Thoughts From NCAA Tournament Day 1
Like many Kentucky fans, I spent the first half of this week worried about what might happen if Connecticut woke up Saturday morning and decided to finally play to their potential. I went to bed last night worried that Iowa State would wake up Saturday morning and decide to play the way they play when Kentucky and the Cyclones meet on Saturday night (approximately 8 pm on CBS). Iowa State closed out the Thursday night NCAA Tournament games at the KFC Yum! Center controlling the game throughout against the defending national champions; while UConn looked every bit like the disjointed, often selfish mess that sunk to 10th place in the Big East this year.
It was actually nice of UConn to use the ends of both halves last night to remind everybody why a team with so many talented players found so many ways to lose basketball games this year. Near (but unfortunately for him not AT) the end of the first half, sophomore Roscoe Smith launched a 65-footer in an effort to beat the buzzer, which he did – easily. The shot banged off the shot clock above the basket with about 1.5 seconds left to go. Roscoe had fired away with about 4 seconds to play. It was the second such gaffe for Smith who did the same thing last year in a tie game against Texas.
Jeremy Lamb closed the game with a nice steal (and by nice, I mean a garbage, punk play as Iowa was just standing there running out the clock) that he finished off with a missed windmill dunk when he was apparently trying to put an exclamation point on their 13-point, season-ending loss – which I guess in a way he did. Maybe the Huskies will have learned something by the time they are eligible to play in the Tournament again in 2014, but given that their ineligibility for next year’s event stems from academic progress issues, I doubt it.
Iowa State will lean heavily on do-it-all sophomore Royce White. White was dominant at times against UConn — and in control of the game when he wasn’t dominating — on his way to 15 points and 11 rebounds. At 6-7, White is the biggest Cyclones player that will actually see the court, but brings the ball up the floor most possessions and ran the offense most of the night against the Huskies. If Kentucky can find a way to slow him down, they can control the entire Iowa State attack.
And as good as White is and tough as Iowa State looked yesterday, they are still the team that found ways to lose to Drake (not the “rapper”), Northern Iowa and Oklahoma State this year.
One Other Iowa State Thought
I spent a week on the Iowa State campus when Ames hosted the 2006 Special Olympics USA National Games. The place is MUCH prettier than I had expected, and the people of Ames couldn’t be nicer. I almost hate to have to watch Kentucky eliminate them.
What’s the Story
In his column this morning, Mark Story of the Herald-Leader poses the glass half empty-glass half full question to Wildcats fans about last night’s game. I know this will come as a shock to anybody who listens to First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9 am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP in Lexington) or anybody who has ever met me for that matter, but you can put me in the half full category. Kentucky was as dominating as at any point in the season for 34 minutes against an overmatched Western Kentucky team before taking their foot off the gas down the stretch.
The final 15-point margin of victory only mattered to gamblers (and remember I said yesterday that gambling on sports was stupid) and whoever had Kentucky in my office’s Beat the Spread pool (an NCAA Tournament game that is far superior to just filling out brackets, by the way).
You can be concerned that Kentucky “lost focus” and didn’t “finish the game,” but what exactly was there to focus on? Did Kentucky coast a little? Yes they definitely did. Can you blame them? Not at all.
Stay Classy Ray
Never missing an opportunity to be gracious and classy, Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper said after last night’s game that UK couldn’t win the National Championship unless the Wildcats could find somebody else to make shots from the perimeter. And he knows this because?
Kentucky was never forced to the outside Thursday night and took 10 three-pointers all game. The Wildcats’ second best three-point shooter, Darius Miller, never bothered to attempt one. Two of the three players who shot more than one hit 50% of their shots from out there. Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague were both 0-1 from the arc and Wiljter – playing his first NCAA Tournament game – was 0-2.
Overall Kentucky shot 62.5% for the first 34 minutes of the game and still finished at 55.6%. That’s probably OK.
I didn’t hear him say it. I just read it in the paper. So maybe Ray was just trying to be helpful, but part of me has my doubts.
Speaking of Smug
Jim Boeheim claimed in his post game press conference that his team controlled the end of its escape against UNC-Asheville, that luck had nothing to do with their win and that missing Fab Melo had nothing – NOTHING — to do with their struggles against the Bulldogs. He said all of this with a straight face, because apparently that’s the only face he can make.
Up three, throwing the ball out of bounds, only to be bailed out by a typical, atrocious call that STUNNINGLY goes against a lower seed is NOT in control, Coach. And honestly, given what’s gone on with Syracuse this year does anybody believe that Boeheim has any idea what the concept of being in control of something even is anymore?
Other Thoughts From Day 1
- Marquette may have been the best team I saw play all day. I already can’t wait for next week’s Marquette-Missouri game.
- Was really impressed with Murray State. They looked shaky early, but gathered themselves, got rolling and dispatched Colorado State easily.
- The NCAA HAS TO do something about the quality and consistency of the officiating in what is without a doubt its marquee event. Between the brutal out of bounds call and a goaltending miss and the comparison hanging on the rim technical against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis versus a non-call on a much worse looking chin-up style dunk by Baylor, college basketball officials too often look like complete clowns in the games. And we all know that clowns are creepy.
- This video from FakeDanBebee was probably better than any game I saw all day.
Back to the Brackets
Not surprisingly, the more scientific of the eight brackets I put together before the tournament showed the best results yesterday. Top Seeds, Kenpom and the Wall Street Journal Blindfold Bracket are all 14-2 and have the entire Sweet 16 still intact. Although the Kenpom bracket still has the Cal/South Florida problem. I didn’t go back and update that one (which I could have, but I didn’t think of it to put Temple over South Florida (which Kenpom would have).
My Homer Picks Bracket is also 14-2, missing only Colorado over UNLV and the awful, Jim Wooldridge-firing Kansas State Wildcats over Southern Miss.
The RPI Bracket struggled on Day 1, going 12-4, with losses by UConn, Wichita State, UNLV and Southern Miss, and lost Wichita State in the Sweet 16 round.
SHOCKINGLY the Coin Toss and Mascot Brackets both struggled, going 7-9. The Mascots Bracket lost Wichita State, BYU and West Virginia through to the Sweet 16. The Coin Toss Bracket lost three Sweet 16 teams and lost New Mexico State through to the Elite 8.
My own personal selections were 13-3 (all three losses in the South bracket), lost Wichita State and UNLV through to the Sweet 16 and UNLV to the Elite 8.
What have we learned here? That deep, seething hatred is a better guide to picking games than my basketball knowledge.
Catholic on Catholic, But Hopefully No Violence
The best game of the day could be Notre Dame-Xavier. Notre Dame is only a 1.5-point favorite over a Xavier team that at one point was ranked as high as 8th and is still trying to play itself away from memories of its embarrassing brawl against Cincinnati and even more embarrassing press conference by Tu Holloway.
Unlike yesterday, I have three lower seeds winning games today – Xavier, St. Louis (over Memphis) and NC State (over San Diego State), although NC State is a 2.5-point favorite. Creighton is a higher seed than Alabama, but the Bluejays are -1.5 against the Tide.
Gambling is still dumb.
I’ll be filling in for Dick Gabriel tonight on Big Blue Insider from 6-6:45 on NewsRadio 630 WLAP. I’ll also be back on the Kennedy’s Wildcat Den Wildcat Preview tomorrow night with Leland Conway from 5-6 pm leading up to the UK-Iowa State game. Then, of course, I’ll be on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk Sunday, 9-Noon with Kyle Macy and Larry Vaught.