Final Four: much blue blood, not much to like

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s set. We’re ready to go for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. Aren’t you excited?

On Saturday, it will be Villanova vs. Kansas and (you knew this was going to happen, particularly this year) North Carolina vs. Duke in the national semifinals.

Look, I’m a sucker for the underdog and the Cinderella story as much as anybody is, but it’s probably a good thing for college basketball as a whole, particularly at this point of our time, that it has an all-blue blood Final Four. That shouldn’t do anything but help the (ugh!) television ratings, and right now college basketball needs any boost it can get to regain some of the lost luster of the sport since the pandemic hit and with how on each passing day we discover more and more how truly sleazy the world of college athletics continues to be.

While all four teams still standing are blue bloods of college basketball, North Carolina is easily the lowest seeded team left, a No. 8, while Kansas is a No. 1 with Villanova and Duke both being No. 2s (Duke’s 2 having been rather generous — call it a parting gift).

That said, the hottest team in the tournament from the beginning has been North Carolina, with Duke being a close 1A, while Kansas and Villanova have played on as their same steady and superior selves.

This NCAA Tournament has played out on the court to be everything we wanted it to be and more and, as most of them usually do, has given us drama from the very beginning when No. 15 Saint Peter’s beat No. 2 Kentucky in the very first round.

It would have been great if Saint Peter’s had reached the Final Four, but it was pretty exciting to see them reach the Elite Eight – the same with No. 10 Miami. But as we clearly saw on Sunday, the pedigree and the depth of talent of North Carolina and Kansas were just too much to overcome for the feel-good runs made by Saint Peter’s and Miami, which should make for a more exciting Final Four.

As for Duke, no matter what, we all knew from the beginning that somehow, some way, the Blue Devils were going to reach the Final Four, this being Coach Kry’s final season (#NCAATournamentTheTVShow?). So am I going to be a sucker for this storybook finish to come to fruition? Hell, no. Never. Not on your life. But I do believe in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry. It is real, and it is, along with Yankees-Red Sox, one of the two best and natural rivalries in all of sports.

I try not to miss a game in either rivalry, and keep in mind, my least favorite baseball teams in the world are the Yankees and the Red Sox, and that I come from a family whose family crest reads, “We’ve hated Carolina longer, but we hate Duke more.”

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not here to extoll the virtues of any of the Final Four teams this year, particularly three of them:

Kansas head coach Bill Self is one of the great in-game coaches in college basketball, but he is the crooked man in the crooked house, and his history bears this out. North Carolina conducted fake classes (classes that did not require attendance because they did not exist) that benefitted hundreds of big-time athletes for over a period of 15 years.

Yet the NCAA has merely looked the other way in both cases, whereas if a program such as, say, West Virginia, Maryland, Pittsburgh, or 95 percent of the programs in the land, had been found of even a whiff of what has gone down in Lawrence and in Chapel Hill, we’d be talking death penalty. That’s just a fact.

And Coach K? Neither is the sainted Coach K without sin in this shady business. He’s pulled some dirty tricks in the ethics part of the business as well; you can bet your last nickel on that …

While I am always happy to see a Final Four of this pedigree, and while I am always happy to see a Carolina-Duke game with all the marbles on the line (even though I can’t stand either one of them), there is absolutely nothing wholesome and pure about this Final Four or the shady, dirty business of big-time college athletics and network television.

Just as I watch the other #TVShow, I’ll watch this one because these are the best college basketball teams standing.

And since I love the city of Philadelphia and admire Coach Jay Wright, I’ll root for Villanova.

Is there any way the other three can lose every game they play this weekend?

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT