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So what the heck are we supposed to do for the next five days?
Loyola makes the Final Four and everything is all "Woo-Hoo! What a Victory! Donte Ingram, Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Ben Richardson, Cameron Krutwig, Aundre Jackson and Lucas Williamson are the best players ever and Porter Moser is the best coach ever!"
And then, "Now they don't play again for a full week?"
I almost just said "the players" in the second paragraph rather than listing their names, but then I realized that would have made me a member of the Cult of the Coach that still permeates the college game in colossally irritating ways. As former Jets and current Arizona State football coach Herm Edwards once said: "The players win the game!"
Well, actually, Edwards once said - memorably and repeatedly - to reporters in a conversation about late-season, winning-by-losing for better draft picks: "You play to win the game!"
He was talking about not tanking for draft picks, but it is easy to imagine the outspoken coach-turned-analyst-turned-coach making the simple change seen here.
A coach receives deserved credit for putting players in position to succeed in a variety of contexts. But the players have to execute everything. The coach does not do so many of the other things that are attributed to him by lazy analysts who seem to barely learn the players' names before they start filling commentary time with soliloquies about how great the coaches are - again and again and again.
Where was I? Oh yeah . . . I would imagine that when this tournament schedule was set up by the television networks - i.e., they told the NCAA what to do and then the NCAA did what it was told but then lied and said it was doing it because it had decided to do so - they had some primary excuses.
The first one would have to be the idea that the student-athletes involved can spend this week studying.
As if! The idea of players staring at a potential national championship next weekend settling in with the books in the coming week is completely laughable. It is even more so considering that these players compete for Loyola University and the week leading into Easter is usually break time at Catholic schools.
But of course, TV wants the semifinals on Saturday afternoon and evening and then the big finale all by itself (in terms of the lack of significant on-screen competition) on Monday.
So we wait . . . and wait . . . twiddling my thumbs now . . . and then we are forced to do one of the things I hate most in current sports media: extended previews. That would be the previews that so frequently contain an overload of fluff and then finish with predictions that are so often wrong. Yuck!
Nevertheless, let's talk about Michigan, starting with point guard Zavier Simpson. Quite simply, the Z-man doesn't mess around. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in all of college basketball. And in case Simpson's play isn't scary enough, there is also his savvy. He possesses veteran wisdom despite being all of a sophomore.
What caught my eye in particular was when Simpson was informed that one of his opponents heading into the Sweet 16, Texas A&M guard T.J. Starks, had said he believed he was "unguardable." When that comment was relayed to Simpson, he responded with something along the lines of, "Of course he said that," and "What is he supposed to say, that someone can guard him?"
Well played, Mr. Simpson, well played. And to Loyola point guard Clayton Custer, well, go get him big fella! And make sure your teammates know you will need some help. After all, I believe Mr. Custer would concede that there are in fact a few people in college basketball who can guard him, at least some of the time.
Michigan is a formidable opponent because of Simpson's awesome perimeter defense, talented 6-11 forward Mo Wagner's great all-around game, and coach John Beilen's ability to get the most out of his kids year after year (please notice that I mentioned two players first and then the coach - that's the way to do it people!).
Half this tournament is about the chalk (culminating in Kansas versus Villanova) and half is about the dogs. The Wolverines don't qualify as complete canines but they still weren't the choice of many to make it this far.
My prediction is that Loyola squeaks past Michigan in the semifinal with yet another last-second shot; maybe this time it is sixth-man extraordinaire Aundre Jackson who tips in the winner. And then in the second semifinal, Kansas and Villanova engage in a triple-overtime thriller.
And finally on Monday, the Ramblers hang on against an exhausted squad of Jayhawks or Wildcats and win it all. And sports are canceled in Chicago for at least the following week. And . . . I guess that's enough for now.
If we're going to make a prediction, let's predict glory.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 15, 2019