Wildcats Should Avoid Upset After Wild Day2
I had a buddy ask me last night why I thought he was so worried about Iowa State as Kentucky prepared for a Round of 32 game today with the Cyclones. The answer was pretty simple – they’re the next team Kentucky plays. The Wildcats could be facing Covington Latin School (my beloved high school, but no basketball powerhouse) tonight and Cats fans would wear themselves out with all the reasons that Kentucky could lose the game.
Just looking at what’s left of the wreck that the South Region bracket has become, you can look at three teams – Indiana, Baylor and maybe even VCU that could be as or more troublesome for the Cats than Iowa State.
That’s not to say that Iowa State isn’t capable. There’s a reason they finished tied for third in the Big XII – largely regarded as the second best league in the country this year (a league won by a Kansas team that Kentucky pretty well handled early this year, by the way). The biggest is Royce White, the almost-Wildcat who does a little bit of everything for the Cyclones. He can handle the ball, play in the lane and shoot a little bit. But at only 4 of 12 from the three-point line, he isn’t a big enough threat to pull an Anthony Davis away from the rim to open the middle. The rest of the Cyclones shoot the ball pretty well. Four Iowa State players shoot better than 33% from outside the arc with more than 100 attempts, led by guard Scott Christopherson, who hits threes at a 46% clip. With one of the recipes for potentially beating Kentucky being “hit a bunch of threes” and perimeter defense being the one nagging issue in an otherwise solid Kentucky defense it’s a legitimate concern.
But there’s a reason Kentucky is 33-2. As Kyle Macy always says on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP and wlap.com), “talent wins.” And overall, Kentucky has bigger, stronger, more athletic players. If that was all Kentucky was – like Connecticut for example; if they were a gifted bunch of selfish, individual players, then a team like Iowa State would and should be terrifying. However, that’s not what Kentucky is. In addition to having the most talented players, they play good team basketball and they don’t get flustered if they get behind. It may not be easy the entire game, but I don’t expect a nail biter.
Ranking the Upsets
After one of the dullest first days in NCAA Tournament history, Day 2 produced two of the biggest upsets the Tournament has ever seen, plus another shocker in Ohio over 4-seed Michigan. Which one was the biggest? Let’s line them up.
1) Norfolk State over Missouri – As breathless as everyone has gotten over the Lehigh win, this is the bigger upset of the two — and it’s not close – for a couple of reasons. The first is that Missouri is better than Duke this year, period. They are more athletic and they play better defense. On the other hand, even among low major conferences teams like Norfolk State from the Mid-Eastern American Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) play at a disadvantage. The two Historically Black Collegiate Conferences scramble for money and resources in a way that even the Lehighs of the world do not. That makes it even more amazing that three of the six 15-over-2 upsets all time now are by MEAC schools (Coppin over South Carolina, Hampton over Iowa State and Norfolk over Missouri).
Beyond that, Missouri played better than Duke did yesterday. They just got beat by a team that played a little better than they did.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video of the eruption at the Norfolk State campus watch party after the game ended.
2) Lehigh over Duke – I know Duke is the bigger name than Missouri. I know they were playing in Greensboro where they had never lost in the NCAA Tournament. I know seed to seed this looks the same as Norfolk and Missouri, but it’s still not as big as the other game. Maybe no team in the history of seeding the field of 64 has been as over ranked as this Duke team was. No team has ridden a friendly schedule and a reputation to a No. 2 seed (and nearly a No. 1 seed) the way Duke did this year. They don’t defend. They’re not athletic outside of Austin Rivers. They aren’t great inside. I watched Temple eviscerate them earlier this year. They were ripe for the taking by a team that played well together and could shoot. Lehigh did both of those. And I can’t believe I’m even including this as a factor, but Duke was missing Ryan Kelly. I don’t think Ryan Kelly is very good, but he is a big part of what Duke does.
3) Ohio over Michigan – I include this only because by seeding a 13 over a 4 is still a big deal, and because as somebody who grew up an Ohio State fan, I hate Michigan. But if Duke wasn’t the most over seeded team in the Tournament then Michigan was. I saw them play two or three times, and they were never impressive. Yesterday they fell behind, shot 38% in the second half, didn’t have a basket in the last 4+ minutes and despite being more athletic than Ohio settled for three-pointer after three-pointer. Say what you want about Trey Burke, but at 0-4 from behind the arc in the last four minutes – most of that when Michigan was down only three with plenty of time – he killed the Wolverines yesterday.
Rules is Rules
There was outrage over the lane violation called on UNC-Asheville in their game against Syracuse Thursday and it erupted again over the same call against Notre Dame at the end of their loss to Xavier late last night/early this morning.
Immediately after the game, Charles Barkley said on the post-game show that he hates to see officials decide games and they should leave it to the players. Part of me understands what he’s saying, but this raises more questions about end-of-game officiating.
You can’t just tell officials to enforce some rules at some times and not others. That’s a recipe for chaos. Both lane violations were correct calls – call we don’t see all the time, but correct. The problem is that the way officials work the end of games throughout sports has already put officials in the situation of picking and choosing what rules to enforce late. How many times have you heard “that would probably be a foul at any other point in the game?” It’s either a foul or it’s not and referees should call games that way regardless of time.
That isn’t referees deciding games. It’s referees doing their jobs. The player who commits the foul – or in these cases, the lane violations – is still the ones who decided the games.
Of the eight bracket selection options I put together, it’s apparently best to not know who you’re talking about. My Wall Street Journal Blindfold Bracket not only is the best of the bunch, but at 26-6 through two days, it leads the Bracket Challenge at the Elitist Jerk Sports Information Collective where I entered them all. It did lose Sweet 16 projection Missouri and Elite 8 projection Duke yesterday, but then so did almost everybody else.
My own personal picks are outpacing the remaining “scientific” brackets at 24-8. That one has lost Duke and Temple to the Sweet 16 and Missouri to the Final Four.
The Kenpom Bracket is next best at 21-11. That one loses Michigan to the Sweet 16 and Missouri to the Elite 8.
The Homer Picks Bracket still outpaces the RPI Bracket and has the benefit of having picked Lehigh to beat the hated Dukies. The overall record is 23-9 and loses Temple to the Sweet 16 and St. Mary’s to the Elite 8.
Top Seeds are also 23-9, but Missouri and Duke are both lost to the Elite 8 and Michigan to the Sweet 16
The RPI Bracket is upholding Hall of Fame basketball writer Mike DeCourcey’s suspicion of it as a ranking tool. It’s only 19-13 and is missing Missouri and Michigan to the Sweet 16 and Duke to the Elite 8.
Can We Stop With the Commercial Outrage Yet?
I love Kentucky; I love the Wildcats and I love Kentucky fans, but I may well punch the next person who complains about the UPS commercial featuring the 1992 Duke Christian Laettner shot. UPS is advertising in a basketball event that a lot of non-basketball fans will watch. They wanted an ad with a basketball theme that everybody could relate to, and almost everybody watching is likely to know something of that play, whether they are a big fan or just watch during the Tournament. It’s as simple as that.
Get over it. You look silly.
I took Kansas State over Syracuse at the start of the Tournament and after seeing Syracuse struggle and need an officiating gift to get past UNC-Asheville, I like my chances with that one today.
After that, it’s pretty dull. I originally had Wichita State to beat Indiana and UNLV to beat Baylor, but both the Shockers and the Rebels are out. I expect Indiana and Baylor both to advance. And even if Baylor isn’t better than Colorado, I think there’s an excellent chance that Baylor blinds the Buffaloes into submission.
Other than Kansas State, give me the favorites.