An Unusual Final Four Stands Before Us


What an unusual Final Four stands before us as we get set for this weekend’s fun in Glendale, Arizona.

There’s nothing strange about having two number one seeds among the semi-finalists. And there’s nothing too much out of the ordinary in having a 3rd seed and even a 7th rounding out the quartet of schools who will battle for the National Championship. But the identity of the four still standing is not what anyone expected or what we’ve witnessed in past years.

Okay, North Carolina was widely anticipated to reach the desert for an attempt at another title.
Gonzaga was a #1 many observers thought might slip because they’ve failed to get this far with solid and worthy teams in the past. I really felt Kansas was the team that would win it all and certainly get to the Final Four. Villanova, the defending champion was also a top-seed who wouldn’t have shocked anyone had they made it.  But the Jayhawks and Wildcats fell short.

So, to make a long story short, joining the Tar Heels with a chance to capture the championship which eluded them in the final last season, is Oregon, the winner of the very first NCAA title in 1939, and Oregon and South Carolina who never gone this far.

Gonzaga is the real deal. They have size, smarts and shooting. Oregon, despite losing perhaps its second-leading rebounder, third-leading scorer and top defender in Chris Boucher, actually were ranked in the top five in pre-season polls. They got off to a rocky start, then at one point went on to win 17 straight games. All but one of their wins, UCLA, were against non top-tier teams. Still, they won and now they look like they were supposed to look.

But the real surprise is South Carolina. The Gamecocks lost five of their last seven games, and if Wichita State was considered too high a seed going into the tournament, South Carolina at No.7 was thought to be too low. After their stunning upset of Duke, Frank Martin’s crew was still given little respect. Maybe their defense was strong, but they could never score enough points to survive another battle.
But then, there are those players who rise to the occasion and pull their teams up. All the way up. In the case of the Gamecocks it’s been Sindarius Thornwell. Everyone who follows March Madness now know who he is.

So there you have it … Gonzaga versus South Carolina, Oregon against North Carolina. The Pacific Northwest taking on the Carolinas. It’s easy to pick the two number ones: Gonzaga and North Carolina. In fact, it’s hard to go against the two favorites.

But if you’re asking me, which of the others has a real chance to spoil the apple cart, it’s Oregon.
Dare I choose two teams from the states of Oregon and Washington to play for the National Championship?

I think I’ll go out on a Pacific limb and do just that!
Gonzaga vs. Oregon in the championship game.
Lose my number if I’m wrong.

My podcast (Stockton! on I-tunes app) is my conversation with my colleague at Fox, Joe Buck.
Joe is the lead play-by-play broadcaster at Fox Sports handling the top NFL game each week including most of the playoffs and the Super Bowl when it is Fox’s turn as it was this past February when the Patriots beat the Falcons in that overtime thriller. He also broadcasts the World Series and the US Open Golf Championship. Buck has had an illustrious career and has earned everything he’s achieved and the positions he holds. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the son of one of the truly greats in our business, Jack Buck, who many might remember as one of the classic icons as a network football commentator and in St.Louis, the long-time legendary voice of the Cardinals. Jack was an easy-going, devil-at-care man who had an enormous sense of humor.  His son happens to be broadcasting during the current time of criticism from every corner, social media and a negative atmosphere of almost everything. Joe Buck has felt the barbs of those who believe he roots for one team or another on his broadcasts.  This is something I have experienced in particular one time when viewers in L.A. were of the opinion I was rooting for the Celtics against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

This happened every year of the four Finals I broadcast between those teams. Funny, at the same time Boston fans thought I wanted the Lakers to win. I know how ridiculous this is since those in the booth are so deep in concentration to call and assess the game the best they can, the last thing they are doing is watching the contest as a fan and taking sides.  Joe has had other issues, including voice problems which threatened his career.  He deals with all of these in his book, “Lucky Bastard” which delves into his still-young life and career.

As one who has studied the world of the play-by-play broadcaster, I can only say that when he broke in with the NFL on Fox when I did in 1994, I felt Joe Buck was the best young announcer I had ever heard.  I even thought doing games was too easy for him. It certainly hasn’t been for yours truly. But my conversation with Buck was a revelation in many respects, and when it is all said and done, he remains worthy of his station as one of the best in the business.


Keep an eye out for Dick’s podcasts, “Stockton!” He’ll take a different perspective on the world of sports and share stories that he has collected from his unique front-row seat.

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