For the last month, the fine folks at ADimeBack.com, have been putting on a massive undertaking: a bracket of the Top 64 UConn players of all time. The finale, which is tonight, pits one seeds Kemba Walker and Ray Allen against each other, and you should take the time to go and get a vote in before the champ is announced tomorrow.
I have been meaning to write about this since its start, but unfortunately life has repeatedly gotten in the way. I want to fix that now though with a personal bracket breakdown. Here's how the voting has gone so far, for your reference.
XL Center Region
For me personally this is the toughest region. Ray Allen was my favorite UConn player growing up, so I'm happy to see him with the top seed, but he has since been supplanted in my heart by Shabazz Napier. Ray wound up knocking Napier out in the Sweet 16, which I can understand since Napier's UConn story (hopefully) isn't done yet. Still, Shabazz's love for the program and amazing no-no-no-YES style of play make me think that if they held this tournament five or ten years from now, he might wind up as a 1 seed.
A few other observations: Rudy Gay lost to Jake Voskuhl in the first round, which is unsurprising to me, but still dissapointing as I'm a happy soldier in the very small "Rudy Gay is criminally underrated by UConn fans" army. I'd still have Napier beating Gay in the second round, but c'mon guys, he was an All-American.
Ricky Moore was criminally underseeded as an 11, so I'm happy to see that he made a run to the Sweet 16. I probably would have slid him bast Caron Butler as well. After all, he was the one who made Trajan Langdon trip. My only regret here is that Moore wound up against Wes Bialosuknia in the second round. I never saw Wes play, but I've heard enough stories to know he was quite possibly the best shooter in UConn history.
Civic Center Region
If the last region was the hardest, this is the easiest for me. The pairing of Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor was a good one as the top two seeds, and the fact that both made the Elite 8 is ideal. Stanley Robinson's time at UConn matched up with most of mine, and I have a lot of personal affection for his game, so I might have had him advancing a bit further, but in the end this worked out the way it should have, with Okafor winning. Ben Gordon's great, but c'mon, he's not stopping Okafor, whose path to the Final Four was somehow easier than his actual path to the Final Four in 2004.
What? You want another quibble. I would have taken Walt Dropo over Billy Corley. That's it.
Again, I like seeing the chalk advance here, Donyell and Rip deserved to face off in the Elite 8. In fact, I agree with every pick in the actual bracket right up until the Elite 8. I love Donyell, and he's easily the best UConn player to follow on twitter (current or former -- Hasheem is second if you were wondering), but Rip won us a National Title in 1999. And it can be a little easy to forget about now that we've got three of the things in the last decade and a half, but for a long time it seemed like UConn was never, ever, ever going to even make the Final Four, let alone win the damn thing. That ring is huge, and it gives Rip the bump.
Gampel Pavilion Region
Kemba Walker vs. Khalid El-Amin. I'm not sure that I even have to talk about anyone else here. Okay, fine, I will briefly: I'm really happy to see Hasheem make the Sweet 16. I fear his lackluster pro career will wind up overshadowing just how dominant a college player he was, and make no mistake, he was dominant. I'm a subscriber to the not unpopular theory that the 2010 team underperformed so much because playing with Hasheem rendered everyone around him unable to actually play defense. Take him out and everything collapsed.
I'm also happy to see that Taliek won, since he is Rudy Gay-level underappreciated.
But really, this is about Kemba vs. Khalid, and I have a very hard time choosing. Kemba's 2011 was incredible, and that March will never be topped, but like with Rip, I'm drawn back to just how amazing 1999 felt. I also can't stop thinking of Khalid on the media table taunting Pitt fans. It's like choosing between two children, and I don't want to do it.
So who's my Final Four? Well, Emeka and Rip obviously, but you'll notice I hedged a bit in the other two regions, since I could never quite choose between Allen and Napier, or Kemba and Khalid. I suppose it comes down to a head or heart bracket. In my head, I'm advancing Allen and Kemba, and probably voting for Kemba over Allen in the final. In my heart? Well I have a real weakness for the cocky, slightly-crazy players that make college basketball so fun. So I'm making my dream final of Shabazz Napier and Khalid El-Amin, where the two face off in a game that's tied entering it's final seconds. The inter-dimensional nature of this contest means that both somehow have the ball as the clock clicks down, and both take wildly off-balance but implausibly good-looking shots at the buzzer. Then the world implodes on itself because everything is just too good. Everyone wins.
Anyway, please do go and vote in A Dime Back's final. The bracket is a monumental achievement, and it's been a super-cool way to spend the last month. Great job by them.