Monday, March 22, 2010

NCAA Tournament: Weekend 1 review

The Monk had some big hits this weekend, so I can toot my own horn a bit.

First, I had Kansas bonking against Northern Iowa. Just look for the post, it's cached somewhere.

WHAT? I picked KU to win the whole thing? What was I (and just about every "expert") thinking? Just because KU was the best team in the country all year? And the fact that no #1 seed had failed to make the Sweet 16 since 2004? And the fact that KU's second round opponent lost to a putrid DePaul (1-17 in the Big East) team should have been no factor at all, right? Pure idiocy.

But I did get some calls correct. I had Villanova choking in the second round, wrong opponent, but right round of exit. I had Cornell beating Temple and Xavier beating Pitt. I had Butler, Baylor and Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

Then again, I had Tennessee losing in the first round, and both Marquette and Richmond in the Sweet 16 and picked only 10 of the teams that will play next weekend. But I told you Villanova would bonk. Yes, you, Jay Bilas, Dickie V and Digger.

More notes:

(1) The most impressive teams over the first weekend have been Kentucky, Syracuse, Cornell, Duke and K-State. Kentucky waxed an ACC team in round two, Duke and K-State controlled decent second-round opponents. But the surprise was Cornell routing Wisconsin by 18. SU coach Jim Boeheim said in November that Cornell was an NCAA Tourney team. That statement came after SU whipped Cornell 88-73 in a game decided on an SU run just after halftime. Boeheim looked prophetic after Kansas needed some heroics by Sherron Collins to barely beat Cornell 71-66 at Allen Field House, where KU hasn't lost to a non-conference opponent in years. Nice to see an Ivy League school making a real run in the Tourney (first Sweet 16 for an Ivy since 1979 -- the Penn Final Four team that lost to Magic Johnson's Michigan State).

I still say Kentucky should be a Final Four team. I don't see WVU beating the Wildcats, and no matter how many people go to Syracuse (East Regional site) from Ithaca (45 minutes away), Cornell shouldn't be able to pull off a third shocker.

I told PaMonk on Saturday that Syracuse couldn't complain about being seeded "behind" Duke if it lost to Gonzaga because the Dookies whupped the Zags by 35. Sure enough, thanks to foul trouble and non-existent post play, Syracuse played four on five on the offensive end for most of its 41-13 run that spanned halftime (15-4 to close out the first half, 26-9 to start the second). The Orange crushed the Zags by 22, scored the second-most points Gonzaga allowed all year, and basically took its collective foot off the gas with 11 minutes left and a 76-44 lead (SU began running down the clock instead of playing aggressive offense). This is the Syracuse team that rolled Cal, UNC and Florida when they were top 12 teams early in the year, and which stomped Georgetown by 17 after spotting the Hoyas a 14-point lead. Not even the Sherman Douglas SU teams, which could blow an opponent to shreds in a matter of minutes, ever rolled in its first two Tourney games like this year's team did. Wes Johnson's hand, which bothered him all February after he hurt it against Providence, is fine now and that means SU has its best player at nearly 100%.

(2) For all the talk of the suck job by the Big (L)east in the Tourney, there's been little discussion of the Big 12's bonkathon. Primarily this is because Villanova and Georgetown were top 10-15 teams all season and were swatted away by double-digit seeds in the Tourney, and they deserve the criticism -- Georgetown crushed Duke and 'Nova, beat SU, Butler, Washington, Pitt and Temple and was blown out by a 14-loss 14-seed; 'Nova's best player, Scottie Reynolds, did his Shammond Williams impression in the Tourney (Williams had consecutive AWFUL games in the '97 and '98 Final Four for top-ranked UNC). But the Big 12 lost its standard-bearer (KU), saw A&M fall to undermanned Purdue, and had both Texas and Ok. State fail to less talented teams in round one.

(3) The top conference in the Tourney right now is the Big T(elev)en. As The Monk noted, Big T(elev)en teams with talent can more easily beat equally matched ACC or Big East teams because they can actually run with those teams while their foes cannot play the brutal rugbyesque Big Ten style game that Ohio State or Michigan State plays from January to mid- March. The Big Ten has three Sweet 16 teams, the ACC has one, the Big 12 has two, the Big East has two and the sorry SEC has two. Then again, if the seeds hold on Thursday and Friday, the Big East, Big Ten and Big 12 will have two Final Eight teams each.

(4) Ohio State should be a Final Four team. It faces giant-killer/giant-choker Tennessee before playing either Northern Iowa or an enfeebled Michigan State (no Kalin Lucas). That's the impact of the KU loss -- virtually guaranteeing a Final Four spot to the Big Ten.

For Syracuse and K-State, the KU loss is a large opportunity. KU was the 800-pound gorilla of college basketball all year, had the talent and balance to riddle the SU zone, and whacked KState three times. Before they can play each other, KSU gets no picnic Thursday by playing Xavier and SU has to scratch past always-tough Butler. For SU, if it gets to the Final Four, it would likely have to beat a Big Ten team in the national semifinals. SU is 0-6 against Big Ten teams in the Tournament -- all those games were with Boeheim as coach.

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