ATB: Boise Stumbles, Two Baffling NIT Home Losses and JMU Preps For Indiana…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 21st, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s lede. ‘Tis the Season. By the time you read tomorrow’s ATB, it will have begun. Indeed: a long and riveting season highlighted by a historically good Big Ten, a flurry of court-rushing upsets, and the official formation of a basketball-only Big East, has winded down its yellow brick road of regular season rising action to the annual apogee of college hoops as we know it: the NCAA Tournament. The first March Madness Thursday is basically a national holiday, but if you do elect to stay true to your respective employment duties, the urge of live internet-streamed games will reduce your productivity to a highly inefficient Pomeroyan work-per-minute rate. Trying to get stuff done on March Madness Thursday is like trying to pick Georgetown’s #2-#15 matchup with Florida Gulf Coast and not even once consider sending the Eagles through to the round of 32, just to raise the probability of a potential TV appearance from coach Andy Enfield’s supermodel wife. Whether you choose to show up at the workplace or not, the joy of the moment, the culmination, should push you through whatever endeavors keep you occupied from 9-to-5, right in time to come home and catch some of the day’s best action. Enjoy.
Your watercooler moment. An Easier Than Expected LaSalle Triumph.
If there was a team in the First Four with destiny on its side, it was Boise State. The Broncos earned their first NCAA at-large appearance in school history thanks to a credible run through the non-conference season (including a win at Creighton), a steady if plucky presence in a thorny Mountain West and a bevvy of hot-shooting guards. And in a year where fans and analysts nationwide are expecting the Mountain West to finally cash in on a deep-round run, you got the feeling Boise could get the MW off on the right foot with a First Four victory. La Salle made it clear from the start it wouldn’t relinquish its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years without winning at least one game (quibble with round-nomenclature all you want, these games count on the record), and Boise was helpless to stop an explosive Explorers’ offense. But for a few incipient bursts of offensive energy in the second half, La Salle dealt with the Broncos without batting an eye. It was a patently disinteresting affair – which, disappointing as it may be for observers, is a very good sign for the Explorers as they prepare for a tough match-up with Kansas State in the next round. The Wildcats, whose No. 21 efficiency offense ranks more than 20 spots higher than La Salle’s, will offer more formidable resistance.
Wednesday Night’s Quick Hits…
- The Brashness of JMU. It’s not easy to get excited about James Madison and LIU-Brooklyn. Only the wonkiest mid-major die-hards viewed this as anything more than anything more than a portal to Hoosier-induced destruction. The Dukes will go on to face Indiana in the Round of 64 after handling LIU with leading scorer Raymond Goins, who was arrested over the weekend on obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct charges, serving a one-half suspension. After trading scoring runs throughout much of the game, the Dukes tore off a 10-2 spurt to seal their spot in the next round. No one realistically expects JMU to faze Indiana, or even keep the game close any longer than five or so minutes into the second half. The Dukes aren’t backing down. Here’s what freshman and all-name team candidate Andre Nation had to say about the upcoming match-up: “They’re Indiana. We know about them. We see them on the TV all the time.” The Hoosiers should erase that confidence swiftly and painfully on Friday.
- Woah, Baylor. If Baylor was incensed about missing the NCAA Tournament with one of the most talented rosters in all of college basketball, the frustration is understandable. Scott Drew’s team goes seven- or-eight deep with explosive athletes, numerous future NBA draft picks and an electric point guard tying together all the loose ends. Baylor should have made the NCAA Tournament; it really should have. Long Beach State was the unfortunate recipient of the Bears’ offensive fury Wednesday night. Seven Bears were in double figures as Brady Heslip rained eight threes, Pierre Jackson played just 20 minutes and Baylor smacked down the 49ers in a 112-66 win. As much as I’d like to give credit for Baylor’s offensive mastery, the selection committee’s offices are closed until further notice. Sorry.
… and Misses.
- Tournament Worthy? I Think Not! I’m the last guy to use NCAA Tournament performance as ex post facto evidence for the merits of admission. There was a strong argument for Tennessee to make this year’s field. In fact, one of the most common mistakes on bracketelogists’ projections this season had the Volunteers in and Middle Tennessee out. Cuonzo Martin’s team had a perfectly respectable case, and their exclusion is no doubt disappointing (especially after last year ended in similar fashion — with a late but ultimately unsuccessful push), but were they disappointed to the point where losing at home to Mercer in any context – regular season, NCAA Tournament, NIT, you name it – is even minimally acceptable? The Volunteers missed on the Tournament. Martin is livid.We get it; Seth Greenberg feels your pain. Even so, dropping a home game to Mercer – who, admittedly, won the Atlantic Sun regular season championship and is far from your average November guarantee game — reeks of poor preparation and collective apathy. Pouting, in the form of listless postseason play, won’t transform the hard reality of another missed NCAA Tournament.
- UMass, You’re Better Than That. Had UMass managed to upset VCU in the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament, it may have replaced one of tonight’s at-large First Four participants in the NCAA Tournament. The Minutemen lost, and apparently took Tennessee’s lead in treating their first-round NIT matchup with Stony Brook as a preseason tune-up. The Seawolves scored the final 17 – 17! – points of the first half, and dominated the rest of the way as two-seeded UMass capped an already disappointing end to the season with an embarrassing home loss. No, Stony Brook is not a bad team. They won the America East by a full three games this season. But it would be silly to posit UMass would have lost this game, or approached it the same way, were this a regular season fixture that meant something more than mere conciliatory postseason advancement.
Celebrate Good Times. Not only were the Explorers thrilled about their NCAA Tournament berth. They brought the right mindset to their First Four game, and as a result, were deservedly granted a spot in the next round.
Tonight’s All Americans.
- Tyrone Garland, LaSalle (NPOY) – There was nothing Boise could do to stop Garland’s aggressive perimeter play Wednesday night. After 30 productive bench minutes, he had made 9-of-11 field goals for 22 points.
- Brady Heslip, Baylor – If only Heslip (26 points against Long Beach State) could have come up with a few more 8-of-11 three-point master classes during the regular season, when the Bears could have used a few more at-large bonus points to make the field.
- A.J. Davis, James Madison – The efficiency gods will not look favorably upon Davis’ 4-of-10 shooting line, but the aggregate (20 points, five rebounds) is pretty good all the same.
- Anthony Jackson, Stony Brook – After being bounced by #15 seed Albany in the semifinals of the America East Tournament, Johnson torched UMass for 20 points in a big road win for the Seawolves.
- Devyn Marble, Iowa – Here’s a player whose consistent scoring efforts were brushed aside with all the other various Big Ten storylines, who nearly led Iowa to an at-large berth in a close quarterfinal loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament and dropped 24 points to knock off Indiana State in a first-round NIT match-up Wednesday.
Tweet of the Night. How better to frame Boise State’s dysfunction than to rain digital media fire on Big East straggler DePaul. The Broncos were not at their finest Wednesday night, and if another long at-large drought is in the offing, Boise will painfully regret this missed opportunity.