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NCAA First Errr …Second Round Observations – Waking Up Late, Then Making Up For Lost Time

March 17, 2012

After Friday Morning’s (West Coast Time) first group of games, this year’s edition was shaping up to be one of the worst opening Thursday-Friday set of games in NCAA Tournament history … and then Norfolk State gave Friday’s proceedings the shot in the arm it needed after Thursday’s borefest, ending strong with the Lehigh-Duke upset, a rousing finish to the Purdue-St. Mary’s game and a tight Xavier-Notre Dame contest … The only Thursday games that remotely approached “Madness” were Syracuse-UNC Ashville, Wichita St-VCU (technically by seed, an upset, but not really), and UNLV’s late but ultimately short comeback on Colorado … New Mexico-Long Beach State and Vandy-Hahvahd were somewhat entertaining, and Marquette and Gonzaga looked good in their blow-out wins, but most of the Thursday games were duds, and most of those that were supposed to be close, were not … Low scoring wasn’t helping the entertainment value either, too many teams looked plain nervous on Thursday and forgot all pretense of strategy, and I can’t remember seeing so many back-and-forth exchanges where teams go up & down the floor and NO ONE scores for long stretches … This was confirmed when Friday night on ESPN’s “College Gameday” wrap-up show, Rece Davis said only five (5) teams scored 80 or more points, which is the lowest amount of teams to do so in the Round of 64 since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but more on why that was below …

Syracuse isn’t long for this tournament, I see it ending for them Saturday morning to Kansas St, and if for some reason not then, the Vanderbilt-Wisconsin winner should paint the floor with them … Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Baylor now has the pole position to face Kentucky in the South Regional Elite Eight, and should that game occur, Baylor’s talent level alone gives them a puncher’s chance … I’m still kicking myself for picking Connecticut to beat Iowa State, I knew it was a bad match-up for UConn, I knew they had no one who could check Royce White for 94 feet, and I bought in to the mojo of the Defending Champion with NBA talent and a Hall-Of-Fame coach back on the sideline, coming off a solid performance in the (Too) Big East tourney, maybe even wanting a Kentucky-UConn game too much …

Florida State on Friday played for 30 minutes like Florida State of old (read: lackluster in big moments), and I could hear the critics of Leonard Hamilton cracking their knuckles in front of their keyboards and trying to determine which variant of the “See this is why no one thinks Hamilton is a good coach” refrain they were going to resuscitate, but then FSU stopped fooling around in the last 10 minutes and played defense like very few in this field can when it counted.  Credit to the Bonnies and to Andrew Nicholson for being the best player on the floor, they would beat a lot of teams in the field the way they played today, but FSU showed why I have them coming out of the East Regional …

Meanwhile, the Frank Haith critics have their moment in the sun, even though Missouri didn’t really play all that bad, and any remaining game will have to go far to challenge that one for Game of the Tournament …The fact that two of the five 80-point-plus scoring teams were in this game helps to  illustrate why scoring is down across the board … The way Mizzou lost is somewhat ironic, as I downgraded their overall potential for advancement (I thought they would only win this game) because I thought they would have trouble playing their preferred transition tempo as NCAA Tournament progressed, when games tend to slow to a grinding pace  … When in fact, they lost playing their preferred tempo to a Norfolk State team able to maximize their size advantage in the paint (with everybody’s favorite Irishman Kyle O’Quinn) and make defensive stops when it counted … All of which may reinforce the trending defensive approach at the highest levels of the college game, and why we saw so many games in the 50s and 60s instead of the 70s and 80s the last two days, as a faster, more offense-minded approach like Missouri’s (No. 6 in the NCAA in Scoring Offense at 80.3 ppg entering the Tournament) allows too many teams in the parity of today’s college game to stay within reach when the stakes are high, resulting in what we saw today with only the 5th & 6th No. 15 seeds in NCAA history winning their first games, and no “Blue Blood” or “Aspiring-to-be-a-Blue Blood” program wants to be on the losing end of that scenario … Speaking of “Blue Bloods”, what can one say about Duke … I could say a lot, but as a semi-neutral observer I will limit myself to the following observations … Ryan Kelly would have been useful today for the Blue Devils … All year I thought Duke depended too much on Austin Rivers to bail them out, and while it worked for them against North Carolina in their 85-84 comeback win in February, I thought it would come back to haunt them in March, just not this early in the NCAAs … but it did … Lehigh did not flinch, even as they missed FTs down the stretch and committed dumb fouls (some would them call “Duke-bail-out fouls”, but I digress), but they kept breaking Duke’s press and taking it to the rim when other teams would have backed out and run more clock, and to me that’s why they won by five instead of one or two, or possibly losing …

Just couldn’t pull the trigger on Ohio, wish I had, but I thought Michigan’s style on both ends of the floor would be tough for any team to handle.  As it turned out, it allowed any team that can solve their 1-3-1 zone – in this case, the Bobcats – to grab an early lead and stay ahead the entire game, while  Michigan’s 3-point offensive style made it exceedingly difficult for them to come back when they shot 7-23 beyond the stripe, missing their last five 3PT attempts and 8 of their last 10 … North Carolina is going to need John Henson sooner than later … When people said Michigan State’s Draymond Green had a triple-double Friday night, my first thought was that they were talking about his food order at In-N-Out Burger, not his performance vs. LIU-Brooklyn (24 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) …

People have been saying all year that the Pac-12, in polite talk, “sucks”, and while that has been generally true (I see you California), I would argue most of West Coast Basketball “sucked” this season. The Mountain West is 1-3 in the NCAAs and I believe has been overrated all year, with their only win New Mexico’s tightroper over a No.12 seed from the Big West, “The Beach”, who, like the WAC’s New Mexico State and the Big Sky’s Montana, failed to live up to “Upset Alert” billing … Gonzaga was one team that bucked this trend in blowing out West Virginia, who was Thursday’s winner of the “WHAT WAS THAT?!?” Award, while Team Australia a.k.a. St. Mary’s comeback was a.) left until too late in the game and b.) stopped it 40 seconds too short after getting a one-point lead, and Colorado advanced despite performing what has now become their patented 2nd-half “Buffalo Swoon” (complete with late Carlon Brown Tomahawk Dunk) to end the game – fortunately for their sake, UNLV looked the gift horse in the mouth like Arizona did in the Pac-12 Final when Colorado tried to hand the game to them – but I can’t see more than one team from the Pacific and Mountain time zones (4-9 overall so far in the NCAAs) playing next week, if any, which is a sad statement  … Meanwhile, “American Reunion” looks late-night-cable worthy … And you know you’ve seen the same ad too many times in too short a period when you want to scream “The HOPPPAAAAAHHHH!!!” at passers by … While I’m at it, I’d like to thank Temple and South Florida for setting the game of basketball back another 50 years, collectively Friday’s winner of the “WHAT WAS THAT?!?” Award …

As far as my bracket goes … I’m, I’m not good at this … My West Coast Bias blinded me again, with only 18/32 “Round of 64” picks right and 9/16 of my Sweet 16 picks still dancing … In particular, the South and Midwest regionals are in shambles, with only my respective Final Four picks Kentucky and North Carolina alive … in prepping my bracket, I did a version that I dubbed the “Conservalternative”, picking many more favorites  and “safer” bets, and even that one only went 21/32 … As it turned out there were 10 seeded upsets in the Round of 64 (games where lower seeds beat higher seeds, from No. 9 over No. 8 to No. 15 over No. 2), and I only picked one of them correctly, while picking five others that did not pan out, so looking back I had blind spots for teams I actually liked to watch and wanted to win … but enough bracket bitching, I’m certain others feel the same pain … at least all six of my “National Champion Contenders” are still in play, as well as six of my seven “Darkhorses” from my “Ripe Preview”, so I have that going for me … which is nice …

As boring as the Thursday games were collectively, most of the games they produced for Saturday sparkle with the promise of legendary March Madness games of yore … I‘ll be especially curious to see a.) how ugly Kansas State makes their game against the ‘Cuse, b.) whether Gonzaga catches Ohio State by surprise despite all who have fallen before the “Zags” since 1999 c.) how Murray State handles a tougher, more talented version of themselves in Marquette, d.) if Wisconsin is able to dictate the pace against Vandy, e.) if VCU Version 2.0 looks just as dangerous against another top team in Indiana like V1.0 did for every game until the Final Four, f.) how Kentucky handles Iowa State’s White,  g.) if Colorado tries another “Buffalo Swoon” against former Big 12 foe Baylor (who I think won’t be so kind in return) , and h.) if I can fight off a Corned Beef-and-Cabbage-fueled coma to see New Mexico try for their first Sweet 16 appearance in program history against a surging Louisville Saturday night … Sunday’s slate appears less exciting, although North Carolina-Creighton (if only to watch former Ames (IA) Senior HS teammates Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott face off), Georgetown-North Carolina State (if only to watch two teams I had long gone play each other), Florida-Norfolk State (a game I think will be almost as close as Norfolk State’s win over Missouri was) and Florida State-Cincinnati (to see if either team breaks 50) will command my interest … and on that note, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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From → Basketball, Sports

One Comment
  1. So to answer the questions in the last paragraph:

    a.) Kansas St didn’t make their game nearly ugly enough, and it didn’t help not to have Jamar Samuels. Syracuse is looking better than I thought they would without Melo.
    b.) Ohio State wasn’t surprised by Gonzaga, although they were challenged for 36 minutes until taking control at the end.
    c.) About how I expected, Murray State stayed with Marquette for 32 minutes, then the talent took over and Marquette closed the game out on a 21-7 run.
    d.) Wisconsin was able to dictate tempo, was the smarter team, and won as a result. Vandy chokes again, and it may be a while before Coach Kevin Stallings has another chance like this again.
    e.) VCU V2.0 did look just as dangerous, at least until the last 12 minutes when Indiana brought their own “havoc” and stole the win, holding VCU to 4 points over that final stretch, including 0-8 from three.
    f.) Kentucky did about as expected against White, rotating Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis to mixed results, and at times he was the best player on the floor, but White’s team went away from him after tying the game at 42, and that’s when Kentucky decided the contest with a 20-2 run.
    g.) Colorado did pull their second-half “Buffalo Swoon” again, except 1.) they were only up 3 when they started it with 10:35 left in the game, 2.) Carlon Brown’s Tomahawk Dunk in the 2nd half was 18 minutes too early, and 3.) Baylor didn’t play along, outscoring them 26-6 to end the game. I think Grant Heslip just hit another three.
    h.) New Mexico still searching for their first ever Sweet 16 … no food coma for me though!

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