This week’s pick not exactly a shocker

Santo Caruso

In my column before the UConn game, I talked of a gut feeling I had about ‘Nova’s chances.  I said despite the overwhelming size advantage and all logic, there was no doubt in my mind Villanova was going to win the game.

On paper, BC is a similar opponent, and we’ll no longer find ourselves 17 miles from home, but rather in the cold hell that is Minnesota.

On paper, Jared Dudley and Craig Smith should spend 40 minutes slamming like Onyx and posing like Sidney Deane, creating a whole bookstore’s worth of posterized Villanova guards.

On nearly everyone’s paper, Villanova’s “It’s a Small World After All” boat ride to Indianapolis ends here.

But hey, all you Kansas, UNC and Tennessee fans (I’m just kidding, there are no Tennessee fans) know how much paper, especially brackets, mean. And maybe this paper isn’t worth anymore than a Tar Heels, Jay Hawks, Ohio State and Iowa Final Four, but if I do anything, I want to keep my ink true to how I feel.

So on this paper, for what the Villanovan is worth (beyond lining for a birdcage or quick reading in a dorm room stall) I say the mismatch is in the ‘Cats favor. I may be king of the Villanova Kool-Aid and a homer journalist as objective as Fox News, but I, as always, have some rationale behind my argument.

Because all the stats and figures, height charts and scales can’t take into account the intangibles. And I don’t mean mushy ones like heart and team unity. I’m referring to a noticeable, immeasurable difference between BC and ‘Nova.

Both teams profess solidarity, both changed hairstyles to show a commitment to the group concept. ‘Nova, in a stroke of genius, took it old school and shaved various designs in the side of their heads, sporting racing stripes, lines and lightning bolts like Kid and Play, trimming up for House Party 16. BC, in a more conventional but no less dramatic fashion, all shaved their heads to the dome, now resembling a bunch of Academy Awards with sweatbands.

Except Jared Dudley.

For Jared Dudley, the cornrows which end in a series of rat tails hanging off the back of his head, the image was too important to sacrifice. That told me all I needed to know about BC’s chances.

Not that Dudley isn’t a team player, nor will his hair make him less aerodynamic, causing him to miss a crucial rebound or dunk. No, this has to do with how Villanova challenges opponents to play their style. As soon as they fall into that trap, they are left in the dust by quicker, tougher and smarter guards and forwards who know the up-tempo style and leg-wearying full court defense better than they do. It makes perfect sense. “You can play our game, but remember, it’s called our game for a reason.”

Players like Dudley and Craig Smith hate to have their manhood challenged like that. They hate to have a bunch of six foot midgets grab a rebound, or drop a three in their face or take them off the dribble like Kyle Lee in “Above the Rim.” Pretty soon Dudley’s launching ill-advised threes from just inside half court, and Smith is trying to cross over Randy Foye and ending up bouncing balls off his feet and knees like some oversized eighth-grader who didn’t mature mentally after his growth spurt.

The saying goes, you can’t kid a kidder, and you can’t beat a team by letting them dictate not only the pace, but the style. If Smith and Dudley work the wings and grab those loose boards and extra chance points, while 6-foot-10 Sean Williams sits on the block with his hand up (he doesn’t even have to get the ball, just keep that hand up and be ready to keep Dante Cunningham and Will Sheridan honest defensively), the good guys will be in trouble, I’ll admit that.

But like I said, height is nothing but numbers on paper.

Some thoughts on the rest of the games (bullet-points-style as always).

March Madness is looking a lot more like Cleveland’s “Ridiculous Sale” at the deli (where prices were so low, it was ri-dic-ulous) than Shannon Dougherty crazy. Take a look at the brackets. Besides George Mason (who honestly, I have no explanation for besides some sort of divine intervention or pact with the devil) and Bradley, it is extraordinarily chalk heavy. After Memphis knocks out the Bison and the Shockers (HA) dismiss the Colonials, it will be all top 10-seeded teams. By the end of the weekend, we may be looking at the highest Final Four seed average ever.

I can’t decide who has had an easier tournament thus far, Memphis playing Oral Roberts (HA) and Bucknell; or Gonzaga, for all their crying, beating up on Xavier, who had no business being in the tournament, and Indiana, with lame-duck Mike Davis at the helm. The fact that these two teams could meet in the Elite Eight, while ‘Nova will have to play two championship contenders in BC and either Georgetown or Florida, hurts me on the inside. Thankfully, UCLA will take them both out.

If ‘Nova beats BC and either Georgetown, and oafish Hibbert, or Florida and pretty boy Joakim Noah (seriously, Joakim, you have to yell after every block? Every one? What happened to acting like you’ve been there?), will the national press finally decide to stop and take a second to notice that big teams have a tougher time against Villanova than faster squads with better guard play, like Arizona, UCLA or even the faux-guard/forwards of West Virginia? I don’t mean to expose company secrets, but our agile little men feast on awkward giants trying to keep up. UConn didn’t win in Storrs because of Rudy Gay or Josh Boone, but because Denham Brown lit us up from deep-to-mid range and Marcus Williams had 12 dimes.

Wouldn’t you love to see Dick Vitale in your bracket pool? Besides picking Duke to win every title since 1973, he has never picked an upset in his life. It’s like my 13 year-old cousin picking all number ones to make the Final Four.