Thursday, March 23, 2006

Better late than never?

JCCW's note: I've temporarily relocated to Birmingham, sort of, and don't have internet access at home. So updates are going to be slow in coming and erratic. As usual, now, I guess. Most of this was written Monday, but couldn't post til today. Sorry.

Recapping the best four days of tournament action, IMHO, since the 1998 Best Tourney Ever…


There are times when it is, to paraphrase something I totally shouldn’t be paraphrasing, a right and a good and joyful thing to be in a sports bar. Like during the Northwestern St. Demon miracle, clear evidence that God does not play favorites when it comes to nicknames (as if sending J.C.J. Redick to the Blue Devils wasn’t clear enough evidence already). Gonzo celebrations with total strangers over the victory of a Southland team are the best celebrations.

And then there’s the unfortunate reverse. When Lofton’s shot fell in, I really, really didn’t want to be in a public place surrounded by a crowd of people. I wanted to be at home, where I could smash something irrelevant into 63 even pieces. I wanted to swear with whatever’s above the top of my lungs. I really, really wanted to overturn a piece of furniture, the surefire No. 1 best way to express one’s anger (just ask any fictional character).

Of course I couldn’t at the bar, despite the rage. Lofton’s shot ticked me off more than any NCAA shot since Drew Nicholas’s for Maryland in the 2003 first round, when the Terps defeated 11-seed UNC-Wilmington on a buzzer-beating off-balance three-pointer that couldn’t have been more “circus” if Nicholas had been covered in white makeup and wearing a big red nose. These kinds of shots bring my blood to boil like nothing else in sports, because it offends my view of the way the world ought to work: I know the fairy tale isn’t going to come true every time, I know the “bad guys” are going to win their fair share of even the close games…but with all of the massive advantages the Tennessees and Marylands of the world have over the Winthrops and UNCW’s, do they really have to have crazy luck to go with it? If they have to win, shouldn’t it come from being better rather than being fortunate? If there’s going to be a sports miracle, shouldn’t it happen to the plucky underdogs rather than the unprepared, fat-cat favorites?

Which is why Northwestern St.’s win is my favorite one since Bryce Drew. It balanced out the luck of Lofton and the Vols. The universe was, even if temporarily, put right again. I would have much, much preferred Bradshaw’s three to fall through rather than Wallace’s. But if I can’t have the scales of fortune tilted in the underdog’s favor, at least it’s nice to know they’re balanced.

More from the WU-UT game:
• Hard to argue with the Winthrop strategy down the stretch: put the ball in James Shuler’s hands and see what happens. He’s been clutch all season--all career, really. Too bad that after that massive three with 3:25 to play, it just wasn’t happening. As I’m sure you know by now, those were WU’s last points.
• There’s likely some gnashing of Rock Hill teeth over Craig Bradshaw’s 5-for-17, 1-for-8 from 3 performance--and don’t get me wrong, the Eagles needed better than that. But there’s plenty of stat sheet blame to go around: Martin turned the ball over 5 times to 1 assist. Shuler’s 1-of-3 at the free throw line led a 10-of-17 (58 percent…ye gods) performance from the stripe. Phillip Williams played 23 minutes and grabbed all of one rebound. Michael Jenkins had his usual 4 shots in 11 minutes type of game (he hit one). What will likely drive Marshall more bonkers over the summer than Lofton’s luck is knowing that if just one player on his team had just been that much better, they’d have won the game.
• That’s not to say Winthrop played poorly. Gaynor was, as always, remarkable (4-of-7 from the field, 4 assists, 0 TOs). Martin’s 13 boards more than made up for Williams’ timidity. As expected, WU basically shut down the Vols’ vaunted three-point shooters (they went 5-of-21). It’s like SI’s Seth Davis, in a rare moment of clarity, said afterwards: there really wasn’t any difference in these teams. One of them just made the last shot.
• Another slice of UT luck: that was the best game this occasional SEC hoops viewer saw from Major Wingate all season. He picked a bad time, from the Eagle perspective, to decide to not give his usual “cockroach when the light comes on” performance on the boards.
• If Marshall stays, he’ll get his team over the hump one of these years. It happened at Princeton. It happened at Valpo. It even happened for Holy Cross, even if it was in the NIT. It’ll happen at Winthrop.


Hilariously, by needlessly raking the Selection Committee over the coals for taking good teams like Bradley and George Mason, it turns out Packer and Nantz did the Committee a gigantic favor. The issue when the brackets were announced never should have been no-brainers like Bradley and GMU: it was the inclusion of blatantly unqualified Air Force and a seeding job apparently done by consulting a Magic 8-Ball. When Air Force didn’t really challenge Illinois and Tennessee all-but-flopped as a 2, the heat should have been turned up even further on Littlepaige and company. Instead, they’ve gotten nothing but kudos as Packer has gone down in Flames. Take Bradley: of course the Braves should have been in the Tournament. This isn’t even really debatable. The issue should have been the Braves’ unbelievable shafting of a 13 seed. But thanks to Packer and Bradley’s outstanding play, now Littlepaige is getting slaps on the back for even including them. As posted previously, I’d never cry any tears for the exclusion of teams like Michigan and Florida St. But to say this Committee did a good job solely because they invited Bradley and GMU falls just a couple notches short of outright blasphemy in the JCCW’s view.


Another year, another pitiful performance picking the tourney. Remind me to never, ever, EVER take a 4-seed to go to the Final Four when I think they might lose in the first round. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson when I picked USC as a finalist in 2001 when they faced Brett Blizzards’s dangerous UNC-W in the first round but noooooooooo….

I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster: Northwestern St. and Montana were good calls, I was only off by one in guessing the number of toasted protected seeds (six went good-bye instead of seven, thanks to the unfortunate demise of Even-Numbered Year Syndrome) and at least three of my Final Four teams are still alive. But I went a remarkable 0-for-8 picking 8/9 and 7/10 games. Next time, I’m going to pick those games by favorite nickname or something.


Why hasn’t more been made of Albany’s performance against UConn? When was the last time, if ever, a 16 seed led the consensus national favorite by 12 with 12 minutes left in the game? Where are the bards? Where are the ballads? I know UConn played like they been chilling at the martini bar beforehand and a lot has been made of it already, but the Great Danes deserved even more praise than they got.

Now that Gonzaga is the hunter rather than the hunted again, look out. Unless they face Bradley, of course.

First good tourney in a while for the SEC. Sure, the Vols fell, but as that was predicted by most earthworms and a majority of jellyfish, it’s hard to see that as disappointment. But Florida and LSU survived and the Tide and UK put up very, very good showings against better competition. For a league that’s gotten very used to seeing high seeds become first-round upset victims, having only one of six teams underachieve (Arkansas, damn them) is a major step forward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BSC is going D-III. Your thoughts?