Each year when I do my NCAA Tournament predictions, I fill out my bracket and submit it to whatever pool I’m in. I also keep a copy of my sheet to track my progress. When I get a game right, I highlight it in yellow. When I get it wrong, I highlight it in pink, including any games in later rounds that I might have already lost. Let me tell you, after this weekend, my pick sheet looks like something out of Queer Eye for the NCAA Pool. Pink everywhere. My only hope is to pretty much nail all of the rest of my picks, including UConn winning it all.
Wow, what a heartbreaking loss for NC State, losing after being up 11 with under four minutes left. According to Bill Simmons’ Levels of Losing, this was a Stomach Punch, with a little Monkey Wrench thrown in for good measure. First off, State was the better team and they were supposed to win. So when they cruised to a double digit lead in the second half after playing tight the first half, it seemed like the Sweet Sixteen was a done deal. Then, the collapse. State’s defense completely disappeared. From about the 4 minute mark, Vanderbilt scored on every single possession. Every single one. In their last seven possessions, they scored 20 points. They’d have a hard time doing that again against a high school team. Of course, the key to that run was the attrocious intentional foul on Marcus Melvin. It started with Melvin throwing a bad pass that was intercepted. As Melvin chased Corey Smith down the court, Smith pulled a Zola Budd, slowing down and cutting right in front of Melvin. Their feet tangled and they both went down. Now, you have to call that a foul, but an intentional foul? It was a complete accident! Melvin was gonna foul him, but not at that point, and he certainly would have used his hands to do it, not his feet. A terrible call at that (or any) point of the game. Given that they still never stopped Vandy, State might well would have lost anyway, but the call still made a difference. Take away the three that Moore hit for Vandy on that possession (after Smith hit both free throws) and Vandy would have been down four with under a minute to go instead of just one. That’s a big difference. But, what happened happened and State’s season ended there. I’m surprised there weren’t reports of State fans raining off of overpasses and tall buildings.
The big upset on Sunday of course was the UAB win over Kentucky. I never saw that one coming. Kentucky is one those few schools that rarely loses early when they have a high seed. Duke is really the only other team like that. Others, like Stanford, Arizona and Kansas, you kind of expect to get upset, but not Kentucky. That it was UAB that did the damage brought back a repressed memory from my youth. UAB upset #1 Virginia in 1982, Ralph Sampson’s junior year. I wasn’t able to hear those letters U-A-B for years without going into a blind rage. Years of therapy cleared that up for me, but I’m guessing the rabid Kentucky fans will have the same problem I did. Honestly though, this was not one of Kentucky’s really good teams. They were solid, but not a power like they’ve been in some recent years. Even so, it’s a good thing for coach Tubby Smith that Louisville and Rick Pitino lost in the first round. I don’t think the Cats fans have ever felt completely comfortable with Tubby, and if they think they are getting passed by Louisville and the traitorous Pitino, they’ll run Tubby out on a rail.
ACC vs. Big East
There were three matchups between the ACC and Big East over the weekend (four if you include the JV game of Villanova vs. UVA in the NIT). The ACC took two with Duke easily handling Seton Hall (I actually fell asleep watching that one) and GT squeaking by BC. Syracuse beat Maryland in the other game. Each conference has three teams left (as does the Big Twelve). It’ll be interesting to see who ends up in the Final Four and gets bragging rights.
Did you see the end of that Georgia Tech – Boston College game? Man, did those teams make some dumb decisions down the stretch. BC got the ball with 33 seconds left and down one. Now, the smart thing to do is to work the clock down and try to get a good shot with 10 or so seconds left. You want to score and not give the other team a good chance to come back and beat you. Instead, they drove the lane and threw up a brick with about 23 seconds left. Fate was kind though and they got the offensive rebound. So, a few seconds later, Jarrett Jack of GT steals the ball and goes the other way in a clear fast break. He was all by himself. If he had just dribbled in like he was going to shoot and then curled back out along the baseline, he probably could have killed the entire clock. Worst case, BC fouls someone with a second or two left. But no, Jack felt the need to show off and threw down a rather impressive dunk. It looked good, but it only put Tech up 3 and gave BC 5.5 seconds to tie the game. Lucky for JJ, BC missed their shot.
The play reminded me of a similar situation I found myself in way back in my sophomore year of high school. I pulled the ball back out and I think my coach about passed out with excitement. In honesty, I was only partly thinking about the time. I was more concerned about the guy who beat me down the court and I didn’t want my layup blocked. But, regardless, I made the smart play, and I was a mediocre 14 year-old. You think college players would know better.
If you didn’t see either of Wake Forest freshman Chris Paul’s games yet, be sure to tune in to the next one. It’s a tough matchup with St. Joe’s guards, but Paul looks like he’s looking to take The Leap into greatness. His game against Manhattan was simply incredible. He had 29 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. His most impressive play though was when he skied to swat a fastbreak layup back to about midcourt. The 6’1″ Paul looked like Emeka Okafor getting up for that one.
Tournament performance by conference:
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