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Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keegan: Why six? Why eight?

These teams could run the table

March 20, 2008

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All it takes to win a national title is to win six consecutive games. That's all. It sounds so easy, yet only one of 341 NCAA Division I basketball schools can call itself a national champion when the final nets are cut down. That's a better measure of the difficulty of the task.

To win it all requires negotiating through various styles of play along the way, with each opponent representing a tougher challenge than the last.

Staying alive demands an experienced enough roster not to melt under the pressure and flexible enough personnel to combat teams that boast different strengths.

It takes a physically and mentally healthy roster, a team peaking at the right time and legs that are well conditioned, yet not burned out. When the legs go, the shots fall short, and so do the national title aspirations.

Taking all those factors into consideration, the Journal-World selected, before the brackets were released, eight schools that have teams capable of going all the way. In alphabetical order, they are: Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and Xavier.

Whenever a list is made, the instant response becomes "Why not ...," as in, why not Georgetown?

The late Al McGuire and fellow coaching legend Larry Brown have at least two things in common: 1. They both won the national title in the last college game they coached; 2. They repeatedly said it required a heavy dose of luck to win those national championships, McGuire at Marquette in 1977, Brown at Kansas in 1988.

Well, Georgetown is due for some bad luck after having extraordinarily good luck from last-second officiating calls or non-calls in Big East victories against West Virginia, Villanova and Marquette.

Other than the luck factor, the Hoyas do have a lot going for them. Coach John Thompson III inherited his father's feel for the game and presence with players. He uses elements of the Princeton offense with Big East talent, a winning combination. Reserve big man Patrick Ewing Jr. is playing extremely inspired basketball. Yet, the backcourt, though improved, might not be consistent enough to make a six-game run.

In the Big East tournament, the Hoyas blew out Villanova despite not getting a point from leading scorer Roy Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 senior center, but finished second to a hot Pittsburgh team in the conference tourney.

Why not Wisconsin? Too slow.

Why not Duke? It's too painful to think how many Coach K commercials we all would have to endure if the sainted one bagged another national title. Also, the Blue Devils don't have a consistent low-post scoring force, which leaves them a little too reliant on the three-point shot. In its first 32 games, Duke attempted 747 three-point shots, compared to 474 for North Carolina and 547 for Kansas in their first 32 games. It's tough to string together six games of hot shooting from long range.

True, Tennessee shoots even more three-pointers than Duke, but since Bruce Pearl keeps his importance to the world in better perspective and would be a welcome face on any commercial, the Volunteers get the nod for inclusion.

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