Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket XVI — Final Four thoughts, plus an exit for the Maryland Women

Two weeks ago many were saying that this might wind up becoming one of the most wide-open NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments of recent memory. Instead, the schools that are Final Four-bound include three bluebloods plus a school that has won two titles in the last six years, along with the all-time winningest coach. Different world, indeed.

Final Four Thoughts:

1 — Round up the usual suspects. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Villanova have won a combined 17 National Championships. Top seed and defending champ Baylor (just one title) was shown the door last week, and “new money” No. 1’s Arizona (one championship) and Gonzaga (still waiting for their first) made their exits in the Regional Semifinals.

The Bulldogs’ loss is extremely painful for the program that has been excellent during the regular season and in the West Coast Conference but comes up short for the second straight year despite being the overall No. 1 seed. They’ll regroup after losing All-Americans Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren to the NBA, but another great opportunity comes up empty.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is back for his record-setting 13th Final Four in his final days on the job

2 — Coach K gets one more week of work. Duke finished off Texas Tech with a 12-5 run in the Regional Semifinals and led for the final 32:12 of their Regional Finals win over Arkansas to give Coach Mike Krzyzewski a record-setting 13th Final Four. And to do so in five different decades in a game where coaches burn out or see the sport pass them by is incredible.

But wait, the script gets even better: they’ll face longtime rival North Carolina Saturday night for the first time ever in the NCAA Tournament (TBS execs giving themselves high-fives over the anticipated ratings bonanza) and he potentially gets a chance to finish his career by shooting for a sixth championship against the team that he won his first title against in Kansas (Villanova’s Justin Moore done for the year with a torn Achilles). Jim Nantz is already putting some winning calls down on paper.

3 — Saint Peter’s Principle. All good things must come to an end and for three weeks the small school (3,009 students during the fall 2021 semester) stunned foe after foe, and Friday night’s takedown was a triumph for one-bid league believers (what I love about the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is getting to say “MAAC” by hitting both A’s) as well as Big Ten-naysayers (no titles since 200) and Purdue pooh-poohers (no Final Fours for the Boilermakers since 1980). Even though the dream faded away with a 69-49 loss to North Carolina, the Peacocks made March 2022 their own for all time. And fourth-year Head Coach Shaheen Hollaway may be taking his magic and mojo to a different school in New Jersey as there’s a vacancy at his alma mater Seton Hall.

4 — Maryland’s road ends in Spokane. The Terrapin women (23-9) fell behind early against No. 1 seed Stanford (32-3 and on their way to another Final Four) and trailed by 12 after one quarter, by 16 at the half, and by as many as 26 after intermission before making the final score a respectable 72-66. The Terps shot 34% and 3-19 from three-point range while getting outrebounded by 18. The careers of graduate students Chloe Bibby and Katie Benzan wrap up out west instead of in Minneapolis.

Next up for the Terps? Reloading for the 2022-23 season. The pieces are in place with Third Team All-American forward Angel Reese coming back for her junior season and guards Ashley Owusu & Diamond Miller returning for their final go-around. Shyanne Sellers played starter minutes (26.5 per game), while incoming recruit Mila Reynolds and Florida transfer Lavender Briggs (17 points with 6 rebounds over 47 games with the Gators) will provide backcourt depth. Will the transfer portal bring any players in this offseason like it did in 2020 with Bibby & Benzan?

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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