I haven’t been bowled over so far by the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The first block of four Friday evening first-round games is going on as I write — no teams from the Carolinas playing right now so I’ve got Florida’s NIT game against Miami on the Internet. Must support the alma mater.
If you’re into the tournament there are plenty of places to find analysis — I keep going back to Sports Illustrated’s website — but I’ll limit my commentary to a couple of things that I find personally interesting. So here’s my take on March Madness so far.
The first two days haven’t had a lot of moments of high drama, with the possible exception of the final seconds of the Oklahoma State-Tennessee and VCU-UCLA games, buzzer-beaters both. But I do think it would be interesting to be in Greensboro for the second-round games tomorrow. North Carolina-LSU and Duke-Texas will be challenging games for the local favorites, playing teams that seem to be tailor-made to give them trouble.
I’ve seen comments on the Web today and heard assertions on talk radio that a No. 16-seed will, one of these days, topple a No. 1 seed in the tournament. As I’m writing the last of those four matchups is going on. And if Louisville holds on to beat Morehead State, it will give the No. 1 seeds a 100-0 record against the No. 16’s since the 64-team tournament format started in 1985.
I don’t see that changing anytime soon, to tell you the truth. Only one of the three No. 16s this year gave the No. 1 a battle, with feisty East Tennessee State giving sleepwalking Pitt all it could handle before the Panthers took a 10-point victory.
Radford was competitive with the Tar Heels for about 10 minutes, losing by 43. And I couldn’t help but wonder whether Davidson coach Bob McKillop and College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins were watching Chattanooga’s 103-47 loss to Connecticut with disgust. The Mocs were a surprising Southern Conference tournament champion, beating Cremins’ College of Charleston team in the finals after CoC beat regular season champ Davidson in the semis. Either could’ve given UConn a much better game.
Anyway, Chattanooga’s loss was the second-worst any NCAA tournament team has suffered in the shot-clock era, which I think dates back to 1987.
Princeton has come the closest to pulling off the ultimate upset, taking No. 1 Georgetown to the final seconds before losing 50-49 in 1989. I don’t think there’s any way a Princeton would be seeded No. 16 these days, which is the paradox of this — if you’re good enough to have a shot at beating No. 1, you’re probably not going to be seeded last. So I think that gap is widening, not getting closer.
(It’s worth noting that this has happened once in the women’s tournament, in 1998 when No. 16 Harvard, led by former Chester, S.C., prep star Allison Feaster’s 35 points, defeated an injury-depleted No. 1-seeded Stanford 71-67 in the first round. Here’s a good look back at this in the Boston Globe.)
On the other hand, I agree with Mark Packer’s assertion on his WFNZ radio show this afternoon that there’s not a lot of difference in the teams seeded from 5 to 12. Makes sense, because that’s where most of the at-large teams from the BCS conference usually reside in the bracket. And the first two days’ results bear that out.
Even the biggest upsets so far, No. 12 seeds Arizona and Western Kentucky over Utah and Illinois respectively, weren’t unexpected. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth’s loss to No. 6 UCLA could easily have turned out the other way. And three of the four No. 10s defeated No. 7s, including Clemson’s unwatchable loss to Michigan last night.
As I’ve been writing this, Florida has wrapped up a fairly easy victory over Miami. Of course the Gators are NIT (as in Not In the Tournament), which is an easy and I think unfair joke. Florida made some unwanted history last weekend, becoming the first former NCAA men’s basketball champion to miss the Big Dance two straight years after winning the title since the Magic Johnson-less Michigan State teams of the early 1980s.
And in this day and time the NIT doesn’t get much respect — win it and you’re the 66th best team, another joke goes. But this year’s NIT has some pretty darn good teams and good story lines in it. The NCAA tournament would do well to have a few games like Virginia Tech’s 116-108 double overtime win over Duquesne earlier this week. And even though he’s on a smaller stage this spring, it will still be interesting to see how many power conference teams Stephen Curry and Davidson can beat as they try to make it to Madison Square Garden. Their matchup with St. Mary’s — which has also had an injured star in Patty Mills this season — should be very watchable.
And now No. 4-seed Wake Forest is losing to No. 13 Cleveland State by 11 early in the second half. Will another ACC team lose, and can a mid-major get what’s turning out to be a rare win in this tournament? The madness continues.
Almost forgot. My Final Four: North Carolina, Memphis, Michigan State, Pittsburgh.