Gotta catch my breath after yesterday's action. What a start to the tournament. Good Lord.
I can't recall a greater single day of absolute down to the wire slug fests like we just witnessed.
How you all holding up? How's your bracket looking?
What we Learned from Thursday's Action
From the good games:
Apparently, you can get called for goal tending on an air ball.
Georgetown wins! Georgetown wins! They are out of the first round. Start that sweet, synthesized trumpet intro to One Shining Moment! "The ball is tipped, there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star... That one shining moment you reached deep inside. One shining moment you knew you were alive..."
Roy Williams is now 26-0 in his teams' opening round game of the NCAA tournament. Win 26 didn't come easy though. Wesley Saunders, the greatest player in Harvard Basketball history, put on a performance for the ages. He scored 26 points and played from opening tip to final whistle without ever sitting down.
One of my favorite things about these early round tourney games is when the three other fan bases at one of the varioius NCAA tournament sights start cheering for the lower seeded teams. There's the high seed, struggling, things aren't playing out as they were supposed to, they're up against the ropes and then the arena all of a sudden starts turning into a road like atmosphere. The lower seeds seem to feed off that energy, too. In that moment, the higher seeds and their fans must feel like Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. "Has the whole world gone crazy!?!" God I love that... As long as it isn't happening to my team.
Speaking of high seeds flaming out... The Big 12, outside of Kansas, continues to be God awful in the NCAA Tournament. The so called "best conference" in the nation this year, decided to crap the bed once again this year. Over the last 11 seasons, i.e. since Bill Self has owned the conference, all other Big 12 Conference teams have averaged a single tournament win, combined! In other words, the conference is done after the first weekend of action pretty much every, single year. That is the worst of all five major conferences over that same span of time. People may not like when I point this out, but not good enough Big 12. You're just not good enough.
All these close games have put on display the many coaches' differing approaches to end of the game strategies. The best coaches don't panic when faced with a three point deficit. They go quick for the best shot and use the stop then hack approach to extending a chance to win. So many more coaches, as we saw yesterday, don't seem to get it. I found myself yelling at the television as far too many chuck and ducks were the decisions coming out of timeouts.
In one of the best games of the day, Ohio State freshman guard D'angelo Russell went all Shabazz Napier tournament MOP on the VCU Rams. That kid was dominant. Thad Matta just needs to settle in on this kid's back for what could be a fun ride, because after it's over Russell is on to the league.
In the few blowouts we got yesterday:
Villanova took Lafayette and ran them out of the gym in the first ten minutes, saying to all their doubters, "Softest 1 seed my ace!"
I found myself laughing and rolling my eyes as the commentators on CBS started losing their minds when Hampton managed to hang around with the Wildcats in the first 8 minutes of Kentucky's game late last night. That game was never in doubt. You're always going to have that feeling each other portion of a game, but even when Hampton was making it close, they couldn't hit anything from the outside and kept driving into the lane against those Tucky trees. Whenever a game is close, with a higher seed playing a bit down, don't get excited unless it's still close going into the half, and even then you have to see if they can keep trading blows through the first three minutes of the second half. A team has to show that it's more than just high on the opening minutes juice.
Midwest Region: Saturday Round of 32 Games
1 Kentucky - v - 8 Cincinnati: Saturday, March 21, @ 1:40 p.m. (CT) on CBS
Cincinnati survived Purdue by driving the paint over and over with strength late in that game. Purdue isn't a small team either.
Still, that game plan will be much more difficult against Kentucky's size and strength, which is other worldly. I imagine this one will turn into one big old block party. Too much length. Like Marcus Lee just simply reached over three Hampton players for a fierce dunk. I wanted to embed that play, but that particular clip won't allow it. Don't worry, it was as obscene as it sounds.
3 Notre Dame - v - 6 Butler: Saturday, March 21, @ 8:40 p.m. (CT) on TBS
It's a battle for Indiana! Notre Dame got everything they could handle from Northeastern who put on a hell of a show in that opening game. The Irish looked like they had no answer for the Huskies big man Scott Eatherton who was abusing them all game down low.
Butler's win over Texas probably ended Rick Barnes time as coach down in Austin. Butler was clearly the better coached squad in dummy punching the half trying Horns.
Notre Dame is capable of playing much better than what they showed against the Huskies. That scare should have woken the Irish up. With Butler's star Roosevelt Jones banged up, this one will be hard for the Bulldogs.
Winmore's Midwest Region Record after Day One: 2-2
West Region: Saturday Round of 32 Games
4 North Carolina - v - 5 Arkansas: Saturday, March 21, @ 7:40 p.m. (CT) on TNT
Arkansas got themselves in a dog fight with a pack of scrappy little terriers, but held on to advance. SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis was huge with 15 points and 13 boards, 6 on the offensive side. Razorbacks guard Michael Qualls came to play with 20 points on a night when Arkansas really struggled to struggled to score.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams may never lose in his opening game, but the second game has haunted him his whole career. The Tar heels have gone down in this game the last two years. They looked tired late against Harvard, even though it was the Harvard kids that their coach Tommy Amaker wouldn't even let see the bench. The Heels better pick it up if they hope to not get wrecked by Arkansas' press. Marcus Paige needs to keep firing away.
6 Xavier - v - 14 Georgia State: Saturday, March 21, @ 5:10 p.m. (CT) on TNT
Georgia State has a one two punch of a guard combo with R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow. Harrow hasn't been able to go the last two games. Without him R.J. Hunter took over and balled the Baylor Bears right out of the tournament. His three at the end of the game that had his dad, and head coach, Ron Hunter falling off his stool was an awesome March moment. In addition to Hunter's game, the Panthers defense made life horrible for Baylor, getting the ball seemingly whenever they wanted.
Xavier went up against an Ole Miss team that thought they were just out on the playground for a leisurely afternoon of horse. My God. I've never seen more shenanigans costing a team easy layups before in my life. Given the magnitude of the game, it was maddening. Xavier's big old lump in the middle, Matt Stainbrook, who doesn't look like he's fit to play in a church's pickup game, was brilliant in stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, 9 boards and 5 assists. The man is a brilliant passer around which Xavier's offense rotates.
2 Arizona - v - 10 Ohio State: Saturday, March 21, @ 4:15 p.m. (CT) on CBS
Zona's got unfinished business on their mind this season, and looked like it in pounding Texas Southern in their first step of the tournament.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they get this tournament's version of Steph Curry waiting for them in game two. D'angelo Russell has got serious game. And the kid ain't just a scorer. Although he can pour it in, watch him running the transition. Kid can dish. He averaged 19 points and 5 assists for the season.
Winmore's West Region Record after Day One: 4-2
East Region: Saturday Round of 32 Games
1 Villanova - v - 8 N. C. State: Saturday, March 21, @ 6:45 p.m. (CT) on TBS
N.C. State completely flipped the script on LSU in their first game. After getting run by the Tigers to the tune of 40-25 in the first half, the Wolfpack outscored LSU 40-26 in the second. They needed every single tick of the clock to get it done though, first getting a crazy stop and then a wild tip in at the last second.
Nova wasn't challenged at all in their first meeting. Jay Wright's Wildcats did what they've done all season. They just rolled on to the next game. I thought going into this game LSU presented a difficult challenge for Nova, kinda like when Wichita State went up against Kentucky last year, but LSU couldn't take care of business and now NC State provides a much more favorable matchup.
Winmore's East Region Record after One Day of Games: 1-1
South Region: Saturday Round of 32 Games
4 Georgetown - v - 5 Utah: Saturday, March 21, @ 6:45 p.m. (CT) on CBS
The Hoyas made it out of the first game, which is as good as making the Final 4 for John Thompson III. It was a good win though, especially considering that they went all the way across the country to face what was essentially a home crowd for Eastern Washington. The Eagles had a big time baller in Tyler Harvey who put in 27. So good for Georgetown on finally getting over the early round hump for a change. The question now is does Hoyas' big fella Joshua Smith have enough energy to get Georgetown to the second weekend.
Utah had to go up against one of the better mid-major squads in the field in Stephen F. Austin. Utah's defense frustrated the Lumberjacks into a terrible night of shooting. Ute Star Delon Wright had a rough night, but Austrian star freshman Jakob Poeltl came up huge and they needed him to in order to survive.
Winner: Runnin' Utes
11 UCLA - v - 14 UAB: Saturday, March 21, @ 11:10 p.m. (CT) on CBS
UCLA was given an absolute gift by the officials in this game, but Bryce Alford was shooting lights out from three yesterday, going 8/11 - the official stat line was 9/11, but I'm not counting that last air ball. I don't like bagging on the refs though. In game time speed it looked so weird that it seemed like a reasonable call. Truth is, SMU center Yanick Moreira would not have been jumping up if he didn't see that the ball was going wide from his vantage point, which it was. He just acted on instinct. However, no game ever comes down to one play, and SMU made some real boneheaded mistakes down the stretch that proved crushing. They still had TWO chances at the end to win it.
I just knew Iowa State wasn't going far in this tournament. They were living on a wing and a prayer for a solid month. I had them going down in the next round, but former Jayhawk, Jerod Haase, went ahead and made the Cyclones pay for their sins of poor shot selection a game early. The Blazers completely controlled the pace and style of this game from start to finish. Congrats to Jerod Haase and his squad.
Winmore's South Region Record after One Day of Games: 0-4!