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High-profile losses signal a closing gap

first_imgINDIANAPOLIS — There’s no room for “my bads” in March.It figures that a coach sitting at the podium on Thursday of the Final Four would say that about the parity in college basketball.Plenty of teams have found that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s words ring true in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The majority of those teams happen to be the ones perceived as more talented.“I think parity has come,” Izzo said Thursday. “I think there are more scholarships. I think people put more money into basketball.”The closing gap between mid-major and higher-regarded teams may have caused the early exit of mainstays like Kansas and Georgetown.Only one No.1 seed advanced to the Final Four in 2010, just two years removed from a 2008 tournament finale that saw four No.1 seeds lace up in San Antonio. This will also mark the first time two No. 5 seeds have met in the Final Four.Flash points in the leveling of skills are college choices, team development and the distractions and probable jettison of prospective NBA players.The cycle begins even as recruits decide where to play basketball.They now seek immediate playing time. This immediacy has led a number of talented players away from the power leagues and into the gyms of mid-majors.Their departures resulted in 11 conferences represented in this year’s Sweet 16.“Players don’t want to go somewhere and sit, so they’ll go to different schools,” Izzo said. “It used to be they want to play as sophomore, they want to start as freshman.“Now they want to star as freshmen.”With the dilution of major teams, upsets have sprouted throughout this year’s postseason.Tournament favorite Kansas struggled to defeat Lehigh in the first round. Then the Jayhawks fell to a largely unknown Northern Iowa team in the second round.Other teams that ruined brackets across America were No. 14-seed Ohio and No. 10-seed St. Mary’s (Calif.).The Ohio Bobcats faced a capable Georgetown team in the first round and beat it 97-83. The St. Mary’s Gaels took down Villanova in the South Region’s second round.Each team had Division 1 talent on its roster.Ohio’s Armon Bassett played for Indiana before the team disbanded because of NCAA infractions within the Kelvin Sampson tenure as IU coach.St. Mary’s suited up 6-foot-11 Ben Allen, who transferred from Indiana. He played alongside the equally large Omar Samhan.“It’s been a very strange tournament,” Michigan State forward Draymond Green said Thursday. “There were a lot of teams out early that weren’t expected to. And a lot of teams that were expected to make it all the way aren’t even here.”Green shouldn’t be so surprised.The absence of UCLA, North Carolina, Indiana, Connecticut and Arizona from the field of 64 for the first time since 1966 didn’t bode well for the big dogs of this tournament.This year’s Final Four also lacks the draft prospects and one-and-done players. They’re sitting at home.Kentucky was the team with the most star power. It ran into a grittier and more experienced West Virginia squad.Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a press conference Thursday that these games show a collective effort is likely to outlast one gifted player.“Our game, if you have good talent experienced together, can beat talent that doesn’t have as much experience together,” Krzyzewski said.The remaining field affirms Krzyzewski. Each Final Four team has played as a group, with only a few standouts among the bunch.There is no one player who sparks a club. A collection of players promotes an ideal.The common thread among the remaining teams is that they defend, rebound and play smart basketball.These four teams have done that for the entire season. Butler coach Brad Stevens said on Thursday it’s no coincidence they all made it this far.“I think there are four teams that very much believe in their teammates, believe in their system and styles of play, and they very much believe in defending,” he said.Those very skill sets were missing from teams that didn’t advance.Kentucky scored 100 points in the first round against East Tennessee State, but allowed the inferior squad to score 71.Against Northern Iowa, Kansas was forced to claw back from a first half in which it didn’t defend.Players at Kansas, Kentucky or even Ohio State had distractions, ranging from the NBA draft to the expectations for their team, allowing room for selfish offense and lapses in defense and rebounding.Duke guard Nolan Smith pointed out his team didn’t deal with the same pressure as other No. 1 seeds.“We don’t really feel like it would be an upset because no one really thinks we’re worthy of a number one seed,” Smith said. “We just get to go out there and play loose, play with the confidence we’ve being playing with all year and do our thing.”Despite Smith’s sentiment, Duke is the big wig of this final.But a style of play was the real winner.This Final Four features no offense powered by the production of one player. An approach favoring defense and rebounding won out.Butler is the obvious ambassador of that brand of play and of the lower seeds. Bulldog forward Gordon Hayward said Thursday it would benefit the tournament for his team to finish as national champions.“I think that would be good for college basketball because I think it shows that there’s talent everywhere,” Hayward said.“Schools like us just view ourselves as basketball programs and not necessarily mid-majors.”A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis.last_img read more