Sunday March 30th, 2008

Five things we learned while wondering if David Padgett would ever start challenging Tyler Hansbrough on a jump shot ....

Hansbrough has some serious cojones. Louisville dared SI's national Player of the Year to shoot open 18-foot jumpers and Hansbrough nailed them like a cold-blooded assassin -- not once, not twice, but four times. And the last one -- a fadeaway 19-footer to seal North Carolina's victory -- was guarded heavily by the Cardinals, one of the nation's best halfcourt defenses. All year long we've heard that Psycho T is a remarkable "effort player" but that always obscured this truth: Hansbrough has a ton of talent, too, and his face-up shooting has been his biggest area of improvement this season. "When I first got to college and didn't have that much skill, it was that hard-working mentality that got me through," Hansbrough says. "But now I'm starting to develop a lot of things." Hansbrough still has some more work left in San Antonio to enter the all-time Carolina pantheon, but now he's a big step closer.

NBA scouts have no business being down on Kevin Love. I'm the first person to admit that I have a terrible track record when it comes to predicting the success of college players in the NBA, but I just don't see how it's possible that Love has been projected all season as a middle- to low-first-round NBA draft pick. The simple fact is this: Love has such a rare skill set that I can't imagine it not translating to the pros. There's the ridiculous outlet passing, of course, but Love has proved that he can shoot the three-pointer, block shots, pick-and-pop and score on both blocks, and he has a sixth-sense for rebounding at both ends of the court. Love may just be 6-foot-9 but you'd have to be an uncommonly stupid NBA exec not to take this guy if you have one of the top 10 picks.

The drumbeat is already starting for Roy Williams to face Kansas. Davidson may yet keep it from happening but a Final Four showdown between North Carolina and Kansas would be an emotional powder keg for Williams. During one of our walks on the UNC campus in 2003, I asked Williams if he would ever think about scheduling a game against the Jayhawks, the team he led to four Final Fours before his famously angst-ridden departure in '03. He looked at me as if I had suggested he become a Buddhist monk. "Nope," Williams said. "And if we do make the tournament and someone were to schedule us in a first-round game -- just one of those "miracles" that happen in the tournament -- then I'd strangle everybody on the committee." Win or lose in San Antonio, if it involves Carolina-vs.-Kansas you can expect some tears from Ol' Roy before it's all over.

Ben Howland just keeps getting it done. That makes three Final Fours in three years for Howland, who's been so successful that it's high time he finally earned a suitable nickname. (Even Jim Harrick got one as the Lizard of Westwood.) How does Howland do it? With good recruiting and a commitment to defense, obviously, but his most impressive achievement has been to create a culture in which role players develop into stars when needed. All you need to do is look at the rises of Darren Collison (last season after Jordan Farmar's departure) and Russell Westbrook (this season after Arron Afflalo's departure). Does this mean James Keefe is going to turn into a world-beater next season? At this point nothing would surprise us.

Three random things: We're halfway to having all four No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four for the first time, so all the weenies who picked strict chalk for San Antonio may end up being right after all. Don't get me wrong, though: four No. 1's at the Final Four would make for an awfully fun week ... Louisville's Earl Clark has an NBA body and is going to be a heck of a player, but he could use another season in the college game before he turns pro. Clark's three traveling violations in the second half slowed Louisville's momentum and revealed a player who could use some more seasoning in pressure moments ... We've been asked to discuss the NCAA tournament on Lou Dobbs' national radio show on Monday. Part of me wants to see how Lou responds when I tell him about the impressive play of Brook and Robin Lopez, Lorenzo Mata-Real, Edgar Sosa, Juan Palacios and Orlando Mendez-Valdez. Then I think I'll invite him to join me at a U.S.-Mexico soccer match.

Enjoy the Sunday games!

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