A few thoughts while watching my NCAA tournament bracket take some heavy hits this afternoon — right now Washington, which I had back home in Seattle by now, is beating New Mexico, and Northern Iowa is hanging on against my tournament winner, Kansas.
But like I would suspect of most basketball fans, unless there’s a clear rooting interest in the game, I’ve found myself pulling against my bracket at several points during this first long weekend — Wake Forest’s Ish Smith buzzer-beater against Texas for one, and even Ohio’s stunning rout of complacent Georgetown, which I had going deep. Oh, well, some things are worth losing $5 for.
Even with all that, I went 24-8 in the first round — picked Murray State over Vanderbilt and Cornell over Temple and nearly got Montana over New Mexico. Tough luck, Grizzlies.
I missed the call on two of the three schools from which I have diplomas in the hunt. Florida took a tough 99-92 double overtime loss to Brigham Young in one of the best-contested games of that wonderful opening Thursday. But it was hard to feel bad about that one — I was surprised that the Gators, seeded 10th, even got in the field and they weren’t expected to win.
On the other hand, Clemson continued to test the pain threshold of even the most die-hard of Tiger hoops fans, losing to a lower-seeded opponent in the first round for a third straight season. Missouri outplayed Clemson at its own game Friday, winning 86-78 with a turnover-producing press and making senior forward Trevor Booker, the Tigers’ best player, a non-factor until the game was nearly over.
I felt bad for Booker, who’s probably the best Clemson player never to win an NCAA tournament game. Also for Tiger coach Oliver Purnell, who’s now 0-6 all time in the NCAA tournament with three different schools. Difference is, Purnell will get another tournament shot sometime, somewhere, though next year’s prospects without Booker are diminished.
My other school, Texas A&M, looked pretty good in disposing of Utah State. The bracket matches them up with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen if both win their second-round games Sunday. That’s what I have, and despite being severely tempted to advance the Aggies over the Blue Devils, I didn’t do it. We’ll see if that becomes just another March Madness decision to regret.
One more thing — I’m generally done with live coverage of basketball by this point each year, but I get a little overtime tomorrow. I have the Charlotte 49ers hosting North Carolina A&T in the second round of the Women’s NIT at Halton Arena tomorrow afternoon. Looking forward to that last unexpected trip to the gym.