Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why It's Called March Madness

Sorry that I haven't posted recently.  But there's a good reason for that.  I spent a good part of the four days of the NCAA Tournament watching many buzzer beaters, upsets, double overtime games, the Big East quickly becoming the Big Least and ESPN analysts eating crow.  There's nothing quite like March Madness, especially the first two rounds of  the NCAA Tournament.

Unless you have been under a rock or been kidnapped by wild non basketball loving gypsies (and may they all have looked like Salma Hayek), you know what's happened the last four days.  So, I will give you my take on what I saw (alas no Salma Hayek sightings).

Nothing says St Patty's Day like Butler and ODU in classic knock down Irish street brawl affair featuring two terrific defensive teams and two terrific coaches, Blaine Taylor and Brad Stevens.  I actually went home for lunch to watch the first half of the game, then caught the rest at work while working on my budget (shhh).  It was close throughout, but Butler looked like they were going to win.  However, ODU, with the great Frank Hassell, rallied late to tie the game.  But to see the Monarchs, the team leading the NCAA in rebounding margin lose on a rebound putback by Matt Howard might just be the most ironic moment of the college basketball season.  Or at least to someone who followed both teams religiously this season like me.

Then there was #13 Morehead State and  Kenneth Faried going toe to toe with #4 Louisville, the Big East Conference Championship runnerup. I caught this game only at the end, which was perfect.  Demonte Harper buried a three to put the Eagles up one.  Then of course was that great block by Faried to ensure the victory.  How gutsy was it of him to go block the basketball when others would have just backed away or just attempt a hand in the face?  The man is fearless and will be a future NBA player due to his talent and fearlessness.  And of course the outcome caused the mascot and Rick Pitino to both cover their eyes.

A friend of mine, Jeff and I saw the end of the Princeton/Kentucky game in his office at the end of the day (he is a Tigers grad).  The Wildcats had more than they could handle with the Tigers who rallied to tie the game.  But wth the game tied at 67. freshman Brandon Knight hit the game winning layup to put UK into the second round.  The kid is a very good player.  But give the Princeton kids kudos for giving Ole Kentucky Blue Nation a real scare.

After work, I picked up my younger son and raced home to watch the second upset of the day and to me the most fun game (and I got to watch it too), #12 Richmond outlasted #5 Vanderbilt as Kevin Anderson and Darrius Garrett led the way for the Spiders.  Having seen Richmond and their terrific offense dismantle Fordham in 20 minutes in February, I wasn't surprised that Anderson shot down the Commodores.  What I was surprised about was Garrett's play against Vandy.  In the second half, every time a shot went up, Garrett seemingly came out of nowhere to block it.  It was impressive.   Throw in Justin Harper and the Spiders are a very talented team.  Morehead State found out the hard way in the second round.

I was at Canz in Westbury watching several games (and other things) Thursday night with my friends Bob and Mal.  Gonzaga may have played their best basketball of the season when they ran over St John's in their first round matchup.   The Zags really seemed up for the game and played with an intensity  I hadn't seen all year (and I have seen a lot of Gonzaga games).  Marquis Carter, Elias Harris and Steven Gray all had good games against the Johnnies, who just couldn't stop them defensively.   It was a beatdown and one of many surprising losses for the Big East over those four days.

Friday came and it was CAA day.   First George Mason rallied to knock off a reeling Villanova team that played well for about forty eight minutes.  Of course all of this was to the chagrin of one Defiantly Dutch.  Then the game of the day was played that night.  VCU earned their way into the game vs. Georgetown by beating USC, then they went out and celebrated by bombing the Hoyas.  It was raining in Chicago Friday night...raining threes as the Rams nailed twelve three pointers on the night.  Seventeen turnovers didn't help Georgetown's cause as VCU won by eighteen.

One other thing from Friday.  I got to see the LIU - UNC game.  And having seen the fast paced, gritty Blackbirds win their NEC championship game vs. Robert Morris, I wasn't surprised by how hard they played vs. the Tar Heels.  The game was tied at 33 at one point and in the second half, LIU cut a twenty plus point lead down to ten with before losing by 15.  LIU actually had 18 more FG attempts than Carolina.  Pretty impressive.

I didn't watch much basketball till late in the day due to work and a fantasy baseball auction.  But I did catch the end of Butler - Pittsburgh.  Lost in the shuffle of one of the most unreal endings to a game ever (and yes, those were definitely both fouls) was the performance of Shelvin Mack.  Yes, he did a commit a not so smart foul at the end of the game, but he hit huge shot after huge shot Saturday night as the Bulldogs won their seventh game in the past two NCAA Tournaments.  Think about that a little while.  Outside of Duke, is there any other team that can say that?  I don't think so.

After the Butler game ended, Mal and I went to our cars at CW Post where the fantasy baseball auction was held.  We both were stunned when we turned on the radio that BYU was blowing out Gonzaga.  But Jimmer was being Jimmer.  In fact Jimmer was so impressive that the always funny Tom Brennan, who was the analyst for the Westwood One radio broadcast of the game, decided to change his name to Tommer.  And in fact when they interviewed Fredette after the game, Brennan introduced himself as Tommer to Jimmer.  Hilarious.

Sunday came and after a late morning/early afternoon at Planting Fields Arboretum, I went over to my brother's house and watched UNC vs. Washington.   If the Huskies had any frontcourt players that didn't have hands of stone, they would have won that game.  Still, give credit to the Tar Heels for rallying and holding on.  But their interior defense needs serious work.

Then after watching my two sons play with monster trucks and my brother's two dogs, we got back home in time to watch George Mason vs. Ohio State.   When the Patriots went out to an 11-2 lead, I thought this was going to be a really good game.  Then the Buckeyes went on a monster 50-15 run the rest of the first half.   It was an onslaught. Lighty, Diebler and Buford burying three after three.  Buckeyes scoring at will on the inside.  The only question left was whether the Buckeyes were going to score a 100 and give Defiantly Dutch free tacos.  It was the most dominant performance I have seen all year.  Ohio State is that good.

I saw the end of the Texas - Arizona game and as I watched that game, when Jordan Hamilton came down with the rebound and call timeout, I was like my dog when she doesn't understand something I say (you know, the tilted head).  You needed to run out clock there and force Arizona to foul.  That gave the Wildcats a chance to stop the inbounds play and you all know what happened.  Just dumb on Hamilton's part.

Then after watching Kansas finally pull away from an Illinois team I saw at the 2K classic at the Garden, it was VCU taking on Purdue in Chicago in front of a mostly partisan Boilermaker crowd.  And everyone had to wonder if Purdue could stop the runaway freight train that VCU had become.

Well the light at the end of the tunnel for the Boilermakers was that oncoming Rams train.  Chicago became VCU's kind of town as the Rams won another game by 18 points.  And this time, it wasn't done by the three pointer.  It was done by Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Bozzell among others driving at will into the lane on Purdue for easy layups or passes to Jamie Skeen and Brandon Burgess for easy layups.  Burgess followed up Rozzell's monster game vs. Georgetown with his own, burying threes as six VCU players scored in double figures.  It was as if the CAA was channeling the Untouchables to the Big Ten - "They send one of yours to the hospital (Mason), you send one of their to the morgue (Purdue). That's the Chicago way."

Then the night finished up as I sat in my bedroom watching Notre Dame become the ninth Big Least team to lose before the Sweet 16 as Florida State defensively dominated that game from start to finish.  Now you are guaranteed of at least a #10 seed or lower in the Elite Eight since #10 FSU plays #11 VCU in the Sweet 16.  In fact, nearly a third of the teams left in the NCAA Tournament are #8 seeds or lower (Butler, Florida State, VCU, Marquette and Richmond).  If that doesn't tell you that a) there is a lot more parity in college basketball and b) senior laden teams tend to do well now in the NCAA Tournament since so many power teams are freshman and sophomore laden, then I don't know what will tell you.

By the way,  the Big East deserved eleven teams.  #11 Marquette proved that by making the Sweet 16.  But the Big East is a conference made up of good not great teams.  There is no Ohio State nor Kansas in the Big East.  I thought Pitt could have been but they fell short.  And outside of UConn with Kemba Walker, there is no other team in the Big East that has a player that can carry their team on their shoulders.  Perhaps that's why UConn is still in the tournament and that's why they ran the table in the Big East Tournament.  One player can make a huge difference in the NCAA Tournament (see Jimmer Fredette and Stephen Curry among others) and Kemba Walker certainly fits that bill.

And lost in the NCAA Tournament shuffle was the fact that two #1 NIT seeds, Boston College and Virginia Tech lost their second round games at home on Saturday.  In fact, the Hokies, considered by many to have been snubbed by the NCAA lost to Wichita State.  Guess who won at Wichita State in their Bracketbuster game?  Yup, VCU.  Case closed.

We're down to the Sweet Sixteen.  Lots of good tournament action still left.  What will happen next?  Who knows.  Just watch and find out.

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