by Robert Ferringo - 03/30/2006
Last weekend's Oakland Regional Final between UCLA and Memphis was one of the worst college basketball games I've ever seen. But it did give us one of the most unintentionally funny moments of the NCAA Tournament thus far. Late in the second half when it was clear that UCLA would advance, CBS cut to jovial Bruins legend (and famed Deadhead) Bill Walton as Len Elmore asked Gus Johnson, "You think he's having flashbacks?"
If only all of my acid flashbacks were that enjoyable.
UCLA, the most storied program in the history of college basketball, will be making its 16th appearance in the Final Four and its first since its 1995 National Championship run. Their opponent, Louisiana State, is making its fourth trip to the national semifinals and first trip back since 1986.
The two will clash on at approx. 8:47 p.m. EST on Saturday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Fourth-seeded LSU (27-8) is currently posted as a 2.5-point favorite over second-seeded UCLA (31-6).
So take your pick. Do you want to go with the classic hoops power turning back the clock and harnessing its former glory (think Notre Dame football, circa 2005)? Or would you prefer the Determined-Kids-Representing-Their-Natural-Disaster-Ravaged-Homeland (Think Chernobyl High varsity soccer, circa 1987)?
Speaking of mutants, you should know by now that the LSU frontcourt is comprised of several freakishly large players. Besides the 510-pound Glen Davis, there is also Tyrus Thomas and his 17-foot wingspan, and Tasmin Mitchell and his 82-inch vertical. The Tigers are 11-1 in their last 12 games, and are 6-4 against the spread in their last 10 games.
On the other hand, the Bruins are guided by their tremendous backcourt. Sophomores Arron Afflalo (16.6 points per game) and Jordan Farmar (13.6 ppg) are young, but extraordinarily poised and talented. UCLA boasts an 11-game winning streak, but their last three victories have come by a combined 10 points. They are on an 8-2 ATS rush over the last month.
UCLA was one of the hottest teams in the country entering the NCAA Tournament. But they've advanced this far mainly because Lady Luck has been dry humping them for the last two weekends. The Bruins were a Ronald Steele miss away from a second-round loss to Alabama. They fought back from a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes against Gonzaga. And they were less terrible than Memphis in an ugly five-point win in the Regional Final.
LSU, on the other hand, has been rolling. In their last two games they made J.J Redick cry and crushed the NBA draft hopes of half of the Texas team. They may not be able to hit a shot from further out than 10 feet, but the Tigers have also held their last four opponents to a combined 84-for-248 shooting (33.8 percent).
We can expect a grinder this Saturday night. The schools are a combined 12-42 against the total this year, which is currently listed at 121. LSU surrenders 64.5 points per game and 40.1 percent field goal shooting, while UCLA yields 58.6 points and 41.7 percent shooting.
So who's going to win? That's the question, right? Well, as I mentioned before, who you back in this game should reflect what you philosophically believe about a basketball team. Do you favor inside power, and the belief that the team with the larger, more athletic players generally wins out? Or do you feel that it's a guard's game, and whichever club has the top perimeter playmakers down the stretch should advance?
I know this: LSU has been an outstanding team from an underrated conference. They manhandled two title contenders last weekend, and I have no doubt that they deserve to be here. I love the fact that they're built from the inside-out, and if Texas' frontcourt couldn't keep them off the offensive glass UCLA's certainly won't be able to. Also, LSU boasts the best big man in the tournament when it comes to getting a clutch basket.
If there is a knock I have on the Tigers, it's that they don't know how to close games. They blew a late lead against Texas A&M, and were incredibly shaky in the last five minutes of regulation versus Texas. They can't hit a 3-pointer to save their lives, and when "Big Baby" gets doubled, I wonder who is going to create - and make - their own shot.
With UCLA, there's always the possibility that Afflalo or Farmar can get hot and shoot the team into the Finals. If this does end up being a one- or two-possession game, I would rather have the ball in either one of their hands as opposed to anyone on LSU. The Bruins are also quick enough in transition to make LSU pay for crashing the offensive boards. If UCLA can rebound defensively and get out and run, they won't have to worry about scoring against LSU's suffocating half-court D.
But the Bruins seem like they're playing on borrowed time. Of the four teams in Indy, I just feel like they're the least deserving. They also won't have the benefit of the home-court advantage they experienced last weekend in Oakland. Say what you will, but they profited from some shady timekeeping against Gonzaga and ended up with less than half as many fouls (14 to 29) as Memphis.
But who are we to try to apply any type of reason or rationale to this tournament? The Madness is a type of illogical insanity that I'm yet to fully understand, or even appreciate. It doesn't defy physical explanation as much as manipulate it. Better not to fight it, but to just sit back and enjoy. Like some sort of iridescent flashback…
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.