We may not have a Cinderella at the grand ball this year but we also don't have any of the traditional college basketball blue bloods. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas are widely considered the top four basketball programs in my lifetime (36 years) but none of them made the final four in 2019.
In recent years, the need to be top dog year in and year out has led all four of these schools to turn to the one and done NBA prospects. The problem with this strategy is the team never develops any true leaders or close bonds. Zion Williamson may say all the right things with a microphone in front of him but, the fact remains he's an 18-year-old kid. People in today's society have a false thought that the person with the most talent in a group must be the leader. Young athletes often believe in this fallacy. Because of this belief, teams usually follow their stud who is often not ready to lead. The truth is, the best leaders don't always have the most athletic ability. The best leaders are usually individuals who have experience and have struggled to get where they are. This year's class of final four teams Michigan State, Virginia, Texas Tech, and Auburn may not have the one and done guys that got all the hype throughout the season, but they do have leadership.
Michigan State (MSU) has the one long storied top level college coach who hasn't turned to the one and done system. In spite of this people went crazy when they saw Coach Tom Izzo of the Spartans verbally berate Aaron Henry on national television. MSU made it to this point behind the veteran leadership of seniors Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, and junior Cassius Winston. Did any of those "by the book" life experts ever think these three are the leaders they are today because of that tough love leadership style coach Izzo brings to the table? They certainly don't have the most NBA lottery picks in the draft this year. Could it be that this type of hard knocks education still works best to help some people reach their true potential? There surely is some reason the most talented three players on the floor for Sundays elite eight game took their Duke jerseys off for the last time in the 2019 season after the game. It's obvious the leadership developed by MSU's coach plays a large role in their continued success.
Virginia, under Coach Tony Bennett also has a solid core of leaders in senior Jack Salt and Juniors Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy who are helping their intense head coach develop two underclassmen into the next leaders of the team. Bennett has built the Cavaliers into the primer defensive program in the nation, a feat that is not easy in today's high flying offense first sports world. No one all season long tried to convince us they were the most offensively talented. Yet, through hard work and following their true leaders, who have suffered through the most embarrassing loss in tournament history, and learned from it, here they are still competing for a chance at the title.
Texas Tech is clearly a team in the same mold as Virginia. Like Virginia, the Red Raiders are a top defensive team in the nation led by their hard-working seniors Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, and Norense Odiase. Jarrett Culver May get the national recognition as a freshman but, it is clear the team would not have achieved this level of success without getting him to buy into the team game they play.
Auburn is the closest thing we have to a Cinderella story in this year's final four and they ended the regular season ranked number 14 in the nation. Senior Bryce Brown and junior Jared Harper led the talented sophomore Chuma Okeke to the elite eight where his ACL gave out. In his absence, two juniors Samir Doughty and Anfernee McLemore picked up big minutes and helped take down their third of the four blue bloods. Auburn has slain Goliath three times already in the tournament defeating Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Unfortunately for us, they won't get a chance at the fourth because Michigan State already got that pleasure.
Because of these teams' leadership, the best four conferences in the 2019 season will each be represented in Minneapolis to crown a true champion. Meanwhile the powerhouse, one and done, instant gratification seeking, clubs with their uber-talented recruits won't be there. Maybe Freshman Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Coby White, Nassir Little, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson will view these bonded teams with elder leaders and learn how to be those type of captains for their future NBA teams. After all, these seven will most likely be top 20 picks in the upcoming draft going to current bottom feeders in the league. They will need to learn quickly how to be team captains but, not before watching a team with less talent cut down the nets while the confetti falls in U.S. bank stadium on Monday, April 8yh, 2019.
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