Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Final Four is Upon Us

And even before we know the last two teams, let’s take a look at how I did at predicting the season. My preseason preview of the year in college basketball was pretty mixed. I focused a lot on Duke and MSU, of course, because those are the two teams I have followed and rooted for since childhood. But I also picked a final four:

My early final four predictions: MSU, Kansas, North Carolina and – yes, this is a sleeper – Butler.

So kudos to me for picking Butler in the final four before the season started. But what the hell happened to North Carolina? I still am baffled by their collapse this season. I know they lost a lot from last season, but that’s still a team with at least 3 or 4 first round picks on the roster. Was Larry Drew really that bad at point guard that they couldn’t make all that talent on the interior into at least a solid top 25 team? Apparently so.

I also picked MSU in the final four, and we’ll know this afternoon whether that comes true. Given all the injuries and the makeup of the two teams, I have a difficult time imagining how MSU beats Tennessee today. But you know what? I’ve thought that time and again over the last decade and I’ve learned never to count a Tom Izzo-coached team out against anyone.

This MSU team has certainly not developed as I thought they would. Raymar Morgan is still a supremely talented mystery who shows up some games and disappears in others. I thought Delvon Roe would have a great season for them, but he’s been playing all years with a bad knee that needs surgery. But the guy is an absolute warrior, playing hard every second he’s on the court despite enormous pain.

The backcourt, which should have been best lineup of guards in the country, has struggled all year with leadership and attitude problems. Izzo has had to bench all four of them at some point in the season. But the benching of Durrell Summers at the end of the season seems to have lit a fire under him and turned him in to the player he could have been all along.

Summers is an athletic freak who can dominate a game, but over the course of the year he would often float while on the court, not really paying attention to his defensive assignments and not being aggressive on offense. It infuriated Izzo, who finally just sat him down in the second half of two games late in the season and played a walk on in his place.

Now Summers seems to have gotten the message and he has been incredible in the tournament, averaging 20 points a game while shooting 50% from the field and 50% from three point range, and grabbing almost 5 rebounds a game. If he keeps this up next year he becomes a first round draft pick.

I seem to have underestimated Duke, who can make another final four today by beating Baylor. I said preseason:

This is not a great Duke team. They’ll still get 25 wins and probably play on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, but I don’t think they’re a serious contender for the Final Four or a national championship.

Obviously, since they’re one win away from a final four, that was a bit pessimistic. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith have both been better than I thought they would be. Scheyer has moved to the point and has run the team brilliantly without really having the speed to break down a defender or get into the lane consistently. He’s done it with a high basketball IQ, making good decisions and putting teammates in position to score.

I’ll still be shocked if Duke wins a national championship. I think they’re really a year away yet. Next year with Singler and Smith as seniors and the Plumlee brothers in the starting lineup, they should be a serious contender. The backcourt should be improved by sheer numbers with Smith and Andre Dawkins being joined by freshman point guard Kyrie Irving and transfer Seth Curry (brother of Stefan Curry and a deadly shooter in his own right).

So if MSU makes the final four, I’ll have 2 of my preseason picks correct. Unfortunately, that’s not the way I had it on my bracket at the end of the year, where I had Kentucky winning it all. Oops.