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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Fun NCAA Tournament reaches Final Four

by Wally Hall | April 1, 2021 at 2:35 a.m.

After watching ultra-talented Gonzaga easily dispatch of Southern Cal, it seemed like we stumbled into an NIT first-round game with UCLA vs. Michigan.

Granted, watching the well-oiled, perfectly timed Zags set the bar pretty high.

Once considered a Cinderella, the Zags have grown into Muhammad Ali in his prime. Ali was the greatest heavyweight champion of the world before sitting out three years for refusing induction into the military.

Gonzaga has coasted through the NCAA Tournament, with its closest game an 87-71 victory against Oklahoma that didn’t seem that close.

If UCLA’s performance Monday night was indicative of its offensive abilities, the Zags will be playing Baylor or Houston on Monday night for the national championship.

At the risk of hurting my preacher’s feelings — Chuck “Pigskin Preacher” Monan, who is a lifetime Michigan fan — the Wolverines were even worse on offense.

No doubt they missed Isaiah Livers, who injured his foot March 12 and didn’t play again. He was their best three-point shooter at 43%, and he averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds per game.

In the lowest scoring game of the entire tournament, UCLA led 50-49 with 19 seconds left.

Give Eric Musselman 19 seconds, and he’s going to find a way to beat you.

Juwan Howard drew up a play for a guy who was colder than a well-digger’s behind in the Arctic Circle.

Franz Wagner was wide open, but there was a reason: He was 1 of 8 from the floor, and the Bruins were not overly concerned about the sophomore, who is generally pretty steady but missed from all over the court Monday night.

He missed again, and No. 11 seed UCLA was in the Final Four.

Michigan was the last Big Ten team playing out of nine that made the field of 68. The Big Ten was 8-9 in March Madness.

The generally loud and proud ACC was 4-7, and it had seven teams start the tournament.

The SEC had six teams in, and thanks in large part to the Razorbacks and Alabama, the conference had a 7-6 record.

The Big 12 had seven teams, and it is 9-6 with a chance for two more wins with Baylor.

By winning percentage, the two best conferences are the West Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference at 4-1. Of course, Gonzaga and Houston have all the wins for those conferences.

The surprise league was the Pac-12, which got five teams in and stands 13-4 with UCLA in the Final Four.

The problem is not with the NCAA or the tournament, but anyone who thinks the selection committee did an adequate job needs to consider there have been a record 13 upsets — with an upset considered teams seeded at least five places apart.

That made for a fun tournament, even though a lot of brackets were crushed early.

In light of everything, it was pretty amazing the NCAA could pull off a tournament while the pandemic is still with us.

When the sports world shut down last spring, there were fewer daily cases than what we are experiencing nationally today.

No doubt the numbers are better than a few months ago, but the NCAA took no chances and put every team in a bubble in both the men and women’s tournaments.

Testing was daily.

After the opening weekend when Virginia Commonwealth had to withdraw because of covid issues, every game was played.

The past two weekends have brought entertainment to tens of millions of Americans at a time when we still need entertaining at home.

In the end, two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed and a No. 11 seed are left. The fun hasn’t ended.

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