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The Power of Ones, And Davidson

The Regional Finals matchups produce two blowouts and two nailbiters, as all four top seeds - UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas - reach the Final Four for the first time in the modern era.

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By John Feinstein
Monday, March 31, 2008

One week from tonight, someone will win the NCAA men's basketball tournament and cut down the nets in San Antonio. We know now that it will be a power school, a team that has been dominant throughout this season. Consider this: Kansas and UCLA, at 35-3, have the worst records in this Final Four. North Carolina is 36-2 and Memphis, the only school in the group without a national title, is 37-1.

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The winner will be a worthy national champion.

But, just as the 2006 tournament belonged to George Mason even though Florida was the champion, the 2008 tournament will always belong to Davidson. The Wildcats came up one shot shy of matching the Patriots' extraordinary achievement when Jason Richards's three-point prayer from close to 30 feet was wide left as time expired last night against Kansas.

Oh sure, everyone in America who isn't a Kansas fan will always wonder what might have happened had Stephen Curry held on to the ball and either tried a contested three-pointer or taken the ball to the basket to try to force overtime.

Second-guessing the final play will not do justice to what Davidson accomplished the past two weeks. The Wildcats beat three quality teams -- Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin -- before barely falling to a Kansas team that probably has four future NBA players. What's more, they saved this weekend from being arguably the dullest regional weekend in tournament history.

Consider this: The other three region finals were decided by 10, 19 and 19 points. Only North Carolina-Louisville among those three was at all competitive. Among the eight games played in the round of 16, only Xavier's overtime win over West Virginia had any real suspense. If not for the fact that Davidson's 73-56 victory over Wisconsin was so stunning, Friday would have been the all-time snooze night in round of 16 history.

The only good news was that no one had any good reason to stay up past midnight.

Saturday wasn't much better: UCLA-Xavier was a rout, and even though Louisville gamely fought back into the game, North Carolina never lost control. Yesterday didn't appear it was going to be any better when Memphis led by as many as 21 in the second half against Texas before cruising to a 17-point win.

That left it up to Davidson. The case can be made that the entire weekend ended up on the slender shoulders of Curry. Kansas did a superb job defending him almost the entire game, constantly switching defenders, hedging on screens, double-teaming him 30 feet from the basket because he was dangerous from there.

Even so, the Jayhawks couldn't pull away, and when Curry managed to free himself for an instant and drained a three-pointer to cut the margin to 59-57, another miracle seemed possible. It didn't happen, but at the very least, Davidson left us all with memories to savor from a forgettable weekend of basketball.

Next weekend should be better. There's little doubt these were college basketball's best four teams this season. Looking back, through the 20-20 vision of hindsight, maybe we should have seen this coming. Three of the four No. 2 seeds entered the tournament off less-than-stellar performances in their conference tournaments: Georgetown made the Big East final but went down meekly to a Pittsburgh team that was playing for the fourth time in four nights. Duke and Tennessee didn't come close to making their conference finals. Only Texas, which lost a close Big 12 championship game to Kansas, was playing pretty good basketball.

In the meantime, the No. 1s all entered the tournament on rolls: North Carolina won at Duke to win the ACC regular season then rolled through the tournament; Memphis and UCLA dominated their conference tournaments and Kansas, as noted, beat a very good Texas team in its final.


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