Running Through the Madness From a Wild First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament

No sporting event is like the NCAA Tournament. I wrote this minutes before seeing that Dan had just posted an article saying the same thing. If you don’t like it, I’m pretty sure there is something wrong with you. Most likely you’ve never really given it a chance. You’ll probably be won over. People use the “one and done” term when describing players who attend college for just one year, but the magic of this tournament is the one and done format. Single elimination. Only football provides this drama, but teams play once each week. There are fewer teams and games.

Villanova started off the weekend by running away from Alabama after a competitive first half. The second game in Pittsburgh saw Duke handle Rhode Island. Kentucky overpowered Buffalo. Then, things got interesting. Loyola-Chicago defeated Tennessee in dramatic fashion. Sister Jean’s guys seemed to benefit from divine intervention as the winning shot bounced around and fell through with seconds remaining. Her story has been getting even more attention than the UMBC upset, and Loyola-Chicago is not done yet.

Kansas outscored Seton Hall in a typical bad beat game. The Pirates hit Kansas with a classic backdoor. Gonzaga beat Ohio State in a wild contest. The Zags went up 15-0, fell behind, and rallied back with a late 11-0 spurt to go ahead for good.

Texas Tech knocked out Florida in a close game. Neither team went up by double digits. Texas Tech’s biggest lead was 58-50, but Florida came back and tied the game at 64. Michigan provided some excitement by beating Houston on a buzzer beater. You have heard of brackets being busted. That shot saved many brackets. This ending showed us the ecstasy of hitting a winning shot, but also the agony of missing free throws that could have won it for Houston.

On to Sunday. After Purdue held off Butler, Syracuse upset Michigan State. The Orange have quite a following. They remind me of Notre Dame. So many fans, but a lot of haters as well. Jim Boeheim did it again. His zone has been frustrating opponents for decades. It was like pulling teeth, but Syracuse held on.

There was so much more to come. Texas A&M routed North Carolina. The game was in Charlotte. One of the themes in this tournament has been underdogs blowing out favorites. Not often in the grand scheme of things, but Arizona and Virginia were also defeated by large margins when heavily favored.

Next up was Nevada and Cincinnati. The Wolf Pack defeated Texas after falling behind by 14 on Friday. Cincinnati went up by 22. I switched to the Auburn game and looked at some tweets. Since my eyes were not on the game and scoreboards up top, I didn’t realize what was happening. Suddenly people started tweeting about Nevada going on a 16-0 run. When all was said and done, Nevada had rallied to win.

As for Auburn, Charles Barkley’s school lost by 31. It wasn’t even that close. Kansas State ended UMBC’s magical tournament stay. It was there for the taking, but UMBC could not knock down a key shot. They had numerous chances to grab a second-half lead. For the first time ever, seeds 1-4 in a region all failed to make it into a sweet 16. The door is open for Kentucky.

 

FSU rallied late and knocked out number one Xavier. I started to worry when last year was brought up. Xavier upset FSU last year. That game took place in Florida. It was a blowout that would have fit well with the shocking results of this year’s tournament. Florida State rallied in Nashville last night after the impressive Nevada comeback earlier on the same floor. West Virginia outclassed Marshall to conclude Sunday’s action. I didn’t even get to the announcers yet. As they say, stay tuned.

No Matter What Happens, UMBC Will Be The Team Of The Tournament

The NCAA Tournament is well, madness. No other major sport has anything that resembles March Madness. Upsets, buzzer beaters, and bad beats are what make these three weeks so special. Players come and go, teams win and lose, but once in awhile, a story comes around that is universally beloved and captivates the nation. This year, that title belongs to the UMBC Retrievers.

A 16 seed had never beaten a 1 seed going into Friday night. On the 136th edition of a 16 vs. a 1, finally, history was made. UMBC defeated Virginia 74-54, etching their name into March Madness immortality. UMBC did not just win the game, they blew the Cavs out of the gym. UMBC was 54% from the field and 50% from 3 while Virginia shot 41% from the field and an abysmal 18% from 3. That is a recipe for an upset. It’s weird that in a year where experts talked about how Penn could be the 16 seed to finally be a 1, the 16 seed to get the least attention ended up shocking the world.

As the game went on, UMBC continued to make shot after shot while Virginia continued to struggle and lose their identity of tough defense and efficient offense. UMBC was up 16 with over 8 minutes left and I still questioned if this was possible. “Virginia has to make a run, right? There’s no way UMBC wins this game.” Wrong.

While the game was going on, the UMBC Athletics Twitter Account decided to upstage the play on the court with witty remark after witty remark.

UMBC’s cinderella run ended in a 50-43 loss to Kansas State, but in the grand scheme of things, no one will remember that loss. Teams win and lose all the time in this tournament, but it’s rare to get remembered. I bet that if you were to ask the common basketball fan who was in the Final Four last year, I bet more than 50% of people could not answer that. I’ll go one step further and say 50% of people could not name who was in the title game last year.

However, people will remember UMBC and their magical upset. Their win will become a “where were you when it happened” type of moment. UMBC won the hearts of the American public and for that, we thank you.

Author’s Note: I’m fully aware that if Loyola Chicago wins the championship, they will be the team that everyone remembers. I’ll keep that article in a draft for now.

Recapping the Major Storylines From the First Round of March Madness

So far we have seen just about everything in this year’s tournament. Bad beats, lots of chalk, and a couple stunning upsets. Thursday’s slate began with an exciting overtime game between Rhode Island and Oklahoma.

URI missed a short shot as time expired that could have won it. Trey Young showed off his talent, but also the bad side of his game. He threw up shots from 30 (or more) feet away late in the contest, for seemingly no reason. Close game. Time left on the shot clock. His decisions with just seconds remaining were even more ridiculous. When you trail by three possessions, take a quick three. Young seemed to be in no hurry.

Eventually, he penetrated before dishing. Two late possessions involved Young using too much clock and netted just two points. Totally backward. I have heard it suggested that coach Lon Kruger pretty much lets him do anything, but I think his hands are tied. Young complained after a loss earlier in the season that he is guarded like no other player. I thought that was a poor excuse for his awful shooting. If you are constantly doubled, find an open man. Don’t keep throwing up threes. I also thought he completely exaggerated how defenses were playing him. It left a bad taste in my mouth. The URI-Oklahoma game was a good way to kick things off. Especially if you had Rhode Island advancing.

Thursday night produced a shocking upset. Buffalo dominated Arizona and destroyed countless brackets. Although Buffalo was considered to be a dangerous team, most people felt drawing Arizona would be too much for them. This was memorable for the way Arizona was blown out. The Wildcats have been surrounded by controversy in recent weeks. Although this might have played a part in their loss, some thought it might fuel them to a long run. I think a lot of people just wanted to see them succeed and stick it to the NCAA. Deandre Ayton is done at Arizona. The 7-foot freshman is headed for the NBA.

Virginia quickly made most people forget about Arizona. I knew it was only a matter of time before people started going with the “hold my beer” theme. De’ Andre Hunter’s injury may have impacted the team sooner than people expected. They can’t cry about things. UMBC lost to Albany 83-39. However, Virginia should not have been playing them. They really should have been paired with a worse team. Somebody who played Tuesday or Wednesday. Recently I wondered if the first 16 to beat a 1 would be somebody who played in a First Four game but then thought that might not happen because those teams are basically ranked even lower than teams who automatically get matched up against one of the top seeds.

Virginia should have been playing against a less impressive opponent, but so be it. Threes are the great equalizer. Normally the 16 struggles to score. At least in older times. Things are different now. UMBC was making shots, and playing confidently. They looked like a 1. Virginia’s style leaves them vulnerable. It’s tough for them to come back from big deficits. Slowing the game down and limiting possessions often makes for closer games, although this one was not close in the end. UMBC’s win was a little less dramatic because they won so easily. Maybe Buffalo showed us the blueprint. Hit threes. Score a lot. Make it tough to rally back. Arizona’s big man seemed insignificant. When you get down double digits, your best chance at a comeback is to make outside shots and have your guards leave the way. We’ll see what this weekend has in store for us. Enjoy the madness.

 

First Two Days Of The NCAA Tournament Are The Best Sports Days Of The Year

There is a reason why men schedule vasectomies for this weekend more than any other. NFL Divisional Weekend is (usually) the best football weekend of the year. The first Saturday in May is awesome because of the Kentucky Derby, NBA / NHL playoffs, and a big fight at night. However, the first two days of the NCAA Tournament are the two best sports days of the year. They are my personal favorite days of the year. Once 12 Noon hits, do not bother talking to me unless it’s about basketball or brackets. I won’t give you the time of day otherwise.

I dream about these two days all year. 32 games over the next two days, 16 per day, of nonstop college basketball. You can’t get this anywhere else. Excitement, heartbreak, jubilation, sadness. All of these emotions are felt throughout these next 48 hours. I haven’t even mentioned gambling yet. Between brackets and individually betting, my bank account is about to go to $0, but it’s so worth it. I can’t wait to sweat out a 1 seed trying to cover a 19 point spread. People talk about getting high on life, but you have never experienced a high like trying to cover a spread.

My advice to you. Get all of your work done this morning. Concentrate as best as you can. Force yourself to get things done. Once 12 Noon rolls around, you’re toast. Enjoy the games.

Looking Ahead to a Newly Designed Selection Sunday

Sunday will be a big day. Something for everyone. American Idol returns. This time it will be on ABC. Fox counters with an unseen O.J. Simpson interview from 2006. The special has been described as a shocking hypothetical account of the infamous 1994 murders linked to Simpson. Don’t forget the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. There is a WWE event for those who care. Some may be interested in that car race from Phoenix. Of course, you can’t catch any of these things when they start unless your clocks are properly changed. Spring forward.

I don’t really care about any of those things. Well, I need to make sure I’ve got the correct time. Phones adjust themselves. For me, it will be all about the brackets. Selection Sunday. It has been a tradition in my life for many years. More than 20. Call it 25. However, there will be a number of changes this year.

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For starters, TBS takes over from CBS. Teams will be revealed differently. The entire field gets unveiled before we see brackets. Yet another new twist will be a live studio audience. Quadrant 1 wins are now important. Here is your quadrant breakdown (based on the RPI): Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75. I’m not even getting into other quadrants. I heard St. Mary’s losing to BYU actually elevated their previous win over BYU to a quadrant 1 victory.

Any questions? Now everybody is extremely confused and we apparently have a scenario that rewards losing. Talk about tanking. Obviously, I’m exaggerating. St. Mary’s might be on the bubble after losing. That would not have been the case if they beat BYU and earned another meeting with Gonzaga. I don’t understand how ESPN put up a stat that Middle Tennessee had a 99.5% chance of making it with a win Thursday but about 5% if they lost. That seems drastic. Playing one poor team means an awful lot.

I guess it’s more about hurting yourself with the loss. I’ve always thought it was strange that you need to root for strong teams in your conference tournament. Normally an upset would seem good. When top teams lose, it opens up an easier path to making a run. That makes too much sense. You need games against highly ranked teams. Again, it feels like wins don’t mean much. Losing against someone tough is better than beating somebody considered below average.

We’ll see which bubble teams get snubbed. There are a lot of Syracuse fans in New York, and Notre Dame is also popular. Trae Young’s Oklahoma team has been awful for weeks. The most recent games used to mean more. Just another change. Now the whole body of work matters equally. At least in terms of when it happened. Trending up or down doesn’t have added significance the way it did years ago. Maybe I’ll get more into Young some other time. It will also be interesting to see which teams are poorly seeded.

Hopefully, we will not have another fiasco like 2006. George Washington was totally screwed over. They went 26-1 during the regular season before losing in their conference tournament without a key player. Despite being ranked in the top ten when healthy, GW received an 8 seed. You could accept this if their star was out for the season, but he came back for the big dance. His name was Pops Mensah-Bonsu. After beating UNC-Wilmington, an unfair second-round contest against Duke was too much for GW to handle. One can only hope that 2018 does not bring us another gross seeding error like that tragic Pops Mensah-Bonsu debacle of 2006.

Was Alabama Beating Georgia In Overtime The Greatest College Football Finish Ever?

When you fire off a take that is too hot.

If you were able to stay up past midnight, you saw one of the best finishes to a football game that you’ll ever see. Alabama with the walk-off touchdown to defeat Georgia 26-23 to win the College Football Playoff.

Ok, it was not the greatest college football finish ever, but it was a pretty exciting second half as opposed to that boring first half. Seriously, if you love punting, missed kicks, and stalled drive, the first half was your heaven. Georgia went into halftime up 13-0, but it should’ve been worse and I’m sure they’re kicking themselves for it.

Down 13-0, what does Nick Saban do that NO OTHER COACH in college football would do? He benches his starting QB, Jalen Hurts, for a true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, who had not received a meaningful snap all year. The word on Tua was that this kid can spin the rock. He came from the same high school as Marcus Mariota. However, Jalen Hurts was 25-2 with National Title on his resume and Nick Saban pulled him for a true freshman. There’s a reason why he’s the best coach of all-time and has 6 national titles with 5 of them in the past 9 years.

It worked. Tua went OFF. Georgia had no answer for him because honestly, they never saw him on tape so they didn’t know what to expect. Tua was fearless, standing in the pocket, lowering his shoulder on big runs, and brought the Tide all the way back into the game. They even had a chance to win it in regulation…

Worst Things That Could Happen To You:

  1. Burned Alive
  2. Being an Alabama Kicker
  3. Buried Alive

Yet, somehow, someway, Alabama does what Alabama does. They win games that no one else can win. Walk off touchdown.

I bet the under at 45. Yay.

Tackling Night 2 Of The Sweet 16

Night 1 came and went for the Sweet 16 with DG faring a lot better with his picks ATS (3-0-1) compared to LTS. The beauty of it is that there’s another slate of games to relax and take in on Friday night if you don’t want to go out and be socially awkward. The game we have our eye on is the Kentucky-UCLA heavyweight matchup with a plethora of pros on the floor. I can’t remember a game with that many potential NBA players going head to head. So enjoy the action from the other three games as well, and hopefully make a little bit of money to go along with it. #FadeDG

#4 Butler v #1 North Carolina (7.5)

LTS: North Carolina -7.5

UNC survived a scare and some fortunate officiating last round against Arkansas. I fully expect a better effort tonight and to dominate the paint as they usually do against a lighter Butler front line. If Joel Berry can raise his game and the Tar Heels jump shot is raining, I believe they end up being too much for the Bulldogs and pull away to cover the fairly large number.

DG: North Carolina -7.5

Toughest game to predict all night. Butler has one their previous two games with ease. Will the real North Carolina please stand up? There’s no reason the Tar Heels should be in close games. I have said on numerous occasions that they are the best team in the country when all things are clicking. Tonight, they click. Butler never goes away, but Carolina walks to the Elite 8 tonight.

#7 South Carolina v #3 Baylor (-3)

LTS: Baylor -3

Don’t have much of a lean in this contest, but I will go with Baylor who has been the far more consistent team this season. Thornwell is a stud, but I think that 2nd half against Duke that was essentially a home game will prove to be a fluke. Big night for Johnathan Motley at the world’s most famous arena.

DG: Bet the house on Baylor -3

I’ll admit it. I’m bitter. South Carolina kicked my… I mean Duke’s ass last game. They was the best they will ever play in their lives. Shooting 71% in a half and dropping a 65 spot again is not going to happen. South Carolina is slowly becoming Press Carolina, but the Bears have been here before and they will get to the Elite 8 again behind Jonny Motley and Manu Ginobili Lecomte.

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#2 Kentucky v #3 UCLA (-1)

LTS: UCLA -1

Toss up right here, but in the marquee game of the night I believe the Bruins have too much fire power on the offensive end for the Wildcats to handle, much like their previous match up that UCLA took at Rupp Arena earlier in the season. The tournament needs a signature game and they’ll get one in Memphis. The Conference of Champions punches their ticket to the Elite 8. Get used to seeing Lonzo v. Fox at the next level.

DG: UCLA -1

This game is going to be a letdown. Everyone including my partner is hyping it up as the game of the tournament. It’s either going to be Kentucky out front the whole time, or my pick, UCLA, out in front the whole time. I just feel that when everyone hypes it up, it’s going to be a letdown. That being said, UCLA cannot be stopped on offense especially Mr. Ball. If UCLA can neutralize Bam and get good games out of Leaf and Welsh, this game won’t come down to the last possession. It’ll be the Bruins by 8.

#8 Wisconsin v #4 Florida (-1)

LTS: Wisconsin +1

After knocking off last year’s National Champs, Wisconsin has put the tournament on notice as a team with veterans known to make a run (third consecutive Sweet 16). Florida is rolling themselves, after disposing of Virginia in the round of 32. Koenig has hit every tough shot the Badgers have needed thus far, and I think he comes through again. Nigel Hayes, stay your ass on the block and good things will happen. Badgers advance to end the night at MSG.

DG: Wisconsin +1

Now THIS is going to be the of the night. I’ve looked what Florida has done this year. A relatively quiet year besides destroying Kentucky at home so they come into this game relatively under-the-radar and will 100% be the first time that many people have seen them play. That being said, Wisconsin is the most experienced team in the tournamnet and they don’t know how to die. Nigel Hayes turned back the clock last week and returned to his old self. Happ is a beast as well, but the man who runs this team is Action Bronson Koenig. The dude is Mr. Big Game and he will put on a show tonight. I expect a lot of back and forth actions with many ties and lead changes. When the dust settles, Wisco is moving on.

 

 

Duke Lost. My Bracket Is Busted. Time To Face The Music

Did anyone watch the Duke game last night? Is this nightmare over?

It’s time to face the music for your boy. From the beginning of the year, I screamed from the mountain top that this Duke team was a Final Four caliber team. Preseason number 1, ACC Champ, lottery talent. You’d be a fool if you didn’t think they could run the table and make it to Phoenix.

Then, this happened.

Duke got outplayed last night. No other way to put it. Everything that could go wrong did. Foul trouble for your top two players. TURNOVERS ON TURNOVERS ON TURNOVERS. Terrible shooting all around. No penetration in the lane. No true inside presence on defense. Jefferson seemed to be the only guy to match Carolina’s energy. I haven’t even mentioned how good South Carolina was last night.

South Carolina was awful in the first half. Missed 20/22 shots to end the half. Could not hit the ocean if they were standing in a boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Yet, they were only down 7, which was Duke’s downfall. Then, they had something “special” at halftime.

In quite possibly the greatest second half I have ever witnessed, South Carolina became great. For starters, they didn’t miss a shot. 71% from the field in the second half and dropped a 65 (!!!!!!!!) spot on the Blue Devils. Unreal performance. They could’ve closed their eyes, thrown the ball at the rim, bounce around a few times, and go in. That’s how good they were on offense.

I haven’t even gotten to defense yet. South Carolina straight up bullied Duke on defense. It was downright tough to watch at time. Duke could not handle the aggressive play of South Carolina. When South Carolina punched, Duke did not punch back. Do I think South Carolina is the better team overall? No. But were they the better team last night? Absolutely and that’s not up for debate. Tip of the cap to Frank Martin and the Gamecocks.

So now what? Well, it’s time to play the waiting game. Some part of me wishes this was an early 90s / early 00s Duke team. Lose in the tournament and have a bad taste in their mouth. Come back the next year with a vengeance and absolutely DOMINATE. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the 1 and done era.

Tatum is gone and he should. The man is a lock in the lottery and in my opinion, Top 5. Go make your money, Jayson. Harry Giles is most likely going to leave soon. With all of the health concerns, it makes sense for him to capitalize on his lottery potential because of his past history. Grayson Allen should return after a rocky, rocky year. If the same numbers this year as he had as a sophomore, he’d be gone no doubt. However, I think he ends up coming back. Marques Bolden is another guy that should return, but I think he either enters the draft or transfers. It’s a shame we never got to see what this kid can do because of injury.

Now, we get to Luke Kennard. Luke took a HUGE step this year in his development. Went from a spot up shooter to a guy that can get his own shot. In my opinion, he was one of the five best players in the country. Not Top 5 NBA prospect, but just looking from who had great seasons and took their teams to the next level. He’s in the low 20s in terms of a draft prospect and would go in the mid to late first round. I truly do not know what Luke is going to do. I would love to have Luke back, but I would not blame him for going to the NBA. Just know this. If Luke comes back, he will be the favorite to win National Player of The Year.

2016-2017 will go down as a season of “What Ifs” for the Dukies. What if the 3 freshman are at 100% health? What if Grayson Allen doesn’t have all of the tripping instances? What if Coach K does not leave the team for a month? What if they were a number 1 seed instead of a 2 seed? What if they didn’t have to play 4 games in 4 days in the ACC Tournament? What if they don’t face South Carolina in the tournament?

These are all legitimate What If questions, but every team goes through hardships, injuries, and struggles. It’s part of the season so there are no excuses. They had the 2 seed and were on fire and just ran into a buzz saw. It happens. Was the season a failure? No. Those four ACC tournament wins were some of the best games I have ever watched as a Duke fan. Was this season a disappointment? Of course. Not making the Sweet 16 as the preseason number 1 is disappointing.

Like every year, Duke will reload once again. They have 3 Top 100 recruits already signed including the #1 PF, Wendell Carter, and #1 SG, Gary Trent Jr. Frank Jackson should take the next steps as a true PG, something Duke DESPERATELY needs. If Luke and Grayson come back, they’ll be ranked in the Top 5 once again.

Whether you like Duke or hate them, there’s one fact that remains.

College basketball is better when Duke is good. Drink it in, man.