So last night, I watched the first two games of "The First Four", the NCAA Tournament's new format for the first four play-in games. And based on the commercials for TruTV shows, I can tell you that outside of NCAA Tournament action I will never ever watch TruTV. The only reality TV I watch is sports and Man Vs. Food.
As for the games, UALR and UNC Asheville was actually a fun game to watch. The Bulldogs rallied from a ten point second half deficit and forced overtime when Matt Dickey nailed a three pointer with 13 seconds left. Like Clark Kellogg, I thought Matt Mouzy's three pointer was going to go in at the buzzer for the Trojans, but it was just slightly off to the right. UNC Asheville went on to win 81-77 in overtime. My favorite player on the night was Bulldogs' center D.J. Cunningham who made some sweet passes in the first half and had four assists in the game before fouling out.
As much as I liked the first game of the First Four, the second game of the night was an absolute drubbing. Clemson dominated basically from start to finish as their defense forced turnover after turnover on UAB. TheTigers used a 21-2 run to jump out to a 25-7 lead in the first half, eventually winning easily 70-52. Jerai Grant reminded me of his dad Harvey Grant as he scored 22 points to lead Clemson to the victory.
The Blazers unfortunately validated the criticism laid on them by many college basketball analysts that they didn't belong in the tournament. They struggled simply maintaining the ball in the first half committing 12 of their 19 turnovers. The Tigers so dominated the inside that UAB was forced to shoot from beyond the arc. The Blazers were successful from there, hitting 12 of 24 three point attempts. But UAB was brutal from two, shooting 6 of 24. It was a classic Brad Brownell defensively coached game. Clemson definitely has the personality of the former UNCW & Wright State coach.
Speaking of the CAA, it was a rough night for them in the CBI. During stops in action of UALR - UNC Asheville, I was able to turn on HDNET, which is covering some of the CBI games. And once again I saw James Madison act like they didn't want to be on a basketball court as they got hammered at Davidson 85-65. The Dukes were down by as many as twenty six points in the second half. Denzel Bowles and Andrey Semenov combined to shoot 7 of 13 from the field, but the rest of JMU shot 16 of 48. The Wildcats hit eleven of their twenty four three point attempts and shot 50 percent from the field.
It seems the stars were not aligning for Hofstra in their first round game vs. Evansville. First, the Pride had to fly into Nashville, then take a long bus ride from Nashville to Evansville. Then, the Pride had to play the Purple Aces on the home court of Southern Indiana's PAC, due to the Evansville's Roberts Stadium being booked for Disney on Ice. Then last night, I was hoping to watch the game on the Purple Aces streaming video site. The live video never materialized at alI as I and others only got "connecting". But if that wasn't bad enough, Defiantly Dutch clued me on the live stats on Evansville's site as well.
Meanwhile, based on the WRHU streaming audio feed, on the court of Southern Indiana's PAC, the Purple Aces had a simple game plan vs. Charles Jenkins. Put three guys on him as soon as he got the ball. Jenkins only had two first half points, but did a good job of getting others involved as the Pride went out to a 36-34 halftime lead.
Hofstra extended their lead in the second half to 43-36 as Jenkins and Mike Moore started going to work. The Pride were still up 49-43 with about fourteen minutes left. But they couldn't stop the Aces offensively as Evansville went on a 16-4 run to go up 59-53. Hofstra got within two points three times the rest of the game, the last time being 72-70. But as Jerry Beach tweeted, Mike Moore channeled Greg Johnson from the 2007 CAA Quarterfinals and attempted to get fouled while shooting a three pointer with 24 seconds left. No foul call was made and the airball went out of bounds to the Aces. Evansville held onto for the 77-70 win.
Not being able to see the game, I couldn't tell if Moore was fouled, but based on the WRHU announcers, the officiating was suspect all night. In fact, Brad Kelleher went up to the WRHU announcers and asked if they were in Richmond. And Mo Cassara was so upset about a timeout called for Evansville when no one had the ball, that he threw off his suit jacket. Damn.
Jenkins was held to 14 points as he only had twelve field goal attempts, making six of them. He did get his 2500th point, which makes him only the 62nd player in the history of the NCAA to score 2500 or more points. Jenkins also had six assists but had three turnovers, two of which were due to offensive fouls/charges called against him. After only having six turnovers combined in their last two games, the Pride had 13 turnovers last night. Hofstra shot 51 percent from the field but so did Evansville, who was also 7 of 14 from beyond the arc. It was also the second consecutive game that Hofstra gave up 77 points (the Pride lost to ODU in the CAA Semifinals 77-69).
Again, the first four first round CBI games proved to be terrible attendance draws. Only 1,284 showed up for the Hofstra-Evansville game. Creighton's Qwest Center, which holds 18,000 only had 3,086 for the San Jose State - Creighton game (they had nearly 16,000 for their previous home game vs. Northern Iowa). Austin Peay - Boise State drew 2,384. And leading the way in least attendance, the JMU-Davidson game drew 989 folks, which still wasn't as bad as the 953 that attended IUPUI-Hofstra last season. Could someone please mercifully end the CBI? Pretty please?
As for the NCAA Tournament, I think you will see a lot of upsets, especially in the 4-13 and 5-12 games. I expect the A-10 to do well as I think Xavier, Temple and Richmond will all win their first round games. Also, don't be surprised if Belmont knocks off Wisconsin and Utah State's defense stymies a Kansas State team that relies on Jacob Pullen too much. Oakland with Keith Benson will show Texas why it was such a difficult non conference opponent for Tennessee, Purdue and Michigan State.
Also, I like the CAA to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament. I think VCU's press will dictate pace against a more methodical USC team. Look for Jamie Skeen to have a big game shooting threes forcing USC's big to defend him outside. Also, I like George Mason to mercifully end Villanova's now struggling season.
Finally, I think you have potentially the best #8 vs. #9 game in NCAA Tournament in a long time with Butler vs. ODU. Both teams play physical defensive basketball and both the Bulldogs and Monarchs run their teams through their centers - Butler's Matt Howard and Old Dominion's Frank Hassell. That should be one of the best matchups of the season. Look for ODU's numerous bigs to get Howard into foul trouble. Butler's lack of frontcourt depth after Howard and Andrew Smith will hurt them against a deep Old Dominion team. Look for ODU to beat Butler then give Pitt absolute fits in the second round.
Finally, whether you like it or not, you will see some top seeds perform very well in the tournament. Kansas and Duke in particular. Also look for St John's to make a good run, BYU to make an early exit either vs. Wofford or the Johnies. I like Washington a lot also as well San Diego State. Other than these teams I like and some first round wins for mid majors, I am not going to exactly predict who is going to the Sweet Sixteen let alone the Final Four. Makes it more fun that way.
Just sit back and enjoy the NCAA Tournament. March Madness is the best time of year.