The thing about high-risk/high-reward strategies, which as we've been telling you for two weeks are a key to Giant Killers success, is that when they fail, they sure can look ugly. And this past weekend, our two remaining Killers ran into teams that not only appeared physically superior but also effectively shut down their Giant Killing talents. On Thursday, Kentucky allowed Cornell to jump out to a 10-2 lead and make a second-half run, but overall, the Wildcats hamstrung the Big Red, constantly stealing the ball, grabbing rebounds on the offensive glass and, most importantly, limiting Cornell to just 5-of-21 shooting (23.8 percent) on 3-point attempts. The next night, after our complaints about Baylor's prior one-dimensional victories, the Bears destroyed Saint Mary's 72-49 in a game that wasn't even that close.
Kentucky and Baylor then went on to lose in the Elite Eight, but that's small consolation for us. All of our Killers are gone, and because we have already described where things stand with our model, really only two things are left for us to do.
First, we want to thank all of you for your interest and feedback. Your comments are fun and thoughtful and help us improve our calculations. We've really enjoyed the give-and-take in this fifth year of Giant Killers, and that interactive aspect is something we hope to build on going forward. Shameless plug: If you want to keep following statistical and analytical subjects similar to the kind we've discussed here, read Peter Keating's blog.
Second, after a year of bickering between our two authors (one of whom still wants to write about Ben Woodside's efforts in a losing cause against Kansas last season), it's finally time to name the first All-Giant Killers Team. The selections are purely subjective; our spreadsheets are closed. See you next year!
Forward: Ryan Wittman, Cornell: Wittman shot a staggering 68 percent in the first two rounds of the tournament, including 7-of-11 on 3-point attempts, and now the whole country knows why the ability to score in bunches is critical to GK success. Most lethally, his three straight bombs early in the second half against Temple squelched all hopes for an Owls comeback. He literally ran into a Wall against Kentucky but was so impressive overall that fans are now talking up his NBA potential. Oh, and he made our model look pretty darn good, considering where it had Cornell rated.
Forward: Frank Hassell, Old Dominion: We could have opted for twin towers and stuck Jeff Foote here, but we didn't want three Cornell players on the first team. Plus, Hassell deserves some love. Many Giant Killers are pesky, thieving, turnover-generating squads. But ODU rode to GK glory as an offensive-rebounding monster, and Hassell's inside presence kept the Monarchs in their first-round game against Notre Dame until they recovered their shooting and rebounding in the second half. With the Irish threatening to run away early, for example, Hassell had a rebound, putback and free throw followed by another offensive rebound and follow to keep Old Dominion within two points at 15-13. Ultimately, his 15 points and nine boards keyed a classic one-point upset.
Center: Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's: Sorry, Foote family, but this one was inevitable. Samhan's 61 points led the first two rounds of the tournament, and his 19 rebounds helped destroy Richmond, then Villanova. It took three big men (Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, Josh Lomers and Quincy Acy) to finally stop him, and he played hard to the end; with the Gaels down by 30, Samhan kept a possession alive by slapping the ball off Lomers' face -- that's the spunk we love in a Giant Killer. He also went above and beyond Giant Killerdom by seizing his moment in the sun, mugging for cameras, tweeting and announcing his love for Taylor Swift. We'll miss you, Mr. Samhan.
Guard: Louis Dale, Cornell: Dale, another Big Red senior, led Cornell with 21 points against Temple and then poured in a career-high 26 against Wisconsin. Everyone knows now that Dale sent video of himself to colleges after going largely ignored out of high school; few realize that Cornell recruited him as a student, and Dale sent one of those tapes to Steve Donahue's staff because his mom told him it was a good school. Of course, he still has to pass Cornell's swimming test to graduate, but his declaration after the Wisconsin game should become the official GK motto: "You can't sleep on us."
Guard Armon Bassett, Ohio: Teammate D.J. Cooper also would be a worthy pick, but Indiana and UAB refugee Bassett gets the nod for torching Georgetown for 32 points. Well, and for this Killer quote after the Bobcats destroyed the Hoyas: "We may not be a better team, just got to be a better team on a given night."
Honorable mentions: Foote; Cooper; Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary's; Danero Thomas, Murray State: McConnell's sweet shooting helped key the Gaels' upset of Villanova in the second round. Meanwhile, in the first round, Thomas' 15-foot jumper gave the Racers a thrilling one-point win over Vanderbilt at the buzzer and ignited all kinds of awkwardness in GK Central because the model had bet big on the Racers. In the second round, he had no points and no rebounds against Butler. Now, that's high-risk/high-reward.