The plagues. Parting of the red sea. Forty years in the desert. Unleavened bread — matzoh — because they were in such a hurry to leave, there was no time for the bread to rise. That stuff.
The first two nights of Passover are set aside for sacred dinners, known as Sedars, where the story is repeated so as not to be forgotten. Part of the liturgy that precedes the meal are Four Questions, asked of the elders, the answers to which explain the importance of this remembrance.
Since basketball is religion in these parts. And the Final Four the holiest of holy destinations, I thought I’d present the Four Questions, which must be answered if the Louisville Cardinals are to succeed.
(Which is not to mention, I needed a hook to reel you in, given how much you’ve already read and reread about the upcoming weekend in Atlanta.)
1. Will U of L misunderestimate Wichita State?
Admit it, until last weekend, when Wichita State upset Ohio State — I have purposely avoided use of the word “shocked,” since it is now cliche — you really hadn’t considered the MoValley school much. Maybe you saw them go down to Creighton during Arch Madness. Maybe you discovered Cleanthony Early, when fashioning an All-Name team. But other that that, the team hardly registered on the radar, right?
The numbers prove my point. Less than 1/4 of 1% in the ESPN Bracket Pool have the Shockers in the Final Four. Only 3.3% had them penciled into the Round of 16.
But LaSalle, Pitt, Gonzaga and Ohio State know. They’re sitting at home watching their conqueror compete in the Big Room during the sport’s final weekend.
A worry I’ve heard far too often this week from Cardinal fans: “I sure don’t want to face Syracuse again.”
To which I respond — all together now — You only play who(m) you play. More specifically, “The Cards don’t play Syracuse — or Michigan — they play Wichita State.”
A 10 1/2 point favorite the Cardinals might be, they’d best not look past Saturday night’s foe.
Just as the Cardinals have some great back stories, experiences that have forged the team into a legit title contender, so too does Wichita State.
Oregon transfer PG Malcolm Armstead had to pay his own way for his sit out season in Wichita. He worked for a car dealership to make ends meet.
Carl Hall has a heart condition, which was/remains life threatening.
Besides the coolest name still playing, Cleanthony Early rebounds like he wants to be Kim Jong-un’s best pal, Dennis Rodman. That Tekele “100%” Cotton kid, who plays the #2 guard, also hits the boards like he’s watched a lot of Kenneth Fareid videos.
Gregg Marshall is generally recognized by every scribe who has dealt with him as being a one of the real putzes in the business. He’s also recognized as being one of the best young coaches around.
Plus that Tim Tebow guy gave them a pep talk on the team bus. So they’ve got that going for them.
Saturday night is far from a lock for U of L. Of course, on paper, it looks like an easier road to Monday night than the Orange and Wolverines face. It’s reminiscent of the ’86 Final Four, when the Cards drew LSU on the semi undercard, while Duke and Kansas battled in the heavyweight nightcap.
You still gotta score more points Saturday to survive and advance to Monday.
One can only hope, like Oregon did in Indy, getting off to a woeful start, that Wichita State looks around the Georgia Dome Saturday night, and says to itself, “Oh my, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
2. How big is the loss of Kevin Ware?
First off, let me say that I remain way stunned at how Ware’s injury, horrific as it was, and his courageous reaction to this teammates in the aftermath, have become such a national, well, “thing.”
The First Lady. Oprah. Discussion on NPR’s “State of the Nation.” Letterman’s Top Ten.
Wasn’t it just a month ago that Cardinal fans hoped the still underachieving third guard could come in the game to relieve Siva or Smith and not hurt the cause too much? Yes, it was.
Ware’s blossoming — along with that of Silent L — are two of the reasons Louisville has been so formidable as of late. I watched the tape of the Oregon game last night. Without Ware, the Cardinals might not be in Atlanta today. Peyton Siva did one of his stupid foul things, and had to sit for 15:33 of the first half. Ware came in and was the deal.
He made several baskets which sucked the heart out of mini Duck runs. He stole the energy of possible Quack comebacks.
So, the query is: Will the Win-It-For-#5 energy be enough to overcome the loss of his presence on the hardwood?
Hopefully, the men will take a cue from Jeff Walz’s seriously feisty women’s team, which is similarly perched in the Final Four. The distaff Cards have overcome the loss of Shawnta’ Dyer (MCL and ACL tears), Tia Gibbs (hip) and Asia Taylor (hip). Plus Monique Reid is playing on one wheel. Which injury did not prevent her from going end to end and making the winning play against Britney Griner, the best baller in the women’s game.
Can the men get enough from Tim Henderson to at least partially fill the big hole in the Cardinal game plan? Can they otherwise fill the hole present due to Ware’s absence?
3. Besides Louisville’s Big Three, which of The Others is going to come up big?
Wichita State is known for hitting the boards.
Will Silent L come up with an effort like his second half against Syracuse in the Big East final? It would be a good thing.
Will it be Chane Behanan, who has somewhat underachieved this post season, compared with his performances during last year’s run. He has played with passion and intensity the last couple of games. Will it result in an even larger presence Saturday night?
Will his Dunk of the Year Award spur him on? Will he give a Golden Arches All-American performance?
Or will the Cards get that from Wayne Blackshear, who has been stalwart on D, but mysteriously ineffective on offense? We know he’s got the best grades of any competitor in the Final Four. Yesterday he was honored with the Elite 89 Award, which goes to the student-athlete in the Final Four with the highest grade point average..
He’s due a breakout performance. Saturday night would be a great time for it.
How about Luke Hancock?
His old mentor at George Mason, national Coach of the Year Jim Larranaga — the anti-Gregg Marshall, a guy generally recognized as one of the truly great fellows in the biz — says of the transfer: “Players like Luke are more valuable than they get credit for. They’re not your leading scorer, not your leading rebounder and they don’t get national attention, but you can’t win without them.”
Perhaps SVT? It could be the moment when steady and stalwart as he goes Van Treese shows the Shockers how Hoosiers learned to play ball from an early age. Fundamentally sound. With passion.
4. Will Richard Pitino again be a factor?
I’ve been worried all season that Rick Pitino didn’t have an assistant with the acumen to observe a necessary change in the Cardinal way of handling things, and the gumption to present it to The Rick.
Then, during the regional, we learned that Richard Pitino, suggested the ball screen, pick & roll tweak that vanquished the Dukies.
I love the story, just as I hated when we learned in ’09 that former Tom Izzo assistant Tom Crean made suggestions that aided Sparty’s upset of the Cards.
I was hoping that Pitino the Younger would be around all week, We know he has his dad’s ear. And we now recognize his coaching talent. Instead he’s up in Minneapolis, being introduced as the new guy in charge of the Golden Gophers.
After all the years, I’ve given him shit, referred to him as Little Ricky, I now really hope he makes it back to Atlanta, just to be there as whisper counsel to his father.
Bonus: Will the Cardinals be Hot in ‘Lanta?
– Seedy K