March Madness is upon us! This is the time of year where legends are built and history is made in college basketball. It is officially win or go home time. Unfortunately, not everyone will end their college career with a story book ending, but for that select team that will win their final game of the year, you realize all the hard work you put in was actually worth it.
Winning at this time of year is difficult. There are no more secrets, the scouting reports have your habits highlighted, your opponent knows your weaknesses, and the team you are going to face have watched countless hours of game tape on you. How do you overcome that? By working even harder on what you do best, and fine tuning every aspect of your game. Team play is crucial at this time of year as well. Teams that rely on one or two players will not last long. Teams that are just happy to make the tournament for the free gifts will be around for one game only. The team that balances being focused, yet laid back enough to have fun and enjoy the moment, will be the team we see celebrating after that “One Shining Moment” is over. It takes a very special group to have all of these characteristics combined, to make it to and win the “Big Dance.”
Talent will win you some games, but I don’t believe talent alone wins championships. Championships are won by the people and teams that work hard each and every day. Championships are won by the players who are willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. One weak link can completely destroy a team. Leadership is key. Winning usually starts with the leader of the team. Aside from the coach, a good team always has a clear leader. The leader doesn’t have to be the leading scorer, nor the best player, but he does have to be the most stable. First off, not everyone is meant to lead. A championship leader doesn’t falter in tough situations. His confidence alone can be contagious and can lift his teammates to higher levels. One of my favorite collegiate leaders was Mateen Cleaves. The former Michigan State point guard was a dog on the court! He ran the show and was an extension of his coach. I was briefly his teammate for two weeks in the NBA D League (now G League) during my rookie year and immediately, he pushed me and helped me get better. I will never forget when I first met him, he said “from one champ to another, we gotta tighten up some things”. He put me through a series of drills and I was able to learn a lot in a brief amount of time.
With all of that being said I do have my favorites in this year’s 2019 NCAA Tournament.
My top four teams are UNC, Duke, Virginia, and Gonzaga. My least favorite of the four, without a doubt is Virginia. I just don’t see their style of play winning a championship. Virginia likes to limit the number of possessions in a game. While limiting possessions for their opponents may seem effective, it also takes away from their attempts to score. One bad shooting night and it’s over early for the UVA Cavaliers. My next least favorite, and this is hard to say, but it is Duke. Duke is the most talented team in college basketball, some would argue that they are the most talented team ever in college basketball. What I don’t like about Duke is their lack of experience. Their freshmen are future stars, but one game elimination is a little different when it comes to tourney time. Their outside shooting could be exposed. Next is Gonzaga. Gonzaga has it all, they have an inside presence, experience, and a star in Rui Hachimura. They beat Duke early in the season and lost to UNC in Chapel Hill. They are tough, I just don’t think they can beat both UNC and Duke if they have to face them in the tourney. My pick to win the national championship this year would be the North Carolina Tar Heels. I choose the Tar Heels not just because I am an alum, but because they have a great mixture of experience and youth. They have guys like Luke Maye and Kenny Williams who already have one title to their names. They also have the new energy of Coby White and Nassir Little. In order for UNC to be successful, they have to get more production from the paint. Notice I said the paint, and not just the big guys. UNC cannot rely solely on outside shooting. A balanced scoring attack, pressure defense, and rebounding will have them cutting down nets.
With the tournament already underway I hope our brackets are not busted by the time you all read this. That’s how the tourney goes though.
Till next time… STRIVE TO EXCEL!