The month started off with such hope. There were big NCAA tournament hopes for Maryland and Georgetown, as well as sort-of-locals Virginia and VCU. However, all three were sent home after the 1st weekend.
I could tell you all four programs have bright futures because of their respective coaches and returning players and recruiting classes. However, that doesn’t guarantee post-season success a year from now. Even the best of the best programs like Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State have had their own disappointing and surprising endings in the tournament.
Hoya fans know how hard it is to get back to the Final Four (last one 2007) let alone win a National Title (1984). The Terps have not been past the Sweet 16 since they cut down the nets back in 2002. Virginia has never won a national title, and the last time they were in an Elite 8 was 1995 when Jeff Jones (ODU Coach) was on the bench. Shaka Smart and VCU shocked the world in 2011 making it to the Final Four, but have not been able to survive the 1st weekend since that magical run.
The NCAA Tournament is not for the weak-hearted. It is the most unforgiving format in sports. The best teams do not always win it all. The hottest teams usually do, and so do those with the right matchups for their style. It was what makes college basketball a must-watch sport this time of year, even for those that don’t care about the regular season.
It is not like the NBA where you can have a bad night in the playoffs and go back to the drawing board because you need four wins in a series to advance. Could you imagine how great NCAA Tournament style playoffs would be for the NBA? I know it would never happen, but I would just love to see it one time for entertainment’s sake. Players already raise their games in the NBA Playoffs, but imagine how much harder they would play if it was a “one and done” or essentially all Game 7’s.
Speaking of the NBA (and continuing with the theme of March Sadness), the Wizards are a mess right now. They are the “Rob Lowe peaked in High School” team – or in their case, the team that peaked in the 1st half of the season. The Wizards were 28-13 thru their first 41-games on January 17th (half way point). Now they sit at 40-32. Sure, the schedule has gotten harder and the signs were there back in January that the Wizards were not as strong as their record indicated.
However, the fashion in which they have fallen has been particularly ugly. Head Coach Randy Wittman has often questioned his players’ effort, and the word ‘quit’ has been used by him and recently by an opponent (Marresse Speights). The team that seemed so tight last year has not been on the page on the floor on a consistent basis.
The Wizards went from the ‘it’ team just a year ago in the Eastern Conference to a really old looking team this year. They are no longer a must-watch team. Part of the problem has been Bradley Beal’s inability to stay on the floor with John Wall, but there are more issues than that. Wall has been every bit of the franchise player this season. However, the supporting cast has been too inconsistent.
Despite being healthier than normal, Nene has not been a consistent threat offensively. Marcin Gortat has been better lately, but is still not getting the 4th quarter minutes on many nights. Paul Pierce has brought a lot of positives in his approach, but he’s not Trevor Ariza effective at both ends of the floor.
Off the bench, Martell Webster is still trying to get his legs back after off-season back surgery. Otto Porter’s progress has not been good enough for Wittman to give him consistent minutes. Kevin Seraphin is a still a shoot 1st player in the post, and often a liability defensively. Kris Humphries has been a solid addition, but he’s still out with a hamstring injury. Drew Gooden is good in certain matchups, and Ramon Sessions (although more athletic and younger than Andre Miller) can’t finish at the rim consistently. Garrett Temple has been missed for his defense and his ability to get hot from beyond the 3-point arc.
Will Bynum is being signed to a 10-day to hopefully add some scoring pop. Can the Wizards really count on a player fresh off of a season in China to walk in off the streets and an injury and help save the season? Well ,were are about to find out.
Before I completely write this team off, I will give a few reasons for hope. A year ago the Wizards were struggling and they found themselves in early April and it carried over into the post season. The million dollar question right now: Is this team capable of finding itself?
The playoff road would not be that daunting for the Wizards if they can get their act together. A first round match up against an equally struggling Toronto Raptors team is not overly intimidating even if they swept the season series 3-0. If the Wizards get thru they would get the winner of the top-seeded Hawks and Celtics, avoiding the Bulls or Cavaliers until the Eastern Conference Finals. How about that for optimism?
For now though, I would just settle for a Wizards winning streak to finish off an otherwise forgettable spring of hoops in the DC Area.