By Bill Campbell
Many fans here were surprised and disappointed when Villanova collapsed again in the stretch and lost to George Mason. But I wonder how many remained focused on Cleveland, the sight of that game, and the Ohio State-George Mason game that followed.
The Buckeyes breezed to victory, 98-66, in the third round game and put on a spectacular show in the process. They scored 16 three-pointers and a kid named David Lighty recorded a perfect 7 for 7 – that’s 7 for 7 three-pointers. His team-mate, Aaron Craft, had 15 assists and one was an overpowering pass from mid-court for a Jared Sullivan lay-up. Another resulted in a spectacular play for John Diedler. I mention these maneuvers because they are fresh in my memory, all executed by players I hadn’t seen before.
Ohio State, 34 and 2, has established itself as a stand-out team and a serious threat to win it all at the Final Four. The Buckeyes meet Number Four Kentucky on Friday night in the regional Semi-Final in Newark, New Jersey. They shot 61% from the field against George Mason, 61% from the three-point line and had 26 assists on 29 field goals. If you like your college basketball as close to perfection as it’s liable to get, I would suggest that Ohio State and Kentucky may approach that barrier – and I recommend it highly.
George Mason, the team that defeated Villanova, had to play Ohio State without the services of the guy who scored the winning basket over Villanova, Luke Hancock, who became sick overnight and was sent back to the hotel. Even if George Mason had him, it’s doubtful he would have made much difference. The Buckeyes started off slowly, but then roared to a 52-26 half-time lead. I was really impressed by them.
It isn’t often that I’d make this statement, but if Ohio State doesn’t make the Final Four I would be more than surprised. Their showing against George Mason was as good a basketball performance as I have seen in years. And I’ve seen my share.
March Madness began in 1939 — the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament. It has really become part of our culture because it’s all about the brackets. Since the Liacouras Center at Temple is hosting part of the regional activities, it has become part of this big year in Philadelphia sports.
The road to the Final Four seems to be focused on the guys and their tournament has been enlarged by four additional teams –which it hardly needed. Sixty-eight teams in all. But the ladies are displaying much talent this year too and they have their own tournament with regional play in such places as Dayton, Ohio, Spokane, Washington, and Dallas, Texas in addition to Philadelphia. While not getting much major coverage comparatively, more and more fans are starting to pay attention.
The ladies post-season tourney dates back to 1982 and this year seems to be show-casing more talent than ever. The final title and championship game will be played in Indianapolis which has been a hot city for quite a few sports for many years.
In less than three weeks, you’ll be hearing much more about the ladies teams at Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor plus the Lady Lions at Penn State who went 24 – 9 this season.
The duo of Gino Auriemma and Pat Summitt dominate the coaching ranks with their winning ways at Connecticut and Tennessee, respectively, and they are again playing prominent roles.
Rutgers will also be involved as well as Stanford, which ended Connecticut’s great historic NCAA record winning streak last December.
The men’s game and their brackets will again dominate the road to the Final Four, but if you haven’t paid much attention to the ladies games, check it out. Most of these girls can really play and you just might find the girls’ game more enjoyable than you thought. Believe me, it has come a long way and deserves more attention and coverage than it is getting.
Speaking of tournaments, Philadelphia also hosted the NCAA Wrestling Championships last week and it was pronounced a stunning success. It set an attendance record: overall 100,000 people attended the events, which was more than St. Louis attracted in 2009. Close to 18,000 were there on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center and the associated fan festivals at Lincoln Financial Field were successful every day. The championship provided a boon to the Philadelphia economy and Global Spectrum, the Comcast-Spectacor division that operates the South Philadelphia arenas, said that every ticket was sold and the wrestlers, their coaches and families enjoyed every aspect of their visit.
Penn State won the team title which added to the occasion for a lot of people. And Philadelphia is interested in hosting another get-together, probably around the year 2015. There were some pros and cons to be sure, a few complaints about the size of the floor and the warm-up areas, with some wrestlers brushing against officials’ tables, factors which could stand improvement.
But the highlight had to be the emotional victory of Anthony Robles of Arizona State, a one-legged athlete, and the performance of his team-mate, the 157 lb. Bubba Jenkins.
It was Penn State’s second ever team title and its first since 1953. Penn State had an eventful year both in men’s and ladies basketball — and a championship in wrestling.