At Long Last the NCAA Tournament Restarts
Congratulations. If you’ve lived long enough to read this you managed to survive the worst three days on the American sports calendar. Watching sports fans during the days between the first Sunday of the NCAA Tournament and the Regional rounds on the following Thursday is like watching a sports-themed episode of The Walking Dead – just a bunch of lost souls still depleted from four days of round-the-clock March Madness trying to make it through an average day.
There were NBA games, although given the lockout compressed nature of this NBA season, a lot of those games are starting to look like part of the zombie apocalypse themselves with teams playing back-to-back nights for the eleventybillionth time this season and trying to save some energy for the upcoming playoffs. On Monday night the Orlando Magic put in a solid argument for joining the Big Ten with a 59-point effort AT HOME against the Chicago Bulls.
There was even an epic, at-the-opening-faceoff hockey brawl between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils on Monday night.
But none of those enjoy the widespread appeal of the NCAA Tournament, which returns to the Road to the Final Four tonight in Boston and Phoenix.
The one drawback to this weekend’s games is that through the Regional semifinal rounds tonight and Friday, instead of running four games consecutively so we could watch every minute (didn’t they used to do this? Did I make this up?), two games will run at the same time, leaving those of us who don’t have two TVs sitting in the same spot (yet) flipping channels like a wild man. I would be happy to burn two more vacation days to watch all four games.
Another Reason to Hate the ACC – At Least the Coaches
Despite what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said a couple of weeks ago, Chad Forde of ESPN reports today that multiple sources tell him that Kidd-Gilchrist will enter the NBA draft following the season.
One Forde source is quoted as saying “(Kidd-Gilchrist) hopes he’ll be able to announce right after they win the NCAA Championship.” Of course, that doesn’t preclude and NBA source or one of Kidd-Gilchrist’s confidants from leaking the information now.
The other day it was Iowa State’s Royce White, just days after his team was eliminated, saying that he was going to the Draft.
This isn’t about whether Kidd-Gilchrist, White or anybody decides to enter the Draft. If that’s the path they want to take, I wish them nothing but the best. I’m always amused when people get upset by NBA early entries. Nobody seems to care if computer billionaires graduated from college, but it’s exceedingly important if our NBA stars got “the education they need.”
This is about the absurdity of the current system that makes this an issue that blows up in the middle of the week of the NCAA Regionals. The NBA Draft entry deadline was moved all the way forward to April 10 this year, just days after the NCAA Championship Game.
Who’s to blame? Primarily the ACC basketball coaches. Last year, the ACC Coaches (including that teacher who just happens to coach basketball) drafted a proposal to move the early entry deadline to the beginning of the spring signing period, taking away any time prospects had to check on their Draft status or work out for teams. The ONLY people this benefits are college basketball coaches, player welfare be damned.
So now, not only does the NCAA have to worry about things like Tim Tebow and the NFL blowing up the news cycle during their marquee event, but they also get recurring news of their brightest talents defecting to the NBA, sometimes apparently when their team is still in play. Truthfully the NCAA deserves it and they have nobody to blame but themselves for allowing it and the ACC coaches for proposing it.
Game of the Half Century – At Least the Night
When I was 15 years old, basketball Armageddon hit the hardwood in Knoxville, Tenn. After a 24-year freeze between Kentucky and Louisville – far and away the dominant basketball programs in the state – the NCAA forced the two together (completely by accident I am certain) in the 1983 Mid East Regional. I was at some kind of academic competition on game day — a foreign language festival, I think – and the thing literally shut down for two hours so that everybody on the Northern Kentucky University campus that day could sit and watch the game. I remember sitting in the lounge of the old NKU University Center (where future, less scholastic me would one day skip an epic number of college classes) watching the game with my friend Jeremy Graff, who was unfortunately a Louisville fan, and who was unfortunately happy at the end of the game.
An entire state shut down to watch basketball. And that was after 24 years.
Tonight THE Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati will meet for the first time in 50 (50!) years, despite being only 106 miles apart. The last time the two met came in the 1962 NCAA Championship Game. Bobby Knight was in uniform for the Buckeyes. It was the second straight year in which the Bearcats beat the Buckeyes for the title.
There’s a lot of the same dynamic between the two schools that existed 29 years ago for Kentucky and Louisville. Ohio State looks down its nose at Cincinnati and Cincinnati fans consistently carry on about how they’re better than Ohio State, but the big bad Buckeyes just won’t play them. Rest assured, there will be just as much anxiety north of the Ohio River tonight as there was on the good side of the River in 1983.
The funniest thing about the Ohio State-Cincinnati non-rivalry is that for many of the last 20 years, Xavier has been a better basketball team than either of them.
I like Ohio State-Cincy to be the best game of the night. If the Bearctas’ Yancey Gates can control Jared Sullinger (which really hasn’t seemed that difficult lately), Cincinnati can give the Buckeyes a run and maybe give Cincy fans a win they’ve been waiting for in a game they’ve been screaming for for years – just like Louisville did 29 years ago.
Speaking of Louisville
Put them second on the list for game of the night. I think Michigan State may overwhelm them, but if Gorgui Dieng can hold his own against Draymond Green and Payton Siva can get into the lane, then Louisville has a shot.
Back to the Brackets
The Top Seeds bracket holds the top spot among the eight selection systems I tried before the Tournament began. It is still near the top of the Bracket Challenge that I entered them in at the Elitist Jerk Sports Information Collective and is at 92.4 percent nationally.
The Wall Street Journal Blindfold Bracket is second and Kenpom is third. Oddly, the RPI bracket is really the only one that has a chance to win the group. It still has all four Final Four teams remaining and the highest potential top score, plus it is the only bracket in the group that has Syracuse winning.
Today, I really wish I had Larry Vaught’s Verizon Droid hotspot. Seriously.