After all the complaining, all the upsets and all the commotion, the best four teams in the country are going rto play in the final four after all.
De Paul could not handle a slow pace or pressure. It didn't deserve to make it. Oregon State choked on the foul line. It didn't deserve to make it. Louisville was unlucky. It may have deserved to make it. But LSU, in the same regional, deserved it more.
The four teams who are ther, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Louisiana State, are all peaking, playing superbly when it counts most. It should make for a great final four.
each won its regional final convincingly. Each has had at least one brief slump this seasn and bounced back strong.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the last tow rounds will be the coaching matchups. Carolina-Virginia matches two men who don't like each other. Indiana-LSU matches tow men who have different coaching philosophies and styles. And if ther is a Bob Knight-Dean Smith final, the game would match the two most luminous names in college basketball today.
And the players, Isiah Thomas may be the best point guard of his time before he is through playing for Indiana. Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Al Wood make up as diverse and talented a front line as anyone has seen in years, with the possible exception of LSU's Durand Macklin, Greg Cook and Leonard Mitchell. And , of course there is Ralph Sampson, who may go down as the best player of his time.
Knight returns to the scene of the high point of his coaching career, the Spectrum, where undefeated Indiana won the l976 national title. Smith, in his sixth final four, will try to win the one honor that has eluded him in 20 years as a head coach. Dale Brown of LSU and Terry Holland of Virginia are among the elite for the first time in their careers and their teams may be the most talented.
It would be difficult to imagine better semifinal matchups. Virginia-Carolina is a classic grudge match. For years the Tar Heels consistently pounded the Cavaliers. This year,however, the Heels have twice been embarrassed by Virginia, blowing large leads the final l0 minutes each time Virginia's 80-79 overtime victory over Carolina in February was as good a college game as one could hope to see.
The Smith-Holland feud makes the match that much more intriguing Smith was less than delighted when Holland's wife Ann told a magazine reporter that the faily dog was named Dean Smith.
"terry will probably apologize to me the next time we talk," Smith said then. "That's what happened the last time something like this happened."
The last time something like that happened was in l977 when Holland labeled Smith's image "false," saying he was not the gentlemen he is generally portrayed to be.
"i apologized to Dean then because I was quoted out of context," Holland said. "What I said, during a long interview, was that sometimes people might have a tendency to put Dean on a pedestal."
And this time. "The whole thing with the dog came about really as a joke," Holland said. "A bunch of people sitting around kidding. Nothing serious."
Smith and the people at Carolina, however, have taken it seriously.
There is also the memory of the aftermath of the overtime game when a Virginia official told several reporters that Smith had swung at Virginia substitute Louis Collins during the brief postgame melee. Although films of the incident later showed that Smith and Collins were both peacemakers, the story turned up in a New York newspaper portraying Smith as a participant, not a peacemaker.
So, it is all there, Revenge for the Tar Heels for the season's games and memories of past failures for the Cavaliers, who had never won an NCAA tournament game until this season. Two coaches who are unlikely to hug one another at game's end.
The Indiana-LSU matchup doesn't have the bitterness or the history, but it does have Knight, honing his new image as a statesman, and Brown, who may have assembled the best talent in the country.
Indiana has won its three games in the tournament by an average of 27 points, LSU its three games by an average of l6.
The teams that survive Saturday are expected to provide an outstanding final Monday. Thomas may have said it best when asked how he felt about going to Philadelphia.
"We're going because we won," he said."The best team usually wins. And that means that four teams that won must be the best."