Saturday, March 21, 2009

Round the First

Sorry for the absence. I was busy.

My favorite game of the first two days ought to be Ronald Moore and Siena shutting up a Dayton arena packed to the rafters with Buckeye fans. (How happy does the thought of thousands of Ohio St. fans soberly trolling the concourse looking for someone to take their second-round tickets off their hands make me? So, so happy.) Or, of course, Cleveland St. not just beating Wake Forest but cruelly, bloodlessly choking the life out of the Deacons in the kind of fashion that makes you think the the little "13" and "4" beside their team names were swapped. Maybe even East Tennessee St., who even in defeat reminded us that--yes, Virginia--one day the 16-over-1 upset is going to happen. One day.

But none of those games were my favorite. My favorite was Western Kentucky cruising past the undermanned and hopelessly overseeded Illinois Illini 76-72 in the final game Thursday night. The game wasn't particularly exciting--the 'Toppers went up by 12 late in the first half and never trailed. It wasn't especially well-played--Illinois was pretty well still the same team that scored 33 points in a game earlier this year, and while WKU drained 9-of-19 from 3 they weren't especially sharp from inside the arc or at the free throw line. It wasn't even the best game on at the time--VCU and UCLA and the Rams' ill-fated last-gasp comeback saw to that.

But there's always the fear that this year will be the year that nothing goes right, that it'll be like Day 1 last year--maybe my least favorite day of the NCAA Tournament ever--or a repeat of 2000, when 11th-seeded Pepperdine beating Indiana was all we got in the way of mid-major joy. Even with all three of my best-bets playing Friday, coming to the very end of Thursday without a single mid-major in Round 2 would make for a very nervous Day 2 for those of us who take this sort of thing seriously.

But then Western Kentucky beat Illinois like a drum, and I knew everything would be OK. And sure enough, by the end of Day 2, with Siena and Cleveland St. and WKU and Dayton all advancing, everything was.

So close. Dude, all East Tennessee St. had to do was shoot something close to their averages from either 3 (4-of-22?!?) or the free throw line (12-of-24?!?) and it would have happened. Never thought I'd see the day when a 16 seed played a below-average game and still trailed 59-57 with a little more than three minutes to play. But it's right at that moment when ETSU showed why it wasn't going to happen: insane drive by Kevin Tiggs, turnover, transition the other way, and-one, five-point swing, game never within reach again. So it goes.

Viking plunder. Even after having watched American lose their 14-point second-half lead the night before, I never worried when Wake Forest made their little run at Cleveland St. early in the second half. They were doing it on the back of 3's--they were shooting 5-of-7 at that point despite the fact they'd sank like 31 percent during the year and several of them had been contested. I figured at that point: Wake will continue shooting 3's because they're behind and because they think they're "hot," and they will miss, and Cleveland St. will run away with it. And that's exactly what happened.

Kenpom takes a beating. The world's most famous set of basketball ratings got several things right over the first two days--Wisconsin beating Florida St., USC whipping Boston College, Wake Forest's status as the most vulnerable of the four seeds--but hoooooo boy, otherwise it was not a good Round 1 for the numbers. Kenpom No. 1 Memphis watched Ca. St. Northridge hang for 35 minutes. No. 18 BYU got housed by a Texas A&M team that lagged waaaaaaaay behind. It missed and missed badly on the Cal-Maryland and Michigan-Clemson matchups. And your topper: a West Virginia team Kenpom has been saying all season was horribly underrated took on a Dayton team Kenpom has been saying all season has been horribly overrated ... and Dayton led virtually wire-to-wire in a comfortable victory. Oooooooops. Yours truly will not be relying quite so heavily on Mr. Pomeroy's numbers in picking next year's first round: the Million Dollar Bracket went 3-5 in 8/9-7/10 games, and one of those wins was the non-numbers based Michigan pick.

Ooof. Two of the JCCW's favorite upset picks were North Dakota St. and Portland St., solid three-point shooting teams who figured to make a defensive living on their turnover-prone opponent's turnovers. The shooting showed up, more-or-less, but too bad Kansas and Xavier didn't play along: they combined for all of 12 turnovers, including just five for the Jayhawks. Nuts.

AUpdate. The Auburn men blitzed Tulsa yesterday even without Vot Barber's usual contributions; they're now a win away from going to Madison Square Garden, which would be seriously kind of awesome. More on them and the women, currently up 15 at the half on Lehigh, tomorrow. Pinky swear on that one.


SEC Homer said...

Kansas had to play a great game to beat NDst. They played an almost perfect game and I wouldn't be shocked if they made the final 4.
CState made me very happy last night. The Pitt upset should have happened. I think Fields is injured badly, and OkST should win that game tomorrow. However, if Pitt can get by OkST, Fields will get some rest and they may still not ruin my bracket. Utah St freaking had that game yesterday. Up by 6, 3 min to go, partisan crowd in their favor. What happened!!! Watch out for the coon asses today in a possible upset of the Heels. LSU has length and athleticism and 2 really good scorers..and Ty Lawson is injured too. Thanks for the update

Ryan (Everyjoe) said...

Kansas is flawed in my opinion, their support players are very young and do not play D particularly well.

Woodside will get a tryout with some NBA team, I don't see him being that much worse than chris quinn from the Heat.

WKU is going to shock the Zags, I feel it. Their wing players are fun to watch.

SEC Homer said...

Being a South Alabama fan, I can't beleive I didn't see this coming from WKU. WKU played totally disinterested against the Jags in the Sun Belt finals and still won easily. I thought Ill would D up and shut down the WKU guards, but the Illini looked like the mid major. The Gonz/WKU game will be a crapshoot and IMO one of the best games tonight. Yeah, Kansas is flawed, but so is Dayton(horrible shooting), Mich St(bad shooting, turnovers), and Louisville(no go to guy, offense); not to mention any one else they might play. That NDSt game was a total trap game for Kansas and they played patient and kept going inside to their big man instead of jacking the 3's like so many of the power teams mistakingly resort to when the going gets tough. They impressed me a lot.

SEC Homer said...

Lawson is hurting bad for UNC. Could mean trouble for UNC if not today, maybe later on. Purdue is looking impressive in a virtual road game for them. I am liking OU more and more, their guards seem to realize Blake Griffen is their best player, probably the best player ever for OU. Vill, Mem, and UConn looked dominant today.

SEC Homer said...

Nevermind on OU, they are still jacking the 3's too much. Their D(other than the Griffens) is not that great either.

SEC Homer said...

I never thought I would say this being an AU fan, but GEAUX TIGERS!!!Beat UNC!!! Ouch, hurts to say that. Better balance it with a huge WAR EAGLE!!!

jd said...

I'm gonna go ahead and say it:

This tournament sucks.

Only two non-protected seeds left in the sweet sixteen, and one of them is a 5-seed. The only double-digit seed left is Arizona. All the 1s, 2s and 3s are left. Blah.

Ryan said...


But will you not enjoy all of the sweet matchups?

Zags v. UNC- Wow

Nova v. Duke- I'm ready

Missouri v.Memphis- sensational

Kansas v. MSU- interesting match up of Walton v. Collins and MSU's 4 big men v. Aldrich.

Ok v. Syracuse- How is that not spectacular?

Jerry Hinnen said...

ryan, I get where you're coming from, but ... I don't find anything spectacular at all about, say, Oklahoma-Syracuse or Villanova-Duke. They're two good basketball teams playing one another. The aesthetics of a run-and-gun game like Memphis-Mizzou I can get behind, and I think the narrative struggle of Gonzaga--overachieving wunderkinds turned overrated heartbreakers--makes the UNC match-up worth watching.

But unless you have a rooting interest in Duke-'Nova or OK-Syracuse--and I don't--what's the point, other than to watch some decently-played high-stakes basketball? That's enough that I'll be paying attention, but for me it's absolutely nothing like watching mids going for the biggest accomplishment of their lives. Not in the least.

SEC Homer said...

btw for the mid major lovers...
Kentucky v Creighton 6pm edt
St Mary's v Davidson 1130pm edt

jd said...

Ryan -

Every year, I fill out several brackets on One of them is my serious one (the one I use in any and all pools I decide to enter), one is a completely whack one in case the unthinkable happens, and I always fill one out with complete chalk. It sucks to me that the chalk one is doing the best this year.

The upsets and cinderellas are why I love March Madness. It doesn't even have to be a mid-major. When 7-seed West Virginia took 4-seed Louisville to the wire for a trip to the final four a few years ago, that was great. Had those teams been seeded 1 and 2, I don't know if I would have enjoyed it.

How about Davidson last year? Coming within an eyelast of a final four as a 10-seed?

The only possibility we have this year for anything that exciting is if Arizona keeps winning, and I'm so tired of Arizona that I won't enjoy that.

Honestly, I'm enjoying the NIT more this year, only partially because Auburn is in it.

And I agree with Jerry, the Memphis-Mizzou game will be fun to watch. It may be the last fun one of the tournament, unfortunately.

Ryan said...

I understand the mid-major arguement, as Jerry knows I go to a mid major school, Oakland, though not for long (got in to Meechigan).

Mid-major hoops is refreshing and way more simplified, if you know what I mean.

I was rooting on WKU to beat Gonzaga just because WKU is as talented of a mid-major team as I've seen.

But really in the end what gets me stoked is seeing the best teams play each other on a neutral court for all the marbles. Plus I really pay attention to the matchups.

Some of the matchups are intriguing, especially Walton v. Collins. Those Nova guards v. the more mundane Duke guards. Pargo v. Lawson, Heytvelt v. Hanbrough/Thompson

BTW, anybody see the Oakland-Bradley screw job (traveling, and a long .9 seconds), certain to be a top 10 play on sportscenter?