Saturday, March 26, 2022

Elite Eight

Well, it's all gone about as badly as possible so far:

1.  Kentucky lost to a 15-seed in the first round.
2.  Murray State lost to a 15-seed in the second round.
3.  Kansas now has the all-time lead in wins.  Given that Bill Self probably has at least 10 more years in the tank, it's hard to see how UK ever turns that around.
4.  Kansas, UNC, and Duke all appear to be locks for the Final Four.  This year UK beat two of these teams by over 20 points.
5.  Either Duke or UNC are going to win the National Championship, unless Villanova pulls an upset in the Final.
6.  Shaedon Sharpe, UK's big hope for next season, is almost certainly gone to the NBA without ever playing a game for the Wildcats.  My guess is that we could have used him against St. Peter's.

Welcome back, college basketball.  Some of us said we would never complain again if we could just have a normal season, and apparently whatever spirits direct the NCAA took us at our word.

112 comments:

  1. I'm happy to have sports back, but it's been a long season. I'm going to watch the Masters, and then basically rest until the PGA in May. Time to read some history books, or maybe a good detective novel.

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  2. If you're looking for a really clever puzzle mystery, I recommend "The Greek Coffin Mystery" by Ellery Queen. A true classic of the genre.

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  3. If you're in the mood for a mid-century thriller, I recommend "Moonraker" by Ian Fleming.

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  4. If you want an American mid-century thriller, try "The Deep Blue Good-by," by John D. MacDonald.

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    1. But you should know that this book is extremely violent. Don't blame me if you're squeamish.

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  5. If you're in the mood for a very gloomy but well-written crime story about California in the 1960's, you might try "The Chill," by Ross Macdonald.

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    1. But if you read "The Chill," please remember that it is very gloomy. Don't blame me if you get depressed.

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  6. Now CBS is doing a segment on how Duke beat UK in the Elite Eight back in 1992. Wow, I hadn't thought about that game in at least two or three hours.

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  7. In retrospect, however, I have decided that the 2015 loss to Wisconsin is actually the one that hurts me the most. I didn't realize that at the time, but I see it now. Here are my rankings:

    2015 (Wisconsin)
    1986 (LSU)
    1993 (Michigan)
    1984 (Georgetown)
    1983 (Louisville)
    2017 (N. Carolina)
    1977 (N. Carolina)
    1995 (N. Carolina)
    1992 (Duke)
    1997 (Arizona)
    2010 (W. Virginia)

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    1. That feels right. Those losses in the 1980's were so bad that I almost stopped watching altogether. That 1993 team is still my favorite Kentucky team ever. And that Wisconsin loss ended our chance at the perfect season, and sent the program off into a depressing tailspin that continues to this day. Those are the only games worse than losing to North Carolina.

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    2. The losses in 2003, 2004, and 2005 don't rank higher because honestly, I never had any faith in those teams. But my guess is that younger fans remember those games the way I remember the losses from the 1980's.

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  8. Best wins:

    1998 (Duke)
    1978 (Duke)
    1975 (Indiana)
    1996 (UMass)
    1978 (Michigan St.)
    1998 (Utah)
    2011 (N. Carolina)
    2014 (Louisville)
    2012 (Louisville)
    2014 (Wichita St.)
    2011 (Ohio St.)

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    1. Notice that there are no games from the 1980's or the 2000's on this list. And notice that my favorite tournament runs are 1998, 2011, and 2014 -- years where we did significantly better than expected. UK fans don't get many pleasant surprises in March.

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    2. I should probably say that for me, personally, I don't think I've ever wanted to win any tournament more than I wanted to win in 1996 -- and I don't think I've ever spent more time anticipating a game that UK actually won than the win over UMass in 1996.

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  9. Most time I've spent thinking about UK games before they were played:

    1993 (Michigan)
    1996 (UMass)
    1995 (N. Carolina)
    2015 (Wisconsin)
    1992 (Duke)
    2012 (Louisville)
    1984 (Georgetown)

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    1. I spent the whole of the 1992-93 season thinking that Michigan was the only team that could beat us, and I was right. I had the same view about UMass in 1996, and I was right again.

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  10. If you want a good history book, I recommend "Battle Cry of Freedom," by James M. McPherson. I also recommend any of the Robert Caro books about LBJ.

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    1. The Robert Caro books are the only ones you've listed so far that I've read, and they are terrific.

      Speaking of books, I found a copy of I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb at a Salvation Army story Friday afternoon while my daughter was trying on clothes. I reread the last page and was still waiting, so I reread the next-to-last page and was still waiting. I ended up having time to reread about the last six or seven pages. Man, I do love that book.

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  11. Like a lot of successful teams these days, Houston and Villanova like to play extremely slowly. So we aren't expecting a lot of points here. Nova leads 5-2 with 15:47 left in the first half.

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  12. With 10:42 left in the first half, Villanova leads Houston 14-6. The Cougars are 0-5 from three-point range, and 3-6 from two-point range.

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  13. With 7:19 left in the first half, Nova leads 18-10. Cougs now 0-7 from three-point range, and 4-8 from two point range.

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  14. Wow, this is painful to watch. Nova leads 21-14 with 3:35 left in the first half. Houston now 0-8 from three-point range, and 6-12 from two point range.

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  15. The big takeaway from this game so far is that either Duke or UNC is going to win the National Championship.

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  16. Defense alone is never enough to beat Duke and UNC. You have to score points -- and in particular, you have to make three-pointers. So far Nova and Houston aren't showing any offensive firepower.

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  17. At the half, Nova leads 27-20. Houston is 0-8 from 3-point range, and 8-18 from 2-point range.

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  18. Villanova leads 32-25 with 15:40 left. Houston now 1-10 from 3-point range, and 9-22 from 2-point range. But no team tries harder than Houston, and it feels like the Cougars are now ready to make their big push.

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  19. With 11:17 left, Nova leads 38-29. Houston is trying hard, but they just can't shoot. Now 1-13 from three-point range, and 11-28 from 2-point range.

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  20. Villanova leads 40-34 with 7:53 left. Remarkably, Houston is on a 5-0 run.

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  21. In the first 10 minutes of the game, Houston scored 10 points.
    In the next 10 minutes of the game, Houston scored 10 points.
    In the next 10 minutes of the game, Houston scored 9 points.
    After 30 minutes, Houston was down 40-29. So Houston had to make up an 11-point deficit in 10 minutes, when they had yet to score 11 points in 10 minutes.

    But as mentioned above, no team tries harder than Houston. So the Cougars have now gone on an 11-2 run. Villanova now leads by 42-40 with only 5:15 left. The Wildcats call time.

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  22. This game feels a lot like a game where UK is at Mississippi State, or South Carolina, and UK dominates for most of the game, only to face a huge comeback at the end.

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  23. Nova is doing that thing Calipari likes to do where you hold the ball as much as possible when you're defending a lead. Houston is doing that thing where you throw the ball at the basket and make a desperate attempt for rebounds. Nova leads 44-40 with 3:08 left, and Nova is going to the line.

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  24. Houston now 1-14 from 3-point range, and 15-35 from 2-point range.

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  25. Nova leads 46-42 with 1:20 left. Cougars now 1-16 from three-point range. I can't even imagine what it would feel like to reach the Elite Eight, and then have the other team go 1-16 from three-point range.

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  26. Nova wins 50-44, as Houston just couldn't make any shots. Here's the final totals for the Cougars:

    1-20 from 3-point range (5.0 percent)
    16-37 from 2-point range (43.2 percent)
    9-14 from the line (64.3 percent)

    It's the worst offensive performance I can remember this deep in the tournament since UK's loss to Georgetown in 1984. Villanova's defense is good, but Houston couldn't make any shot, no matter how wide open they were. I'm not sure Houston made a single shot from more than five feet away from the basket.

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    1. In this whole tournament, I haven't seen anyone else shoot the way St. Peter's did against UK:

      9-17 from 3-point range (52.9 percent)
      20-40 from 2-point range (50.0 percent)
      18-21 from the line (85.7 percent)

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  27. Justin Moore, one of Villanova's starters, got hurt late in the game. It's not clear how bad his injury is, but it's just more evidence that nothing will stop Duke or UNC.

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  28. Anyway, that's all for me. I'm switching over to the SEC Network for college baseball.

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    1. That didn't work, because there's a softball game that's gone into extra innings.

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    2. This was a rough weekend for sports.

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  29. Like I said, you're not going to beat Duke with defense. So far Arkansas has one free throw and Duke has 10. Williams is on the bench with 2 fouls. Devils lead 33-26 with 4:43 left before halftime.

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  30. Sending Williams to the bench is devastating for Arkansas, as they only have two offensive options, and Notae isn't nearly so dangerous without Williams.

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  31. I'd like to say that Arkansas is doing better than UK did against Duke, but the two games look really similar. Duke led UK 39-35 at the half, and the Devils lead Arkansas 37-31 with 2:23 left before halftime.

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  32. In terms of raw talent, I think the gap between Duke and the rest of college basketball is the biggest since UK's team in 2012. Duke at 80 percent effort is better than every other team, with the possible exception of UNC.

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  33. The only reason this season has been interesting is that Duke often gives something like 60 percent effort. Otherwise the Devils would have gone undefeated. But with only three games to go, I don't think effort will be a problem now.

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    1. I think this is exactly right. My guess is that Coach K was tied up with a bunch of victory-lap engagements all season, and so everyone working for him got to let off the gas a lot more than they typically do during a season.

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  34. We played five teams that are still in the tournament: Duke, Arkansas, Kansas, UNC, and St. Peter's. We also played two other teams that got number-2 seeds: Auburn and Tennessee. I thought we had a chance against all of those teams except for Duke. I really felt like they just toyed with us, and that they could have beaten us by 20 if they'd wanted.

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  35. What will be interesting about the Duke/UNC game in the Final Four is that UNC beat Duke in the last game of the regular season. So I think that will be the only game where you'll see Duke go all out for 40 minutes.

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  36. But UNC is even zanier than Duke. The Tar Heels threw away game after game all year. And last week, in Fort Worth, they had Baylor down 67-42 with 10:20 left. Then they threw away their whole lead and let Baylor send them to OT. Then in OT they started playing against and closed out Baylor by seven points.

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  37. So no one really knows how good UNC or Duke are, and we won't know until they play each other in the Final Four. That will be the decider.

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    1. This is going to go down, broadly, as one of the greatest Final Fours ever, and I will be surprised if I actually watch a second of it.

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  38. As I predicted, Arkansas is hapless without Williams. Duke leads 45-33 at the half. I know that everyone likes to protect guys with two fouls, but now you've got to make up a 12-point deficit in only 20 minutes.

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  39. According to the efficiency stats, Arkansas has the 11th-best defense in the nation. Duke put up 45 points on them in a half with only two 3-point shots.

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  40. This is why Gonzaga, UNC, and Villanova are the only teams that had a chance against Duke. Realistically, to beat the Devils you will need to score something like 1.25 points per possession. Assuming 70 possessions in the game, and Duke can certainly force anyone to play that fast, you're going to need at least 88 points. Arkansas has the 53d best offense in the country. That's not going to get it done.

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    1. Of course, as always, I'll be rooting for Coach K to beat the Heels next week.

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    2. I give the Heels a 35 percent chance against Duke.
      I give Villanova a 20 percent chance against Duke.
      I give Kansas a 2 percent chance against Duke.

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  41. Meanwhile, Tennessee is asserting itself on the college baseball stage. UT is in Oxford for a three-game series with Ole Miss. When the series started, Ole Miss was number 1 and UT was number 5. Last night, UT beat Ole Miss 12-1. Tonight, in the bottom of the 5th, UT leads 8-0.

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  42. Anyway, I ended up watching a replay of the World Match Play championship.

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  43. With Williams back in the game, and with Duke bored again, Arkansas claws to within 53-48. Coach K calls time. Duke scores 10 straight points. That's how much better than Arkansas -- and almost everyone, really -- Duke is. They did almost the same thing to UK when we played them.

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  44. Games like this are why Gonzaga takes so much grief. For the last two seasons, both the polls and the stats have told us that the Zags were the best team in the country. But that clearly wasn't true. Last year, in the National Championship game, Gonzaga lost by 16 points -- and the game wasn't that close. This year, the Zags lost to an Arkansas team that was never competitive with Duke.

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  45. With really great teams -- like UK in 2012 or Duke this year -- there's another gear that allows them to crush teams that aren't at their level. Look at UK's game against Baylor in the Elite Eight back in 2012. Or they can always keep a game close, even if the other team is on fire and they aren't at their best -- like UK in 2015. But what you see from the Zags against San Francisco and St. Mary's is as good as they are -- they just can't go to that next level in the NCAA's.

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  46. Duke up 72-54 with 5:44 left, and now the whole nation is seeing what should have been obvious all along -- they can do things that no one else (except maybe UNC) can do.

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  47. Never forget that teams like Houston and Arkansas base everything around the notion that most college players are very limited in terms of their offensive skill. And because that notion is accurate, and because the officials allow a great deal of physical play, teams like that can win a lot of games. If they get the breaks, and they make their three-pointers when they need to, they can go all the way -- like U of L in 2013. But usually, they will eventually run into a team that can run an offense, and that will be the end of it. Just ask Tennessee.

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  48. Coach K calls off the dogs, and Duke wins by nine, 78 to 69. That is a very misleading score, just like Duke's 79-71 win over UK was misleading. Assuming that Villanova will have to play short-handed next week, this season really is down to Duke and UNC.

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  49. For all the folks complaining about how UK under-achieved, I'm not convinced that's really true. UK was at the level of teams like Purdue -- who also lost to St. Peter's. Given our talent, we did really well until we caught some bad luck in the St. Peter's game. But the notion that we were ever going to compete with Duke -- or even with UNC once it got its act together -- is simply not credible. Oscar Tshiebwe is the only guy for UK who could possibly play for Duke, and he would probably come off the bench.

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    1. We were also plainly hurt by TyTy Washington's injury. Neither he nor we were the same after that. Thank you, Florida.

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    2. The SEC is an awful basketball conference.

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  50. UK won 26 games with players who were recruited by West Virginia, Georgia, Davidson, and Creighton. The problem isn't coaching up the guys we have. The problem is that we need better guys.

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  51. Winning in the regular season is about getting your guys to play their best. But winning in the tournament means having guys who really are the best when everyone is playing hard.

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  52. So we need better players. Until we get them, we're going to experience the type of disappointments that we've seen lately.

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  53. The top four teams on Ken Pom have all been eliminated. Check out these ratings for the last six teams:

    5. Kansas
    7. Duke
    8. Villanova
    18. N. Carolina
    35. Miami (Fla.)
    98. Saint Peter's

    Carolina and Duke really broke the formula this year.

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  54. UK is at number 6. The Cats have a chance for their highest end-of-season Ken Pom ranking since 2017, when they finished at number 4. Here's how they've done since:

    2018: 17 (199 in luck)
    2019: 8 (98 in luck)
    2020: 29 (138 in luck)
    2021: 49 (354 in luck)
    2022: 6 (279 in luck)

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  55. With 12:55 left in the first half, Kansas leads Miami 14-13. Miami is wearing uniforms that make them look like Miami's ABA team in 1973. They are bright orange with dark green numbers. The word "MIAMI" is on the front of the jersey in italic capitals, with the M in dark green and the other letters in white. All the numerals are in some sort of italic font that looks like that type of numerals you see in NASCAR. It actually looks pretty sharp, but it's very bold.

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    1. I love that Will Ferrell movie about the ABA.

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  56. By the way, if you have any questions about the future status of any UK basketball player, here's the answer: They're leaving. They're always leaving. They always have. They always will. Don't waste your time worrying about it.

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  57. The season will start in early November, and then we'll know who's on the team.

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    1. This has turned into an epic post.

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    2. I basically had a whole season's worth of material that I hadn't been able to use.

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  58. Also, don't forget that whenever Duke or UNC wins the national title, the other one wins within the next five years.

    Duke: 1991 and 1992
    UNC: 1993

    Duke: 2001
    UNC: 2004

    UNC: 2009
    Duke: 2010

    Duke: 2015
    UNC: 2017

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  59. By the way, here's a message for every college basketball player who isn't a lottery pick: You know that move where you dribble into the lane, and then do a step-back jumper? You only make that shot about 15 percent of the time. You really need to try something else.

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  60. KU leads 21-20 with 7:45 left in the first half. KU must play 20 games a year that look exactly like this. And they go something like 17-3 in those games.

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  61. KU could lose today. Or KU could lose next Saturday to a banged-up Villanova team. But if KU wins both of those games, then I predict KU will be at least 10 points behind UNC or Duke in the National Championship with six minutes left. The Jayhawks just don't have the type of offensive firepower to hang with those teams.

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  62. People give Self a hard time for not winning more titles at KU, but his players usually just aren't that good. He's like a better version of all these other Detroit Piston-style teams. And it's very hard to get through the whole NCAA tournament without playing a team that can shoot.

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  63. Self also gets a lot of help from Big 12 officials in the regular season, which is why his luck score is usually very good.

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  64. Kansas luck since 2015:

    2015: 33
    2016: 75
    2017: 32
    2018: 23
    2019: 26
    2020: 79
    2021: 44
    2022: 90

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  65. I don't think any other team has come close to being that "lucky." For comparison, here are UK's numbers:

    2015: 68
    2016: 288
    2017: 175
    2018: 199
    2019: 98
    2020: 138
    2021: 354
    2022: 279

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  66. So every year, Kansas wins the great majority of the close games that it plays, while UK experiences a lot more tough defeats. In 2021, for example, UK lost six games by three points or less, including four losses by one point. Self never has those losses, which is part of why he racks up so many conference titles and gets such favorable seeding in the Tournament.

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  67. But none of that will help him against Duke or UNC. He won't get those calls, and the Jayhawks will lose.

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  68. Up 31-27, Miami tried two of those step-back jumpers in the lane. They both missed, as they usually do, and Kansas scored at the other end. The U leads 31-29 with just over a minute in the first half.

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    1. There's a person in Madisonville who has "IT'S ALL ABOUT THE 'U'" in stencil letters across the top of the windshield of his vehicle. On the back glass, then, there's always another something about the Hurricanes--usually football-oriented--that changes regularly. But it's always "IT'S ALL ABOUT THE 'U'" on the front.

      I'm often in the car-rider line with this vehicle at my daughter's schools.

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  69. Miami calls time and gets two quick baskets. The U had one more possession at the end of the first half, but did too much dribbling and couldn't get off a shot. Still, the Canes lead 35-29 at the half.

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  70. Jim Larranega is one of the best coaches I've ever seen, and I would love to read a longform article explaining why he spent his whole career at George Mason and Miami. Why didn't any SEC or Big 10 school ever give this guy a shot?

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  71. Some guys just don't fit the mold. Kurt Warner really wanted to play QB for the Giants, and Vince Lombardi really wanted to coach the Giants, but the Giants didn't want either of them.

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  72. Miami comes out over-confident, makes some really silly turnovers, and gives up some easy baskets. Canes lead 37-34 with 17:45 left.

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  73. Up 40-38, a player for Miami literally falls down in the middle of the lane, and throws the ball to Kansas. This leads to a runout and a dunk. I watched almost every game UK played this year, and I don't remember a single play where someone just fell down and gave us a dunk. Then KU hits a three-pointer, and the Jayhawks are up 43-40 with 15:24 left.

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  74. Miami's players really did think that KU was beaten. But no one plays harder than KU. And remember that the Jayhawks pretty much win every close game they play. They have tremendous confidence in late-game situations.

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  75. Another turnover by Miami; another runout for Kansas. When you play KU, you cannot let them get any transition baskets.

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  76. And there's another one. Miami shoots a three-pointer, it bangs off the front rim -- as they usually do -- and KU gets another runout. Jayhawks lead 47-40, and they are going to the Final Four.

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  77. Personally, I thought Miami had a really good chance here, because KU struggles in the half court. And Miami still has somewhat of a chance, although it's difficult to catch KU from behind. But after blasting Auburn, blasting Iowa State, and taking a six-point lead at the half over Kansas, the Canes started celebrating too early.

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  78. Miami now missing a lot of three-point shots, which are just turnovers and runouts for KU. Jayhawks lead 49-42 with 12:32 left.

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  79. Note: If you are playing Kansas, Duke, or UNC, and you drive to the basket late in the shot clock, it's going to be a charge. It's always going to be a charge. Every single time. Just don't even think about it.

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  80. So, what is Miami supposed to do if it can't make three's, and it can't drive to the basket? That's a great question.

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  81. Kansas is rolling now, up 54-42 with 10:14 left. All they have to do now is play defense, and they're really good at that. So KU returns to the Final Four for the first time since 2018.

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  82. So this run for Coach K has all sorts of fun historical tidbits. He beat Arkansas, who beat Duke in the 1994 Final. Next up he gets UNC, so he can get revenge for that last game of the regular season. And then he'll end with Kansas -- the same team he beat to win his first title back in 1991. The media have had a lot to complain about in recent years, but this tournament is their dream come true.

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  83. Under normal circumstances, I would pick Villanova to beat Kansas. But one of Villanova's best players got hurt at the end of the game last night, so the Wildcats won't be at full strength.

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  84. And now they've confirmed that Villanova starter Justin Moore is out for next week's Final Four. That should lock Kansas into the final -- and even if Nova somehow beats Kansas, there's no way a short-handed Villanova team can beat Duke or UNC.

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  85. So for UK fans, this tournament is basically over -- except for the fact that whether Duke or UNC wins this tournament, the other one will win another NCAA title within the next five years.

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  86. The SEC claims that "It Just Means More." And they're right about that. But sometimes that just means that it hurts more.

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  87. Anyway, the program is clearly at its lowest ebb since 2009, when we missed the tournament and UNC rolled to one of the easiest national championships you'll ever see. We rallied from that. Let's see if we can rally from this.

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  88. In the meantime, we have to accept that the other folks are going to take a victory lap. They deserve it. When the SEC is on top, we don't hesitate to let the rest of the world know how happy we are. And now, the type of people who are thrilled to see a Duke/UNC/Kansas/Villanova Final Four -- which includes almost everyone who writes about college basketball for a living -- are going to celebrate.

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  89. But we've been down before, and we've come back before. And I believe that we will come back again.

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  90. I loved this whole post, but I appreciated the end the most.

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