Monday, March 19, 2012

A Look Back at the Best/Worst of the Opening Weekend of Madness

The ball is tipped, and there you're running for your life, you're a shooting star...

And so the worst Monday in sports is upon us . As I write this, the time is now 2:02pm, but it honestly feels like the day has lasted 40 hours. Four straight days of non-stop college hoops drama, and suddenly we’re left to wait another three days for the action to pick up again. Three maddeningly long days. It surely seems like an eternity. I mean, we don’t even have a fake “First Round” that everyone essentially acknowledges as a prelim but still stupidly calls the “First Round” to tide us over!

What we do have is a lot of stuff to digest from the opening weekend of the tournament. With all this time to spare, let’s look back at the last four days and see if we can figure out what went down:

Five Losers

1. Greg Anthony

“Is it March Monotony? NO! It’s March Madness!” (For effect, go ahead and replay that line exactly one million times in your head, then take a stroll into oncoming traffic.) The first time Casey heard this commercial on Thursday, he seriously thought Greg Anthony said, “Is it March Monogamy?” No joke. Then we imagined it as a BYU ad that concluded with “I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.” And if you’re offended by this, then I’d strongly suggest another website. Or a pair of testicles. Either is fine with me.

2. #2 Seeds

Prior to this year’s tournament, only four #15 seeds had EVER beaten a #2 seed, which makes it that much more amazing that not one, but TWO #15 seeds advanced to the second round (don’t you dare correct me) in one single day. Of course, that means two #2 seeds went home VERY early. Obviously, neither Duke nor Missouri was expected to lose their opening game, but the Missouri loss was easily the most shocking upset of the entire tourney. A large number of people were anointing Missouri as the most troublesome potential Final Four matchup for Kentucky, and an even larger number were borderline outraged that Mizzou wasn’t a #1 seed over Michigan State. To see them go down to Norfolk State, a team that would subsequently lose to Florida by 100 points – well, I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed a more unlikely tournament upset in my entire lifetime.

Let me also mention that I’ve never been happier than when Lehigh put the finishing touches on Duke. I’m not ashamed to admit that Laney and I embraced as the buzzer sounded, and we refused to go eat dinner until we had properly soaked in the disappointment on the faces of the Duke players and coaches. My only regret is that none of the Plumlii cried. I like to imagine them sobbing like little girls all the way back to their hotel, however.

3. Officiating

OK, I do realize that officiating has been bad for quite some time, but I feel compelled to do some more complaining. Seriously, are these refs even watching the same game as I am? What troubles me the most about the whole situation is that the officiating is having such a big impact on the game. Between players getting in foul trouble for no reason, and teams getting huge advantages at the free throw line from highly, HIGHLY questionable foul calls, it’s impossible not to assume the refs have altered the course of the tournament. Exhibit A is obviously the Syracuse-UNC Asheville game. Look, there’s just no way you can convince the refs didn’t LITERALLY hand the game to Syracuse! You just can’t! I mean, go watch a replay! They missed an obvious goaltend that took two points off the board, they gave the ball back to Syracuse after the ball very clearly went out off Triche’s hands (and no defender was within two feet of him), they gave Syracuse more points off the crappy lane violation was just unreal how one sided and bad the calls were.

Look, I understand that reffing a basketball game is not easy. I’m not expecting these guys to call a game with 100% accuracy. However, I am expecting them to do a good job. You know, since that’s their job and all. I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on why the officiating is so bad, from the tendency to “anticipate” fouls instead of seeing them, to the problems of having three man officiating crews. Whatever it is, the NCAA needs to fix it. Now.

4. Coaching

When I see so many teams do so many dumb things down the stretch of their respective game, I can only assume there is a serious lack of X’s and O’s coaching talent in the college ranks.

Last night, Purdue had Kansas by the throat in the closing minutes of the game. They had a decent lead, a dwindling clock, and the best player in the game. And yet, they lost thanks to a huge late turnover and a forced three pointer (down just one) with way too much time left on the clock. Purdue fans, put this one on Matt Painter. Instead of keeping their foot on the gas, Painter decided to run the old “dribble out 30 seconds of the clock and get a crappy shot” offense, all while a dominant Robbie Hummel ran aimlessly through various screens without hardly ever seeing the ball. Unfortunately, this late game tactic is becoming the norm, as coaches all across the country routinely abandon everything they know about basketball once the game winds down to its most important moments. Here are some suggestions for these coaches:

Run your offense:  Somebody needs to explain why it’s a good idea to abandon your designed way of getting good looks when it’s most vital to get good looks. Anybody? No? Didn’t think so. Standing around and playing one-on-five is the most idiotic way of playing basketball that exists, but it’s exactly what coaches tell their players to do at the end of games.

Come up with some decent out of bounds plays: Watching this past weekend, you’d think most of these teams didn’t even have out of bounds plays.

Two-for-one’s: Does anybody, ANYBODY, understand this concept anymore? It really isn’t that hard to get a decent look in 10-15 seconds, and it’s beyond me why coaches are incapable of doing some simple math to ensure they get the last shot of the game.

5. Anybody who wants to watch a game in less than two and a half hours

OK, NCAA, we all understand that you want to make some serious coin off this tournament, but the commercials are getting out of hand. Games are taking forever nowadays, and it actually is sapping some of the enjoyment out of it. I mean, I stopped watching baseball for a reason, ya’ know. Also, there HAS TO BE a rule change involving the end of game timeouts. We’ve already established that the coaches are too stupid to make the timeouts beneficial anyways, so why even have them? I personally think each team should only have one timeout with under 2 minutes to play. Let the players play the game.

One BIG Loser

1. Kendall Marshall’s right wrist

Marshall is the best pure PG in the country and this injury, even if he plays with it, is crippling to UNC’s title hopes. As a Kentucky fan, I’d hoped to avoid facing Marshall in the championship (if, of course, we make it that far), but I don’t want it to be because of this. Sad stuff.

Three Winners

1. Chalk

Everyone loves to talk about how insane the first weekend of the tournament was, but if we’re being really honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of upheaval beyond the two #15 seed upsets. Our Sweet Sixteen is comprised of four #1 seeds, two #2 seeds, two #3 seeds, and three #4 seeds. Even among the three double digit seeds remaining, one is Xavier and another is NC State. Not exactly true Cinderellas there, right?  No, unlike last year, it looks like we’ll actually see the cream of the crop rise in this tournament.

2. The State of Ohio

Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati, and Ohio University will all represent the state of Ohio in the Sweet Sixteen. That is a record high for one state! Wow! Of course, I give all the credit to myself…

3. The Big Ten

I’ll admit, I was highly skeptical of the Big Ten heading into the tournament. I felt like they were overrated and I thought they would have a poor showing. Well, I was wrong. Again.

With Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State; the Big Ten comprises a fourth of the Sweet Sixteen, and at least two of those teams should be favored to go even deeper into the tournament. That doesn’t even account for how impressive Purdue looked against both St. Mary’s and Kansas. No matter what happens the rest of the way, I think it’s safe to say the Big Ten was the strongest conference, top to bottom, in the country.

Ten Best Games

1. Lehigh over Duke

By the way, I forgot to mention how much enjoyment Laney and I got out of watching Krzzlzg;ddioppdgihgoski nearly break down after the game. At least, we like to imagine him on the cusp of breaking down. Makes the whole thing seem more fun.

2. Norfolk St. over Missouri

The game seemed so surreal as it was happening, and I was convinced we were going to come back from a commercial break with Missouri randomly up 15 points. Anymore, it’s hard to be shocked by an upset. Back in the day, watching Ohio take down Michigan would have been cause for pandemonium, but thanks to modern media, it seems we’re all too familiar with teams and players to truly have an “upset.” Make no mistake, Norfolk St. was an upset of the highest order. Great fun.

3. Creighton over Alabama

Wasn’t the best played game I’ve ever seen, but it was pretty darn entertaining. The Blue Jays struggled for most of the game, but really turned it on late, erasing an 11 point lead en route to a 1 point victory.

4. Florida State over St. Bonaventure

The game itself was really, really good, but Luke Loucks’ fiancĂ©e was even better. HOT! Honestly, the fact that Luke Loucks is with a girl that hot is easily the biggest upset of the tournament.

5. Ohio over Michigan

OK, so it wasn’t necessarily a shocker, but it was still cool to see little Ohio take down Michigan.

6. Wisconsin over Vanderbilt

Vandy always does this! Why won’t I learn? And how dare Wisconsin for denying me of my Fest(iv)us vs. Christmas battle in the Sweet Sixteen!

7. Indiana over VCU

Great battle throughout, very entertaining basketball all the way, and one of the more memorable finishes of this year’s tournament.

8. North Carolina St. over Georgetown

Pathetic late game execution by Georgetown was nearly undermined by an arrogant “early celebration” by Lorenzo Brown on his last free throw attempt (I correctly predicted “short” after he stupidly shook his head as if to say “no way I’m missing this”). Alas, Georgetown simply refuses any form of tournament success.

9. Kansas over Purdue

Very disappointing Purdue collapsed the way they did, but watching Robbie Hummel dominate the way he did was amazing. If only he had stayed healthy the last two years…

10. Cincinnati over Florida State

Strong defensive effort by both teams, some more looks at Loucks’ really hot girlfriend, and a monumental victory for a resurgent Cincinnati program. Big, big, big ones on Kilpatrick!

Five Guys Who Helped Their Draft Stock

1. Marquis Teague

His 24 point 7 assist outburst against Iowa State is impressive enough on the surface, but when you throw in the fact that he turned the ball over just twice and shot a stellar 10-14 – well, you can see why scouts would sit up and take notice. Teague has received far too little credit for Kentucky’s success this season, and performances like this will only push him higher and higher in the draft. Of course, Kendall Marshall’s injury doesn’t hurt either.

2. Royce White

White was a superstar long before his explosion against Kentucky, but very few people knew about him. His personal demons are always going to be a question mark, and they surely will depress his draft stock even after he tossed up 23 and 9 on the future #1 overall pick, but I doubt he’ll be settling in the second round anymore. What strikes me most about White’s game is how fluid his movements are, and how polished his game already is.

3. C.J. Leslie

Leslie didn’t put up a monster statline like Royce White, but he showed a lot against two good defensive teams in San Diego State and Georgetown. His length, athleticism, and versatility have always been problematic for opposing teams, but he’s added so much polish to his game since last year, and even has some pretty nifty post moves he can go to.

4. Jae Crowder

Crowder has been as impressive as anyone in this tournament, averaging 21 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3.5 steals, and 1 block per game. He’s always going to have questions about size and position, much like Draymond Green, but I think he’s a much better pro prospect than he’s given credit for. After his dominant stretch, I’m sure a lot of scouts agree right now.

5. Elijah Johnson

I don’t wanna go crazy with this one, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with how much better Johnson is now than he was at the beginning of the year. Against Purdue, Johnson just LOOKED like a pro. He was bigger, faster, and stronger than anyone else in the backcourt, and he finally displayed the type of confidence that a superior athlete should display. Again, there’s a lack of PG’s in this draft, and if Johnson can string together a few more games like the last one, he could sneak his way into the discussion.

Three Guys Who Hurt Their Draft Stock

1. Andre Drummond

The talent is undeniable, and because of that there is a better chance I get drafted in the lottery than there is of him falling out of it. But when you consider that he and Anthony Davis were viewed as neck-and-neck to begin the season – well, that’s barely even a memory now. Of course, if the big guy could have gotten his act together and dominated the tournament the way he’s surely capable of doing, then he could have sown up the #2 spot, no questions asked. In retrospect, that was obviously a bit much to expect, but 2 points, 3 rebounds, and a foul out in just 26 minutes? Pretty sure he could have done a bit more than that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This guy is Kwame Brown.

2. Perry Jones III

Such a massive disappointment, Jones is. It’s not that he’s lazy or unmotivated like Drummond, it’s that he seems to be a chess player stuck in a basketball players’ body. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure a chess player would have a more determined will than Jones III. Quite a shame, too. His game is smooth, his talents endless, but he’s just not a star. With only 9 points in the whole tourney, that message is being broadcast loud and clear to every NBA scout.

3. Jeff Taylor

He had some ground to make up, but his strong play at the end of the year was beginning to get him some legit lottery buzz. I suppose he could work his way up a bit through workouts (he WILL be a workout wonder), but his 9 point 1 rebound no-show against Wisconsin is a killer.

My Three Favorite Non-UK Players in the Sweet Sixteen

1. Kenny Frease

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve had a ginormous man-crush on Frease for a while now. He’s kinda fat, he’s got no neck, and he’s easily the slowest person I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. What’s not to love?! Oh yeah, and he put up a 25 and 12 in the second round. (Go ahead and ignore the fact that it was against Lehigh…)

2. Yancy Gates

That’s right, the same guy who punched Frease in the face earlier this season. And yes, it’s really weird that I’d list both of them. Nevertheless, I’ve had a thing for Gates since his freshman season, and it’s fun to watch him put together his current stretch of ball. The Sweet Sixteen matchup against Jared Sullinger will be very interesting.

3. Jae Crowder

I talked about him a bit earlier, so let just reinforce how much I love him. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had never heard of him prior to this season, which is not surprising since he was going by the name of Kenneth Faried back then.

All-South Region First Team

G Tu Holloway (23ppg, 6-12 3pt)
Holloway is a scoring machine, and he’s dominated crunch time in two close contests.

G Brady Heslip (22ppg, 14-22 3pt)
Certainly not the most talented player on the list, but he can’t be stopped when he’s on fire. Right now, he’s REALLY on fire, and its single handedly carried Baylor to the Sweet Sixteen.

F Royce White (19ppg, 11rpg, 3apg, 1.5spg, 71% FG)
His work against UK is arguably the signature individual performance of the tournament. The Cyclones may have lost, but it certainly wasn’t because White didn’t show.

F Anthony Davis (15.5ppg, 10.5rpg, 4apg, 4.5bpg)
Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. After White’s “I’m the best player” proclamation, Davis quietly stepped up and shut him down for the rest of the game. No coincidence that UK dominated from that point forward.

F Cody Zeller (15ppg, 9.5rpg, 56% FG)
Dominating performance against VCU is the main reason IU didn’t fall under Cinderella’s sway. Another good showing against Davis, and Zeller may find himself staring at a top five draft position.

All-West Region First Team

G Keith Appling (14.5ppg, 3apg, 48% FG)
Not a huge statline, but Appling came up big down the stretch against St. Louis with a couple well timed jump shots and some clutch free throws.

G Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 2.5apg)
DJO’s versatile skill set makes him one of the toughest covers in all of college basketball. Also, he looks like the last guy I’d ever want to get in a fight with.

F Draymond Green (20ppg, 12.5rpg, 8apg, 1.5spg, 57% FG, 4-8 3pt)
Not much doubt that Green is the MVP of the tournament so far. Every time Michigan St. needed a big play late against St. Louis, Green rose to the occasion, providing a variety of jumpers, rebounds, passes, and defensive plays that eventually put the game away.

F Jae Crowder (21ppg, 14.5rpg, 3apg, 3.5spg)
If Green is the current MVP, then Crowder isn’t far behind. He’s a machine right now.

F Drew Gordon (19.5ppg, 13.5rpg, 60% FG)
Forget the stats for a minute; it looked certain that Gordon tore every ligament in his knee in the first half against Louisville. Then he came back and almost singlehandedly carried New Mexico to victory.

All-East Region First Team

G Jordan Taylor (15.5ppg, 5rpg, 4.5apg, 6-15 3pt)
Wisconsin keeps winning, and Taylor keeps being their only real offensive threat.

G Scoop Jardine (13.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 7.5apg, 1.5spg, 4-7 3pt)
Jardine has been one of the few bright spots on Syracuse, and his surgical-like dismantling of Kansas St. was notable.

G Aaron Craft (12.5ppg, 4rpg, 7apg, 3spg)
Seems to be getting his game together at just the right time. He might be the best on-ball defender in the country already, but it was his offensive work against Gonzaga that turned heads.

F DeShaun Thomas (24.5ppg, 9.5rpg, 2bpg, 54%)
Thomas always seems to fly under the radar, what with Jared Sullinger stealing most of the spotlight, but he’s probably the best pure scorer on Ohio State. He’s been nuts-o these past two games, and the Buckeyes are really tough to beat when he’s playing like that.

F Jordan Henriquez (14.5ppg, 13rpg, 3bpg)
Stepped up big in the absence of Jamar Samuels with a 14/17 against Syracuse. Alas, it was not enough to win.

All-Midwest Region First Team

G Kendall Marshall (14.5ppg, 3rpg, 10.5apg, 80% FG)
Playing as well as anyone this side of Draymond Green. I genuinely feel bad for the guy.

G D.J. Cooper (20ppg, 4rpg, 6apg, 5-11 3pt)
Two monster games against very strong defensive teams have put Cooper on the map.

G Elijah Johnson (16.5ppg, 4rpg, 2.5apg, 1.5spg, 6-12 3pt)
Talked about Johnson’s emergence a bit ago, and it’s the biggest reason why they’re still playing in the tournament today.

F Doug McDermott (18ppg, 9.5rpg)
Showed that his season wasn’t a giant fluke. He’s definitely a big time player.

F Robbie Hummel (18ppg, 8rpg, 7-13 3pt)
Hummel deserves better after his performance against Kansas. I’ve always like this guy, and I wish his career had turned out differently. Still, it was awesome to see him go out as the dominating force we all knew he could be.

1 comment:

  1. Have not stopped laughing out loud since I read the Greg Anthony thing. hahahaha!!!!