Duke, Pittsburgh and 8 Others Looking for NCAA Tournament Redemption
March Madness—a time of year when the sporting community comes together on one common ground, to witness events that are sometimes so great, their indelible mark becomes a part of our eternal memory.
There is really nothing more entertaining, more exhilarating or captivating, than watching a bunch of kids go toe to toe on the courts, usually playing well beyond their normal capacity.
But March Madness is not just about what the players can offer.
It’s an event steeped in storied history, such as Texas Western (now UTEP) with their all-black starting five defeating Kentucky and their all-white starting five in 1966, or North Carolina defeating Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in 1957—a game that took three overtimes for them to win.
Last year marked the first time in tournament history that all No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 seeds made it to the Sweet 16, and the year before that marked the first time all No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four.
But amidst the milestones—of 2009 particularly—there were several upsets that left many fans in shock and disbelief, upsets to teams that “weren’t supposed to lose"—the same teams that will be looking for a little bit of salvation in 2010.
Let’s take a look at the Top 10 Tournament Teams of 2010 who will be on the hunt for that sweet, sweet taste of redemption.
Clemson: The Return of the Tigers
The Clemson Tigers, led by Trevor Booker, were supposed to be the team that was going to make some noise in 2009, as they were one of the highest scoring teams in the nation.
But the Michigan Wolverines—the team that was supposed to be a nervous wreck—destroyed that notion with a 62-59 first round defeat.
Just like that, it was over for the Tigers.
Clemson started off the year winning their first 16 straight. They were a team that averaged around 80 points a game, but the Wolverines stymied the Tigers with their curious zone defense.
This year, Clemson is right on par with where they left off, and if there is anything on their mind, it will be erasing the stigma of being a “one and done” team.
Temple: The Owls Are Set to Avenge
The Temple Owls were one of a few teams that some thought didn’t belong in last year’s tournament, but a late, dominant push catapulted them into the grand stage.
Their first roadblock was Arizona State; that’s all it took.
Interestingly enough, it was the Owls that outplayed the Sun Devils despite losing 66-57.
The Owls out-rebounded, out-assisted, blocked more shots, stole more balls, and had fewer turnovers. But it was the Sun Devils’ superior field goal percentage (51.3 to 37.3) and three-point percentage (57.1 to 35.3) that sealed the Owls’ fate.
Temple enters the 2010 tourney a much better team and a team that is looking to redeem itself for last year’s short stint.
Top-seeded Louisville was a team that had a very confident swagger to them—a team that truly believed they were poised to take it all.
In the 2009 Regional Semifinals they faced a Michigan State team that many thought was no match for the high-scoring Cardinals.
But the 77,000-plus MSU fans thought otherwise.
Louisville was coming off a banner game in which they scored 103 points while shooting 57.6 percent against Arizona, but they had no answer for the methodical—often composed—State defense, which held the Cardinals to anemic 38.3 percent shooting.
This year Louisville isn’t ranked No. 1, but there are plenty of lingering memories that the Cardinals are looking to erase as they get set to try to win the title they so vehemently thought they deserved in 2009.
Xavier Is Looking for a Prayer to Be Answered
It was, in my opinion, the most memorable game in all of 2009.
A stage hosted two heavily touted defensive teams. In one corner were the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers, whose defense was so good they were feared to be the one team that had a shot at beating heavily favored UNC.
In the other corner was the Xavier Musketeers—a team that was equally prolific in its penchant for resistance.
In the end, however, Musketeer fans saw a grand example of how irony plays a part in the tournament, as it was Pittsburgh’s Levance Fields and his offense that fed off his own steal with a three-point play and then another two-point layup in the final 51 seconds that sealed the Musketeers’ fate.
In addition to that, this game would also serve—unknowingly to Pitt and their fans—as an ironic prelude of what was to come later on in the tournament.
Missouri's Still Not Consoled
Last year there was one game that had everyone talking, but it wasn’t necessarily about the matchup.
Rather, there were some erroneous accusations that UConn had violated recruiting rules—a perfect situation for Missouri, who thought the Huskies were no match for them.
Missouri had just finished off heavily vaunted Memphis by dumping an astonishing 102 points on them, but it was UConn’s Kemba Walker and his 20-plus points that sent Missouri packing in an equally shocking manner.
This year, Missouri heads back to the tournament currently ranked seventh (at the time of this article), and they will undoubtedly be looking for a bit of redemption. The likelihood of them ever facing Connecticut is slim at best, but anything is possible.
Duke Needs a Sweet 16 Win
For Duke fans, and their men’s basketball team, the Sweet 16 was a common battlefield that always left the team with a sour taste in its mouth.
In 2009, against an incredibly hot Villanova team, they were looking to rid themselves of a peculiar monkey on their back: four straight Sweet 16 losses.
After a very short, and seemingly hot, start to the contest, they found themselves playing from behind nearly the entire contest and felt the sting of defeat setting in.
Duke had also been cruising along in the tournament before fate caught up with them. This year they will be looking to halt the Sweet 16 losses at five and prove to themselves that they can rise above their Sweet 16 inequities.
Villanova on the Rise?
There is no worse feeling for any team than to find itself becoming one of the most dominant competitors and on the verge of history, only for it to be completely destroyed by another team—precisely what happened to ‘Nova in 2009.
Villanova themselves were beginning to look unstoppable, playing near perfect offense and defense before entering a contest with the one team that was favored to take it all: UNC.
The Wildcats had no answer for the Tar Heels on either side of the ball, and their storied year was left in ruination by way of a very unpredictable 14-point loss.
Villanova enters into 2010 a better team, and they have some unfinished business to tend to when the brackets become set; you can bet they won’t make the same mistakes this time around.
Michigan State Is Still Sour
First it was Louisville, then Kansas. It was as if they were meant to win it all, thought Michigan State.
But there was one more Giant to defeat—one that proved to be too much.
State was beginning to gain momentum as they meticulously picked apart every team that stood in their way en route to a showdown with the Tar Heels.
But not even the even-keeled play of Michigan State or their curious defensive looks were enough to stave off the Tar Heels, as they were clobbered 89-72 in the championship game—a game they really felt they could win.
2010 shows a very similar team that exudes confidence and talent, but also bears the cross of being “that other team”—this year State will look to change all that.
Kansas Wants Another Shot
The defending champion Kansas Jayhawks were on their way to being the team to face the three-headed monster of UNC, but once again it was the quiet Michigan State team that put an end to yet another team’s visions of grandeur.
Kansas was cruising along and winning, pulling away, and perhaps it was that confidence that allowed the Jayhawks to let their guard down as State rallied in the final two minute on the shoulders of Kalin Lucas. Lucas scored seven points in the last 49 seconds to crush the hopes of the Jayhawks.
You can believe they will be out for vengeance in 2010.
Pittsburgh Wants Redemption!
East Tennessee State tried to stop the Pittsburgh Panthers and failed. Oklahoma State was the next in line and folded under Pitt’s defensive pressure.
Even the equally defensively matched Xavier fell victim to a late one-two punch of offense and defense in the closing moments.
All that was left was Villanova.
Villanova was chasing the repeat of their brush with glory in 1985, and they had the same goal in mind as the Panthers. Nova knew of Pittsburgh’s crushing defense, they were aware of their penchant for scoring, and they knew their work was cut out for them.
But as mentioned before, irony has a very cruel way of rearing its ugly head.
With 5.5 seconds left on the clock, and trailing Villanova by two, who other than Levance Fields tied the game up with two free throws, sending Panthers fans into what was the single most overwhelming roar I have heard in a long time.
The inbounds pass, however, found its way into the hands of Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds, who drove the court in similar fashion to what Fields did against Xavier to drain the two—crushing the Panthers and leaving a season rich in pride writhing in emotional discord.
It’s expected that Pittsburgh will remember, in each game, the events of that night as they look to bounce back from one of the most devastating losses in the 2009 tournament—and they’ll do it on the shoulders of Ashton Gibbs.
They’ll also remind themselves that the possibility of a rematch on the same stage as 2009 with Villanova is a possibility.