Posted by: mdegeorge | March 19, 2011

NCAA Tournament Diagnosis: 32 points for 32 games

The greatest 36 hours in sports, from noon Thursday to midnight Saturday, has come to an end. Before I lay my head down to try to sleep with visions of hoops fancy dancing through my head, allow me this cathartic outpouring of the top 32 talking points, one per game, of days one and two of the NCAA Tournament.

– First and foremost, the biggest issue coming into this year’s tourney was the viewing arrangement. I give the CBS-Turner pact full marks. It took a while to find TruTV on the dial (I just don’t watch as much Nancy Grace as I used to). But once I got into the swing of things, my remote control virtuosity took over without a problem. The commercials for “Hardcore Pawn” and TNT’s myriad creative original shows got tiresome after a while, but it was a small price to pay to control what games I was able to watch without needing my laptop next to me.

– What makes the tourney great is the propensity for nail-biters and thrillers. They were in short supply in 2011. Five of the first seven games Thursday were decided by last-second shots (Kentucky, Morehead State, Richmond, Butler, and Temple). The next closest game that day was courtesy of UCLA’s near collapse. George Mason and Arizona delivered Friday thrillers, but the rest were duds. Also, no overtime games came from the Round of 64. The only overtime game was the first round hyphenation battle between UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock.

– Upsets. What upsets? Of the 32 games, favorites won 25. The West region was chalk all the way. Only one doubleheader features two underdogs playing each other for a Sweet 16 berth (Richmond vs. Morehead State in the Denver pairing of the Southwest regional).

– I though the upset region was going to be the Southeast thanks to Utah State (no), Belmont (hell no) and Gonzaga (oh hey there!) Instead, it turned out to be the Southwest, with five of the seven Round of 64 upsets (Illinois, Richmond, Morehead State, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State).

– On the numbers game: only one 10 beat a 7 (Florida State over Texas A&M). (Aside: I picked all four 7-10s right for the first time in my life, which gets me a bonus in my home pool). Illinois was the only 9 to win. The upset mantle appears to have been passed from 12s to 11s, as only one 12 (Richmond) prevailed while three 11s (Marquette, VCU, and Gonzaga) keep dancing.

– I had a feeling there would be a 12-13 game in the Round of 32 and even correctly identified the 12. But my hope for a Belmont-Utah State game fell apart emphatically despite the teams combining for 60 regular season wins.

– The trend of 16s snapping at the heels of one seeds was soundly debunked this season. The “closest” a 16 came to the biggest upset of them all was Boston University, who managed to stick within 18 points of Kansas. The closest a 15 came to ousting a two was Akron’s 13 points spread against Notre Dame.

– I think few would have guessed you’d see two Colonial Athletic Association teams take down Big East opponents in the first round. But that’s just what happened. Villanova fell at the hands of George Mason Friday, while VCU soundly disposed of a listless Georgetown team later that night. The CAA was just a Matt Howard last-second tip from sending three teams to the second round.

– You can’t say enough about VCU’s efforts. To play Wednesday then Friday, traveling from the East Coast to Dayton to Chicago and then take down Georgetown is a herculean task to accomplish. In that vein, I would’ve liked to see Clemson get a chance at West Virginia with both teams having equal rest. I think the result might’ve been a bit different.

– Final note on the CAA: I think VCU likes being an 11 seed, though I am tired of watching tape of that upset of Duke by the Eric Maynor-led team.

Charles Barkley voodoo aside, the Big East can be reasonably happy with seven of 11 teams advancing. Louisville put up a stinker against Morehead State, albeit with leader Preston Knowles on the bench hurt late. Villanova came up a crapper, Georgetown got embarrassed and a battered St. John’s team bowed out to Gonzaga. Marquette pulled a nice upset of Xavier, but that’s only minor consolation. They’ll have no more than five teams in the Sweet 16 though, as Marquette faces Syracuse and Cincinnati takes on Connecticut in the Round of 32.

– I doubted the Butler magic. But it looks like they still have some, even without Gordon Hayward. They have Pitt next and won’t be afraid of the halfcourt game Pitt plays. I don’t think an upset’s in the air, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s been proven wrong for underestimating the Bulldogs.

– The connection between Morehead State head coach Donnie Tyndall and star Demonte Harper is scary. Check Harper’s post-game quote: “The coach said, “Hey, I dreamed about this last night, this exact situation.’ He said, ‘I know exactly who I’m going to. I’m going to put it right in your hands, Demonte.’ He said, ‘At 6 seconds, I want you to attack and pull up and hit the shot.’ I hit the shot. It feels unreal right now.” The in-state rivalry component to the upset only sweetens the deal.

– What I would have given to see Princeton topple Kentucky! It would’ve restored a modicum of faith in all those hours I spent studying something other than a jump shot as a child.

– If there’s one governing principle this time of year with conferences, it’s that the Pac 10 doesn’t travel well. Ever. But they went 3-0 in the second round (minus USC losing to VCU in the opening round battle of the acronyms). Two of them even did it in the Eastern time zone, including Washington, which hung on for a win against Georgia for its first ever victory in the state of North Carolina in its ninth attempt. Granted the three wins were by a combined seven points, but a win’s a win, especially this time of year.

– The Big Ten comes out of the second round shining. Five of its seven entrants advanced. Michigan’s complete drubbing of Tennessee was perhaps the most impressive. Purdue and Wisconsin both took care of business. Only Penn State and Michigan State succumbed, and by a combined four points.

– The Atlantic 10 also gets two teams into the next round. Richmond was one of the rare chic upset picks that actually came through, while Temple could trouble San Diego State now that Fran Dunphy bucked his 0-348 postseason slide. Only Xavier’s no-show was a downer for them.

– If William Buford is going to play like this for Ohio State, they’re a national championship team.

– By the same token, I can’t see Duke losing much if they get a fully effective Kyrie Irving back. He was a legitimate player of the year candidate before his foot injury. He and Nolan Smith comprise one of the premier backcourts in the nation.

– Is anyone else concerned with UNC giving up 87 points to Long Island University? I know they want to play fast and loose with Tyler Zeller and the bigs having monster days, but I’ve got to think defensive struggles come back to get them eventually.

– As a UCLA fan, that comeback by Michigan State resembled what the Bruins did in surmounting a 17-point second-half lead against Gonzaga in the 2006 Sweet 16. It sets up another meeting with recent albatross Florida, only not on the first weekend of April for a change.

– I’m with the NBA on this one: Fouling a player before the ball is even inbounded at the end of games should be an intentional foul with possession staying with the shooting team. At the very least, there should be a minimum clock run-off of five second similar to what they do for a procedure penalty in the NFL.

– My heart really does go out to all the seniors who didn’t think their season would be ending this soon. Foremost among them are Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena of Villanova, whose careers ended with six straight losses after starting the season 16-1, and Louisville’s Knowles, on crutches with his ankle taped unable to help his team in the waning moments.

– The Tennessee situation is a mess. You might see Bruce Pearl and athletic director Mike Hamilton both out on their respective butts after that poor performance. Pearl’s to blame for his team quitting on him in the face of zone defense-ologist John Beilein. But Hamilton’s judgment in brining up his coach’s possible dismissal that close to their opening tournament game is unfathomable. How hard would it have been to lie or give non-answers? (Ask Jim Tressel for advice!) Hamilton’s none too popular in the Volunteer state, and the sweeper may soon become the swept in that house-cleaning.

– Everybody loves Gus Johnson, and deservedly so. He could make a trip to the DMV sound like an epic emotional roller-coaster ride. If you watched George Mason-Villanova today and didn’t get goose bumps, get your pulse checked. But his color man, Len Elmore, deserve a great deal of credit as a wonderfully cerebral and calming counterbalance to Johnson, the human manifestation of excitement. Also underrated is Kevin Harlan as a play-by-play guy.

– Just to cut off any hysteria at the pass next fall, two of the preseason top 10 are out after the first round. The former favorites packing their bags? Villanova and Michigan State.

Biggest no-show, Individual category: Tu Holloway of Xavier. I though he was the kind of guy who could win games for the Musketeers. Well, he certainly lost this one for them. He finished 1-for-8 from the field with five points and five turnovers in the face of the vaunted Marquette defense.

Biggest no-show, Team category: Tennessee. They were outscored 42-16 in the second half. They flat out quit. That’s not what the tournament should be about. (Honorable mention: Georgetown and UNLV. The Hoyas are the definition of streaky, and they were bad, oh so bad, Friday. Anyone who thinks UNLV was nine points worse than Illinois is living in a dreamland. That was a 20-point game throughout)

Best performance, Individual category: I’m splitting this one three ways. Juan “Don’t Type Rudy” Fernandez had the game-winning three in a bit of off-balance improvisation for Temple to go along with 23 points. Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried, who I’m not sure isn’t actually Rony Turiaf, imposed his will on Louisville to the tune of 12 points and 17 rebounds. And VCU’s Brandon “Going down to” Rozzell went 6-for-10 from three-point range despite conventional wisdom saying the Rams should have tired legs en route to 26 bench points to sink the Hoyas. Tyler Zeller’s 32 points also deserves an honorable mention.

Best performance, Team category: Morehead State. See one out of every three notes above.

Best game: Morehead State-Louisville takes the cake without a doubt. Old Dominion-Butler was a close second.

Biggest snoozefest: Despite being relatively close, Texas A&M-Florida State were both in single digits at the midpoint of the first half. Defense may win championships, but not plaudits from me.

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