The Lede. What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was. The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years. BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves. Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line. Let’s jump in…
Your Watercooler Moment. 1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard. It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll. The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely. So what happened, exactly?
We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday. But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game. It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.
A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all. What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years. UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams. With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons. Nice RTC, fellas.
On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes. Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting. His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game. Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team. We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.
There you have it. Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today. The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five. Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top. The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones. The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. II. Another Diatribe From Jim Boeheim. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season. The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds. After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately. With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does. Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason. We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative. Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.
This Weekend’s Quick Hits…