If you ever start feeling like you really understand college basketball and that you can accurately predict what's going to happen, all it takes is watching the first weekend of the NCAA tournament to snap you back to reality. Because none of us have a friggin' clue. Even those of you that got lucky and picked the right upsets as I'm sure Davidson and Western Kentucky are providing ample boasting for thousands of men around the country that couldn't have named a player on either team prior to last week. But they knew it was going to happen.
In other news, we here at IBT (despite not consulting my colleagues, we do all have the same final four) still have our Final Four in tact, with UCLA being the only team having to endure a really close game, though Texas made yesterday a lot tougher than it needed to be. By the way, how incredible are these pictures?
Interestingly enough, the top three teams of the first weekend will all be I Charlotte this upcoming weekend. Clearly the most impressive of them all was North Carolina, easily topping the century mark in both games. But to their own credit, Washington State was pretty impressive as well in perfectly opposite fashion, holding Winthrop to 40 points (not that surprising) and then holding offensive-minded Notre Dame to 41 (tip of the cap). I still expect UNC to prevail, but as I said in my preview, I think Washington State will give them one hell of a headache.
Right behind those two was probably Louisville, first handling Boise St. and then utterly humiliating Oklahoma. If the first weekend was any indication (though it rarely is), a UNC/Louisville regional final on Saturday has us very excited. The fourth team to survive in the East was Tennessee, though while the other 3 were magnificent, Tennessee was possibly the least impressive team to advance and really didn't deserve to win either of their games and still hasn't looked good since their win at Memphis. Which probably means they'll end up in Atlanta. UNC
Moving to the West, we already mentioned UCLA and the questionable call pushing them through, but below them is where the real surprises happened. I didn't pick Western Kentucky here (I had Drake), but I'm not totally shocked that they are. Unfortunately, this is the end of the road for them as UCLA will likely re-focus a bit after Saturday and win this one comfortably. Below that I knew I was taking some chances with my picks (Arizona and Baylor), neither of which panned out, to leave us a not so shocking Xavier and West Virginia matchup, that I have no idea who will win. UCLA
As for the south region, of the four teams to advance, the only game that was decided before the final possession was Michigan St., as they handled Pitt with relative ease. I love Bobby Knight as a coach, but his picking of Pitt to win it all was so damn dumb, I just can't let it go. Yes, they won the all-coveted Big East tournament. And yes it happened in nearby MSG. But until that happened, they were likely looking at about a 7 seed and even if they had won that game and gotten by Memphis – who in their right mind would think they could then reel off wins over Texas, UCLA and Kansas/UNC?! But alas, we don't have to hear about that any more. What we do get to look forward to is Tom Izzo having 5 days to prepare for Memphis. If we see the same Michigan State team that showed up this past weekend, I'd say bye bye Tigers, but you just never know with them. They'll likely hold Memphis down and rebound well, but lest we forget, this is the same team that only scored 36 points against Iowa.
On the bottom of this region is possibly the most intriguing game of the weekend (though Tenn/Lousiville will get more play) with the contrasting styles of Texas and Stanford facing off. I don't think Texas will have much trouble scoring as their guards are obviously better and James and Atchley should be able to pull the Lopez sisters away from the rim. What I worry about it Texas' ability to contain them on the other end. I'll be taking Texas, but they better close it out a little stronger than they did against Miami. And oh yeah, DJ Augustin – what in the shit was that?! I've seen some airballed free throws in my day, but that thing missed by at least 6 inches. Texas
I'm sure by now you're wondering why I haven't mentioned this year's tournament darling, Davidson. Well here it goes - even though I had actually watched Davidson several times this year and thought they were better than Gonzaga, I didn't take them to win because everyone else was and I figured the Zags would relish being an underdog again. So much to my liking, Gonzaga built up a big lead and seemed destined for the second round – until Stephen Curry decided to score 30 second half points while Josh Pargo began throwing up contested threes that were lucky to draw iron. Despite picking Gonzaga, by about the 4 minute mark, I was heavily rooting for Davison here. And so even though I had the Hoyas beating the Zags in round two, of course I was again rooting for Davidson – and watching them come back from 17 down was as enjoyable as anything outside of the OT thriller Drake and Western Kentucky gave us Friday. So big kudos to the Davidson Wildcats, who will now be forced to play the slowest game of their lives as they match up with Big 11 foe Wisconsin. As a Kansas fan, I'm rooting for Davidson just so I don't have to endure any more Badger games.
Speaking of the Jayhawks, they will be matched up with another "Cinderella" as 12th seeded Villanova emerged from their pod. Clearly Villanova is better than a 12 seed and one could easily argue that no upsets happened at all in their portion of the bracket. I wasn't smart enough to pick them over Clemson (way to blow an 18 point lead), but seeds aside if those two teams were matched up say, prior to the ACC tournament, who do you think would be favored? And as for Siena and Vandy, there's one I actually did pick and they were obviously the better team, destroying the 'Dores by 21 points. While we're on this, it should be mentioned that the only teams from the ACC and SEC to survive the first weekend were Carolina and Tennessee – shocking!
Since this is a Kansas blog, I might as well throw a little love the Jayhawk's way as well. As mentioned Friday, their first round trouncing of Portland State was great. And though it likely got very little respect nationally, their win over UNLV was very impressive because of how it happened. I say that because the Hawks were forced into UNLV's style and could never force the pace, yet they won by 19. Even more telling was the fact that they couldn't effectively exploit their inside size advantage (only guards in double figures) – yet they won by 19. As we all know, NCAA tournament games are mutually exclusive by nature, but any Jayhawk fan has to be happy with the way their team has looked so far. And after last year having to head to Anaheim to play a game SIU team and then UCLA, heading to Detroit to play Villanova and Wisconsin/Davidson sounds pretty good. Kansas
Finally, I want to give some love to the Big 12 for putting together a pretty solid weekend.
In the first round they went a very impressive 5-1, with Baylor being the lone culprit to lose. The second round didn't go quite as well as KSU was handled easily by Wisconsin, Oklahoma was humiliated by Louisville and Texas A&M was jobbed out of overtime against UCLA. Fortunately, Kansas and Texas advanced, pushing the league record to 7-4. Only two leagues have more teams still playing, with the Pac 10 (UCLA, Wazzu, Stanford) and the Big East (Villanova, Lousiville, West Virginia) having three apiece. If KU and Texas are to advance, they will have at least as many as both of the other leagues, as Kansas will have eliminated 'Nova and Texas will have done the same to Stanford.
That's all for now, but we'll be back offering a preview of the game against Villanova, and time permitting, will try and provide some information, etc. on Wisconsin and Davidson as well. Do your best to get through another awful week of work, and hopefully the Jayhawks will reward you with another great weekend that culminates with all of us planning our trip to San Antonio. Rock Chalk!