Stephen Jackson is a pretty man, but the Spurs offense is prettier.
Photo by Darren Abate/AP

We like to say that Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are boring. We like to say they’re methodical and old-school, that they’re a bunch of savvy veterans playing the game on their last legs; that they win, but in such a party-pooping way.

Of course, when I say we, I mean you. Unfortunately, this collective “we” likes to say a lot of things about the Spurs, and almost all of them are petulant little quips that would have you believe they steal Barbies and GI Joes from little kids. They’re (apparently) the grown ups who scoff at the flexing and preening, the smashing and dunking, and the flash and flare of today’s athletes. They’re above it all, and above the excitement too. They sit on their high horse and look down at these hooligans who fly through the stratosphere and kiss their muscles after big plays.

I’m here to tell you the Spurs are the most exciting brand of basketball on the market, and there’s nothing Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or anyone else can do about it. They aren’t above anyone else, at least personally. They’re not basketball snobs. We forget that age robs you of athleticism and that so long as Tim Duncan can muster the energy, he will bring the house down on you like it’s 1999. Regardless, the beauty of the Spurs is that they weren’t assembled for highlight packages, they were assembled to win games, to win championships. And it shows.

The Spurs play basketball the way it was meant to be played, the way James Naismith likely envisioned it in 1891 when he hung peach baskets 10-feet off a gym floor. Their offense, headed by a true mastermind of the game in Gregg Popovich, is truly a sight to behold. The picks, the motion, the passing, it all seems so calculated, so precise and planned, so unstoppable. It’s ball movement in it’s natural element, basketball in an organic flow; the open man gets the shot, and it really doesn’t matter who that is. That’s the beauty of it: it’s perfect. It’s the best half-court offense I’ve ever seen.

Only fools think the Spurs are boring. You don’t have to be a devoted fan of the game to appreciate what this team does, not just game in and game out, but as an organization, as professionals. As an Atlanta Hawks fan, I’ve known nothing but egregious management my entire life. It’s junk contract after junk contract, save a penny here and save a penny there, but the atmosphere in San Antonio is the polar opposite. (Of course, the attitude and standards are dictated by ownership, so naturally the Hawks have no shot at stability when the owners are busy suing each other). It’s up to the General Manager to organize a competitive roster with workable contracts and assets, as well as hire a coach who can maximize results for the team and potential for the players. Sure, that’s nothing more than a basic job description, but anyone who follows the NBA knows how difficult it is to establish such an equilibrium. There are only a few great GMs in the NBA, and the Spurs have the best one in RC Buford, along with everything else you could ask for up stairs: a smart and dedicated owner in Peter Holt and one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Popovich. They know what strings to pull and when to pull them, and they’ve created a juggernaut organization that gets the most out of every single resource at their disposal.

It’s hard not to be jealous, really. Maybe that’s at the foundation of all this “boring” talk, but really it’s just ignorance. People see some guys in their mid-30s like Duncan and Manu and get frustrated when they aren’t fast-breaking it like they were 10 years ago. I don’t understand how people can be bored with what the Spurs do at this point. It’s like Pop and the team spent years in a lab, studying and perfecting every single way to pick apart every single team in this league. They don’t get out on the break like the Miami Heat, but they dropped 120 points on Tuesday night by making damn good use of cuts, screens, and basic passing skills. It’s almost like if the Spurs are getting the ball out of bounds, you might as well save yourself the trouble and put 2 points on the board before they even run the play. If Popovich drew it up, chances are it’ll be an open layup, and you’ll stand their dumbfounded, wondering how you were just dissected like a dead pig in a 10th grade Chemistry class.

Kevin Durant scored 31 points on Tuesday night, while Harden and Westbrook tallied 30 and 27 respectively as well. They combined for 88 points. 88 points! When you have almost 3 different players score 30 points you don’t expect to lose. In fact, you pretty much don’t lose, but the Thunder did, because the Spurs know what they’re doing better than anyone else. Kevin Durant took 3 shots in the fourth quarter. If he were LeBron, he’d be burned at the stake by now, but that’s an entirely different subject matter (although it is funny that Russell Westbrook gets like 85% of the blame for Durant shooting 5 shots in the last two 4th quarters). A lot of his 4th quarter inactivity has to be attributed to successful defense, and the rest can be blamed on a variety of different issues and agendas, but the bottom line remains the same: The older San Antonio Spurs are out-playing the younger and more talented Oklahoma City Thunder through an awesomely strange, combustible combination of efficiency, effectiveness, and basketball IQ.

It’s really a stylistic clash in this series– passes galore vs. dominant isolation. Both of these teams were among the most efficient offensives in the NBA, but 58.5% of the Spurs baskets were assisted in the regular season– a remarkable number. Their ability to read the defense is incredible, and really a testament to Buford who has consistently been able to reel in players that fit the system. The draft night pick-up of Kawhi Leonard could be an x-factor for the season, but the audacity to roll the dice on Stephen Jackson is another move that deserves some lauding. Sure, Jackson isn’t really all that good anymore, but as Bill Simmons said, the Spurs needed this kind of “irrational confidence” guy. He’s perfect for them, a gritty vet who has been through the ringer and wants to finally do something with his career aside from score a bunch of points on terrible teams. The Spurs are running Westbrook through more screens than I thought possible, and Tony Parker is abusing him every time he gets the chance. Tim Duncan is fundamentaling Ibaka out the door and Ginobili is Manu-ing the last 10 minutes of every game. This is a recipe for a wonderful disaster. Wonder for the Spurs and disaster for the Thunder. I’d like to say that OKC could really make this series interesting, but I doubt it. It could and likely will go 6 games, but even then, the outcome will never really be in doubt.

So it seems as if we’re on a crash course for a Miami Heat – San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals. It’s going to be so much fun. I don’t have to be politically correct and pretend the Celtics are still alive, either. Sure, they have a minuscule chance of escaping what seems to be destiny, but as Stephen A Smith would say, “the fix is in.” We know who the best teams are, and we should want to see them play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s gotten to the point where the media won’t allow LeBron James to breathe if he doesn’t win a title, but he’s probably not going to win one this year either, and there is truly no shame in that. Trophies aren’t a-dime-a-dozen, they’re something reserved for the best teams, and as of right now, there is no question who the best team is. The Spurs have won 20 games in a row and are 10-0 in the playoffs. They waltzed through Utah, blasted through LA, and are well on their way to trudging through Oklahoma City. Miami is next in line, and if I could offer them any advice, it would be to duck and run for cover, because the old Spurs are coming, boring or not, and they aren’t slowing down.

Photo: Danny Johnston / AP

I’m giving them a little late, but here are the picks I made as of Saturday:

Eastern Conference: 

Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8): Bulls in 5. — Made this pick before I knew D Rose was out. I’m sticking with it.

Miami Heat (2) vs. New York Knicks (7): Heat in 5. –Too much to handle for New York. However awful the Shumpert injury was, it only makes this outcome more likely.

Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Orlando Magic: Pacers in 5. –Was impressed with Orlando on Saturday, but made this pick beforehand and am sticking with it. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Orlando take this to six or seven, though.

Boston Celtics (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5): Hawks in 7. –Made this pick beforehand as well, which you can see for yourself at SDS. Rondo’s suspension puts Boston in a hole and Ray Allen sitting out doesn’t help the Celtics, either.

Western Conference:

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Utah Jazz (8): Spurs in 6. –The young Jazz might steal a game or two, but San Antonio is just too good.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7): Thunder in 7. –Ended in 5 last year with the Mavs going to the finals. It will be a hard fought series as Dallas played OKC tough all regular season, but the Thunder are too strong.

Los Angeles Lakers (3) vs. Denver Nuggets (6): Lakers in 7.– The Nuggets have a lot of pieces, but Bynum’s presence and Kobe’s ability to take games over should end things for Denver– even if it gets close.

Memphis Grizzlies (4) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (5): Grizzlies in 7. — The best first round series there is. The Clippers put together a comeback for the ages on Sunday, but the Grizzlies looked dominant early and if they learn to keep their foot on the gas, well, watch out.

Rest of my picks so we can all see how wrong I am in June:

Eastern Conference 2nd Round:

Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5): Hawks in 7 (adjusted to account for Derrick Rose injury).– The Bulls won’t have Rose, the Hawks will return both Horford and Pachulia. It’s basic math. The Bulls could beat Atlanta without Rose, but lets be real, as a Hawks fan, there is no way I’m missing the opportunity to predict our first ever ECF berth.

Miami Heat (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (3): Heat in 5. –The Pacers play fantastic team defense, but their inability to score in general has plagued them down the stretch, clearly evident in their game one loss to Orlando. To beat the Heat, you have to score big. Indiana can’t do that.

Western Conference 2nd Round:

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (4): Grizzlies in 6. — Grizzles are too tough up front for the Spurs to handle, that and they are the team that no one wants to play in the playoffs because of all their dangerous weapons.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3): Thunder in 7. –Kobe vs. Durant, what more could you want? The Thunder scare me with their offensive inconsistencies, especially from Westbrook and Durant, but Harden is the stabilizer here.

Eastern Conference Finals:

Miami Heat (2) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5): Heat in 6. –The Hawks might have some momentum coming in, and they’ll have Horford back, but they are no match for Miami on either end of the court. Momentum gives them a win or two, but the series will be relatively one-sided.

Western Conference Finals:

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (4): Grizzlies in 6. –In a repeat of last year’s epic seven game series, the Grizzlies pull off the upset. I would like to think this would go seven games, but I have a hard time believing the Grizzlies would give up home court after winning one of the first two games.

NBA Finals:

Miami Heat (East 2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (West 4): Heat in 7. –The finals matchup that I dream about. It would be a coming of age series for LeBron and the Heat, but for the Grizzlies too. Memphis is legit, but Miami has too much for the Grizz to handle in a seven game series.

Photo by Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

It’s about to be the second most wonderful time of the year– playoffs time!– the first of course being Christmas. With the arrival of the post season comes the conclusion of the regular season, and with that comes awards: MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, DPOY, all of that jazz. Anyway, might as well jump right in to the picks…

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (MIA)

Runner Up: Chris Paul (LAC)

Others Considered (in order): Kevin Durant (OKC), Tony Parker (SAS), Kobe Bryant (LAL)

We’ve been playing this game all season, and by we I mean you. Everyone’s been looking for reasons not to pick LeBron James as the league MVP, but at this point time has run out. All of his competitors have at one point or another wilted in his presence. Chris Paul was the preseason favorite, Kevin Love the early opposition, Kobe Bryant the fan boy’s push, Durant the late challenger, and Tony Parker the sleeper, but yet none of those players realistically even had close to as dominant a season as James had. Not only did he squash the rest of the league with a PER over 30, he held the Heat together in Wade’s absence, took over several games down the stretch as if specifically to spite Skip Bayless, dominated offensively in other-wordly ways, and was the most flexible defender in the NBA, frequently guarding positions 1-4 and taking on 5 every now and again. He fronts dominant big men better than almost anyone in the league, and no one’s going to try and lob it over LeBron’s 40-inch vertical, he locks down wing players by preventing them from getting into the paint, and wreaks havoc on any opposition’s fast break as he lurks behind, waiting to swat a layup off the glass with such force it caroms to the opposite side of the court. He’s not only the most well-rounded player in the league, but he’s become undisputedly the best player in the league– as if he wasn’t for the past three seasons.

Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler (NYK)

Runner Up: Andre Iguodala (PHI)

Others Considered (in order): LeBron James (MIA), Kevin Garnett (BOS), Luol Deng (CHI), Dwight Howard (ORL), Elton Brand (PHI)

There are three incredibly dominant wing defenders in the NBA– Iguodala being the best, followed by James and Deng in that order. Of those three, LeBron is the most flexible and versatile while Iguodala is the most dominant at a single task. Yet in this crop of elite wing defenders, none of them are defensive anchors. They don’t anchor the paint, they don’t control everything that happens with their super powers, and they don’t guard the basket like a stray dog defending a raw piece of meat that he’s laid claim to. Tyson Chandler does all of those things, but mainly uses his super powers. He’s been the lone bright spot (aside from Shumpert) on a Knicks team that features so many defensively inept players that even Mike Woodson, defensive mastermind, was scrambling when he first took over for D’Antoni. Give Woodson credit, though, he made a defender out of Carmelo Anthony and put a defensive spark into a team that needed one so desperately. Chandler has been the steadying force for a team that has seen more ups and downs than any team this season, and he almost has a chokehold on this award.

Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden (OKC)

Runner Up: Lou Williams (PHI)

Others Considered (in order): Jason Terry (DAL)

There’s really not much to argue on this one. Out of all the guys coming off the bench, James Harden has been far and away the best. He’s a top 30 player in this league, borderline top 20. You can make a case for an All-NBA selection. He plays starters minutes, is one of the elite playmakers in the league and can kill you in a variety of different ways. Lou Williams has been fantastic this season– brilliant even, but Harden has been on another level than half of the starters in this league.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich (SAS)

Runner Up: Ty Corbin (UTA)

Others Considered (in order): Tom Thibodeau (CHI), Doc Rivers (BOS), Frank Vogel (IND), Alvin Gentry (PHX), Monty Williams (NO) 

For starters, Ty Corbin has not received near enough credit for the work he’s done in Utah. He has a roster with two solid, established players surrounded by first and second year guys fighting to make a name for themselves in the league. He’s turned a team that I thought was garbage at the beginning of the season into a competitive group that shocked the rest of the league and made the playoffs. Still, for all the work Corbin has done, I think Popovich is the guy here. He’s the best coach in the NBA right now, and has been in the top two practically his entire career. He is a genius. A basketball genius. Basketball’s Einstein–kind of– if you will. Yet again, he milked his oldies for another number one seed out West led by Tony Parker’s brilliant play and the stabilizing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving (CLE)

Runner Up: Ricky Rubio (MIN)

Others Considered (in order): Kenneth Faried (DEN), Isaiah Thomas (SAC), Kawhi Leonard (SAS), and Iman Shumpert (NYK)

This is another runaway, and my preseason pick, Faried, made a solid push towards the end of the year. I was tempted to put him second, and while he’ll probably come in second on most voters’ ballots, I just cannot ignore the brilliance of Ricky Rubio in the first half of the season. It’s a shame he suffered a season ending injury because he really could have taken it from Irving who ran away with it in the latter half of the season. Regardless, the rookie class has turned out to be more solid than we expected. Faried looks like a potential monster down the line, Rubio could be the next Jason Kidd, Isaiah Thomas went from last pick in the draft to one of the best players on the Kings, Shumpert went from “selected too high” to a top-5 rookie, and Irving almost became a superstar in year one. Cleveland has a bright future with Irving at the helm, whose rookie season is what John Wall’s should have been. The last time Cleveland put their trust in a 19 year old, it didn’t end out the way they wished a few years down the line, hopefully Irving can relieve them of their misery.

Most Improved Player: Nikola Pekovic (MIN)

Runner Up: Ersan Ilyasova (MIL)

Others Considered (in order): Goran Dragic (HOU), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Jeremy Lin (NYK)

Ersan Ilyasova is getting a lot of love for this award and rightfully so, but I can’t shake the beast Pekovic has become from my mind. Maybe I’ve been to one too many Daily Dime Live sessions with Zach Harper, but Pekovic has become a cannibalistic monster who eats players’ souls for shits and giggles. He’s a rebounding machine, a brute defender, and has developed an offensive game that will complement Love very well down the line. The Wolves have shaped up a very solid core with Rubio, Love, and Pek, it’s too bad they won’t be able to improve through the draft this summer. Anyway, to deny Pekovic at least extreme consideration is foolish. I can live with Ilyasova taking home the bacon, but my vote’s with Pek.

First Team All-NBA

PG: Chris Paul

Wings: LeBron James, Kevin Durant

Bigs: Kevin Love, Dwight Howard

Second Team All-NBA

PG: Tony Parker

Wings: Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant

Bigs: Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum

Third Team All-NBA

PG: Russell Westbrook

Wings: James Harden, Andre Iguodala*

Bigs: Josh Smith, Pau Gasol

*As John Hollinger astutely pointed out (link is ESPN insider restricted), Carmelo Anthony is a name you’d usually see on that Third Team All-NBA list, but Hollinger makes an excellent point that had me ripping my hair out for a solid minute debating between Iggy and Carmelo. Carmelo, we have to remember, was absolutely terrible for much of the first half of the season as he quit on D’Antoni and the team before Woodson took over. Granted, since then, he’s been the most dominant scorer in the league and has made a strong push, but this is a full season award, and for that reason, the defensive specialist gets the nod because he’s been consistently playing at an incredibly high level all season long.

It's Josh Smith!

Just to let everyone know, I will now only be posting once a week. Clearly, I haven’t posted in a good bit and that’s because I took the position of Co-Editor/ Lead Blogger for FanSided’s Atlanta Hawks blog Soaring Down South. I’ll be writing over there every Hawks game day and even in between, and I’ll try to get a nightly notable or column in here at least once a week. Feel free to check out my stuff over at SDS if you’re a Hawks fan. Even if you’re not, read it anyway!

Photo by Brian Mahoney/ Associated Press

This is why Carmelo Anthony is Carmelo Anthony.

This is why you trade an entire core for Carmelo. This is why you have a better chance of winning a playoff series with him instead of Gallinari, Chandler, Felton, and co. This is why he’s bonafide superstar and a five-time NBA all-star. This is why we clamor over clutch narratives and support hero ball. It doesn’t matter. What Anthony did in New York against Chicago was the definition of dominance– the very essence of a Carmelo Anthony game: crafty maneuvering around the hoop, aggressive and relentless drives, effective offense down the stretch in an ineffective manner, and a barrage of late game shots that close teams out. The stat line? Well here’s all you need to know: 43 points in an impressive 100-99 win against the Bulls.

I’m not much of one for the closer argument, but when Melo does his thing, it seems almost like a fact. To tell you the truth, both of Carmelo Anthony’s shots were horrible. They were horrendously out-of-flow, ball-hoggish, hero ball shots. They were awful in every way. But they went in. I don’t have an issue with the shot that sent the game into overtime. Sure, it was a contested three pointer with more than enough time to find a better look, but at least they were down, and you just knew any remaining offense would be from him. The last one? If he missed that I would have yanked him out of the game quicker than you could say “go Knicks!” It was a bad shot, but a Carmelo Anthony shot, a shot that he was willing into the hoop. It’s utterly ridiculous, I might add, that we praise that nonsense hoggery and condemn LeBron for passing to a wide-open Haslem for what should have been a game winner.

This is the world we live in, though, and no one has embraced it more than Anthony. It would be completely foolish of me to sit here and rip on Anthony for his game– or even really those two shots. Were there better available? Probably. But the bottom line is that the shots went in and that Anthony played a hell of a basketball game. So hats off to him, and its time I gravitate away from my general disapproval of this Knicks team and give them at least one thumbs up before I later make a case of why they probably won’t make the playoffs, but that’s for another post.

The Knicks had no business winning this game. The Bulls returned Derrick Rose, Hamilton was playing, and the team was generally in good health. The Knicks, on the other hand, didn’t have Jeremy Lin or Amare Stoudemire, they played Shumpert at point guard most of the game, and JR Smith had the most JR Smith night possible.  Yet New York came storming out the gate to a 21-point lead. Then they blew that as JR went clank after clank, and before you knew it Chicago was up 10 with three minutes to go. While the Knicks caught several breaks, like missed Chicago free throws and easy shots, they took advantage of them down the stretch as they ran their offense efficiently late in the game until Carmelo decided it was time to throw a few daggers.

… And daggers he threw. There are so many problems with this Knicks team right now, healthy or unhealthy, and I won’t spend time nitpicking on them. I have to acknowledge Carmelo Anthony’s dominance. Of all the superstars, no player is looked at, justified or not, as a more one-way, volume shooting star. His defense is awful, yes, but his ability to score is unparalleled in the NBA. I’m looking at you LeBron, Durant, and Kobe. While all of them may average more points and may be better players, if I had to pick one player to take one shot regardless of the defender, I’d pick Carmelo. No one has the scoring arsenal that he does, and that’s just the end of the argument. This guy has more offensive tools at his disposal than close to anyone to ever touch a basketball, and when he puts them to use its a brilliant display of splashing jumpers and gorgeous, glancing banks. He’s not a passer, although he’s better than he’s given credit for, but that’s okay. He’s a high volume shooter, but an effective scorer, unlike Monta Ellis or any other chucker you can think of in the league. He’s efficient in his own inefficient way, and he has to be commended  for his relentless offensive efforts regardless of the teammates around him.

People wonder why the Knicks aren’t better than they are. It’s not like there is a dearth of talent in the Big Apple, but what they don’t understand is that this team was poorly constructed. The players they need to surround Anthony with they don’t have. Chandler wasn’t a bad start, but Amare isn’t a great complement (I do believe he and Amare can thrive together, but I think there are much better pairings), and for all of the Lin hype he wasn’t as good as advertised (although he was still pretty good). You need defenders, shooters, and a heady point guard to surround Melo with, along with a decent offensive and defensive system, two things the Knicks haven’t been able to combine all season.

This is why you trade for Carmelo Anthony. He is the best scorer in the game of basketball, or at least the one with the most weapons at his disposal, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch when the game is coming to a close. I hate hero ball, but I love Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks will need all of Carmelo they can get down the stretch and possibly into the playoffs. Hero ball is never the right decision, but make no mistake about it, Melo is the Knicks’ hero.

Photo by David J. Phillip/ Associated Press

No one likes the big kids on the block. They take your lunch money, take the girls, and give you wedgies that leave you hanging from the flag pole. They plague the local outlook and are a black hole in adolescent society. They get what they want– they win, and that’s that.

I guess thats how you’d describe the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats. They were the big kids on the block and while a lot of people may not have liked it, they won the NCAA Tournament, and they were dominant while doing so.

I had my reservations at first. That’s why I picked Ohio State to win the whole thing. What I was truly worried about, though, I couldn’t tell you. The legit best team in the nation rarely wins the NCAA Tournament and Calapari has a tendency to have that best team and come up short. It seemed like the way of the world and I played right into his hands when I should have looked beyond such facile viewpoints. Kentucky is the best regular season team we’ve seen since UNC’s 2009 dominant squad. There was no way they were going to lose to any of the teams they played in this tournament. Other teams could have presented some problems, like maybe Ohio State? Still a prayer. Cuse with Fab Melo? Would be the best game of the year. A healthy UNC squad? Almost as good as Cuse. Hell, even Missouri could have put a bigger scare into the Wildcats than Baylor, Louisville, or Kansas. This was Kentucky’s tournament from the beginning, and no player or no team was going to stop them.

I’ll admit I blew my call on the OSU-Kansas game. I could have sworn Sullinger would pound Withey; he’s so much stronger and is better at throwing his weight around, but I failed to address the massive advantage Withey has on Sullinger: length. It’s in his generic scouting report, and after that 5-19 Final Four stinker, it has some NBA scouts second guessing his potential. Sullinger struggles against length. He plays under the rim, which usually doesn’t matter, it just means he’s not a raw highlight machine, but it makes him easier to block. He’s fundamentally spectacular and his footwork is like the Mona Lisa, but long arms and long people give him trouble, because his only way to score is to go through them, not over them. So with that realization, it makes my original champion look all that more crazy (Ohio State). If Withey gave Sullinger trouble, imagine what Davis could do. DeShaun Thomas was the huge match up advantage OSU had on Kansas, and he was in foul trouble all game. Kansas had no one to match up with him, but Kentucky? They’d smother him with Kidd-Gilchrist and Miller.

I mentioned in my Final Four preview that if Kentucky won it could very well usher in the end of college basketball as we know it. While that may have been a bit presumptuous, I don’t believe it’s entirely inaccurate. Calapari has the rest of the NCAA playing catch up to him, and the only way to beat him will be to become him. One and dones. Just because I didn’t want them to win, though, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how good this team was, or even that I didn’t support the players. I’d throw a party at the local McDonalds and buy free hash browns for everyone on Saturday morning if the Hawks got either Davis or Kidd-Gilchrist. I’d be almost as giddy for Terrence Jones and I’d take Doron Lamb most any day of the week. This team was flawlessly constructed. Teague isn’t your great point guard facilitator, but his speed allowed Kentucky to really do what they do best– run. Lamb’s silky smooth outside stroke opens the floor for Kidd-Gilchrist to take it in the lane and Terrence Jones’ all around play lets him pick and choose where his efficiency is best served. Anthony Davis is a whole different beast. He’s above average offensively, featuring a left and right handed baby hook that improved over the season, as well as a solid mid range jumper. He’ll catch any lob you throw his way and he’s the best  defender I’ve ever seen at this level, easily knocking off Tyrus Thomas from LSU or Shelden Williams from Duke, for recent defensive dominance comparisons.  He will be the undisputed first overall pick of the upcoming NBA draft and is almost as sure-fire a prospect as you can get. His career ceiling looks like Kevin Garnett and his low looks like Marcus Camby. Not a bad low to have.

Lastly, we should finally bury this whole “Calipari can’t coach in a game, he can only recruit” thing. I too once naively believed that, but get real. UNC, Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida and other schools had comparable talent. The season that Coach Cal strung together was historic. He doesn’t just put a bunch of athletes out on the floor and say “go.” He’s a decent defensive strategist and his dribble-drive offense does a great job of highlighting athleticism. He funneled guards into the lane to meet Davis this season by having Teague and/or Lamb angle their guys toward him. He let Davis roam the weak side and block shots to start skirmishes or fast breaks. He knows what he’s doing out there, and it’s easy to say that he’s just a recruiter and not a good coach because his team hadn’t won anything, but it’s lazy and completely invalid.

Kentucky deserved this NCAA title. They won it and they should have won it. No team had a better regular season, and no team looked more impressive in this post season. This was Kentucky’s season, and no team was going to take it away from them.

Photo by Jamie Squire/ Getty Images

If there are any regular readers, I apologize for not posting over the last 16 days, especially through the bulk of the NCAA tournament.

In the last 16 days the Heat have been slumping, two 15 seeds upset two 2 seeds, the Celtics beat the Hawks (damn it!), the Heat got revenge on the Mavs (again), people started talking about Durant as MVP (ha!), Larry Drew showed Mike Woodson who’s boss (neither is really boss), Kentucky scored 102 points, the legend of the unibrow grew, Peyton Siva morphed into Kemba Walker, UNC’s trio declared for the draft (good riddance!), every 19 year old went pro, and most importantly, Florida’s Erving Walker stole a taco from a street vendor and was chased by police. Cars were involved. The real travesty here is that the taco was three dollars. From a vendor! It’s not even three bucks at Taco Bell, and this guy is charging like it’s Morton’s Steakhouse.

Anyway, amidst all of that the rest of the bracket took shape and as you know we have Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisville in the Final Four. I nailed three of the teams in my bracket, and if you read my previews, I have to say I’m thrilled that I changed my finals from Missouri-Syracuse to Ohio State vs. Kentucky.

Clearly I missed on a few things: I had Michigan in the elite eight, thanks Ohio. I had Missouri in my Final Four, thanks Norfolk State. Duke lost to Lehigh… and then Lehigh almost beat Xavier. So we can’t say that this year didn’t include some awesome upsets, but we can say that some of the most talented teams in the nation are in the Final Four. All of these teams reached at least number four in the national polls and each team has an abundance of five and four star McDonald’s All American talents. You can (arguably) say that at least one of the two most talented teams from each region made the Final Four this year. I mean, let’s look at this: Louisville, Florida, and Michigan State were the most talented teams in the West Region. Missouri and Marquette are largely products of the systems they played in, and those players buying in. Based on raw talent, those teams were filled with a bunch of three star recruits that bettered themselves and bought into systems. Florida, on the other hand, had the best and most talented backcourt in the entire nation. That team was oozing with talent at both guard positions: Walker, Boytnon, and Beal. Up front they had the physical monster Patric Young (he needs to put a K on the end of that name!), and they had Billy Donavan on the sidelines. So while they may have been a seven seed, that team was filled with ballers. Michigan State and Lousiville both featured a bunch of young talent, but mainly Louisville as they have ultra-talented freshmen like Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan. Those athletic youngsters were only the tip of the iceberg, though. Peyton Siva, Russ and Chris Smith, and Kyle Kuric round out the rest of a Cardinals team that easily had the talent to reach the Final Four.

Kentucky was up-and-away the most talented team in their region, and they faced the up-and-away second most talented team in their region in the Elite Eight in Baylor– and they slaughtered them. Kansas was the second most talented team in their region, but when Kendall Marshall went down they became the first. With that marked advantage they marched on. Similarly, Ohio State was the second most talented team in their region until Fab Melo was suspended, leaving Syracuse with a dearth of talented front court players. Upon that, Sullinger and the Buckeyes became the favorites to win their region.

So we may only have a single one-seed in the final four, but the most talented teams did march on, and so in a way, this was almost to be expected.

What makes this Final Four so great, however, is the story lines.

Who could have scripted the Kentucky-Louisville Final Four game? I mean, truly, this is a battle for contemporary supremacy between these programs. Two years ago– Louisville had the upper hand throughout the decade. Now, Kentucky’s surge of sheer dominance has them on top and Louisville’s bunch of misfits are going to try and take down big brother. Louisville has no business winning this game. That much is clear. But this is a rivalry game, and anything can happen when two teams that hate each other take the court for a single game. Kentucky may win nine out of 10 times, but Louisville might win once, and that’s all they need. Look at the other great rivalry games this year: Duke had no business beating Carolina on their home floor, but a miraculous rally led by a late Blue Devil addition, Tyler Zeller (ha) and Austin Rivers gave Duke what might be the most exciting win of the year. Missouri had no business beating a Kansas team who exposed every single one of their flaws, but Marcus Denmon had other plans and sparked a fantastic late comeback. When two teams like this meet, anything can happen, especially with the stakes this high.

Photo by Andy Lyons/ Getty Images

Having said all that, Kentucky is easily the best team in the Final Four. They’ve been the best team throughout the tournament and they’re the best team right now. It’s really not even close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lose. I tend to agree with Chuck Klosterman of Grantland’s opinion on this one. Kentucky deserves to win this tournament more than anyone else at this point, but I pray to God they don’t. If they do, it’ll show that Calipari’s method works and that to compete with him coaches will have to become him. The only problem is there are only so many five stars out there, and while a majority of certain programs get those five stars, the lines will become even more defined between the historically dominant and the historically weak. Programs will load, dump off at the draft, and then reload while the rest stand there begging for talented kids. This will only happen to the elites, though: Kentucky, Syracuse, UConn, UCLA, Kansas, Duke, UNC, maybe even Michigan State. It will be a cycle of one and dones like we’ve rarely seen if Kentucky ushers in this period of dominance. I’m happy Klosterman pointed that out, but I’m also terrified for the future of college basketball.

Still, I see nothing wrong with what Calipari is doing. He’s playing within the rules of the system, so more power to him. The problem is in the system itself. I personally prefer the older way of doing things where if a player wants to come straight out of high school then let him. Having college basketball be a one year pit stop isn’t the way to go, and there should probably be a mandatory two years if they do decide to go to college.

Anyway, back to the Final Four. Kentucky should beat up on Louisville and win by anywhere between seven and fifteen points. I don’t think it will be a blowout, but Kentucky will be the easily defined winner. There is just too much talent.

Ohio State vs. Kansas should be an interesting game, but I don’t think it’s really a debate that Ohio State is the better team. Defensively, there is no contest. Some talking heads at ESPN say that Craft will be in over his head vs. Tyshawn Taylor, but that’s where I want to get up and slap someone. Craft isn’t Greg Paulus. Just because he’s white doesn’t mean he’s slow, bad on defense, and only shoots three pointers. There is a reason Craft was Big Ten defensive player of the year as a point guard (which is insanely difficult to do). There is no reason, however, to ignore the fact that Taylor is an absolute turnover machine. If anyone has watched Craft in this tournament, they’ll know that he forces turnovers like almost no one else in the NCAA. How is this going to go for Kansas when they have a dominant scoring guard who can facilitate and rebound but has a HUGE turnover problem when he faces Aaron Craft who will force you turn the ball over before you can say that Erving Walker stole that taco.

Kansas has no one to guard DeShaun Thomas unless Elijah Johnson takes a stab at the wing/forward, but Thomas spends way too much time down low for Johnson or Releford to cover him. If they put Robinson on him, that means they’d have to put Withey on Sullinger, and Sullinger would beast his way through Withey every day of the weak. They need Robinson to guard Sullinger because he’s the only one strong enough to do so. There are match up problems on both ends, though. Robinson is faster than Sullinger and Withey is taller than everyone out there. Johnson and Taylor should be relatively contained with Craft and Buford playing their fantastic perimeter defense.

This will be a much closer game than Kentucky vs. Louisville, but there is a reason Kansas could hardly beat Ohio State without Sullinger earlier this season. With Sully, Kansas isn’t going to win this game.

Come back tomorrow for the National Championship match-up preview, but if you asked me right now, I’d begrudgingly say Kentucky over Ohio State, with the death of college basketball as we know it on the side.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.