ATB: Florida Gulf Coast Owns The Bright Lights, A Standard Dougie Fresh Master Class and the Wolfpack’s Bitter End…Posted by Chris Johnson on March 23rd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Goodbye Opening Round 2013; Our Time Together was Brief but Unforgettable. The funny thing about Harvard’s improbable upset over New Mexico last night is the way by which most fans came to find out about it. Only a dedicated subsection of college hoops fandom was glued to their TV’s in the wee hours for the Crimson’s magical takedown. The rest were hit with the news upon waking up the following morning. “Woah, man, Harvard won? Really?” Something like that. Friday’s upset du jour took place in a prime viewing window, and the big boy on the losing end – well, let’s just say that program has been in this unfortunate position more than a few times over the past few seasons. Without divulging specifics, it is my gracious privilege to sum up another drama-filled day of Tournament action. And for my money, day two trumped day one by a wide margin.
Your watercooler moment. Down Goes Georgetown. Again.
Once you move past the enormity of Florida Gulf Coast’s 2-15 shocker over Georgetown, the alley-oop dunks and And 1 Mixtape schadenfreude, a very alarming and very relevant recent trend comes into clear focus: Georgetown has seen its Tournament life go up in smoke at the hands of a double-digit seed in four consecutive seasons. You probably remember most of the losses: In 2010, 14-seed Ohio felled JTIII’s three-seeded Hoyas; VCU dropped G-Town as an 11-seed in 2011; and last season, red-hot 11-seed NC State pulled out a three-point win in the third round. None of those losses come close to FGCU’s 10-point win – the Eagles punked Georgetown in a year where the Hoyas, after a rugged Big East season, had every reason to believe their stifling defense and national player of the year candidate, Otto Porter, could push them towards a Final Four berth. Instead, FGCU got out on the break, flourished in transition and contained Porter and co. on the other end. The Eagles staged a massive upset against one of the most upset-proof teams – stylistically, not historically – in the entire bracket, with the defensive chops to weather the sort of up-and-down game FGCU thrives on. Here’s the best part: this little Atlantic Sun upstart took its spot on the big stage and totally owned it. The Eagles had Twitter ablaze with a litany of highlight reel dunks, and an equal accompaniment of bombast to turn the whole thing into what looked like a bunch of running up and down and just plain enjoying themselves on the court against a trendy Final Four pick. It was easily the most entertaining moment we’ve seen in this Tournament so far.
Also worth chatting about.Newsflash: NC State was overrated from the start.
A few NCAA Tournament wins and a shiny recruiting class can do a few things for a team’s preseason perception. For NC State, it gave the nation – and not just fans, but the ACC preseason media and coaches pollsters – license to elevate the Wolfpack to a No. 6 ranking and a level of expectations unseen in Raleigh for more than two decades. Everybody loved NC State, or at least the idea of NC State using last season’s Tournament success along with an infusion of freshman talent to rip through ACC competition and become a mainstay in the top of the national polls. Those were unreasonably high projections to begin with; I knew it, you knew it and the Wolfpack’s nonconference and ACC opponents who saw them as nothing more than a talented but fundamentally disjointed outfit knew it. Now we can finally put this season to rest. The 2012-13 Wolfpack were nice to look at for a while, but their luster wore off as the season rolled along, and on Friday Temple crunched Mark Gottfried’s team in their opening-round 8-9 game, putting yet another dent in NC State’s supremely talented roster – which, more than anything else, was always about defense. Now this book is closed, and we can go back to never, ever overrating teams in the preseason based off last year’s Tournament performance. Hey, a man can dream, right?
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Big Ten Stands Tall. Pushing aside Wisconsin (which you’ll read about below) for a moment, all things considered the Big Ten had a pretty good day. Indiana flexed its one-seed muscle against First Four survivor James Madison. Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson bailed Illinois out of trouble against 10-seed Colorado with timely three-point shooting. Ohio State locked down one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, Iona, and fell just five points short of triple digits. And Minnesota bullied UCLA in an 11-6 win that only cosmetically counts as any sort of real “upset”; the prevailing consensus favored the Gophers in this one. The Big Ten was propped up as the best league in the country for a reason, and now its teams are performing when conference scrutiny is at its most intense form.
- No. 700 For Roy Williams. On a night when Florida Gulf Coast consumes the national headlines, a remarkable milestone was quietly reached. That’s right: Roy Williams, in defeating eight-seed Villanova after the Tar Heels blew a 20-point first half lead, won the 700th game of his illustrious career Friday night. This had been a rebuilding season for Coach Roy’s team, and for a while there it looked like UNC might be in danger of missing out on the Tournament, but the Tar Heels – thanks in part to a brilliant lineup tweak – firmed up down the stretch, formulated an offensive identity and now have considerable momentum going into Sunday’s matchup with former coaching residence Kansas. And Williams has his 700th win, too, which is always a nice thing to throw in as a bonus alongside your standard 8-9 opening-round tourney win.
- Atlantic 10 Free of Opening Round Casualties. Relative to expectations, there was some disappointment about the way the one-time-only-16-team Atlantic 10 played out this season. Butler and VCU acquitted themselves nicely in their maiden A-10 campaigns and St. Louis handled the passing of their iconic coach with tact, aplomb and unwavering mental and physical determination, but the rest of the league, the Daytons and UMass’s and Saint Joe’s of the world, was just sort of ok. I expected better. The league did get five teams (VCU, Butler, Saint Louis, Temple, La Salle) into the NCAA Tournament, and – after La Salle shocked K-State and Temple handled NC State and VCU steamrolled Akron in respective second-round matchups Friday – all five have made it through to the first weekend. The real test of league quality is not in number but in extent of advancement: let’s see how deep and how well-represented the A-10 persists before completely reevaluating relative conference strength.
- McDermott Pushes Creighton Through. The moment I first gazed at Creighton’s second-round matchup, a 7-10 date with Cincinnati, I was not bullish on the Bluejays’ chances. Far from it, actually. I saw a grinding physical Bearcats team that could lock down Doug McDermott, dictate a slow tempo and lull Creighton into a defensive slog. McDermott wouldn’t be able to carry his team against Cincy’s bruising backcourt, the Bluejays would falter on the defensive end and Creighton’s season (and quite possibly McDermott’s college career) would come to an end thanks to a stylistically antithetical second-round matchup. The flaw in my logic: I underestimated Doug McDermott. Creighton’s superman dropped 27 points, including a pristine 11-for-11 from the free throw line, and the Bluejays held off the Bearcats for a four-point win. What’s more, thanks to Creighton’s triumph, McDermott gets a crack at Duke in one of the most intriguing round-of 32 matchups on the board.
- Ole Miss Gets Wisky. Not even an 0-for-6 start from three-point range from Marshall Henderson could hold Ole Miss back against one of this season’s most tactically sound, mechanically efficient, steady outfits: Wisconsin. Following an impressive run into the Big Ten Tournament finals, where they knocked off both Indiana and Michigan just to reach the championship round, the Badgers shot 25 percent from the field and 7-for-30 from three to score 46 points against a hot Rebels squad. The end result after an ugly offensive performance like that – shoot 25 percent, and you’re not getting out of the second round no matter who you’re up against – was predictable. Wisconsin losing in the second round was not.
- 7-10 Boredom. Usually the 7-10 matchups provide some of the best drama and hard-fought games of the opening round. Creighton and Cincinnati delivered a fair measure of viewing enjoyment, but the other two 7-10’s on the day were mostly academic. Ten-seed Iowa State ran Notre Dame off the floor in an 18-point rout and seven-seed San Diego State comfortably brushed aside one of the most nondescript teams in this entire field (Oklahoma). Both of these games looked appealing from a distance, but neither lived up to expectations. I guess SDSU and ISU would rather have their games be uninteresting and uneven than tension-filled and suspenseful, anyway. We, the viewers, are the ones who suffer.
Dunkdafied. If you missed Florida Gulf Coast’s upset win, believe me when I tell you there’s a lot more where this came from.
- Doug McDermott, Creighton (NPOY) – A tough second-round matchup with Cincinnati elicited one of the best individual performances of the season (27 points, 11 rebounds) from McDermott.
- Andre Hollins, Minnesota – What’s impressive about Hollins’ efforts in Friday’s win over UCLA isn’t the 28 points as much as it is the nine rebounds.
- Khalif Wyatt, Temple – No player in the country has more of an “old man’s game” than Wyatt, who mixes mediocre athleticism and off-kilter shoulder shakes and quirky release points to form one of the weirdest yet most effective offensive arsenals in the country. His old man’s game produced 31 points to the detriment of NC State’s permissive defense.
- Jerrell Wright, La Salle – The best individual performances from La Salle have typically come from its guards. On Friday, forward Wright led the Explorers over K-State with 21 points and eight boards.
- Jeff Withey, Kansas – Were it not for Withey’s 17 points and seven blocks, Kansas might not have escaped Western Kentucky Friday night in a game that, even with Withey’s massive efforts, was much closer than it ever should have been. The Jayhawks won by seven.
Tweet of the Night. It did not take long for Florida Gulf Coast to go from institutional novelty to national sports storyline. No matter what happens from here on out, it’s safe to say FGCU has made the most of its first NCAA Tournament appearance.