Saturday, March 22, 2014
I had no time to take notes today, and if I had I would have no time to compile them into coherent thoughts. I'm lucky I even had time to watch the games, which I barely did, doing a lot of recording and scanning. What follows is just the most important things of the games of the day. But I'm trying a new way, using the final score so when I read these 5 years from now I'll remember what the hell I was talking about. #14 Mercer 78 #3 Duke 71 And there is our first major upset. I really thought Duke was good enough to go to the Final Four. I wouldn't even say they flamed out here, Mercer just played an incredible game. But this is the second time in 3 years that Duke was a huge favorite and lost in the first round (remember Lehigh?) If I had to put a finger on what went wrong I would say they didn't play good defense, allowing Mercer to shoot 55%. But also Duke fell in love with the 3-pointer, 37 attempts. But maybe a bigger problem, and a harder one to explain is how they made only 7 out of 25 2-pointers. No one is ever going to say Coach K is not a good coach but he may be falling victim to a couple things here. First, he is such a great recruiter and his program has so much tradition that he consistently gets the best players in each incoming class. But, those guys leave after 1 maybe 2 years. And he's not having time to teach them a team game. So they don't play great defense and they stand outside shooting 3s because to do otherwise might require more years in the system, so they go back to individual skills. And a team like Mercer more experienced is able to beat them. But is he supposed to say no to Jabari Parker? #6 Baylor 74 #11 Nebraska 60 Nebraska may have played the worst first half of any team in the tournament. They scored only 16 points and made only 6 field goals. They came back with 44 in the second half but Baylor was coasting at that point. #3 Creighton 76 #14 Louisiana-Lafayette 66 This game was closer than the final score would indicate. ULL led 50-46 with 12 minutes left, but Creighton stayed true to themselves, passed the ball around made some 3s and went on a 22-10 run, which pretty much sealed it. #2 Kansas 80 #15 Eastern Kentucky 69 This game was also much closer than most of us thought it would be. They were actually tied 32-32 at the half. But eventually Kansas's size took over, they dominated on the offensive glass and EKU ran out of gas. But Kansas went 0 for 7 from 3. If they have to go up against a zone team like say, Syracuse, and they can't hit outside shots, the zone can pack it in and clog up the middle. I still think Kansas is an excellent team with or without Embiid, with a good chance to win it all. #8 Gonzaga 85 #9 Oklahoma State 77 This game was completely marred by bad officiating. They called 61 fouls, resulting in 78 free throws of which the teams made only 62 percent. At times it seemed like the refs were mad at Oklahoma State, particularly Marcus Smart. Some of those calls were ridiculous. Smart is definitely leaving after this year and if he can control himself and behavior like a professional I think he is going to be a great pro. I don't like him and the way he behaves but his talent is unquestionable. 23 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals. At the end of the game Oklahoma State employed the strategy to foul Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski. Announcer Andrew Catalon called this "Hack a Polack." Karnowski actually is from Poland. But I guess the PC thing to call people from Poland is Poles. He was sitting with another Polack, Mike Gminski, who immediately pointed it out. Catalon apologized, he probably didn't realize it can be seen as derogatory. I don't think this is a big deal. Nails is furious and expects Catalon to be fired.
Friday, March 21, 2014
I don't want to get too excited about a blowout victory over a #14 seed but for a team that limped into the tournament on a major shooting slump this was certainly a welcome result. The biggest bright spot was Trevor Cooney who had been 10-51 from 3 since his explosion against Notre Dame in the beginning of February. He made 4 of 8 from deep and led the team with 18 points. And he showed some confidence, which he had probably lost because of his prolonged slump. SU needs him to be a threat from deep in order to keep the middle open for drives by Ennis and Fair.
We begin the evening session with a look at the adorable grandson of St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli who sits (stands) behind the bench, wearing a suit, emulating his grandfather's mannerisms and even diagramming plays. Here he is being interviewed by our favorite sideline hottie Allie LaForce: Beautiful designed play by Kevin Ollie at the end of regulation. He got Shabazz Napier an open shot to win the game, it didn't go in but St. Joe's almost got caught watching the paint dry. St. Joe's's DeAndre Bembry has a serious Afro. And a cool beard.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
First game of the tournament was a doozy, Ohio State vs. Dayton. We started off by learning that Thad Matta won't play in-state schools in non-conference. I guess it's win and you were supposed to lose and they use it against you in recruiting. Does Jim Boeheim know about this? Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist doing the game with hottie Allie LaForce on the sidelines. They showed pictures of them from 1988. Raf and Verne looked much as they do know. LaForce was an infant. Raf was on his game, dropping a great Irish accent for Cavanaugh, and then doing a great whine to imitate Jim Boeheim. Aaron Craft almost cost his team the game with a stupid intentional foul. But he hit a 3-point play to tie it back up at 55, then made a great pass to give OSU the 57-55 lead. Ohio State's Shannon Scott committed an even dumber foul, fouling the 3-point shooter with a 2-point lead and the shot clock winding down. Craft is one of those players who gets too much credit. He isn't all that talented but he gets a lot of credit because of his style of play and skin color. He should have gone to Duke. He did play a great game though, and hit what could have been the winning shot. Great play by Vee Sanford. First game, first exciting game winner. A great start to the tournament.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
"Into the Night" - Benny Mardones This is a rare song (one of 10 in history) to have two separate runs in the top 40. Most of the time it happens to old songs re-released on movie soundtracks like "Unchained Melody", but this one apparently just got some airplay in 1989, 9 years after it first hit the charts. And people loved it all over again. The song plays in the convenience store when Walt and Jesse meet after being escaping Tuco in Season 2 of Breaking Bad.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Not Good! I am usually pessimistic going into the NCAA Tournament, often with good reason, but I was actually kind of hopeful this year, until I saw the region SU got placed in. Florida is the best team in the country based on performance, and if healthy Kansas is the best team in the country based on talent. The odds of beating both those teams, or having one or both get knocked off before we get to them are very slim. I would feel a lot better about Syracuse's chances if the teams in their way were the caliber of Wichita State, Virginia, Villanova and Michigan. The other problem, is that Syracuse just isn't playing very well right now. Starting with the Boston College game their team-wide shooting touch has gone south (Cooney especially) and the lack of scoring has been exacerbated by defensive lapses and the key injury to Grant. Many SU fans hoping for a deep run point out that SU similarly stumbled at the end of last season, and rebounded to make the Final Four. There is a key difference, SU won 3 games in last year's Big East Tournament, and zero in this year's ACC. I don't believe in momentum, but confidence does play a role, especially in shooting, and if you want to compare this year to last, you have to consider that. Second, even if the two situations were identical, does that make this year's team more likely to get hot after a bad stretch just because last year's did? No. Teams get hot, go cold, get hot again all the time. What they did last year has no impact on when and if this team will rediscover it's game. That said, this team has two excellent players in Fair and Ennis and two good players in Grant and Cooney (if he's making shots). Combine them with Christmas and Baye Moussa-Keita as purely low-post defenders and this team should definitely beat Western Michigan and Ohio State. After that who knows, but I don't like their chances.
Monday, March 17, 2014
The first post of the most wonderful week of the year. March Madness is back and as always, The Poop will have you covered. I think the Committee got the #1 seeds correct. Florida and Arizona are obvious on all aspects of their resumes, and Wichita State definitely deserved a #1 with their performance. Virginia was a deserving top seed because they won a tough conference in the regular season and in the tournament. Clearly they were the 4th #1, and got credit for finishing strong after 5 early losses (though 3 were to top 15 RPI teams, VCU, Wisconsin and Duke). But why didn't Louisville get the same respect for finishing strong? Because they have a week resume, only 19th in the RPI, no top 20 wins, their best wins are UConn 3 times and Cincy once. Most of the teams they were competing with played and won tougher games out of conference and in. The American Athletic Conference had 5 strong teams, but also 5 very weak ones. And the 8th place conference ranking clearly cost SMU an at-large berth. Their only big wins are UConn twice and Cincy, and had no other wins to speak off. Not only that, the bad losses piled up, South Florida, Temple (they went 9-22 this season, worst in school history) and Houston in the conference tournament. One of the last teams in, and most controversial was NC State, because they had 13 losses. But 7 of those were to top 30 teams. But it keeps the Committee's trend of rewarding teams with worse records and tougher schedules, in and out of conference. Southern Miss and Toledo got left out with RPIs in the 30s and SOS in the 130s. Xavier and Iowa made it in however. Iowa was the lowest RPI team (#64) to get an at-large bid. But they will play in the play-in games. Note: This is a good time to mention that until they expand to 96 teams I will never call the first round the first round. It will be play-in games. I hope you will join me in my silent protest of the NCAA's assault on tradition, common sense logic and everything that makes filling a bracket out fun and easy. I think the South is the strongest region, at least up top because Florida is the best #1 and if Joel Embiid is healthy, and he may be by week 2 of the tournament, Kansas is the toughest #2 seed. Everyone thinks the Midwest is murder because of Duke and Louisville as a 3 and 4 but I think Wichita State and Michigan are vulnerable top seeds. The East with Virginia and Villanova is definitely the weakest, so much so that #4 Michigan State is the 2nd choice in Vegas to win the whole thing. Stephen F. Austin over VCU is the popular 12 over 5 upset pick. If you believe the extra game helps teams, then maybe you like the NC State/Xavier winner over St. Louis. I would also keep my eye on North Dakota St. vs Oklahoma. But Cincinnati probably has too much size to let Harvard win a second straight first rounder. A 13 has beaten a 4 six straight years. If we love Michigan State and Louisville then our choices are New Mexico State over San Diego State or Tulsa over UCLA. 20 years ago Tulsa beat UCLA in a 12/5 game and then beat the 4 seed too to make the Sweet 16. Tulsa was coached by Tubby Smith. The current coach of Tulsa, Danny Manning.