Tonight, the men’s college basketball championship will be decided between Syracuse and Kansas in New Orleans. If recent history means anything, the game should be something special. The last three title games in New Orleans have all been memorable.
In 1993, North Carolina beat Michigan when Chris Webber cost his team a chance to win by calling a nonexistent time out, resulting in a technical foul. In 1987, Indiana’s Keith Smart knocked off Syracuse with a last-second jumper from the corner. And in 1982, North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan gave UNC the lead over Georgetown with his famous jumpshot with 16 seconds left, before Georgetown’s Fred Brown gave away the game by inexplicably passing the ball to UNC’s James Worthy.
New Orleans has featured the two biggest gaffes in the history of the championship game, with Brown’s pass and Webber’s timeout clearly Nos. 1 and 2 in some order. On the other hand, the Superdome was home to the two biggest game-winners in title games: Jordan’s and Smart’s corner Js. Only Lorenzo Charles’ game-winning dunk to lift NC State over Houston in 1983 in Albuquerque could be considered more memorable, and not just because it got more airtime from the Pontiac commercials.
Honestly, anything could happen with a championship game in New Orleans. Personally, I just want to see a good game, especially after last year’s Maryland-Indiana debacle. What is this? The Super Bowl? (Then again, those are usually pretty good in New Orleans too, e.g. Pats over Rams in 2002).
So, this championship game might be special, but with my recent luck there is no way I am going to be able to call it correctly. Of course, I’m going to try. But, instead of focusing on match-ups, 2-3 zone defense, or fast-break points, I am going to analyze this game from its media storylines.
Coming into this game, the most compelling angle is clearly the coaching match-up. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Kansas’ Roy Williams are the two most successful active coaches without championship rings as head coaches (Williams did get one as an assistant to Dean Smith’s UNC team in 1982). Boeheim has coached Syracuse for 27 seasons. His teams appeared in the 1987 and 1996 title games, and he has over 600 wins and a winning percentage of over .700. Williams led teams to the 1993 and 2001 final fours, as well as the 1991 championship game. His winning percentage is over .800, and he has accumulated over 400 wins in just 15 seasons at Kansas.
Both are more than qualified for a title, but I am giving the edge to Boeheim. Williams simply has not lived up to the level of his talent. Over the last 10 years, Kansas has had seven NBA first round draft picks. Four of them, Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce, played on the same team in 1997. And yet, no title. Boeheim has had two first round picks, John Wallace and Etan Thomas, neither one in the top 10 picks. Boeheim has done more with his talent. Also, there will be a distraction on the Kansas side this week over whether Williams will bolt to UNC next season. Clearly, the edge goes to Syracuse.
Does this category even matter? From what I’ve seen in the last few weeks, not really. If experience matters, senior-laden teams like Maryland, Oklahoma, and Arizona would be in New Orleans. We’ll see if this category actually becomes a factor. Commentators seem to put too much stress on it. If things do not go Syracuse’s way on Monday, inexperience will no doubt be mentioned, regardless of its actual impact. Then again, the media attention and crazy New Orleans atmosphere could get the best of young players.
Kansas has senior stars in Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison, as well as a bunch of guys who played in last year’s Final Four. Syracuse is a team based on freshman and sophomore talent. If the big game pressure does become a factor, Kansas has the decisive edge.
Big-time (NBA) talent
Kansas has Collison and Hinrich, locks as NBA first-rounders. But, Syracuse has freshman Carmelo Anthony, who would be a top five pick if he leaves after this season. Aren’t two players better than one? Not in this case. Anthony was absolutely unstoppable against Texas Saturday, with 33 points and 14 boards. I think he can score whenever he wants. Edge to ‘Cuse.
In the end, experience gives Kansas an edge. The last few national championship teams have had prominent seniors: Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter in 2002, Shane Battier in 2001, and Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson in 2000.
But, I do not want to pick Kansas (maybe just because one of my best friends goes to Syracuse). But really, Roy Williams is overrated and the experience factor could be too, but Carmelo Anthony is not. He is the best player in New Orleans and Boeheim is the better coach.
New Orleans was kind to Williams in ’82 and cruel to Boeheim in ’87, but it has been great for a promising freshman before and will be again this year.