The 2009 Final Four Fiasco: Mark the writer marks the Cards

The 22nd annual Final Four Fiasco begins with a declaration: Even though I myself am a Kentucky alum, I grew up a Louisville fan because my dad was a graduate of U of L’s dental school. Since there were a grand total of four Louisville backers in Maysville, Ky. — Dad and Mom and my brother and me — we learned to keep a low profile. But we rooted in our own stealthy way.

There were times early in my professional life, such as it is, that adhering to the rule of no cheering in the press box came harder, but in this past decade I can honestly say I’ve gotten so old and jaded I really don’t pull for anything except fast games. So please believe me when I say this is coming from the head and not the heart:

Louisville’s going to win it all.

When this season began I never thought I’d be picking anyone but North Carolina. I figured these Heels would be the greatest team since (another Bluegrass reference) the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats if not the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. But they haven’t been. They’ve lost four games, which is four more than I figured they’d lose, and even if there was no shame in falling to Florida State in the ACC tournament — and, without Ty Lawson, there wasn’t — the feeling persists that there’s something a hair off.

They don’t defend the way I’d like a team to defend. They can score in bunches, but at some point over these next six games the champion-to-be will have to be able to stop shots as well as make them. And I believe Louisville is better suited to doing both.

I don’t think Pittsburgh or Connecticut, the other No. 1 seeds, will win it for the opposite reason: They can defend but there will come a time, as there has come a time for so many Big East teams in the Big Dance, that they won’t be able to find a basket. The exceptions — Syracuse in 2003, UConn in 1999 and 2004 — have had a Carmelo Anthony or a Ben Gordon or a Rip Hamilton. I don’t see that guy on Pitt or UConn now.

I see him on Louisville. His name is Earl Clark. And if his name isn’t Earl Clark, it’s Terrence Williams.

Louisville will take the Midwest without stress. Don’t fret about the Cards having to face Ohio State in Dayton — Siena will handle the Buckeyes. Boston College, which plays everybody tough, will subdue Michigan State in Round 2 and advance to the Elite Eight. Cleveland State will upset Wake Forest, which has vast talent but little direction, in Round 1. Dayton will knock off West Virginia and then Kansas. And Arizona, which doesn’t belong, will lose to Utah, which does.

I thought Memphis deserved a No. 1 seed over UConn, but I’ve never seen these Tigers as a Final Four team. I see them losing to Maryland in Round 2. Look for the Terps to reach the regional final before falling to UConn, which has no competition on its side. And Northern Iowa will clear the track even further by picking off Purdue.

The East will see upheaval all around. Florida State and Toney Douglas will beat Xavier and then Pitt. (Nobody has more big bodies to throw at DeJuan Blair than the ‘Noles.) VCU will whip UCLA, which is a shadow of itself, before losing to Villanova, which will beat Duke – even with an ACC title, I don’t see these Dookies as vintage — and then FSU to reach the Final Four.

Even with my doubts about Carolina, I can’t see anyone beating the Heels before the NCAA championship game. Western Kentucky, always a tough out, will topple Illinois and then Gonzaga. Temple will beat Syracuse, which has had its run, in Round 2 and then Michigan, which will have frustrated Clemson and Oklahoma, in the regional semis. Yes, this is the softest region by far.

So there’s your (or at least my) Final Four: Three Big Easterners and the Heels. (My complete bracket is here.) To me, the Carolina-Louisville East regional final was the finest game of the 2008 Big Dance, and it took all the Heels had to prevail in Charlotte. This time they’ll meet for the NCAA title in Detroit. And Louisville is better than it was then, and Carolina isn’t as good.

And that’s not a fan speaking. That’s a completely objective professional opinion. I swear.

Elizabeth Bradley has already entered the Fiasco. Have you? (Amateur photo by her proud dad.)

Elizabeth Bradley has already entered the Final Four Fiasco. Have you? (Amateur photo by her proud dad.)

How to play the AJC’s Final Four Fiasco

Our little contest is unlike most: The aim is to pick the Final Four, not necessarily the national champ. Entrants can fill out a bracket here on AJC.com or snail-mail a completed bracket (necessary to break the inevitable ties) to: AJC Final Four Fiasco, P.O. Box 4689, Atlanta, Ga., 30302. The winner, as ever, gets a handsome Final Four sweatshirt.

And some tips from Elizabeth Bradley, prognosticating genius

My younger daughter, now 11, has outpicked her somewhat older dad two years running. In 2007 she tabbed three of the Final Four to my two, and last March she got all four to my three. Her picks can be viewed here, and you’ll note that, for the third consecutive NCAA tournament, Elizabeth has gone with four No. 1 seeds. Her favorite word is “chalk,” and I can’t argue with her results.

69 comments Add your comment

The_Future

March 15th, 2009
7:56 pm

No love for Sam Young as Pitt’s go-to-guy when they need a score, Mark?

I agree with just about everything else you said.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
7:58 pm

I now think of Pitt as the new Kansas. I picked Kansas to reach the Final Four and was wrong so many times that eventually I stopped picking KU. I feel the same about Pitt — I’ve liked them since 2004, but they’ve disappointed me too often.

Chief Nock A Homa

March 15th, 2009
8:35 pm

Duke hasn’t played up to the elite Duke status of old this year, but wouldn’t you say that they sure seem to have a pretty good path to the final four??

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
8:35 pm

Mark,

Elizabeth got her final four yet?

Davis

March 15th, 2009
8:37 pm

Mark,

UK and Indiana both fail to make the tournament this year. If UK does not go to the dance next year, will they be shopping for a new coach?

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
8:40 pm

Actually, I don’t like Duke’s path. Minnesota could beat the Dookies in Round 2, and I think Villanova will beat them in Round 3.

UK might be shopping for a coach by Wednesday, Davis.

And Brewdawg, Elizabeth has to finish her project on tornadoes before filling out her bracket. But she’s ready. She was already talking up Robert Morris to me the other day.

Chief Nock A Homa

March 15th, 2009
8:41 pm

any word on who Damon Evans might be looking at currently?? Maybe waiting to see which small school coach makes a run in the tourney and becomes the hot coach to pick up??

Justin M

March 15th, 2009
8:41 pm

Mark, glad to hear you’re pulling for the Cards. This is the best team we’ve put on the floor in some time. We overachieved I think in 2005 but this team is legit defensively (just ask Alex Ruoff and Scotty Reynolds) and scores enough points to win. We don’t have one star scorer because everyone can score. You can’t shut down everyone and on a team that had 6 people in double figures in the BE championship game, there is no one you can focus on.

We won in 1986 with a Freshman named Pervis. Now we have a freshman named Samardo. Go Cards. Let’s bring home title #3. Would love to see 3 new banners go up in Freedom Hall in it’s last year of service next year.

Chief Nock A Homa

March 15th, 2009
8:43 pm

MArk,

Do you really think Minnesota could beat the devils?? Or, are you just showing some love to Tubby?? I just didn’t see enough out of Minnesota to think they would really be a serious threat to Duke… Villanova I understand, but think Duke presents some mismatches in different areas…

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
8:44 pm

No further word on Georgia’s search, but I did ask Jason Capel the other day if he thought his brother would leave Oklahoma for UGA. He said no. And I’d be surprised if he’s wrong.

I still say Anthony Grant will end up in Athens.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
8:46 pm

I think Tubby Smith is a great tournament coach. (So is Mike Krzyzewski, obviously.) I’m not picking the Golden Gophers, but I am picking Villanova.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
8:47 pm

And I’m not pulling for Louisville, Justin. Just picking the ‘Ville. There’s a difference, really.

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
8:49 pm

Mississippi State’s 13 seed seems awful low. They are a mile better than UGA was last year and we were seeded at 14.

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
8:55 pm

Mark,

Oh Elizabeth, if there’s one day not to procrastinate until Sunday on a project, it’s Selection Sunday! I figured she’d want to start work on outdoing the old man -again- immediately!lol

Chief Nock A Homa

March 15th, 2009
8:57 pm

Mark,

What makes you think so strongly about Anthony Grant ???

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
9:32 pm

Elizabeth’s picks should be available by clicking the link above. And she’s flattered by your interest.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
9:33 pm

Why Anthony Grant? Two NCAA appearances in three seasons at VCU, upset Duke in 2007, helped recruit the Florida team that would win two NCAA titles. Is Jeff Capel’s resume better than that?

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
9:51 pm

Okay picks are in. Two one seeds and two 2 seeds making the final four. So no cinderellas to the final four, but I do have tennessee reaching the elite eight, and mississippi state reaching the sweet 16. Ya i know, who cares right? ;)

Chief Nock A Homa

March 15th, 2009
9:52 pm

His worthiness is understood… What the question was pertaining to was what makes you so confident that he will want the job at UGA and not hold out for a “better” job???

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
9:53 pm

So I guessing, Brewdawg, you picked Memphis and Michigan State and Pitt and Carolina. Am I right?

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
9:54 pm

What better job is open, Chief? Arizona, yes. Kentucky, maybe?

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
10:03 pm

i made a mistake mark. I meant 3 number 2’s and a number 1. Carolina is the 1, then memphis, duke, and michigan state. i have tenn upsetting pitt in round 2.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
10:06 pm

I’m having buyer’s remorse. I like your bracket better than mine.

brewdawg

March 15th, 2009
10:15 pm

That bodes well for you Mark. I’ve never had much luck with the brackets. I think my crowning achievement was picking oklahoma state to reach the final four back in like 93 or 94 when i didn’t know what I was doing. Not much has changed actually.

Mark Bradley

March 15th, 2009
10:29 pm

Actually, 1995. Eddie Sutton was the coach. Oklahoma State lost to Harrick’s UCLA team in the semis.

Ted Striker

March 16th, 2009
6:41 am

I haven’t yet found the inspiration for my picks. (Liquor stores were closed yesterday).

Brian22

March 16th, 2009
8:02 am

Mark, Louisville won the Big East WITHOUT BEATING UCONN OR PITT ONCE. …and you think they’re going to beat the best teams in the final four? Don’t think so.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
8:22 am

Actually, Louisville beat Pittsburgh 69-63 on Jan. 17.

And Ted, looks like you picked a bad day to stop drinking.

Brigitte

March 16th, 2009
8:25 am

Mark,
LOVE when you pick against the Heels…in ‘05 it was b/c they were more talented, but not a better team…this year, it’s b/c they don’t play defense the way you want. Please don’t change your mind. We don’t want you pulling for us…you never seem to get it right.

Boston Williams

March 16th, 2009
8:55 am

Mark, did you really, I mean really, expect UNC to go undefeated? Did you really, I mean really, expect them to be ultimately challenged to beat every team who played them and who saw beating UNC as the crowning point of their season? UNC is the best team in college BB, whether they cut down the nets or not.

Jeff Grady

March 16th, 2009
9:00 am

Last week UGA fans were stroking their egos, claiming that the Dawgs were numero uno in baseball, based upon several of the many polls. Since Bama waxed them, and UNC is back on top, do UGA fans, with their egos bruised, fast forward to talking and dreaming about a UGA football championship, and putting baseball on the back burner, (silently) hoping that the team will regain some of its earlier promise?

Boston Williams

March 16th, 2009
9:46 am

So Mark, if L’ville is better than UNC, then why did they lose 5 games during the year, and were these teams better than UNC?

Ryno

March 16th, 2009
9:53 am

Can Mike Slive be removed as commish of the SEC following that terrible job he did getting such bad seeds for LSU and Tennessee? The champion of a major conference gets an 8 seed? Plus, Tennessee had an RPI before the game yesterday of 18 with a #2 strength of schedule. Now, they lost 12 games, but how did that RPI not get them a higher seed unless Slive let them and LSU get screwed?

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
10:08 am

As I understand it, conference representatives have to recuse themselves from discussion of their conference’s teams.

Were I the SEC, I’d be thrilled at getting three teams in. It would have only been two if not for Mississippi State.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
10:11 am

Oh, and who was it saying Mississippi State had a chance to win the SEC tournament. Could it have been … why, me? http://tinyurl.com/dxg2g3

Coastal

March 16th, 2009
10:28 am

Final Four: Louisville, UNC, Missouri, Pitt.

RickNole

March 16th, 2009
10:32 am

Mark you are dead on about the Noles. Alot of Nole fans remeber our early season matchup against Pitt,they beat us by 8. That game was played Dec. 21. This Nole team has grown up tremendously since then.

its TDT!!! (Toney Douglas Time) in Primetime!

PreyDawg

March 16th, 2009
11:09 am

Mark,

My own daughter is heading off to Western Kentucky in the fall, so this Georgia Alum is adopting the Hilltopers as a second team. Noticed you had then winning two. I agree. Could they win as many as three?

brewdawg

March 16th, 2009
11:13 am

The more I hear about Anthony Grant, the more I like him. However, I don’t know that he falls under Damon Evans criteria this time. I get the feeling DE wants to hire someone with a resume of winning at a big school. Grant’s situation seems awful similar to the Felton hire to me.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
11:14 am

I’d never put anything past the Hilltoppers. They gave UCLA a hard run in Round 3 last season, as I recall.

Mugsy

March 16th, 2009
11:19 am

Thanks for pickin’ against Wake, Mr. Bradley!

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
11:25 am

We aim to please.

[...] and here’s who I’m picking. More important, you’ll discover who Elizabeth Bradley, who has outdone her dumb dad each of [...]

Burman Fisher

March 16th, 2009
1:13 pm

Deejkeej

March 16th, 2009
1:14 pm

As for the next Georgia coach – and I’ll admit i’m crazy – but I still like Furman Bisher’s idea !!!! Bobby Knight might not be the best choice, but he would be the most fun !!!! You could even start another contest … The ‘How Long Will Knight Last’ Fiasco. First prize could be a folding chair, suitable for tossing !!!!

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
2:47 pm

We’ll have to agree to disagree on Bobby Knight, DeejKeej.

EverydayisSunday

March 16th, 2009
5:52 pm

So what makes you think Memphis is going out so early?

Art Frazier

March 16th, 2009
8:37 pm

Mark – We have a lot in common. I too grew up a Louisville Fan! My father taught at the Dental School. My sister went to UK. Every year I fill out two brackets, one with my heart, one with my head – Both will have the Cards this year because of 90 feet of Defense for 40 minutes.

Mark Bradley

March 16th, 2009
9:35 pm

Good to hear from you, Art.

AlphaMike

March 16th, 2009
10:14 pm

Mark – only you will appreciate this. For years now I have been dreaming of the ultimate first round matchup – and waiting for the selection committee to grant my wish. And this year it finally happened! What is it, you say? A pair of in-state rivals squaring off in the 8-9 game? Nope. A matchup of up-and-coming coaches who formerly worked together on the staff of a Hall-of-Famer? Uh-uh. No, it’s…Akron vs. Gonzaga!!! The Zips vs. the Zags, baybeeee!! Do you think that fun-loving crew sequestered in the selection room over the weekend thought of that? Or do you think maybe I need to find some new interests?
Your thoughts please.