Sixteen takes from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:
1: Horace Greeley wasn’t the only newspaper man to shout “Go West.” Rankman’s pre-tournament, geographical finger point turned out to be prophetic. In a story last week read by dozens, Rankman claimed four Western schools were poised to make deep advances into this year's NCAA Tournament. If not now, when? All four of my touts pulled through: Gonzaga, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA.
The West, in general, was titanium. Even UC Davis (Big West) got to log an NCAA win in the history book. The West Coast Conference advanced as many teams to the Sweet 16 as the Atlantic Coast. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s went 3-1, with the Zags still playing. USC, the second-to-last team to make the field, won two NCAA games before UCLA played its first. The Pac 12 emerged 8-1.
Making the Sweet 16 IS NOT enough. To regain national credibility, a team or two from the West must push through to the Final Four.
It's still a fight out there in the non-west world. USA Today devoted a Monday cover story to a conference that did well on the first weekend.
“Success Quells Big Ten Critics.”
The Big Ten went 8-4.
2: UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball IS the best player left in the field. And that’s saying a lot, because there are terrific players left.
Lonzo was off his game a bit in the Pac 12 Tournament, but his performance against Cincinnati on Sunday was men-vs.-boys.
I only wish Lonzo talked more and his dad talked less.
3: Shout out to Siena Coach Jimmy Patsos. He’s been an excellent addition to the TBS\Tru\TNT panel. He’s not trying to win an Emmy and, shockingly, seems comfortable only providing measured, informed and astute analysis. Patsos admitted he hadn’t seen much of Ball or UCLA this year, which means he subscribes to DirecTV. Patsos, though, came away convinced Lonzo Ball was the nation’s best player.
Patsos probably even knows Oregon’s Dillon Brooks was actually named Pac 12 player of the year.
4: When is Joe Lunardi’s next condescending lecture to UCLA fans on how the NCAA Tournament works? The ESPN bracket man, who thought Syracuse should have been the ACC’s 10th team in the field, didn’t think much of UCLA’s analytics before the field was announced. He said he didn’t rely much on the eye test in assessing UCLA and cited often the Bruins’ woeful non-conference ranking. That schedule, by the way, included wins over two teams in the Sweet 16 (Kentucky and Michigan).
5: Rumor Mill: Steve Alford will bolt UCLA and return to coach at Indiana, his alma mater. Reaction: Let him go. In fact, AD Dan Guerrero should drive him to the airport. Alford has done a nice job but UCLA is a destination spot, not a satellite college for Indiana. Returning “home” is the perfect out for both parties. Alford will always be tied to Indiana, and Bob Knight, and that’s fine. Knight, though, was a constant critic of UCLA legend John Wooden. There are plenty of coaches out there who see UCLA as a final stop.
6: The “Chicken Curse” is definitely over at South Carolina. For more than 100 years, the university was allegedly under the whammy of former Senator “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, who condemned the state legislature for trying to block the formation of Clemson. Tillman allegedly cursed the school by slamming a pitchfork into the ground on campus.
Sunday, though, South Carolina advanced to the round of 16 by slamming Duke to the ground.
It was a win not just for the Gamecocks, but for, um, humanity?
Anyway, stick a fork in the curse.
Oh, Clemson went home in the first round…of the NIT.
7: The first TMG bracket “Bake Off” is NOT fixed….it just seems that way. Rankman’s family has so far dominated the competition, holding four of the top nine positions in the TMGcollegesports.com group of ESPN's Bracket Challenge. Hapauto1 is the first weekend leader with an amazing 540 points, followed by TerryfromMD with 520. Rankman’s oldest and youngest sons are tied for third at 510. “Book Baby Brenda” is solo fifth. Brenda is a friend of the family and picked Gonzaga to win it all because her daughter is a freshman at the school. Brenda based all her other picks on the mascots. TMGsheila1, Rankman’s wife, is tied for sixth while Dufrankman1 is tied for ninth.
Not faring as well are TMG co-founders Jersey Guy (t-23) and GouldStandard (t-30).
8: Kudos to Northwestern, a fine journalism school, for recording its first NCAA victory in its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Wildcats need just one more NCAA win to tie journalism standard bearer, Cal State Fullerton, which has two.
9: That kid in braces, wearing a Northwestern shirt, caught on camera crying during the Wildcats' controversial loss to Gonzaga? Prediction: he will graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and one day win a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering wide-spread corruption among NCAA officials.
10: The regular season and NCAA Tournament are different animals--Darwin would have classified them as different species. We’ve been saying that for years. Come tournament time, talking head “experts” like Seth Davis know as much about the outcome as your mailman.
The tournament is a crap shoot and I wonder why the selection committee even bothers. My son and I coin-flipped the entire bracket last week and guess what: Gonzaga won.
Good news: twelve of the committee’s top 16 seeds advanced to the second weekend.
Bad news: The committee whiffed on four of its top 10: Villanova (1), Duke (7), Louisville (8) and Florida State (10).
And it was a train-wreck elimination among teams ranked No. 16 to 25: Virginia (17), Minnesota (18), Notre Dame (19), Iowa State (20), Southern Methodist (21), Cincinnati (22), Maryland (23), Creighton (24) and St. Mary’s (25).
Most underrated seeding? Xavier, which made the Sweet 16 despite grading out at No. 41. Rhode Island (44) and USC (45) teamed to win three tournament games.
11: AC-See ya. There is no sugarcoating this: the ACC has tanked. Someone get Dick Vitale some water. Give kenpom a sedative. Keep Joey Brackets away from sharp objects. Let the first-weekend records reflect: Pac 12 (8-1), SEC (7-2), Big 12 (8-3), Big Ten (8-4), Big East (5-5), ACC (7-8).
Think about this: Had Arkansas held on to a second-half lead against North Carolina, the ACC would have been shut out of the Sweet 16. CBS might have called off the tournament.
12: The first weekend of officiating was, in a nutshell, a hot mess. I know it’s a hard sport to officiate but it would be nice if the stripes got the basics right. The missed goal tend in Gonzaga vs. Northwestern was just the worst of many, many, misses.
Also, the games are still way TOO long. Please, NCAA, take away one time out per team, per half.
Also: don’t spent five minutes on a replay we’ve all reconciled in five seconds with an eight-second rewind on our home remotes.
One other thing: A player fouled on his way to a basket deserves a basket.
The NBA’s “Continuation” concept must be adopted. Now.
13: What happened to the East Regional? The total seeding number of that bracket adds up to 22. Not sure this is the show Madison Square Garden had in mind. Wisconsin vs. Florida is definitely not Bo Ryan vs. Billy Donovan anymore. The Badgers stumbled into the field as a No. 8, while the Gators lost three times this year to Vanderbilt. Baylor vs. South Carolina? Honestly, to me, that's a bowl game.
14: Who cares? Hey look, Arizona Coach Sean Miller is playing against his old school, Xavier. Zzzzzzzz. My least favorite story line in college basketball is coach vs. coach, unless there's a chance they might punch each other during the post-game handshake (John Chaney vs. John Calipari).
15: Best, game-clinching move goes to: Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes. The senior forward made an outstanding baseline spin move, after a hesitation dribble, that led to the reverse layup that sent top-seeded Villanova packing. Hayes said he copied the move from Michael Jordan.
There isn't a man alive who could have stopped that sensational, one-on-one move.
Wait...what...LaVar Ball said he would have?
16: Can't wait for UCLA vs. Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals on Friday night. These front-drawer teams have combined for 19 total NCAA titles. The game is in Memphis, but it should be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The pace should be frenetic. I'll borrow a catchphrase from Ralph Lawler, the longtime announcer of the L.A. Clippers. "Lawler's Law" states: First team to 100 points wins.