March Madness Diary, Vol. 1
March Madness Diary, Vol. 1
I can hear Dick Vitale yelling his caustic yawp somewhere to somebody: “This tourney is putting the Madness in March Madness, babyyy!!!” I can feel the heavy, drudging despair of Jay Bilas and all other Duke fans fill the rest of the world with glee as “NO” punctuates the screen on diddukewin.com. I can visualize the glistening, sparkling Cinderella sneakers of Flyers of Dayton, the Cardinal of Stanford, and the Volunteers of Tennessee. I can see that all those bandwagon fans of Louisville and Michigan State are still riding hard towards North Texas, and that Indianapolis will hold perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the season tomorrow when Kentucky clashes with Louisville. I can smell the smoke of brackets ablaze, including my own.
What I can’t do: wait for the madness to begin again tonight. Or juggle. Or ice skate. Or condone the act of parents using leashes to walk their children around – but that’s a story for another time. Let’s figure out how the heck we got to the Sweet 16 teams that remain heading into the weekend and contemplate how the remaining games might unfold.
If there was ever going to be a fitting beginning to this past weekend of chaos, Dayton beating Ohio State in the final seconds of the first game of the (real) tournament was that beginning. I was actually listening to this game on the radio as I travelled down to North Carolina to visit a friend, and I was reintroduced to the wonder that is play-by-play basketball on the radio. I mean, these guys are good. Really good. Somehow, some way, play-by-play announcers can paint the portrait of the game so quickly and succinctly that you can perfectly imagine the game as it happens. I also got a chance to listen to Kentucky/Wichita State and North Carolina/Iowa State in this fashion and the frenetic pace of the radio broadcasts showcased the exhilaration and insanity at the end of those nail-biters.
At any rate, Aaron Craft wasn’t the only big name to go out on the first weekend. The tournament waved goodbye to Marcus Smart, T.J. Warren, and Jabari Parker all in the Round of 64 as Oklahoma State, NC State and Duke went down. I would make a joke about Duke here, but the fact that diddukewin.com will read “NO” until next season is punishment enough. Plus, Duke made history in the lost: Its amount of three-pointers made (15) was the most ever in a tournament loss. Enjoy the little things, Dook fans. Enjoy the little things.
The Round of 32 victimized more stars and even more contenders. Andrew Wiggins (forgot to show up) played poorly against Stanford, scoring four points and only shooting six times – and yet, Kansas was in the game until the end, being upset by merely three. Wiggins’ draft stock should fall because of this one game, but his performance certainly begs the question: Do the majority of one-and-dones have the maturity to compete entering the NBA? I don’t blame these young men for wanting to get paid as soon as possible, but we have to realize that high school standouts like Kobe, Garnett, and LeBron are exceptions to the rule and not the rule itself. Most of the legendary NBA players played at least a couple years in college, and I’d venture to say it helped them be more consistently great in the long run.
Syracuse, Creighton, and Wichita State were also knocked off over the weekend, causing us to lose some things such as: Jim Boeheim (and some of his already shaky credibility as an all-time great coach), C.J. Fair (it feels like he’s been in college for seven years), some credibility for zone defense (#zoneisforcowards), Doug McDermott (fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history), having to talk about Creighton for the foreseeable future, any argument against the haters/rationalists who have suggested Wichita State’s undefeated run was superficial, and Cleanthony Early (the BOSS of all bosses).
So what do we have to look forward to during this second wave of madness? Well, I’d like to not-so-humbly point out my sleeper pick for the tournament, San Diego State, has survived to the Sweet 16 and is poised to at least give Arizona a run for its tournament life out in the West. If they do pull off the upset against Arizona, I’m certainly taking them over either Baylor or Wisconsin. Honestly, I’m surprised Wisconsin is still around and so is Oregon, who should have beaten them over the weekend.
The South region is set up pretty nicely for No. 1 seed Florida. UCLA will certainly be a test – they’ve looked fantastic the last couple weeks, including a Pac-10 championship over aforementioned No. 1 seed Arizona. Still, anyone beating Florida would be a surprise at this point. If they do survive UCLA, they’ll face the unfortunate winner of Dayton and Stanford. I say “unfortunate” because it’s a shame we’ll have to say goodbye to a double-digit seed simply because they have to play each other. This kind of matchup is why some people argue for re-seeding after each couple rounds. Anyways, expect Dayton to pull off another magical win. They seem to have destiny’s wind behind them at this point.
The East went chalk except for Connecticut beating Villanova, which I predicted in my bracket if only because their coach seems to mean business. Luckily for Shabazz Napier and UConn, they get to face Iowa State, who’s coming off a tough last-second win against UNC and missing one of their best players, Georges Niang, because of a broken foot. I’ll label this a toss-up, giving the edge to Iowa State simply because they can run off 90 points on any given night. Meanwhile, No. 1 Virginia faces No. 4 Michigan State (bandwagon alert!!!) in what seems like too easy of a matchup for Tom Izzo’s Spartans. There aren’t many believers in the ugly-but-really-good-at-defense-Tony-Bennett-coached Cavaliers, which means there will be a lot of sad souls when Virginia somehow reaches the Final Four. Okay, maybe this region is tailor-made for Michigan State, but I still refuse to acknowledge most of the people who picked them to make the Final Four.
Finally, we reach the Midwest, which may arguably be the strongest region wire-to-wire this tournament. Kentucky knocked off previously unbeaten Wichita State and looks poised to make a run now that all those freshmen are playing together. Louisville was the seemingly consensus pick to win it all before the tournament started, and they look formidable again after a dicey first game and a half. Tennessee was a First Four team, yet now they’re two wins away from the Final Four. They’re incredibly athletic and long, capable of punishing any team that doesn’t want to run the whole 40 minutes. Michigan is doing Michigan things, making tons of threes and being really fun to watch. At this point, I’d say Louisville-Michigan is the most likely regional final, with Louisville being the favorite.
Still, it seems as though the most anticipated game this weekend will be Louisville – Kentucky on Friday, and why not? We infrequently get to see this intra-state rivalry get played out, and now it’s here in the Sweet 16 in all its bluegrass-playing, bourbon-drinking, fried-chicken-making glory. Given the first weekend of this year’s tournament, prepare yourselves for anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if Julius Randle makes an incredible dunk with seconds to go, only for Russ Smith to nail the half-court shot that Butler couldn’t against Duke a couple championships ago and send Louisville to the Elite Eight. Whatever happens, it’ll be awesome because this is March Madness babyyyy, the best part of the sports year. See you next week for a look at the Final Four, which will probably involve Florida and definitely won’t involve Dook University.