Sunday, March 16, 2008

Championship Week diaries: day 8

Holy crap, what a day yesterday. I'm sincerely hoping "they" never find a way to distill the last Saturday of Championship Week into an injectable liquid, because otherwise it's hello junkieville, goodbye nice TV and couch and whatnot.

You know, we'd better move on to the games themselves before I find another metaphor with which to disturb the hell out of my parents. There were five mid-major title games yesterday on yours truly's cable system--don't have ESPNU, so I missed Miss. Valley St. beat Jackson for the SWAC bid. That result was fine by me for two reasons: first, because MVSU is a better team and the SWAC's runner-up, so thery're a bit more deserving than defending champs Jackson ... but moreso (it's not like either team or regular-season titlist Alabama St. were about to win more than the play-in) because it gets a team called the "Delta Devils" into the field. That, ladies and gents, is a seriously cool nickname. If we can't get the Ragin' Cajuns in, that's about the next-best thing.

Also: in the great "Is the A-10 a mid-major league or not?" the JCCW takes the position it's not; the personal definition here for a mid is a team from a traditional one-bid conference. So I'm not going to comment on the A-10 final other than to say I'm not too upset by Temple's win. Sure, it hands the league a third bid and squeezes the chances of true mids Illinois St. and VCU (and theoretically South Alabama, though I agree with the rest of the Internet that the Jags really should be safe), but it's one more bid that won't go to the sniveling Va. Tech's of the world, and for that I am grateful.

America East

--Was that really a game between the 144th and 244th-best teams in the country, as ranked by KenPom? 'Cause it didn't look like it. I know you're never going to tune into the America East final for Pitt-like defense, but come on--doesn't matter who's playing, two teams combining for 52.8 percent shooting overall and 46 percent from downtown is pretty damned impressive. Unlike the Patriot final the day before, which suffered from having two relative newcomers to the game, there wasn't a whole lot of difference to the naked eye between Saturday's final and the AE title games the past several years featuring Albany, Vermont, BU, and the like.

--What is it with the America East final and dunks so sick the arena should have gone into quarantine afterward? Last year Vermont's Marqus Blakely went nuts and yesterday Hartford's Warren McClendon threw down a vicious one-hander midway through the second half--easily the best dunk of Championship Week.

--There's not a heck of a lot in UMBC's profile that says "We're a dangerous 15 seed!"--the wins over Richmond and LaSalle aren't bad, but the closest they came to an out-and-out quality upset was a nine-point loss to bubblicious Ohio St. Still, if Jay Greene can distribute the way he did yesterday and the Retrievers shoot that ridiculously well again--the latter a gigantic "if," but still--they could make someone sweat.

--Kudos to a color guy whose name I didn't catch for a rare understanding of tempo-free stats; when a graphic showed that UMBC had way more rebounds than Hartford, rather than knee-jerking into "the Hawks are getting killed on the glass!" he actually pointed out that UMBC was shooting so well Hartford didn't have shots to rebound. Stunning.


--Man, I know the term "pity party" has a lot of negative connotations behind it, but if the MAC wants to throw themselves a celebration in honor of how much sympathy the college hoops world ought to have for them, I'm not going to stop them. Year after year after year, the MAC's top-seed has gone down in a blaze of glory (and even on the occasional banked-in three at the buzzer). Now, for the first time in forever, the conference has a completely legit at-large team at the top, and what happens? They cruise to the title. It's still a one-bid conference.

Don't worry, MAC. I'll come to your party.

--Of course, the biggest reason both these unusual things (the MAC producing an at-large quality team and the top MAC seed winning the tournament) happened is because Kent St. is really, really freaking good. Quaintance down low, Fisher at the point, Rashad Woods bombing away, a capital-S Stout defense. This probably isn't quite the Huffman-Gates glory team from 2002 reborn, but that doesn't mean they're not going to a giant pain in someone's rear end later this week.

--I feel for Akron, what with the back-to-back title game losses, but the cold hard truth is that they didn't have a tournament-quality team this year. Against KSU they looked like pretty much the exact same team that showed up for BracketBusters vs. VCU: hard-working, athletic, couldn't throw it in the ocean. (Knee-jerk representation of Akron's efforts here.) The Zips started the game 3-of-4 from downtown and went 2-of-18 the rest of the way. Jeremiah Wood looked more spry than against VCU, but it didn't make much difference. As Kent pulled away in the ifrst half, the Zips got Wood the ball on three straight possessions to try and stem the tide. The results: missed lay-up, two missed free throws, missed front end of a one-and-one. It wasn't going to happen.


--AAAAARGGGHHHH 14-20 team makes the Dance ahead of the team that could have hypothetically been the first-ever 16 seed to win AAARRRRGGGHHHH AAAARRRGGGGGHHHH

--At least we finally had a game come down to the last possession. Been waiting for a game to make me nervous enough to stand up off the couch all freaking week.

--I don't know what Uniwatch would think of them (actually, yeah I do: thumbs down) but my favorite uniform accent of the week was without question the running gold "CSU"'s on Coppin's black trim.

--Hate to pick on any particular dude, but Morgan's Marquise Kately went 5-of-13 from the free throw line in a 2-point game. The rest of the team went 7-of-8. (To be fair, Kately went 8-of-12 from the field and finished with 21, and the team turned the ball over 21 times, but ... 5-of-13. That's Andris Biedrins-esque.)

--Man, the MEAC hasn't had much luck lately, have they? FAMU wins as the 4-seed last year and Coppin takes it as the 7 ... two years, two play-ins. Tough.

--I know it doesn't really matter NCAA-wise, since there was no way Morgan was actually pulling it off, but ... I'm guessing 41st in the Mid-Majority rankings is mighty high for a potential 16. Maybe next year. Sigh.


--Triple-OT for a single bid on one of the teams' home-court. It honestly doesn't get any better than that.

--So many unbelievable performances in this one. For Boise: Matt Nelson was basically channeling the spirit of Tyler Hansbrough down low. Reggie Larry somehow got his head on straight after airballing the front end of the one-and-one that led to overtime and carried the Broncos through the extra frames. That Tiedeman kid went 5-of-8 from three. For NMSU: it seemed like Herb Pope had three fouls the minute the feed switched over from the MAC final and he ended up playing the whole game. The Aggies rose from the dead more times than [fill in horror movie villain of choice]. 59 percent free throw shooter Hatila Passos stepped to the line for one shot to send the thing into a second overtime and drilled it.

Between this and the overlapping MEAC final, Championship Week made up for its previous lack of drama real, real quick.

--Not only did the Broncos win in triple-overtime, they did it a) on the road b) having lost a 17-point lead c) with their best player fouled out d) having honked up a three-point lead in the first OT with the most braindead foul in the history of fouls. "Toughness" is an overrated and nebulous attribute, but, yeah, it's safe to say Boise has a little bit of it.

--Excellent road team, efficient offense, assortment of deadeye three-point shooters? If Boise can draw a team that doesn't run them off the floor, they'll have a puncher's chance. And hey, never underestimate the strength of narrative, and holy cow, think a Boise upset would be much of a story?

Big West

--I had totally forgotten until the broadcast team reminded me that somehow none of those very good Irvine teams from earlier this decade (back when Utah St. was in this conference and those two bestrode the league like twin colossi) ever got into the Dance. What a shame. Because it just wasn't happening this time either, was it? Thanks to the triple-OT we only got the second half of the game and Fullerton was in control from the moment the feed switched over.

--Fullerton is the top Big West team in the KenPom ratings and it's not too tough to see why: a pair of nice guards in Reed and Akognon and a bruiser like Cutley down low. They looked more balanced than an accountant's checkbook. (Man, am I clever.)

--That said, Irvine was playing their fourth game in four days and kind of looked like, um, what Mr. Casual Hoops Fan might expect the fifth-place team in the Big West to look like playing their fourth game in four days. Hard to put too much stock in Fullerton based on that game and seeing not much in their nonconference profile ... I dunno, this just doesn't strike me as a team with the horses to pull an upset from their likely 14-seed position. Sorry, Marc Stein.

This, of course, means they're going to end up pulling something, just to make me look silly.

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