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Entries in NCAA Tournament (35)


Here's Why Duke-Butler Will Go Down As A Classic

Butler's Gordon Hayward Almost Beats Duke

One Great Season

Many spent Tuesday saying, writing or commenting that Monday night's NCAA Championship game was one of the tournament's best finals ever, and I completely agree.

Some, however, see only a stat sheet that shows both Butler and Duke shot poorly from the field, that neither side scored often down the stretch, thereby making it a mediocre game at best.

A LOOK BACK: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage From OGS

I learned how to cover sports 20 years ago, as a student at the University of Cincinnati, so I heard Bob Huggins ask short-changing reporters many times, "Don't you think maybe our defense had something to do with their poor shooting?"

I've seen games where teams shot atrociously, but I've seen far fewer games that were played the way Monday night's Instant Classic went down. Rarely did we see open shooters put up brick after brick. Heck, rarely did we see open shooters period.

WEIGH IN: Where Does Duke-Butler Game Rank?

That's because determined defenders hungrily hounded their men, swiftly executed switches or fought through screens. A lack of offensive fireworks doesn't always decrease the quality of a sporting event.

Those who dare to look beyond the stats, overlook their own NCAA allegiances and just appreciate the great sport of college basketball certainly enjoyed every frantic second of Monday night's championship game.

And let's not forget the excellent coaching that went into it either. Duke's legendary Mike Krzyzewski showed great trust in foul-prone big man Brian Zoubek and called only smart and strategic timeouts. His 33-year-old counterpart, Brad Stevens, substituted wisely down the stretch, bringing in one four-foul big man for another, trading offense for defense with Matt Howard and Avery Jukes.

Lastly, usually logical ESPN talk host Colin Cowherd accuses Monday night's admirers of getting caught up in the emotion that comes with a seemingly outmatched underdog hanging in against an established giant. Well, that's exactly what I did and I loved every minute of it. All the side stories about David and Goliath, Cinderella and "Hoosiers" were great build-ups and all of those labels were almost legitimized when fresh-faced Gordon Hayward's 47-footer almost banked in and gave deadline writers a reason to reach for the Rolaids.

Some have gone overboard and said it might have been the best NCAA championship game ever, but I'm not going that far. Had Hayward's shot gone in, perhaps it would command as lofty a ranking as that North Carolina State-Houston thriller in 1983. But I'll bet the passage of time will allow the legend to marinate some, giving storytellers some room to ponder.

Regardless of how memorable you think Monday night's game will prove to be over time, one thing is for sure: It was at least a fitting end to one of the best tournaments in recent NCAA history.


Hoosier Heartbreak: Hayward's Heave Nearly Dumps Duke

Duke Beats Butler In The NCAA Championship

One Great Season

How Hoosier would it have been had Gordon Hayward's half-court heave banked in to give Butler a surprising and thrilling victory over Duke in Monday night's national championship game?

After a missed Duke free throw with 3.6 seconds left, Hayward rose up high for the rebound, dribbled three times, got a serious screen from teammate Matt Howard, dribbled once more, then launched the shot that might have changed the great sport of college basketball forever. Even though it just missed, it might have done so anyway.

INSTANT CLASSIC: Where Does This Game Rank?

It was a great rebound by Hayward, a great screen by Howard, a great shot by Hayward and then, ultimately, a great escape by Duke.

Unlike Jimmy Chitwood's heroic game-winner in the excellent basketball movie "Hoosiers," Hayward's shot from the right side of midcourt hung high in the air, giving the 70,000+ at Lucas Oil Stadium and millions more watching on television a second to shove both arms skyward, hoping for one lucky bounce to complete the real-life version the way a largely anti-Duke America would have wanted it. But then it missed.


+ OPINION: Bob Huggins Is Awesome; He Really Is
+ CANDID INTERVIEW: Former Cincinnati Guard Weighs In On Huggins
+ ANALYSIS: NCAA Should Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball
+ WEIGH IN: Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness -- Cheers To Dos Equis
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

"Butler really played like America's team tonight," CBS analyst and Duke graduate Seth Davis said after the game, and truer words could not have been spoken.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils, considered a heavy favorite by many experts and pretty much hated by all humans outside of Durham, N.C., won their fourth national championship, all since 1991 under future Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Some notes:

+ Don't hate Duke. I've said it many times before; I don't love Duke but I don't hate Duke. Sports are played by people we don't know, so it's a waste of your energy to let things get so far out of perspective. I know the blogosphere is a cool place to hate, but Duke is a great basketball program and the Devils deserved the national championship. Three weeks ago when the brackets were unveiled, many complained of an easy Final Four path for Duke. But Monday night the Devils had to beat a great Butler team that had beaten No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and a hot Michigan State team just on Saturday. Butler wasn't just some middling team that got hot a month ago. The Bulldogs were legitimate all season.

+ Monday's game was the lowest-scoring title tilt since the North Carolina State-Houston classic in 1983. On Monday, the lead changed hands 15 times and there were five ties, according to ESPN.

+ Just two days after West Virginia coach Bob Huggins described Duke's semifinal victory as the Devils' best offensive effort of the season, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said the Devils' championship game performance "was good of a defensive effort as I've seen from them all season."

+ ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, usually annoying as he shares nothing of value, actually made a very good point during postgame coverage. Butler is stacked with workman-type role players, and Duke is loaded with experienced players. "This game sends a signal to college basketball. Forget the one-and-done guys. This game shows that coaches can go out and find quality kids and build a program with consistency." Phelps cited a few one-and-done guys like Greg Oden and Mike Conley of Ohio State, Michael Beasley of Kansas State, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and of course, Kentucky's John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, among others. Lots of talent, no rings.

+ Here's a picture of an on-campus bon-fire celebration at Duke, sent out minutes after the game ended by Twitter user @vitags

+ Kyle Singler was huge Monday and definitely deserved Most Outstanding Player honors. But Butler's foul-prone Matt Howard was making a nice case for himself late. In the final two minutes, he made two layups and grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, then set that wall of a pick for Hayward's final launch. Howard was nice.

+ CBS analyst Clark Kellogg correctly called it "a worthy championship game. Duke won this game. Butler did not lose it." Added Bilas: "This is truly one of the great games and great atmospheres at a Final Four that I can remember."

+ I wasn't crazy about one thing Kellogg's play-by-play partner Jim Nantz said at one point in the second half. Nantz began a short story about how there were two Academic All-Americans playing in the game, "... and they're not on Duke." That wasn't cool.

+ Not surprisingly, Twitter users ripped the Jennifer Hudson version of "One Shining Moment." Other hot Twitter topic: many pined for CBS' Gus Johnson to be in Nantz's chair.

+ Butler coach Brad Stevens said after the game: "We just came up one possession short in a game of about 145 possessions. It's hard to stomach being on the wrong end of that ... You're at peace with (losing because) you've got a group that's given it every single thing they have."

+ Though Duke couldn't pull away like many thought it would be able to do, it stuck with its game plan and continued to give good effort, which often prevails in the long run. With about five and four minutes left, it looked like the Devils were starting to get some separation, which reminded me of Ohio State football under Jim Tressel. Sometimes the Buckeyes won't blow teams out, but once that fourth quarter starts, opposing defenses are worn out from 315-pound linemen leaning on them for three quarters, and then OSU starts to move the ball a little easier and ultimately pulls away. I thought I was starting to see that in the last five minutes from Duke, but Butler made a nice collective reach and stayed in it.

+ Coach K said about an hour after the game: "This was a classic. This was the toughest (championship) and the best one."


Bob Huggins Is Awesome; He Really Is

Bob Huggins

One Great Season

I love Bob Huggins. I really do.

I covered his Bearcats as a sports writer for my college newspaper, the University of Cincinnati's The News Record. Thanks to him, I earned a free trip to exotic Minneapolis around this time of year in 1992, detailing UC's first Final Four appearance in 30 years.

Those were splendid days indeed. Back around then, Huggins' first-ever return call to my desk phone was intercepted by some other eager colleague at a nearby extension. She gave me the phone, and when I tried to transfer him to my desk, guess who accidentally hung up on whom?

And a few years later, after my undergraduate days left me still wanting some sort of connection to the hottest beat in otherwise sleepy-old Cincinnati, I was working on a Huggins feature for some weekly Bearcats' rag. Huggs interrupted my Friday morning with a 2 p.m. return call from Chicago -- as we had arranged -- that woke me from a nice couch slumber and sent me scrambling through a living room full of pizza boxes and empty 12-pack cartons in order to ask just a couple questions a few hours before his men took on Conference USA rival DePaul.

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"What are you doing?" I asked him slowly to give myself time to find a working pen and some real paper, not the kind with a takeout receipt or a "Rene" scrawled in lipstick on it. Not surprisingly, his reply was all Huggins.

"I'm workin'," declared the surly coach around 1997. "What are you doin'?"

NCAA Tournament

And many years later, after a hugely hyped Cincinnati-Louisville game around 2003 or 2004, a January matchup that pitted Top 6 teams with a combined 31-1 record, a game to which Louisville claimed ownership about three minutes in, a game the Cards eventually won by about 30, I wrote a harsh column for Cincinnati's NBC television station Web site. It described how Huggins' teams can't win the big games and how his players were more interested in their cornrows and headbands and their tattoos than they were with figuring out how to win high-stakes ballgames.

I caught a lot of heat for that piece, almost got fired in fact. Viewer mail after viewer mail suggested I was at least a hack if not a racist entirely. I was lumped in with all the other Huggins Haters, of whom there were very few around the Queen City. Huggins owned that town in the 1990s the way Pete Rose once did. But because of that piece, I'd earned a place in "The Drawer," according to my sources. Huggins kept a place in his desk where he stored columns and articles that reflected negatively on the coach and his program.

Savvy Cincinnati readers familiar with my work thought I had lost it. How dare you say that about our Huggy Bear? They got personal because they thought I got personal.

But I didn't get personal at all. I was merely making a point about the team's inability to win key games, not unlike what many, many college scribes have written many times in recent years about a nearby powerhouse called Ohio State football.

For that very same Cincinnati TV station Web site, I also wrote a column about how loved Huggins was, how much I knew he'd be missed after his heart attack in 2003. It wasn't just a collection of facts I published. I didn't interview anyone for it. I wrote that piece straight from the heart. Though I wrote a time or two critically of his basketball team, I always liked the kind of guy he was to those who mattered; he satisfied his superiors by winning many basketball games and he took in players of questionable character because he believed in second chances and knew he was good at being a father figure to otherwise directionless young men.

And speaking of the heart, that's a part of Huggins the viewing public doesn't often see. But just because he's not Dick Vermeil doesn't mean he's not a sensitive coach who cares dearly for his players. And in perhaps the most touching gesture I've ever seen on a basketball court, it was a compassionate Huggy Bear being, well, a teddy bear Saturday night while comforting injured star Da'Sean Butler. It may have been the first time you saw such tenderness from Huggins, but he doesn't care about you. He cares about Da'Sean Butler and the guys who go to battle for him. And in return, he teaches them, he coaches them and he treats them like he's their father.

Who knows if a slice of that sweet embrace will make its way into Monday's popular "One Shining Moment," but I certainly won't need a video montage to remember it forever. I loved every second of it, and I hope you did too.


NCAA Tournament Trivia: Win A Free OGS T-Shirt

One Great Season T-Shirt

One Great Season

Your life is about to change.

Within days, you could very well be wearing your own One Great Season T-shirt if you answer a question correctly.

All throughout Final Four weekend, I'll be asking college basketball trivia questions and there's just one simple rule: Be the first to answer correctly and you win a free shirt. Winners can only win once, so I guess there are two rules.

I only have eight shirts (3 Ls, 5 XLs), so I'll be asking eight questions beginning Saturday afternoon through Monday night. The questions will be here on the site, but I'll be sending alerts on Twitter that will indicate to you it's time to visit OGS to see what the latest question is. You can just submit your answer in the Comments section. Please include your email address and indicate which question you're answering.

OK, let's start the fun with question No. 1:

1) Which player did Christian Laettner stomp on in the 1992 East Region championship game? Chad Potier answered correctly - Aminu Timberlake.

2) Which Valparaiso player got the game-winning assist when he passed the ball to Bryce Drew to set up the dramatic 1998 buzzer-beating defeat of Mississippi? Renee Ledford answered correctly - Bill Jenkins.

3) Michigan's Fab Five was made up of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and whom? Brian Warholak answered correctly - Ray Jackson.

4) Who was the point guard for the Connecticut team that won the 1999 national championship? Erin Waggoner answered correctly - Khalid El Amin.

5) Cincinnati star Oscar Robertson won how many championships with the Bearcats? Doug Villing answered correctly - Zero.

6) Which Duke player clothes-lined a Louisville player as the clock expired in the 1986 national championship game?


Part 2: Buford Weighs In On Final Four, WVU, Cincinnati

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

Former Cincinnati standout Anthony Buford said this week he thinks he has an idea what the West Virginia athletic community might be experiencing.

Under then-coach Bob Huggins, Buford helped lead the Bearcats to the school's first Final Four in 30 years back in 1992. And nearly two decades later, Huggins now has his alma mater, the West Virginia Mountaineers, in the Final Four for the first time in half a century.

Like he did at UC, Huggins turned the trick at WVU in just his third season, and Buford remembers the huge outpouring of support the Cincinnati community showed in 1992. He said there's probably been an even larger showing in Morgantown this week.


+ OPINION: NCAA Should Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball
+ WEIGH IN: Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?
+ YOUR THOUGHTS? Final Four Does Not Give Butler Home-Court Advantage
+ ANALYSIS: Resurrected UK Program Is Big Blue's Silver Lining
+ TELEVISION: The Rev. Troy Freel Breaks Down David vs. Goliath
+ GUEST COLUMN: Outclassed: Kentucky Schools Cornell In Sweet 16
+ TWITTER RECAP: Who Said What About Epic Kansas State-Xavier Game?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

"There are no professional sports in West Virginia, so the whole state is probably in a euphoric state," he said. "The university and their basketball program, their coaches and players, students, alumni and boosters are incredibly thrilled. I'm sure they are experiencing unbelievable pride right now. That's what I saw when we went to the Final Four. It was so exciting to see the pride that UC graduates exhibited and the thrill from past teams that won championships. Many of those players who were still around came back and showed us so much support. They felt like the program was back to the lofty standards they'd set so long ago."

In Wednesday's part one of this interview with Buford, the former guard said he and Huggins had a "mean-spirited" blowup a couple of years ago. Has the relationship been repaired?

Buford: I saw (Huggins) when West Virginia came to Cincinnati last year. At the end of the game, guys were just congregating and Bob sneaks up behind me and gives me this big hug. That wasn't really his character, but it was certainly nice to see him.

OGS: You said you don't pay much attention to the Final Four because of the treatment Cincinnati received in 1992. Is that still true?

Buford: In years past, I've always watched the first and second rounds, And this year I'll probably pay a little attention to the West Virginia - Duke game. I like (Duke guard) Nolan Smith. I had a pretty close relationship with his father (former Louisville star Derek Smith), and I've known Nolan since he was 3 years old.

OGS: What's the reception like around town this time of year? Do people still want to talk about 1992?

Buford: We didn't win the national championship, so when I see how the 1961 and 1962 teams are treated for winning it, I'm envious. That sits with me. I think about that all the time, just how we would have been treated around the city had we won it. It's a painful memory. I can't even watch the Final Four game from 1992. It sucks to lose once you get there, man. You realize how close you are ... If you get there as a sophomore or something, it's one thing, but as a senior, for me, it was lights out, and that's painful.

OGS: Do you see any similarities between your 1992 team and Huggins' current team at West Virginia?

Buford: No. We played 94 feet. We pressed all up and down the floor and he doesn't really do that anymore. They've got a different group of guys. Da'Sean Butler has got to be one of the most under-appreciated guys in the country. I love how he competes every time he steps on the floor. I was surprised he wasn't a first-team All-American.

Bob basically has transformed his team, including some of those holdovers, from finesse players to we're-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face-now type of players. Maybe they used to play a 1-3-1 and shoot threes, but now under Huggins, they're going to play defense, rebound like crazy and hit the weight room like they've never seen it before.

OGS: Why does everybody hate Duke?

Buford: People hate elitists or folks who project themselves as elitists. The sense is that Duke fans, alumni and players think they're better than everyone else. They give you the impression that they're looking down on you. That may not be true. I can't really say that I've had a whole lot of interaction with Duke players, but I have had some with Duke fans. People have a belief that Duke kids get all the calls, that they have an edge. A lot of that might not be true, but perception can sometimes become a reality.

OGS: Cincinnati seems to hit that 17- or 18-win mark every year under Mick Cronin, but hasn't been able to get over the hump. What is keeping the Bearcats from being a factor in the Big East and returning to the national scene?

Buford: The interesting thing I hear a lot around here is that (Cronin) left and went to rival Louisville. A lot of people heard the Huggins version of that story. But the reality is that if you had aspirations of becoming a head coach, Bob wasn't really going to help you. Mick didn't go chasing Louisville; Louisville came after him.

But having said that, there are some clear issues where Mick needs to grow. He needs to make some changes in some areas. Have they improved every year under him? Yes. But I thought in the preseason that he had a 24-win team and maybe a Sweet 16 team.

Personally, I'd get rid of some guys. If Yancy Gates plays next year like he did in his first two years ... he should be punishing teams inside. I don't know if he has the motor or the desire to become a great player. And when you bring in new guys who look at his work ethic, what do you think they're going to do? So Yancy is first and (Rashad) Bishop is second. You either have to recruit over and get guys who would be able to send them to the bench, or just get rid of them.

If you firmly believe in your program, then run it the way you think you should run it and get rid of anyone who doesn't help you get there. You cannot win with Yancy Gates. He's a coach-killer.

Here are two things I do know about Mick Cronin: He does know about basketball; he's probably too smart to be coaching some of the kids he's coaching. And two, he works his behind off. You gotta somehow get the kids to do what you want them to do.

OGS: What about Lance Stephenson?

Buford: Lance is very skilled but has a lot to learn about the college game. When you play in Brooklyn, no one takes charges, but in college, especially in the Big East, somebody's going to be in your way, so you have to learn how to score off the dribble. If someoene's screening, you should be cutting to the basket, not away from it, to get a pass and use your body to get to the basket. Yancy can shoot the basketball, (Ibrahima) Thomas can shoot the basketball, and with the lanes spread open now, you've got Cashmere Wright finishing at the basket, not over size. Lance will be driving to the basket for unmolested dunks, and now your crowd's into the game.

OGS: And staying in the Big East, do you think Steve Lavin can turn things around at St. John's?

Buford: I know his record didn't show it, but I thought Norm Roberts was just starting to get his team to come around. With that being said, I think Steve Lavin's energy and his experience going around the country as a broadcaster the last six or seven years, being exposed to a lot of other good coaches and programs, will prove to be invaluable. He's going to have to assemble a staff that's able to recruit the New York area. But he has a good enough reputation that he can recruit nationally as well. All New Yorkers want a winner, so if it's a bunch of New York kids or a mix of New York kids and some players from other regions, I think it's an excellent hire. He has a good base of players already in place, so it's just a matter of bringing in good new guys.


NCAA Needs To Fix Football Before Expanding Basketball

One Great Season

Most aspects of our shallow culture -- sports or otherwise -- are dictated by a bigger-is-better or a more-is-better mentality. And college basketball is no exception.

Fans, both knowledgeable and casual, largely will agree that March Madness is the best sporting event every year. Yet we think we need to change it.

That "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a tiresome cliche doesn't make it inaccurate. The NCAA Tournament is certainly the best sporting event in America, and is also decisively effective at achieving its real purpose of determining a national champion.

That pointless Tuesday night play-in game they've been playing for a decade or so is a waste of time, so why add four more games under the 68-team model? Nobody tries to hide the fact that tournament expansion is under consideration for one purpose only: to increase revenue. And under tentative proposals described at Thursday's Final Four press conference, many of those entities referred to by the NCAA as "student-athletes" will miss even more school than they already do.

I'm not so naive that I hate everything that is profitable. It's great that the NCAA makes as much money as it does for itself and its member institutions via the tournament. But the more you tinker with it, the more you make it clear that the association's chief mission is to get rich, that a successful tournament is just icing on the cake. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

The minute the NCAA expands the field in the name of profitability and asks players to miss even more classroom time is the minute we know not to believe those same rich, old white men in suits who say a playoff system in football would be harmful because it would interfere with the student-athletes' class schedules. Now I know a majority of college football coaches prefer the current bowl system, but who's in charge here?

If there's anything the NCAA needs to tweak, it's the college football postseason. Make it a playoff, a plus-one, a plus-three, whatever. Give America's greatest sport something significant enough to determine an undisputed champion but subtle enough not to adversely impact the bowl games already in place. Figuring out the best way to determine a football champion is the only thing that needs to be solved, so leave the basketball tournament alone for now.


Ex-Bearcat Anthony Buford Doesn't Miss Final Four

Anthony Buford

One Great Season

I'm not sure how Morgantown reacted when Bob Huggins vowed to bring a national championship to the great state of West Virginia, but when he left Akron for Cincinnati two decades ago, a similar claim left Bearcats' fans at least a little bit skeptical.

At his introductory press conference in 1989, Huggins told local reporters he intended to dust off UC's rich basketball tradition and put the program back on the map with a Final Four appearance within three years. And sure enough, the Bearcats had earned that elusive trip to Minneapolis to play Michigan and the Fab Five in the 1992 national semifinals.

Guard Anthony Buford was a huge factor in Cincinnati's success, and while he was able to happily recall that incredible Clifton winter, its culmination at college basketball's most high-profile venue left Buford entirely dissatisfied with far more than returning to campus without a national championship trophy.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Buford, who's been calling UC games on local television and sometimes for ESPN's regional coverage, and also is a financial planner, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with OGS on Wednesday to cover a range of topics. Here's a portion of the conversation:

OGS: What was that Final Four experience like for you? What do you think about most when you recall that trip to Minneapolis?
Buford: I don't really think about the Final Four because I don't think we were treated with any respect or class when we were there. I think it was the beginning of Bob's sour relationship with the media. Yeah, there were some good stories here and there, but overall the treatment we got was terrible. All we did was beat the teams in front of us. It wasn't our fault that Kansas lost to UTEP, or that USC lost to Georgia Tech. But all of a sudden, you've got people asking how Bob could have done it with all these transfers. He had to have cheated. But we had just as much of a right to be in the Final Four as Michigan and Duke and Indiana did.

I remember reading an article that called us a team of misfits back then. In Minneapolis, we were getting ready to take the floor for a practice right after Michigan got done. There were lots of media people and cameras all over the place during Michigan's practice. But when we came out on the floor, they all left.

After we lost and we got a chance to enjoy the city and the atmosphere and the accoutrements of the Final Four, that was nice. I didn't take anything away from the Final Four, from an experience standpoint, that was cool. We won two rings that season, one for winning the conference and one for getting to the Final Four. I only kept the ring I got from the school for winning the conference. I tossed the other ring from the bus.

Bob Huggins

OGS: When Huggins took the Cincinnati job, you played at Akron for another season before deciding to transfer. Why did you ultimately come to Cincinnati?
Buford: First off, I signed with the University of Akron because of Bob Huggins. I had been recruited by Missouri, DePaul, Stanford, and then Connecticut came in late, as well as a lot of MAC schools. The main thing that struck me with Bob was that he seemed to be the one guy who came across immediately who was genuine and truthful, and that was important to me. I would like to say every player in college basketball would like to play for a guy like that. I was raised like that by my dad and that was incredibly important to me and Bob exhibited that from day one.

I was happy playing for Bob. He was a straight-up guy. And this many years later, that's what his players still love about him, and that's why they'll go to battle for him. It makes it really easy for you mentally. He can coach you to be a player, just as long as you go out there and give everything you have in practice and in games. Playing under him certainly teaches you incredible mental toughness.

OGS: When you got to Cincinnati, did you think you had a Final Four team?
Buford: The year I sat out, we probably would have been a tournament team had I played that year. But the next summer, when I saw the guys who were coming in, I had a feeling we were going to have a lot of talent. I met Erik Martin at the Five Star camp and told him I was transferring to Cincinnati and said he should come there, too. And one of his teammates at Five Star, Corie Blount, was interested, too. So once we all got to Cincinnati, I took the time to teach them all of our offenses and defenses so we'd be able to hit the ground running once the season started. With the talent we had on our team, it was evident that we would be good. We started the season pretty good and then we go to Michigan State. We were unranked and they were ranked seventh or eighth or something, and even though we ended up losing a 19-point lead and losing that game, that's when we realized we could play with anybody in the country.

NCAA Tournament

OGS: Were you afraid there'd be too much talent and not enough basketballs?
Buford: I knew we had some competitive guys on the team and I wanted to make sure they realized how important it was to listen to just the messages from Bob, but not the vehicle through which they were delivered. He can play some psychological games and I was hoping guys would understand that and not get rattled when Bob would try to tempt us.

OGS: What's your relationship with Huggins like now? Do you stay in touch?
Buford: He and I don't talk a whole lot. I appreciate everything he's done for me when it comes to basketball. I understand and know what he's meant to my college basketball career. But a couple years ago when I was in town for a Pittsburgh-West Virginia game, he wouldn't give me anything good to promote his program on television. He was his usual self, saying, "We're not that good" and stuff like that. Pittsburgh won the game and later when a group of us went somewhere after the game, I saw him. I told him it was too bad (West Virginia) couldn't get that fourth foul on (then-Pitt star) Sam Young. That's when he disagreed and kind of ripped some of his guys. And when Bob gets upset, he'll go after you. But I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not playing for him anymore, so I'm not going to let him berate me in public like that. I said something back to him and let's just put it this way; the night ended shortly after that.

OGS: Was that conversation light-hearted?
Buford: No, it was mean-spirited.

OGS: Now moving on to the teams in this year's Final Four, Michigan State is making yet another appearance. Being a native of Flint, once a huge hoops hotbed, do you ever root for Sparty?
Buford: Never. I have unabashed hatred for Michigan State. When I was coming up in Flint, Jud Heathcote was the coach at Michigan State and Bill Frieder was the coach at Michigan. I was probably the top player coming out of Flint when I was a senior. But Jud Heathcote didn't recruit me because he thought I was too small to play in the Big Ten. And Bill Frieder said in the papers that (Flint North star and Michigan signee) Demetrius Calip was the best player in Flint. But when (Buford's Flint Central team) played at Flint North I think I went for 39. And Frieder was there, and that quote was in the paper just that day. I was playing on pure anger.

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The year I was sitting out after I transferred to UC, Michigan State played at Cincinnati and (future NBA star) Steve Smith, who was a close friend of mine, was talking trash to me while I sat on the bench: "Buf, you better tell these fools who I am."

Now the next year when we played at their place, you know I was yapping at Jud Heathcote the whole time. I was giving him the business. And then when we played them again in the tournament, before the game, Jud said something to me like, "Take it easy on us today" or something like that. I gave them 29 at their place and 21 in the tournament. I felt pretty good about what I did to Michigan State.

OGS: Butler appears as though it's trying to give the "it's-just-another-game" approach, but we know differently. How will the Final Four, in the mid-major's own backyard, be different from anything those kids have experienced?
Buford: The distractions are going to be incredible for them. You cannot get away from it. And you've got every relative you've never known calling up asking for tickets. That's what Butler is dealing with right now, and it's worse for them because the Final Four is right in their backyard.

When we beat Memphis (in the 1992 Elite Eight) and we arrived back in town, the airport was loaded up. We were looking out of the airplane windows like, "This is crazy." And during the week, you're trying to go to class and you can't concentrate. Everyone wants to talk basketball with you. In fact, I just tried to duck in to the bookstore for a minute to get a blue book -- because you have exams, which was another huge distraction -- and one guy asked me to sign something. All of a sudden, they've got a table set up and I'm sitting down signing autographs. You leave for a couple hours to go to classes and when you get back, your voice mail is loaded up and all this.

We were having a tough time. We'd be sitting in the locker room getting ready for practice and talking about how maddening everything was when what we were supposed to be doing was enjoying it all. So finally, we told Coach we had to get out of there, so he arranged for us to fly up to Minneapolis a day earlier than we had originally planned.

OGS: Who is your pick this weekend?
Buford: I had picked West Virginia to play in the championship game. I think this team finds a way. People talk about Duke's size. But they talked about Kentucky's size. Duke's big guys are going to have to come away from the basket to guard West Virginia's perimeter people in that open-post offense. And that will open up penetrating lanes and cutting lanes. I see West Virginia playing a very similar game to the one they played against Kentucky and I think they'll win it. I think Michigan State wins because Butler will have a whole lot more pressure than if they were able to go to a neutral site away from home and I don't know how well they'll handle it. This is Huggs' best chance to win a national championship. West Virginia will beat Michigan State for the championship.

Make sure to check back Friday for a few more questions with Buford, including his take on the current state of the Cincinnati program.


Why Does Everybody Hate Duke?

Mike Krzyzewski

One Great Season

Did Duke get what seemed an easy path to the Final Four? Probably. Did Duke get a favorable call or two late in its South Region championship game against Baylor? Perhaps.

But is that enough to crank up the hate machine yet again this weekend when Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils make another Final Four appearance? Hardly.

If you want to go back in recent history and cite other examples as you present your case against Duke, I know you think you've got some. But isn't it a waste of time to hate a college basketball team? I've never understood the anti-Duke sentiment that rivals the hatred for Notre Dame football. It really is ridiculous, just like the anti-Irish rage.

I've told the story a few times about wearing my Cleveland Indians hat to an interleague game at Cincinnati years ago. I won't re-hash every detail, but for those who aren't familiar, let's just say I got hit with some trash talk after the Reds won and it was indeed embarrassing. Just not for me.

NCAA Tournament

Now I'm all for going all out to support your squad. By all means, have some beers and scream your head off. Be a dork and paint your face. But leave it at that. I've always preferred to be for X than against Y, but in the process of following your favorites, I fully understand you're going to develop strong feelings against a few of your team's rivals.

But you have to remember that Duke didn't determine the seedings or the brackets. That's the NCAA's racket. Those late calls against Baylor? Talk to the men in stripes. The overall Duke conspiracy the last two decades? Dude, seriously.

I've been an Ohio State fan since childhood, but the only time I care what Michigan does on the football field is on one particular Saturday around Thanksgiving. I'm a knowledgeable sports fan and follow most of them closely, but games played by people I'll never meet will never have a significant impact on my life or even my mood on a particular day.

Coach K appears to run Duke's program cleanly. He wins many games with players who often come from backgrounds not typical of college basketball stars. He has positioned his program in such a way that for years on the recruiting trail now, Duke has been choosing players, not the other way around.

I don't have the answers, but I'm wondering what yours is. Why does everybody hate Duke?


Final Four Does Not Give Butler Home-Court Advantage

Butler Advances to The Final Four

One Great Season

All this talk about Butler playing in front of a home crowd this weekend has me doing one thing: disagreeing.

At a neutral-site sporting event like the Final Four or the Super Bowl, is there really such a thing as a home-field advantage? I don't think so.

A Final Four tournament is not held at an intimate setting. It's not a tightly packed group of 13,000 jammed into one school's rickety-old, on-campus barn.

YOUR THOUGHTS: Does Butler Have A Home-Court Advantage?

Final Fours are played at huge, shiny palaces with great new amenities. Lucas Oil Stadium will welcome more than 70,000 on Saturday and again on Monday, most of whom won't be rocking the Butler blue. Many will be using company seats to impress clients, not rooting for the home team.

Butler is actually the host school for the Final Four, but participating universities get unfortunately so few tickets and most of the rest are acquired either via a lottery that's quietly promoted during the previous year's Final Four, or of course through scalpers.

EXTRA: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage

Sure Butler's players might enjoy sleeping in their own beds most nights this week, but not leaving town might actually do just as much harm as good. They'll likely be bombarded with phone calls and text messages from friends with ticket requests or other distractions.

By the time tipoff rolls around shortly after 6 p.m. ET Saturday, we'll see just as much Michigan State green as anything else. Sparty can travel, especially when it's just a four-hour car ride down Interstate 69 to Indianapolis from East Lansing.


Resurrected Program Is Big Blue's Silver Lining

John Wall

Special To One Great Season

I expected nothing less. The final whistle blew and the cat calls and claps reached a crescendo. I’d taken numerous jabs from complete strangers for most of the night in multiple Indianapolis drinking establishments as my beloved Wildcats' remarkable season came to an inauspicious end. I heard a female voice I couldn't visually link with a face exclaim, "I don't care who wins, as long as it's not Kentucky." The statement was followed by a high-five that reverberated throughout the hollows of my soul.

More than 600 miles away in a Syracuse locker room, Ramon Harris refused to remove his Kentucky jersey. The senior forward's eyes were red. It was the last time the Alaska native would wear the blue and white tank top that so many little boys from Pikeville to Paducah dream of donning.

EXTRA: Complete NCAA Tournament Coverage

I expected nothing less from the rarely used player who, by many Big Blue faithful estimations, was not the caliber of athlete we'd expect to see in Kentucky blue. What I didn't expect was that every eye (from all accounts) was red at some point Saturday night. That includes the eyes of the young men who will voluntarily never wear a UK uniform again.

Say what you want about DeMarcus Cousins' maturity. He still gets it. Say what you want about one-and-done players like John Wall. He gets it. No one would question that Patrick Patterson gets it. They all get what Billy Clyde Gillispie did not, that there's a responsibility that comes with bearing those eight letters across your chest on a basketball court. Players told reporters they let their "brothers" down. Several also apologized for letting the fans down. 

They did not.

When many eyes finally dried in homes and bars across the Commonwealth, perspective slowly crept into the collective conscience. The fact that Wall, Eric Bledose, Darnell Dodson and others could not hit the broadside of a rural Perry County barn doesn't matter. We will neatly put aside the fact that Bobby Huggins and West Virginia took apart UK's much-vaunted defense. Few will remember that, for the first time, John Calipari's kids showed their youth. There, I said it. Because what one awful night cannot take away is what this team has done for Kentucky basketball:

+ 35-3
+ SEC champs again
+ Relevant again
+ Feared again

In 1992, after the entire state went into mourning following Christian Laettner's figurative stomp on our chests, perspective was gained. John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus, Richie Farmer and Sean Woods became "The Unforgettables." Four young men put aside personal goals and stayed at a program that was at its lowest point. This year, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Patterson put aside ego for something greater than themselves. They resurrected a program out of the ashes. I'm sure someone will come up with a name for this fab four. They were truly unforgettable.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on Saturday, I received a text from a friend of mine. He's a Kansas fan. "Go Big Blue Nation," it read, dripping with sarcasm. The haters are back. I expected nothing less.

Jackey is a die-hard Kentucky fan who lives in Louisville and is now eagerly awaiting the World Cup.


The Rev. Troy Freel Breaks Down David vs. Goliath

One Great Season

SAN FRANCISCO -- Friday we began a little bit of a four-man reunion in The City By The Bay, and it didn't take long for old buddy Troy to work his genius.

Out of Barry, Jason, Troy and I, I'm probably the one most likely to go out and seek some trouble, but it was Troy who sat back and let it come to him, and I'm proud to say our circle of friends will be laughing about this at every subsequent reunion for the rest of our lives.

Once we saw a local television crew enter Pete's Tavern, I knew we had to make something happen. Jason got the videocamera on his phone fired up and downstairs I went in search of televised attention. I found the lovely reporter and told her if she needed some Ohio State sound, our group would be more than happy to accomodate. She said, understandably, that she was looking to interview St. Mary's fans.

Ten minutes later, once the crew came upstairs to where we were, I told her photographer that my friend Troy is the biggest St. Mary's fan one could ever meet. That was a lie, but homeboy bought it hook, line and sinker.

KPIX doesn't have an embeddable video player, so here's a link to the story during which Troy gives two of the best soundbites in the history of television. Please note the change in Troy's motor skills between his first and second appearance.


Outclassed: Kentucky Schools Cornell In Sweet 16

John Wall

Special To One Great Season

When I was in second grade, our math teacher challenged us to a real brain-teaser. Is 999 greater than 1,111, she asked? To a child just learning the values of numbers, it seemed plausible to me that because the 9s were bigger, then yes, 999 was greater. I proudly raised my hand with all the other ill-informed children sharing the same opinion and was crushed when the other kids were awarded Jolly Ranchers. One of my fellow morons stood up and in a whiny voice protested, "If you add it all up, 999 is greater!" That made absolutely no sense. We were dumb. We were wrong.

The same misguided principles apply to all the people who were living in the drunken acid trip that was the Cornell Kool-Aid. I'm looking at you, Northeast sportswriters. I'm looking at you, Jay Bilas. I'm looking at you, certain contributors to That must’ve been some powerful s***.


+ TWITTER RECAP: Who Said What About Epic Kansas State-Xavier Game?
+ READER PARTICIPATION: Share Your Hoops Haiku
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What The First Weekend Taught Us
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

Maybe it's the journalist in me, but I'm a big fan of facts. 

+ Fact: Cornell stacked up gaudy numbers against bad competition. Its lowest three-point percentages of the season came against Kansas and Syracuse. What's amazing to me is that every UK detractor pointed to its weak schedule as a reason the Wildcats eventually would falter. Yet, they chose to ignore this against the great white, Big Red hope.

+ Fact: Kentucky is one of the best defensive teams in the country. UK is long. UK is quick.

+ Fact: Kentucky is clearly the better team

Yet, the "experts" turned a blind eye to this. Not just sophomoric bloggers and their mindless followers, but real analysts and columnists at major media outlets in many parts of the country.  It was portrayed as "good vs. evil." The great white crusaders standing up for all that is right against the dark knights and that Kentucky swagger. Plus, it was perpetuated by folklore. There's the great story about UK players two years ago calling Cornell a “high school team” during the NCAA Tournament. Really? An 11th-seeded Kentucky team that barely made the tournament and lost in the first round was so arrogant about its 13-loss season that it mocked Cornell? And made sure to say it loudly enough for fans to hear? In the news business we used to say, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Then, the irony: A friend told me, "You’d better rethink your arrogant take on Cornell." I found that ironic considering all the condescending elitist attacks the entire state of Kentucky endured over the last four days. I get it. John Wall cannot solve a Rubix cube in three minutes. I get it. Cornell kids are smart. I get it, Dan Shaughnessy, some Kentucky fans can't spell. But, as DeMarcus Cousins said with his Alabama twang, "It's not a spelling bee."

Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote and Chris Wroblewski may score a 9 out of 10 on a pop quiz, but three 9s aren’t greater than the Cats' four 1s in Wall, Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson. Consider yourself schooled by a graduate of the Kentucky edyoucashun system. Class dismissed.

Jackey is a die-hard Kentucky fan living in Louisville.


Twitter Recap: Who Said What About Kansas State-Xavier?

NCAA Tournament

One Great Season

Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway. That epic Xavier-Kansas State tilt you watched Thursday night was full of big plays by great players. And here are some gems from the Twitterverse about one of the best NCAA Tournament games ever played:

+ @sportsguy33: "Thank you Xavier and K-State. What a ride. Gotta love any game that made Gus Johnson a Twitter trending topic."

+ @livehead16: "man, that xavier-kstate game was incredible. not only suspenseful, but those kids just made big shot after big shot. fantastic stuff."

+ @TheSayWhatKid: "K state over Xavier in 2ot is one of my top 5 b-ball games ever, more rediculous clutch threes than I could ask for, it was almost annoying."

+ @richeisen: "Simply: this Xavier/K-State game is why we watch."

+ @cgrock24: "What makes Xavier v. K-State special is the execution & shot making in critical situations by both teams.[Gus Johnson helps 2!"

+ @ciellemsmith: "I may be #kstate born and bred,but #xavier played with such heart that every young athelete should take note.that's how proud teams play."

+ @MattZemek_CFN: "Congratulations to two teams for one of the great NCAA Tournament games we've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Chin up, X. Kudos, KSU!"

+ @MattZemek_CFN: "Pullen. Clemente. Holloway. Enough onions for a decade's worth of fajitas. Wow."

+ @AndyHutchins: "Worst part of this game: Xavier's five warriors looking shattered after that three hit iron."

+ @EdgeofSports: "Xavier/K-State: Best. Game. Ever. Gus Johnson has mic-skills like Rakim."

+ @AndyHutchins: "I am legitimately concerned for Gus Johnson's health if this game ends on a buzzer-beater."

+ @CKlosterman: "Switching over from the NCAA tourney to the NBA on TNT is like rushing out of a burning building in order to watch 'Backdraft.'"

+ @thefarmerjones: "Glad KSU's gonna win this, if only to keep Frank Martin from going back to his old job as mob contract killer."

+ @TherealBHurl: "This may be one of the most clutchly played games I've ever seen. If that's a word."

+ @GregAnthony50: "Sharpie time KState!!! Give it up for Xavier as well, just a great performance. Best game of the tourney by far!"

+ @GaryParrishCBS: "We have officially reached yell-at-your-tv time. What a game."

+ @WojYahooNBA: "Outside of duke-kentucky, it's up there with any ncaa tournament game in last 20 years."

+ @JustinDYoung: "This game is sooooo worth the fight my wife and I will be having about 'why i never spend time with her" in an hour.'"


NCAA Tournament: Hoops Haiku

NCAA Tournament

One Great Season

It's the second weekend of the best sporting event in America, the NCAA Tournament.

And what better way is there to celebrate the arrival of the Sweet Sixteen than by writing a bunch of short-form poems? That's right, it's time for Hoops Haiku.

Read these terrible shorts and then share your own below. Remember, it's three lines, with five syllables in the first, then seven, then five.

Cornell Kentucky
Can David beat Goliath?
Outlook isn't good

West Virginia is
Missing its starting point guard
But Huggs will still win

The Sweet Sixteen is
The second weekend of the
Best month of the year

College basketball's
Tournament shows us who's best
BCS, ya heard?

Young gladiators
Push and bang and sweat and bleed
To bring dreams to life

A three from long range
Or an easy deuce down low
Score, win and advance

Pep bands and their tunes
The tournament atmosphere
Yes, yes, yes we do

This one sent in by Jarod Daily, from Little Rock, Ark:

Oh, my poor bracket.
Crazy weekend dealt some blows.
But it's still been fun!

Click here to submit your haiku, or leave one in the Comments section.


Any Given Thursday: Cornell Aims For Hollywood Ending

Cornell Big Red

Special To One Great Season

Thursday night when Cornell takes on Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, Hollywood better be watching.

Forget "Hoosiers," the tale of the Big Red taking on Big Blue has enough intrigue to make Oliver Stone commission the screenplay for "Any Given Thursday." Just look at the way the villain and underdog roles are already fleshed out.

NCAA Tournament

A team that's won seven NCAA Championships and a team that’s only appeared in seven NCAA Tournament games. A bunch of "one-and-done" freshmen taking on a group of "one last run" seniors. A coach who's worked his way around the rules against a coach who's worked his way up the ranks. Kids playing for the scholarship money and a chance at the NBA and kids playing for the love of the game and a chance to take a break from studying.

The screenwriter won't need to create new characters, either; these Cornell heroes already boast dramatic Hollywood story lines.

There's sharp-shooter Ryan Wittman, son of former NCAA champion, NBA player and coach, Randy Wittman. With a little artist's license, Wittman's relationship with his dad could easily be played out as a "Varsity Blues" situation. "I don’t want ... your life." But some analysts already are giving Wittman a chance at just that; they think he could follow in dad's footsteps and play pro ball after graduation.

There's Mark Coury, who started 29 games at Kentucky before transferring to Cornell, where he's happy to come off the bench. With a little luck, Coury has a score to settle with a former teammate who gave him one too many swirlies in the locker room back in Lexington. Perhaps even better, the 6-9 forward, who will intern at Goldman Sachs this summer, might recognize a play from his days at UK and make the game-winning steal.

In every great sports movie, there's of course the late addition to the squad; maybe it's the team manager who reveals a cannon for an arm, a superstar from the girls' team who helps the boys win it all, or, as in the case of Jeff Foote, a transfer with all the right moves. Back in 2006, Jeff's mom Wanda, a nurse in Elmira, N.Y., treated an injured Cornell player and struck up a conversation with Coach Steve Donahue about her seven-foot tall son, playing ball at nearby St. Bonaventure. It wasn't long before Foote made the move to Cornell, giving the Big Red a key weapon in the paint to offset their deadly three-point shooting.

If "Any Given Thursday" is like your average sports flick, at some point the big, intimidating Kentucky team has to walk by the smaller, less flashy Cornell squad and hurl insults at them. Oh wait, that's already happened.

Two years ago UK and Cornell played in the same region of the tournament and a Wildcat said audibly of the Big Red team as the Wildcats passed by, "They look like a high school team." Throw that quote up on the bulletin board, have the boys slap it on their way out of the locker room before every game and you've got yourself another time-honored movie cliché.

The stage is set, the film is cast, now the only thing left to figure out is, how will it end?

Spain is a writer, reporter, TV host, die-hard Chicago sports fan and, if you can't tell, a Cornell grad. Follow her on Twitter @sarahspain.