final Four without a true superstar, lacking that one player who’s been a consistent producer throughout the full season. But in the NCAA Tournament, when games are decided by one hotly contested possession at a time, you need players to step up and be aggressive on the offensive end to put the defense on its heels. That’s where super-sub Russ Smith came in handy last weekend, stepping up HUGE to score 13 of his game-high 19 points in the second half against Florida when his team was down late and needed buckets. Smith can be as reckless as any player in the country at times, but his no-fear mentality proved to be a valuable asset for a team that needed someone to make plays to save its season. Smith hit some big shots late in the Elite Eight to help send his team to the Final Four, seriously carrying the load for Louisville despite his diminutive stature at 6-feet, 160 pounds. The Cardinals will need another strong performance from Smith if they’re going to take down the nearly invincible Wildcats this weekend.
I Am Not a Role Model… Kentucky freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist does everything a coach could possibly ask for on the court, and his personal resiliency through hard times just reinforces what an incredible young man he is. The heart and soul of the Wildcats, Kidd-Gilchrist is the hardest working 18 year old you’ll ever find — a humble competitor whose dirty work on defense, on the glass, and hustle for loose balls is just as valuable as his athleticism and offensive acumen. But also consider the fact that he grew up without a father who was killed when Michael was two years old, and it’s amazing how he’s developed into such a model student-athlete. Before he was the Kentucky superstar we all know as MKG, Michael Gilchrist suffered another blow to his personal life when his uncle, Darrin Kidd, died on the day that Michael signed his letter of intent to attend UK. Not long after that, he changed his last name to Kidd-Gilchrist in honor of his late father figure, who would be proud of the way Michael has developed into one of the very most valuable players in college basketball.
That’s Turrible… Coaches must be prepared for anything their opponents could possibly throw at their team, which is why countless hours are spent in the film room digesting tape of a team’s tendencies. Apparently, North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t do his homework, because the Tar Heels were completely fooled when Kansas employed a ‘triangle and two’ zone defense for most of the final nine minutes of the Midwest Regional Final. The Jayhawks had used that defense against Purdue in the round of 32 when they needed to lock in on one specific shooter (Robbie Hummel) and wanted to make other perimeter players beat them. When Carolina saw the triangle and two in the Elite Eight, it panicked and did not know how to attack the scheme. Replacement point guard Stilman White fell into the trap of being left open and attempted several poor shots to finish the game. “I know they did for one possession, and they may have for another possession. I’m not sure about that,” said a confused Williams about the zone defense. A brilliant coaching mind, Williams simply failed this test of team preparation, one of the main reasons why the Tar Heels are left to watch this year’s Final Four from home.
I May Be Wrong But I Doubt It… Prediction time. In the first national semifinal (aka The Day Kentucky Stands Still), we think that Louisville will give John Calipari’s Wildcats all it can muster, but the exceptional talent that UK has at its disposal will ultimately make the difference. In the nightcap, a very entertaining game between two equally matched teams will eventually turn for the Ohio State Buckeyes behind Jared Sullinger’s beastly presence inside. That would match up two of the most talented teams in college basketball on Monday night in what should be an epic finale, but it says here that Calipari’s young Wildcats deliver him his first national championship (and a very healthy dose of bravado) this weekend in N’awlins.
This will be the final edition of What Would Charles Say? for the 2011-12 season. We hope you enjoyed it, and maybe, if Chuck invites us back on board, we’ll see you again next year!