The opening flood of nonstop basketball is over. Brackets have been busted, top seeds have fallen, and seniors have laced it up for the last time. Here are the major takeaways from the opening weekend of March Madness:
A lack of Madness… and then an Onslaught
There were only 6 upsets in the first 32 games of the opening round of March Madness. We all want to see the next Davidson or VCU like-run where the Mid Major school takes down Goliath. Unfortunately, for the casual fan, the upsets were few and far between in the opening round; hats off to the 11 seeds though. Three of the four 11 seeds knocked off their 6 seed opponents. Former Dunk City coach, Andy Enfield, took down a 30-win SMU team. Rhode Island also continued their hot ride after winning the A-10 tournament and took down the first Creighton team to make the tournament since Dougie McBuckets was stroking threes for the Blue Jays. Unfortunately for Creighton only the elder McDermott remains and his coaching was not enough. Finally, Xavier was led by Trevon Blueitt who certainly didn’t blow it as he went 5-10 from behind the arc and knocked off Maryland whose star point guard Melo Trimble didn’t quite show up as he went 1-9 from three point land. Xavier also ended up being the only one of the 11 seeds to keep the mojo going and advance to the Sweet 16. They took down some Goliath-like opponents in FSU, who has two 7 footers and 6’10” lottery pick Jonathan Isaac, by frustrating them with a 2 – 3 zone that helped neutralize their size inside. Well that and the fact that Leonard Hamilton was content letting FSU go 4 of 21 from behind the arc.
To those of you who were praying to the gods of March Madness to liven up this party, I think its safe to say those prayers were answered. The second round of March Madness saw Michigan continuing its impressive offensive hot streak and take down the 2 seeded Louisville Cardinals. And side note, Bill Raferty is going to be so sad when Michigan loses and he can no longer make Wagner (pronounced Vagner) orchestrator puns. Purdue and UNC both were regular season champions for their conference and both had their games come down to the wire to stave off early exits. And the Gonzaga vs Northwestern provided numerous internet gems for trolls everywhere. It started when Northwestern get robbed on an awful missed goaltending call near the end of the game. The referee’s mistake resulted in head coach Chris Collins getting a technical foul which crushed the momentum Northwestern had been building. And instead of piling onto that poor crying Northwestern kid at the end of the game I’ll just show you Coach Collins very mature post game reaction to hearing the NCAA admit the refs missed the goaltending call.
But the true madness came in the form of the USC Gamecocks and the Wisconsin Badgers as the both knocked off 1 seeds… oh wait. Nope sorry I forgot Duke was only a 2 seed they were just “robbed” of a 1 seed. Yes the media was so ready to look past the fact that Duke had no true answer at point guard for most of the year, only had one real post defender in Amile Jefferson, and had lost three of their last four to end the season before entering the ACC tournament. But that run through the ACC tournament (where they had to comeback in every game) had convinced everyone they were back to the preseason #1 that the bandwagon Duke fans always knew they were. Well 18 turnovers later, Luke Kennard choosing the worst night ever to go ice cold from the field (1-6), and a whole lot of Gamecock to the face and Duke is headed home early once again. And then there were those pesky Badgers…
No Repeat for the Wildcats
Villanova fans should be upset that their second round game was facing Wisconsin as an 8 seed. Wisconsin beat Minnesota twice and Maryland once in their lone Big Ten matchup against the Terps and finished second in the Big Ten… And somehow Maryland and Minnesota were seeded higher than them. It makes no sense. We can all (especially with hindsight) agree that seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koening, who will be heading to their 4th straight Sweet 16 in as many years, were much better than an 8 seed.
That being said Villanova was the number one overall seed. The best of the best, the crème de la crème. The expectation was for them to make it to the Final Four if not repeat as champions. In order to do that, they were going to have to beat good teams. Teams that are probably a lot better than Wisconsin. So whether or not Wisconsin should have been an 8 seed, Villanova should have risen to the level of competition. Instead during the final 5 minutes of the game Villanova managed just 5 points going 1-5 from the field and 0-2 from behind the arc. The Wildcats were taken down by a very good team but they still were beaten. And my bracket along with a large majority of college basketball fans was completely busted.
Tony Bennet’s Tournament Struggles continue
Let me preface this by saying I think Tony Bennet is a fantastic coach. Truly it is incredible what he has done at UVA. He has built a middling ACC program into a perennial contender in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball (despite the ACC’s horrendous showing in the tournament). During his tenure at UVA he has gone to the NCAA tournament 5 times. Twice as a 1 seed and once as a 2 seed and has only made it to one Sweet 16 twice and the Elite 8 once. Now this year’s UVA team was nowhere near the talent level as some of the previous teams.
But what happened between Florida and UVA was downright disrespectful. Florida took UVA out behind the proverbial tool shed and just beat the living daylights out of them. The Gators went on a 21-0 run and never looked back. Not even a slight glance over their shoulder to see if London Perrentes would wake up the anemic UVA offense and make it a game. Unfortunately for the Hoos no one on offense woke up. No UVA player scored in double digits and they had three key offensive players, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Devin Hall all put up an astounding 0 points combined.
I still believe in Tony Bennet and this was a down year from what Cavalier fans had become used to from their basketball team. But Tony really needs to make some noise in the post season before his name can be tossed around as one of the best coaches in college basketball.
Northwestern’s Historic “Run”
Unless you live under a rock and have avoided any and all sports media you know that Northwestern made the tournament for the first time in their program’s history. Northwestern also has one of the top journalism schools in country so naturally the Wildcats making the tournament has dominated headlines. Which I have no problem with, they were one of four programs that had been around since the NCAA Tournament’s inception in 1939 to not make the tournament until this year. What I have a problem with was what I saw as a headline on one of the major sports news outlets “Relive Northwestern’s Historic Run”. Winning one game against Vanderbilt’s 15 loss and 9th seeded team is not a run. Not only that, but Vanderbilt handed the game to the Wildcats at the end. With the game tied one of Vandy’s players started Shaqtin-a-Fool as he fouled a Northwestern player thinking his team was down with little time left. Instead he sent Northwestern to the line with seconds left on the clock to break the tie and ultimately win the game.
Turning around and losing the next round to Gonzaga (awful goal tending calls aside) does not make it a historic run. VCU making it from the first four to the Final Four was a historic run. The baby faced assassin, Steph Curry, stepping into the spotlight, putting Davidson on his back and carrying them to the Elite Eight was a historic run. And Kemba Walker’s UConn Huskies running the table from the Big East Tournament all the way to a NCAA Championship was a HISTORIC RUN. The difference is the fact that those teams RAN through the tournament. Sorry Northwestern, you had a great season comparable to your school’s history but getting bounced in the first weekend is a jaunt not a run. Enjoy the success and build on it for next year. Hopefully you do make it back to the tournament and have an early round match up against Xavier so it can be a battle between Julia Louis-Dreyfus (son is a walk on for NU) and Bill Murray (son is an assistant coach at Xavier)
Final Note – Will the real ACC please stand up?
The ACC had a conference best 9 teams make the tournament and saw only the Tar Heels barely, and I mean barely scrape by the Arkansas Razor backs to get into the Sweet 16. Its embarrassing. There’s no excuse for it other than admitting 8.5 other teams out played their ACC opponent. The .5 is for Arkansas because for a majority of the game they did out play UNC. However, I am not ready to concede that the ACC is over-hyped and shouldn’t be considered the best basketball conference in the NCAA. But that will have to wait until the next post.