Who saw these teams balling in the Big Easy?

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2003 at 9:47 p.m.

It has finally cleared up. We know who will be in New Orleans this weekend. We know that one of four coaches will win his first national championship.

And we know of at least one bracket sheet that has been crumpled, burned and the ashes spread over Billy Packer. I got about as many right as Tony Cole on his SAT.

But please don't tell me you got the Final Four teams correct. Anyone have Marquette? Only if you filled yours out Sunday night.

What we have now is a Freakish Four. You could see one of these teams making it, with the exception of the Golden Eagles of Marquette, but all four of them?

Certainly not Kansas, a team that started the season 3-3, and Texas, the No. 1 seed almost everybody had going out earliest, and Syracuse, unranked in the preseason polls because it started two freshmen and two sophomores.

Yet they are all headed for the Big Easy after all but Kansas had big and easy wins in the Elite Eight. It made for a boring basketball weekend unless you were a fan of one of those four teams.

Hopefully, the final three games of the season will be better. They should be if only because each team has a special player, the kind of athletes who can carry a team to another opportunity to cut down the nets. (Speaking of which, maybe Kentucky should have pulled out the scissors after winning the SEC Championship after all).

In fact, you have the best of each class still playing - the best freshman, sophomore, junior and senior in college basketball this year.

Syracuse has the freshman in Carmelo Anthony, who left them chanting "One More Year!" in Albany.

Texas has the sophomore in T.J. Ford, who plays at a different speed than anyone else on the floor.

Marquette has the junior in Dwyane Wade, a player whose first name may be a typo but whose ability is amazing. Did you see that dunk over Marquis Estill?

Kansas has the senior in Nick Collison, whose Sweet 16 performance against Duke was stunning. And he is complimented by another senior in Kirk Hinrich, who carried the Jayhawks against Arizona when Collison was quiet.

Three of the Far-fetched Four knocked off No. 1 seeds to make it to the Superdome. Only Texas survived, partly because it had a great draw never having to beat a team higher than a five seed and partly because it took advantage of the pod system.

There is something missing in this year's Final Four. That would be a team from either the SEC or the ACC.

The ACC never came close, showing that those who said the league was weak were not wrong. Wake Forest, the highest seed, went out in the second round. Duke and Maryland were dumped in the Sweet 16.

The SEC's showing may be a surprise since it was the league touted as the best in the land. But Florida's early exit was only part of the conference's dismal showing. Two teams expected to go far - LSU and Mississippi State - lost in the first round. Kentucky had to play its Elite Eight game with a hobbled Keith Bogans, although that still doesn't explain why the Wildcats quit playing defense.

And let us not forget that the third best team in the league didn't even make an appearance.

So we have these four, this Forbidding Four. But will it become a Forgetful Four?

Not likely.

Not when you have Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, two coaches who know the pain of coming close only to see so many seasons end short of the prize. Not when you have Rick Barnes, who could pull off the feat of winning a national title before Mack Brown.

Not when you have Marquette.

The last time Marquette was in the Final Four, Al McGuire was the coach. He won the whole thing, cried his eyes out and retired. McGuire is no longer with us, which makes this world less interesting, but he left behind a catch-phrase that the school has embraced as its slogan - Holy Mackerel!

Which, I guess, would make this a Fishy Four.

Most of you will be rooting for Marquette. We still love the underdog and this is the closest thing left playing.

Will it be an All Big XII final? Will it be the really surprising title game

- Texas vs. Marquette?

We have a week to wait. Not that it matters for my scorched bracket, but I'm picking a Kansas-Syracuse final with Kansas winning it all.

Which means for Williams, who could be coaching his last games at Kansas, it will be the Finally Four.

You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat weekdays from 4-5 p.m. on WGGG 1230-AM in Gainesville and WMOP 900-AM in Ocala.

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