Greetings, friends. First let us all pour one out for the Duke Blue Devils and the end of their season, unfulfilled as it was. And let us pour another out for the folks at ESPN and CBS, whose broadcasts of the next week will undoubtedly prove much more challenging given the lack of wall-to-wall coverage of their Golden Goose from Durham.
Now, let us all fill our glasses again and ponder the next weekend: Sadly, our beloved Heels are out of the picture, and happily, our hated rivals are out as well. So, who do we support? Who do we revile? Well there are pros and cons for rooting for all of the remaining four entrants and, needless to say, your predilections are your own (if you have an alumni relative or personal connection to a particular school, by all means use this piece as merely light entertainment and not an instructional guide).
Here are our Final Four Fandom Candidates:
Pros: The Red Freakin’ Raiders are in the Final Four!!! What Chris Beard has done in the last three years in Lubbock is nothing short of miraculous. It was widely regarded as impossible to make Tech a genuine contender for the Big 12, much less the NCAA tournament, but here they are. Don’t even try finding better three-year project in college basketball; there is none. Jarrett Culver is a terrific player who could leave his mark on the finale in Minneapolis. In an era when high scoring seems to be at a premium at all levels of basketball, the Red Raiders succeed with their defense, playing scrappy, suffocating ball. They are making their first appearance in the National Semifinal and a new champion is always fun.
Cons: Chris Beard is great. He’s also a Bob Knight apprentice and Bob Knight was a profane, player-abusing scumbag, so hopefully Beard didn’t pick up TOO many lessons from him. The Red Raiders play a defense-first game, which is to say their games can be butt-ugly (that first half against Michigan...WOOF). Texas Tech may have given us Patrick Mahomes, who is a unicorn and God’s gift to football, but it also gave us John Hinckley Jr.
Pros: Auburn beat us, which means if they win the whole thing, it’ll be easier for us to live with ourselves. Also, they totally deserved to win; they were brilliant. The Tigers play the most high-octane, entertaining brand of ball of the four teams remaining in the field, sharing the ball well and firing away from deep without fear. Chuma Okeke going down was a terrible loss for them (he was giving us the BUSINESS before his injury) and, from their comments, it’s clear that his coaches and teammates absolutely love him and want to win for him. It’d be nice to see them do it.
Cons: Bruce Pearl is a crook. That “SEC” Chant they did at the end of our game was stupid (can you imagine UNC fans cheering “ACC” because Clemson was also going to the Elite Eight? Please.). Auburn is the less-hyped, less successful public university in their state and are massively salty about that, which is to say that they are Alabama’s NC State and we don’t root for State EVER. Charles Barkley is awesome and fun now, but he also spit on a woman when he was a pro. Bo Jackson’s overrated.
Pros: THEY. BEAT. DUKE. That could probably stand on its own, but in addition to that, they’ve dealt with injuries to Josh Langford (done for the season) and Nick Ward (made it back for the tourney and is playing with a broken bone in his hand) and not only survived it, but grabbed a share of the Big Ten Regular Season title, won their conference tournament, and swept their in-state rivals. Tom Izzo is a fantastic coach and this is one of his best coaching jobs ever. Cassius Winston is a beast and a terrific leader, in the vein of a Kemba Walker. I’ve always found Spartan fans to be passionate, committed, and unpretentious in my experiences with them. And did I mention...THEY BEAT DUKE!!!
Cons: If Izzo gets a second ring, a bunch of “clever” basketball analysts are going to claim that he’s a better coach than Roy (nonsense, Roy OWNS Izzo. He beat him on an AIRCRAFT CARRIER), since people somehow think it’s harder to win two in East Lansing than three in Chapel Hill. Sparty is the only remaining team in the field that has won a national championship and it’d be nice to get some new blood in there. Michigan State University knew about Larry Nassar for two years before they fired him.
Pros: Mamadi Diakite’s shot was the play of the tournament. Tony Bennett is, along with Mark Few and Bob Huggins, arguably the best coach in college basketball without a ring. Virginia is a terrific, squeaky-clean program that does things the right way, has carved out an elite spot for itself among the contenders of college basketball, and deserves a ring. Plus, how great of a story would it be for the Cavaliers to bounce back from the most embarrassing loss in NCAA Tournament history last year by winning a national championship this year? That’d be pretty amazing.
Cons: The Pack Line defense is an almighty bore. If you buy a ticket to a game or pay a subscription to cable that means you should be ENTERTAINED when you watch the product put before you. UMBC did America a service last year by saving us from at least another 40 minutes of watching freakin’ Virginia. Kyle Guy has a punchable face. UVA fans are pretentious and annoying (despite never having won anything) and aggressively defensive of their aggressively defensive style of play. No one cares that Thomas Jefferson designed your campus.