ATB: NCAA First Weekend Thoughts

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2009


First Weekend Storylines. Like most of you guys, we figure we watched approximately 38 hours of basketball last weekend over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament.  Since we were in Vegas taking advantage of the sportsbooks’ multiple huge-screen tvs, we pretty much saw pieces of every game on the dance card.  Here are some of our thoughts and observations based on the sensory overload (speaking of sensory, that chick making bedroom eyes at the burger in the McDonald’s commercial is ridiculously difficult to remove from the internal hard drive).

Coach K, Your Filet o’ Sole Has Arrived.  From our point of view, at least in terms of the elite teams of each conference, there was never any question that the Big East was much stronger than that of the ACC this year.  The fact that anyone was even questioning this seemed odd.  This year, the Big East had six teams (of seven bids) with a reasonable shot to make a run at the F4 – UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Villanova and Marquette, and the first five of that group is still standing (the most ever by a single conference in the Sweets, btw); the ACC had three (of seven bids) – Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, but only the twin towers of Tobacco Road royalty are left dancing.   The simple fact of the matter is that the ACC’s middle – comprised of Clemson, Florida St., Maryland, BC and Virginia Tech (NIT) – were only “solid” teams that had significant weaknesses due to personnel or other issues.  Conversely, the equivalent caliber teams from the Big East (with the notable exception of WVU) were left out of the Big Dance.  This group includes Providence, Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and there shouldn’t be any dissent as to the fact that each of these teams would have competed for the middle of the ACC with the above group and several would have also earned bids on the basis of the occasional upset (see: Maryland and BC).  Sitting where we are now, with five Big East teams a mere two wins away from the F4, it wouldn’t shock us to see all four slots filled by a BE team.  This is still an unlikely scenario, but keep in mind that only Villanova is considered an underdog to reach the next round (Syracuse is a pick’em against Oklahoma), and all five of these teams are more than capable.


#1 Seeds. UConn looked absolutely dominant in its two games, and while not much can be discerned from a 56-pt dismantling of Chattanooga, the 92-66 beatdown of a Texas A&M team that was coming on strong must be viewed with awe.   The Huskies will get the best team in the Big Ten next – Purdue – but we have trouble believing that the Boilers will challenge Jim Calhoun’s team at this point.  Suddenly a #1/#2 matchup against Memphis in the regional finals looks very appealing.  UNC bombed Radford in its first round game before riding a partisan crowd’s energy and Ty Lawson’s toe to a breakaway win over LSU in the second round, 84-70.   The Heels should put away Gonzaga easily in the next round (we doubt Heytvelt will dominate Hansbrough this time around), but a regional final against either Oklahoma or Syracuse could present all kinds of problems for the Tar Heels.   Louisville and Pittsburgh both struggled to put opponents away in both their first and second round games.   Both of these teams sometimes have trouble scoring, and we have to wonder when a prolonged scoring drought against a good team will be enough to end their run to the title.   Pitt should have a relatively easy go of it with its next game against Xavier, but we’re looking at Louisville’s next game against Arizona and wondering what might happen if the trio of Budinger, Wise and Hill are all making shots.

Biggest Surprises.

  • Lots of Chalk. Given that so much of the chatter this year has been that there are no dominant teams (which we completely agree with), we expected more of the top teams to fall during the first weekend.  Instead, all we had was two #4s (Wake Forest and Washington) drop games out of the top sixteen teams.   There were several close calls, most notably Michigan St. – USC, Missouri-Marquette and Duke-Texas, but the higher seeds all advanced and the Tourney lost a little of its magic in the process.
  • Robert Sallie’s ExplosionRoburt Sallie’s ten threes was one short of a record for threes in an NCAA Tournament game, and he’d only made 39 prior all season.  He may have saved Memphis the embarrassment of losing to a #15 seed, because the rest of the Tigers weren’t doing much to help him out in this game.
  • Three Twelve Seeds Win.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone if one #12 seed wins a game, but the fact that three did so this year was a bit unusual.  Arizona exposed Utah before getting a break game with Cleveland St. to make the Sweet Sixteen, while Wisconsin (FSU) and Western Kentucky (Illinois) held off their higher-seeded foes to get the upsets.  Tournament experience helps – all three of these upsets involved teams returning from last season playing a team re-joining the Dance for the first time in a while.

Things Surprising Nobody.

  • That Siena Challenged OSU and Louisville. Everyone knew that the Saints were a very good team, so the fact that they were able to hit two dagger threes to win a double-OT war with Ohio St. was one thing; but making a comeback from double-digits down to put the fear of God into Louisville in the second round was quite another.  If Mike Brey leaves ND for Virginia, could Fran McCaffery end up at his former Irish employer as the head man?
  • That the Top Four Leagues Comprise Three-Quarters of the Sweet Sixteen.  We all had a pretty good idea that the Pac-10 and the SEC were garbage this year, and the numbers in the S16 bear that out with only one team (#12 Arizona!) joining the group.  For the second year in a row, the Big 12 is performing well so far, with half their teams in the regionals and a sterling 9-3 overall record.   The Big East (5), Big Ten (2) and ACC (2) comprise the rest, with Memphis, Gonzaga and Xavier representing the mids-that-aren’t-really-mids division.
  • That UCLA Fizzled Out.  The trendy pick was VCU over UCLA in the first round, and it almost came to fruition.  Of course, Eric Maynor’s game-winning shot was defended considerably better than it had been against Duke two years prior, but the Bruins got thoroughly outclassed by the much better Villanova team in the next round.
  • That John Beilein is a Great Tournament Coach.   Anyone who remembers what Beilein did with his West Virginia teams should not have been surprised that his Michigan team was able to frustrate a much-more talented Clemson team into a loss before giving Oklahoma an excellent game until Blake Griffin decided to fly over people from near halfcourt.   Michigan will be heard from for years to come in this tournament.

Biggest Disappointments.

  • Wake Forest.  The Deacs flamed out yet again in a postseason tournament as the higher seed, but this time they didn’t even wait until the second round to do it.   Uninterested, unmotivated and uninspired against Cleveland St., Wake’s legacy this season is that it became one of a historically select few #1-ranked teams during the regular season to get knocked out unceremoniously in the first round of the NCAAs.  With two lottery picks in the lineup and a third on the periphery, the issue wasn’t talent with this team; rather, any blame must start and end with the man at the helm of this ship (who, by all regards, is a nice guy).
  • The Mountain West.  Possibly robbed of a third bid by Mississippi St. on Selection Sunday, the MWC had reason to believe it could make some noise with its two remaining teams, #5 Utah and #8 BYU.  Instead, neither competed against Arizona nor Texas A&M as they got thumped in double-digit fashion.   You don’t earn respect among the big boys by dumping games like that so easily, especially as the higher seeded teams, yet the Mountain West managed to do just that and shouldn’t whine about multiple bids next year given this performance.

Best Game (First Round). No-brainer.  The OSU-Siena game was fantastic, with multiple big plays down the stretch on both sides.  Somehow the Saints outrebounded the burlier Buckeyes by 17 boards, but Evan Turner for OSU was outstanding with 25/9/8 assts.  This game had the entire sportsbook at Caesars Palace up on its feet cheering the outcome.  Honorable mention goes to Oklahoma St’s thriller with Tennessee, where it appeared both teams had the game won several times before Byron Eaton’s ridiculous driving and-one to finish it off.

Best Game (Second Round). Missouri’s comeback win over Marquette had everything you want from a great NCAA Tournament game.  Comebacks: both sides had them, first Marquette to come back from a 12-pt halftime deficit, then Missouri after Marquette had seemingly taken control down the stretch.  Up and down action: both teams love to push the ball and don’t waste time looking for good shots, esp. Kim English who blew up for fifteen points in a 5-minute stretch for Mizzou.  Inspiration:  Marquette’s Dominic James came back for this game and, although he didn’t play well, provided leadership and inspiration for his teammates.  Controversy: Lazar Hayward’s mistake of crossing over the baseline as he attempted to throw the ball into the backcourt for the last play.  Just a great game all the way around.   Honorable mention goes to the Duke-Texas game, which had all the drama that one would expect from two regal programs such as those.

Sweet Sixteen Look-Ahead.  If we were going to re-rank teams based on their performances last weekend, we’d probably put UConn at #1 ahead of #2 UNC, #3 Memphis and #4 Villanova.  This is not to say that Louisville, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma, Duke or others looked bad; it’s just that we thought these four teams looked the best.  The games we can’t wait to see are the following, from best to worst:

  1. #2 Michigan St. vs. #3 Kansas (Midwest) – this should be a phenomenal game; Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are playing poised and great basketball, while MSU has managed to stay away from the doldrums that sometimes plagued them during the regular season.
  2. #2 Memphis vs. #3 Missouri (West) – this should be a blast…  Memphis’ pressure halfcourt defense against Mizzou’s pressure fullcourt defense.  Can Tyreke Evans handle the relentless pressure?
  3. #2 Duke vs. #3 Villanova (East) – another one we really can’t wait for.  Villanova is playing well in every facet of the game right now, and Duke has gotten over the second round hump for this group of Devils.
  4. #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Syracuse (South) – it is this game that will determine to everyone whether Oklahoma was simply Blake Griffin or a more substantial group of players.  If it’s just him, Cuse will expose that.
  5. #1 Connecticut vs. #5 Purdue (West) – this is the last game we’re really, really looking forward to, although the others could be good too.  Purdue has the athleticism to hang with UConn and the coaching to come up with a way to beat them.  But if Calhoun’s Huskies beat this team by 25, then we’ve got a juggernaut on our hands.
  6. #1 Louisville vs. #12 Arizona (Midwest) – nothing would surprise us with this game.  Louisville could win by twenty or lose by twenty here.  Seriously.
  7. #1 UNC vs. #4 Gonzaga (South) – people are going to talk a lot about Heytvelt dominating Hansbrough in the PNIT two years ago, but Gonzaga is still soft as Charmin and we expect UNC to roll them up and smoke them here.
  8. #1 Pittsburgh vs. #4 Xavier (East) – normally, we’d be all over XU going to a S16, but we’re not in love with this team, and besides how are they going to handle Blair?
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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