The Best and Worst of The Drive’s Trip to the Final Four

DanJonDadJake_ChampionshipTrophy

The Drive’s writers + dad + brother-in-law + NCAA Championship Trophy

As you may or may not have known, The Drive’s two writers (Dan and Jon) got the unique and thrilling opportunity to spend the weekend in Atlanta for the Men’s NCAA Basketball Final Four and experienced three fantastic basketball games. Even though we weren’t able to cheer for any of our alma maters (so the stress level was at a minimum), it was still pretty amazing just to be a part of such an awesome sporting event – if you haven’t gotten the chance to go to a Final Four, please do, as the energy and excitement and atmosphere couldn’t be beat. In fact, we remarked to each other that we thought the environment at the Final Four (probably much like the BCS Championship game) was actually better than anything we had or would experience at any professional sport event. Okay, so the Super Bowl is often looked at as the pinnacle of sporting events, but I’d contend that the average level of fan’s passion and support for their team was significantly higher in Atlanta. Cheering for your favorite professional team is one thing – yeh, you might have grown up watching them or “went to a few home games” but you have to admit that the “brand” can be watered down by bandwagon fans, fair-weather fans and “this is a cool looking hat” fans. But in college sports, there’s less watering down and there’s more die-hard commitment. These people spent years at the university, have memories recalled each time they hear their school’s fight song or rally cry and camaraderie that stretches generations as school experiences automatically connect total strangers. Needless to say, it was a sports environment that one can only adore as a true sports fan. And to recap all that went right (and wrong), we figured we would provide a Top 5 and a “NOT” Top 5 (in true SportsCenter fashion) moments from the weekend in Atlanta…

The Drive’s Top Five:
  1. Family Affair – The best moment from an amazing and action-packed weekend was easy to choose and it didn’t have anything to do with the teams playing, the championship on the line or the concentration of past, present and future basketball stars. It was the fact that the whole experience could be shared with the people that matter most: family. The tight bond between brothers that forms the backbone of this very site was no accident. It’s the product of a close-knit family that starts with an all-star Mom and Dad pairing and extends to the newest members of the Reaves clan (my wife Alyson and my sister’s husband Jake). Watching the games themselves was amazing, but the moments hanging out in Bracket Town before tipoff or relaxing in Buckhead with family were the ones that made this weekend special.
  2. Win One for Ware – When Jon picked Louisville to win the National Championship a few weeks ago when the Drive made their March Madness predictions (thank you, thank you), it was because of their supreme talent and recent hot streak. But then, after a mind-numbing injury to Kevin Ware, the Cardinals found the final driving force behind their championship run: a mission. They fought not only for a trophy but for one of their fallen brethren who injured himself closing on a three-point shooter, a play that was a result of pure hustle. While there is no doubt he wishes he could have been on the floor, Kevin Ware left Atlanta a champion just like the rest of his Louisville brothers.
  3. Feeling the Wrath of Coach Knight – Posted up at a lunch spot in Atlantic Station, Dan happened to spot who else but Coach Knight angrily walking down the escalator on his way to the ESPN College Gameday set for some NCAA Championship game discussion. Ever the (pissed off) gentleman, Coach Knight so graciously allowed Dan to “take the damn picture yourself or you don’t get one.” (by the way, that is an exact quote) And, thus, we got this gem of a photo (see photo at bottom) – Dan, Coach Knight and over 800 NCAA basketball wins and a future Hall of Fame spot. Oh and that scowl couldn’t have been more appropriate for Coach Knight’s mood and general demeanor. Now, if I only I had thrown a chair to get his attention…
  4. #whiteguybuckets (Spike Albrecht/Luke Hancock) – Ok, no offense to the feel-good moments of the weekend but this HAS to be “The Drive” moment of the Final Four. Early in the first half, Wooden Award winner Trey Burke was relegated to the bench after picking up his second foul and was replaced by steady yet unflashy backup point guard Spike Albrecht. During the regular season, Albrecht’s highest point total for an entire MONTH was 20 points back in February…so naturally, he picked the National Championship to go beyond the #beastmode level and into a stratosphere known as #whiteguybuckets. Dropping three bomb after three bomb, good ol’ Spike had the Dome rocking and the Cardinal faithful weeping. But Albrecht was soon joined by Luke Hancock of Louisville pouring in #whiteguybuckets of his own that turned out to be the momentum swing that the Cardinals rode to victory.
  5. Straight Grubbin’ (Hickory Fries/Funnel Cake) – Whenever you’re at the Georgia Dome next, go to the 300 level concourse by Section 336. You will find a BBQ place that I cannot remember the name of but it’s next to a pizza place that decided the first half of the first semifinal game would be a superb time to RUN OUT OF PIZZA. In any case, bring a man-sized appetite and order the Hickory fries — curly french fries doused in tangy, spicy BBQ sauce and topped with cheese and pulled chicken. And as if that wasn’t enough of a guilty pleasure, Dan and Jon powered down a chocolate-laden Funnel Cake for desert. Hey, eating a lot requires Drive too….
The Drive’s NOT Top Five:
  1. Disappointing number of empty seats for the Final Four semifinal games- The Final Four represents the pinnacle of college basketball, the finale of arguably the greatest postseason system that we currently have in any sport. So when we arrived for the first semifinal match between Louisville and Wichita St, we were alarmed to notice that the pockets of red in the crowd were actually empty seatbacks and not Louisville faithful. It got worse for the second semifinal between Michigan and Syracuse and it made me wonder whether the ticketing system is flawed for these games. Would the NCAA and the respective venue benefit from more advanced notice that these specific teams were going to be competing? Are fans of the teams wary of making the trip if they are unsure if they’ll even make it to the National Championship? My thought: play the National Championship the weekend after the Final Four games in order to give ample time not only for the fans of each school to decide to make the trip but also for the losing teams of the Final Four to sell their allotment of tickets so those seats aren’t empty on gameday!
  2. Live from the Atlanta Airport… – Now this might be my fault as much as it is Atlanta’s airport security operation, but something on Tuesday just didn’t want to let me (Dan) leave GA. The MARTA train was late. The bag check line was abnormally long (note for those less experienced travellers, do not check a bag at all costs…). And then there was the security line that felt more like the line you wait in at Disney to get on Space Mountain complete with six different rooms that you weave through. Two flights, seven hours, two Chik-Fil-A sandwiches and a whole lot of internet browsing later, I finally boarded a place to DC and was able to settle back in at my apartment a full work day later. For those of you counting at home, I could have a) driven back from Atlanta faster, b) flown to Amsterdam or c) completed a Rubix cube (probably).
  3. Referees Too Influential in Game’s Finale, Part One – As too many basketball analysts, coaches and players have already mentioned before, referees should try their best to not influence the final outcomes of games. Now, I understand this is easy to say but hard to execute. However, when the game is tight in the final minutes, referees have got to remember to err on the side of “let it play” than whistling a borderline (or not even close) call. Forgetting that rule plus the ridiculousness of college basketball’s jump-ball rule (purely based on possession arrow) led to the game-icing “jump ball” call at the end of the Louisville-Wichita State (WSU) game. Down one, WSU rebounded a missed free throw and was poised to come down the court with a shot at a win or tie except….tournament MOP Luke Hancock got his hands on the ball for 0.2 seconds, which was enough to elicit a whistle and “jump ball” call. Possession Louisville. Game over. Ending altered by a call that never should have happened.
  4. Referees Too Influential in Game’s Finale, Part Deux – Our second moment where referees have got to learn to “swallow the whistle” came in the final five minutes of the championship game. With Michigan reeling from a Louisville run that started in the late first half with Hancock’s flurry of threes, Peyton Siva breaks away for a seemingly easy layup when Trey Burke comes out of nowhere to totally stuff him. Game changer for sure. Except when the referee blew the whistle for a nonexistent foul and Burke’s incredible hustle and heart (and clean block) was rewarded with nothing but some free throws for the other team. Michigan never came back after that moment. Who knows if it would have turned around the game, but I wish we had seen it play out. Referees jump to their whistles every time someone goes to the hoop and feel like some player has got to come out with a foul. It doesn’t have to be that way, especially when these kids are leaving it all out there and battling for a championship. Manage the game, but don’t change it.
  5. Michael Carter-Williams’ draft stock – It’s been plastered all over NBA draft boards for the entire season: MCW has the size and vision of big league point guard but his jump shot is sub-par and he often disappears against quicker guards. So when faced with a chance to completely prove his critics wrong, the Syracuse point guard was severely outplayed by Trey Burke and left NBA scouts wondering whether his 6’6” frame really holds the potential worthy of a first-round draft pick. In order to make in the Show, you’ve got to perform when the lights are the brightest…

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Dan and Coach Knight

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Dan Reaves & Jon Reaves

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