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Great Guards

SAN ANTONIO -- Wow, that was one of the best performances I've seen in a long time by a backcourt in a Final Four game.  UCLA simply had no answer for Memphis' tandem of point guard Derrick Rose and off guard Chris Douglas-Roberts in a 78-63 beatdown in the national semifinals.

Rose, a freshman who could be the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft, had 25 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Douglas-Roberts, who is 6-7 and a nightmare to match up with, had 28 points. Douglas-Roberts, a junior, had 25 points in each of Memphis' wins in the regionals last weekend. He looks like a pro to me, too. In fact, Rose and Douglas-Roberts could be two of the top five or six guards in America.

No wonder Memphis is in the national championship game.

The young men and the C

SAN ANTONIO -- You might notice during Saturday's first national semifinal that the "C" on the front of UCLA's jerseys is colored gold instead of blue. That's to signify UCLA becoming the first school to win 100 NCAA championships in a variety of sports. "C", of course, is the Roman numeral for 100. Of the 100 titles, 11 are in men's basketball. I'm not sure about the others, though I imagine there's a water polo title or two in there.

Final Four pick

SAN ANTONIO — I'm sticking with my pick from the start of the NCAA Tournament. I like UCLA to win it all. But Memphis is certainly a scary team. I think the winner of the first semifinal Saturday night will win it all. North Carolina has to pay for its sloppy interior defense at some point. Roy Williams won a title in 2005 — when he had by far the most talented "keeds' — but he's still capable of blowing a big game in the tournament at any time.

Who do you like in the Final Four? North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis or UCLA?

Knight is a Clown

Bobby Knight says they should expand the NCAA Tournament to 128 teams. He says conference tournament champions shouldn't get automatic bids unless they also win the regular season. Knight is a bitter, miserable clown. I can't imagine why they put this guy on TV, when he acts as if he's bored and has nothing really original to say.

I say the tournament structure is fine the way it is (though, naturally, I'd like to see the mid-majors get more love from the committee). What do you say? Do you agree with the General that the tourney field should be expanded? Should they abolish automatic bids for conference tourney champs?


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Oh, and I erred in an earlier blog when I said the Big East put three teams in the Final Four in 1987. They did it in 1985, of course, the year Villanova beat Georgetown in the final. The Big East put two teams in the Final Four in 1987. The tweed jacket regrets the error.

Duke Goes Down

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Duke had to be one of the weakest No. 2 seeds the NCAA Tournament has seen in recent memory. They were barely better than Belmont, and they were clearly inferior to a West Virginia team that was a No. 7 seed and an 11-7 team in Big East play.

West Virginia's Joe Alexander said there are six or seven teams in the Big East on par with Duke. From what I saw, he's right. If Duke could go 13-3 in the ACC, it really was a down year for that league. Duke had virtually no inside presence, no go-to guy in the post. Point guard Greg Paulus is susceptible to quicker guards. If they're not making three-pointers, they're in trouble.

Watching Duke struggle, I'm even more convinced that North Carolina isn't as good as people think. If a team can stand up to their transition game and make them play half-court defense, the Tar Heels can be had. And naturally, it would warm my heart to see self-righteous Roy Williams take a fall.

Big East in NCAA

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Well, maybe Syracuse did deserve a bid. When the smoke cleared after the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Big East was the big winner with a 7-1 record. The only loss was UConn in overtime to San Diego. In a tourney where underdogs are rising up at every turn, that's a very impressive performance.

The ACC, on the other hand, is looking a tad overrated. Clemson, which took North Carolina to overtime twice this year in defeat, looked awful in a loss to Villanova last night. And Duke nearly lost to Belmont as a No. 2 seed here the other night. The Big East can make another big statement today if West Virginia knocks off the Dookies in the second round. Forget the seeds. West Virginia is on equal footing and has a very good chance if it's making outside shots.

One conference put two teams in the Final Four eight straight years between 1999-2006. The Big East  has a chance to do it this year. Heck, they could even put three teams in, as they did in 1987.

Finally, some upsets

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Finally, a big upset in the NCAA Tournament! San Diego stunned Connecticut in overtime in Tampa, becoming the first team seeded lower than 12th to win a game in the first round since Bradley knocked off Kansas in Auburn Hills two years ago.

Of course, if some people had their way, San Diego wouldn't even be in the tournament. One of the dumbest ideas I've heard lately -- pushed by that cretin, Bobby Knight -- is that there shouldn't even be  automatic bids for conference tourney winners. Knight and his followers believe that the bids should go to regular-season champs. 

San Diego won the West Coast Conference tourney. Gonzaga won the regular season and St. Mary's was second. San Diego has a 94 RPI, so they'd probably miss out under Knight's system. Well, they sure seemed worthy of a bid today against UConn.

There's a mistaken notion here, and it's one that defenders of the power conferences try to shove down people's throats: They refuse to accept the idea that there can be more than one very good team in some of these mid-major leagues. Naturally, if they can limit all those leagues to one NCAA tourney bid, that's more spots for the precious BCS leagues.

Western Kentucky won an amazing game today in overtime over Drake. They tied for the regular-season title with South Alabama at 16-2. Looks like they had two pretty decent teams in the Sun Belt, too.

Duke Survives

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Boy, was that a great game or what? Belmont was no fluke. They had 10 players play at least 10 minutes, and all of them were capable of playing tough defense and making shots. It was Belmont's third straight year in the NCAA Tournament and it showed. They were resilient and confident and never backed down from the mighty Dookies in an exhilirating, 71-70, loss.

Mike Krzyzewski, who was battling the flu, could barely speak after the game. But he was duly impressed by Belmont and called Thursday's first-round game one of the most pressure-filled of his 89 as Duke's coach. Duke had the weight of expectations, a worthy opponent, and a Verizon Center crowd that got behind the underdog in the second half.

Duke toughed this one out, but the game magnified all their acknowledged shortcomings. They're not strong defensively on the interior and quick guards can break them down in the halfcourt. Gerald Henderson, their 6-4 swingman, was the only guy who played big. He saved them with a number of huge plays down the stretch, including the winner.

From what I can see, Duke isn't long for this tournament. They might not even make it out of Washington.

Poor Man's Duke

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Duke-Belmont game went pretty much to form in the first half. It's a fast-paced, entertaining affair between a couple of finesse teams that love to fire up three-pointers. Belmont, which is sort of a poor man's Duke, has done a nice job of hanging with the Dookies and trails by seven at the half, 42-35.

Duke's superior size has been a problem. The Blue Devils haven't shot well, but they're getting a lot of offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line. But Belmont is a smart, capable and well-coached team. They've beaten Duke back-door a number of times for layups. Duke is clearly overplaying against the three-pointer and taking its chances on back-door cuts.

Belmont would be even closer if its leading scorer, senior Justin Hare, had been a factor. But Hare has three fouls -- two on very dumb plays -- and hasn't gotten into the game offensively. When he's in the game, he's being guarded by DeMarcus Nelson, the ACC defensive player of the year.

As Xavier's Stanley Burrell showed us in the early game, it can make a huge difference at tourney time to have a defensive stopper against the opponent's most dangerous perimeter threat. If Hare can get involved in the second half, Belmont has a chance to keep things close. But I see this turning into a 20-point Duke rout. I've been wrong before, though, as you can tell by reading my annual predictions.

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