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And Then There Were But Four

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Seedy K riffs on the last quartet

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Michigan State vs Duke Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In a seriously compelling four days of battles, when the Big Dance field was whittled from 16 to 8, then halved again to Four for the Final weekend of the college hoops campaign, one sequence, for me anyway, stands out above all the other moments, both boffo and otherwise, depending on one’s particular and peculiar rooting interest.

With about five seconds to play, the Virginia Cavaliers were down three to Purdue, and perilously close to another Tony Bennett failure to make to the season’s last roundup. PG Ty Jerome was at the charity line with the possibility of cutting the lead to a single digit.

Jerome made the first. Jerome missed the second. He says his intent was to make the free throw. I’ve watched the video any number of times and it seems so. Though there is a contrarian view that he really intended to miss the shot, that UVa practices for such scenarios every day in practice.

Whatever. Here’s the deal. Here’s what Bennett’s charges do that most teams of caliber do not. And did do in that moment.

As Jerome’s miss caromed off the front of the rim, lithe and limber Wahoo “big” Mamadi Diakite rose over the Boilermaker between him and the hoop and back-tapped the rebound past midcourt where jitterbug quick Kihei Clark chased it down.

No other team in the land uses the back-tap ploy like UVa. How many times have we seen elevation-impaired Jack Salt, to name but one Cavalier, reach up with one arm and keep a possession alive after an errant shot with a one-handed nudge. It is among the most clever of techniques, woefully underused in hoops. It is one reason why Bennett, his post-season resumé wanting -- so far -- is considered a master.

Then Clark displayed extreme savvy. Aware of how much time there was and was not left, he did not launch a Hail Mary, instead he dribbled back toward the midcourt stripe, feigned a pass with his eyes, and flung a perfect halfcourt-long strike to Diakite, who rose and turned and released in one fluid moment. His connection at the buzzer saved Virginia’s season, sending the Yummy battle royale to OT, where Purdue finally succumbed to the #1 seed, a team on a mission.

The moment was both calibrated and otherworldly. It is what happens when talent and teaching and karma meld.

The exclamation point was the acknowledgement by Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, he of the transcendent 42 point performance for the ages, when he offered Diakite some dap as the teams assembled for the OT tip.

* * * * *

Among the questions that remain unanswered as Auburn advances to its first appearance in the national semis, is whether War Eagles mentor Bruce Pearl has surpassed Buzz Williams as the shvitzingest coach in college hoops.

Pearl sweated through his blue Oxford cloth in the first stanza of his team’s upset of Kentucky, put on a fresh shirt at the half, and drenched it during the victory run.

Williams has taken to wearing vests along the sideline, which appears a way to mask his perpetual perspiration.

My wandering mind wonders why they don’t accept reality, go Bobby Huggs, and simply wear wicking sweats during tilts?

* * * * *

Other quandaries this morning after include:

Where was Zion Whatsisname during Duke’s final three possessions?

Answer: Not in the middle of mastermind Coach K’s plans to win the game.

Why did Coach Cal lose again before the Final Four with the better, more talented team?

Answer: Among other things, he forgot down the stretch he had other options than PJ Washington. Like Reid Travis. Like Tyler Herro. Like Keldon Johnson.

Have they run out of toilet paper at Toomer’s Corner?

Answer: Probably.

How often are we going to hear Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” in the lead up to Saturday?

Answere: Hopefully, a lot. It’s a great rock & roll tune. And they’re surely rockin’ in Lubbock.

* * * * *

My favorite quote: Tom Izzo, after beating Coach K for only the second time, “Is 1-11 a struggle?”

My favorite look: Tom Izzo’s one of disbelief as the buzzer sounded for Sparty’s victory.

* * * * *

UVa. Michigan State. Auburn. Texas Tech.

Whodathunkit?

* * * * *

A non-NCAA tournament note.

I’m advised that Bellarmine’s decision to move up to Division I in basketball is almost a done deal. The Knights are just about a sure thing to start the process, and join the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A task force has been appointed to raise $10 million to upgrade and enlarge Knights Hall.

* * * * *

Let the countdown to Saturday commence.

-- Seedy K