NCAA Tourney: First Weekend Analysis
If your NCAA Tournament pool bracket had Wichita State, a No. 9 seed in the West Regional, advancing to a Sweet 16 game Thursday night in Los Angeles, take a bow.
If that same bracket sheet had La Salle, a 13 seed, knocking off Boise State in a First Four game last Wednesday night and picking up two more wins to join Wichita State as one of the four teams playing in L.A.’s Staples Center Thursday, raise both hands over your head and bask in the glory of your stunning skills of hoops prognostication.
And if your season’s worth of watching games and studying every college hoops rating system yet devised led you to project the Ft. Myers, Florida-based second-place team in the Atlantic Sun Conference to earn a spot in the South Regional semifinals, well . . . oh . . . my . . . goodness!
The 16 teams left standing – and, more precisely, practicing – for the 2013 NCAA Championship Tournament includes “surprises” that that can be categorized as:
*“Mild”: Oregon, which everyone but the Championship Committee members agreed was vastly under-seeded as a 12 on Selection Sunday;
*“Significant”:Wichita State, a 9 seed as the runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference which knocked off the Big East’s Pittsburgh by 18 points and, two days later, eliminated the West’s top seed, Gonzaga;
*“Major”: La Salle, which tied for third in the Atlantic 10 and was one of the four final at-large selections to the field, toppled Boise and then eliminated Kansas State and Mississippi to earn its trip to Los Angeles; and, finally . . .
*“Shocking”: Florida Gulf Coast University, existing as an academic institution only since 1997 and as a NCAA tourney-eligible program for just two years. The Eagles lost twice to Lipscomb University during Atlantic Sun play and finished behind Mercer during the regular before winning the conference tournament to get gain its first bid to the NCAA tourney.
Coach Andy Enfield team’s promptly, decisively and entertainingly proceeded to dispatch 2 (Georgetown) and 7 (San Diego State) seeds to become the first-ever 15 seed to earn a spot in a Sweet 16.
Eleven of the other 12 slots for the games played Thursday (in Los Angeles, for the West, and in Washington, DC, for the East) and Friday (in Indianapolis, for the South, and in Dallas, for the South) were filled by teams seeded from 1 to 4.
Wrapping up the field is a 6 seed, Arizona, which got by two double-figure seeds in Belmont (11) and Harvard (a 14 which stunned the region’s 3 seed, New Mexico, on Thursday).
Three of the teams were nothing short of overwhelming in how impressive they were while blitzing their first two opponents.
*Louisville more than justified being awarded the No. 1 overall seed in the Field of 68 by hammering North Carolina A&T by 31 points and then defeating one of the five Mountain West Conference teams in the field, Colorado State (which clubbed Missouri two days earlier) by an eased-up 12 points.
*Michigan State was a 3 seed in the Midwest and led Valparaiso by 27 points before winning by 11, and then beating 6 seed Memphis by 22.
*The Spartans’ in-state and Big Ten-rival, Michigan, opened things with a 15-point decision over Nate Wolters-led South Dakota State and then dismantled Virginia Commonwealth – the choice of some pundits to upset the Wolverines – by 25 points.
The other two No. 1s that are still playing this week, Kansas (South) and Indiana (East), had some wobbly moments before earning trips to Texas and Washington, DC, respectively.
The game with Western Kentucky was too painfully close to provide any moments of gaiety and/or frivolity for the Jayhawks’ fans with Bill Self’s crew finally eking out a 64-57, bad-history avoiding (a No. 16 has never beaten a 1) victory.
Kansas trailed North Carolina at intermission by nine points on Sunday before all of those Rock Chalkers who were on hand in Kansas City could delight in the Jayhawks pulling away to eliminate the Tar Heels.
Indiana’s coaches, players and fans endured no kind of opening-game angst while beating James Madison by 21 points on Friday.
But the Hoosiers – had to dig deep to pull a win against a game, Khalif Wyatt-led (with 31 points) Temple squad, 58-52, with a late 3-pointer by All-American Victor Oladipo getting them over the third-round hump.
There are some very tasty matchups for those who will be dining at the Sweet 16 Buffett this week.
*The Midwest games – Louisville vs. Oregon and Michigan State vs. Duke – feature a Hall of Fame coach (Mike Krzyzewski of the Blue Devils) and two sure-fire future HoF coaches (Rick Pitino of the Cardinals and Tom Izzo of the Spartans).
And Oregon’s guy isn’t going to be “out-coached” by anyone in this field or anywhere else:
Dana Altman may be underrated by most in the national media but not by his peers or NBA talent evaluators, who consider him about as good as it gets in the profession.
*In the West, Sean Miller’s Arizona team will hook up against the top seed still playing in the region – No. 2 Ohio State, coached by Thad Matta, the guy Miller worked under before replacing as the head coach at Xavier when Matta moved to Columbus.
*Remember when the then Bob Knight-coached Indiana Hoosiers edged Jim Boeheim-coached Syracuse in the 1987 national title game in New Orleans?
The teams’ respective players, don’t, of course – that was 26 freakin’ years ago!
But Boeheim is still around and there is still plenty of evidence of that title victory – including, no doubt, blown-up pictures of Keith Smart drilling the jumper from the left wing that gave IU the win as well as the national champion banner – in Assembly Hall in Bloomington to remind this current generation of Hoosiers of the thrills and chills involved in that game.
*Joining IU-Syracuse as the only other 1-4 seed clash is Kansas and Michigan in the South.
If you’re in possession of very little doubt that either if these teams could ultimately cut down nets late-night April 8 in Atlanta, welcome to the club.