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.