Oh, what a week it’s been! The NCAA Tournament is once again providing what all college basketball fans crave, and that is March Madness! One of the reasons we love this tournament is the drama that a “one and done”, “survive and advance” aspect provides. If you do not play well or have a bad game, too bad, see you next season. Another reason it is so popular is the David versus Goliath facet that it presents. Smaller schools from lesser conferences get the chance to play against the blue bloods of the sport which is compelling. I mean who doesn’t pull for the underdog this time of year? With all this in mind, here are a few of this year’s NCAA Tournament highlights.
Raise your hand if you had UMBC advancing in your bracket. I mean really, who in their right mind saw this coming? Certainly not Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers (totally awesome nickname!) will go down in history as the first #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed, and quite frankly, it wasn’t even close!
This team, which earlier this season got waxed by the University of Albany Great Danes (another OUTSTANDING nickname) 83-39, made the ACC regular-season champion and conference tournament champion look ordinary at best. Did you know that coming into this game, #16 seeds had a record of 0-135 against #1’s? Is it the greatest upset in the tourney’s history? If not, it certainly ranks up there with Villanova over Georgetown and North Carolina State beating Houston.
How about the University of Buffalo? The #13 seeded Bulls drew the mighty Arizona Wildcats in the round of 64, and they were not intimidated in the least bit by the nation’s best player DAndre Ayton, and his star-studded supporting cast. No, they felt they were the better team overall, and they proved just that. UB led by just two points at halftime, 40-38, and then wiped the floor with the Wildcats in the second stanza.
Sean Miller’s squad had no answers for Wes Clark and his fellow Bulls. Sadly, his high-powered team gave a less than stellar effort over the final 20 minutes. The question now is what does the Arizona program look like when the NCAA probe smoke clears? On a side note, yours truly chose Zona to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Nice pick John!
Thanks to the exploits of the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, we all now know who Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt is. She is the team’s 98-year-old chaplain, and greatest fan. We got our first glimpse of Sister when Donte Ingram’s game-winning three-point shot sent the Miami Hurricanes home (64-62), and the Ramblers into the second round. As it turns out, she and the team were not done with the drama.
Photo: Loyola University Chicago
In their next game, they found themselves down by one point to Tennessee in the waning moments. Never fear, Clayton Custer’s pull up jump shot hit the rim, then the backboard, then the rim again, before settling into the basket for a 63-62 win. Call it Custer’s last stand if you will. Either way, Sister and her band of brothers are a wonderful storyline to follow. Next up for the Ramblers is Nevada in the Sweet 16.
Speaking of Nevada, the Wolf Pack has supplied its own amount of drama over the first week. In round one, Nevada outlasted Texas in overtime, setting the stage for their improbable round two Houdini act against Cincinnati. Nevada head coach Eric Musselman’s men, trailed the Bearcats 10-0 right out of the gate, and 44-32 at halftime. Nine minutes into the second half, the deficit was 22 points. Instead of packing it in, the Wolf Pack stunned Cincy by coming all the way back to win on an offensive rebound put back with 9 seconds remaining. That they closed the game on a 32-8 run is all the more remarkable because Cincinnati’s defense was ranked second nationally all year long. This loss will take Mick Cronin many moons to get over I would think.
Photo: The Athletic
And now for a few observations and suggestions:
Hey Kelvin Sampson (University of Houston head coach), maybe next time think about putting your tallest player in front of the inbounder at the end of a game so he doesn’t have an uncontested pass? Not doing so against the brilliant tactician. John Beilein of Michigan, cost his Cougars a place in the Sweet 16. Yes Wolverines freshman, Jordan Poole did have to make an amazing three point shot as the buzzer sounded, but would he have gotten that great look had Sampson had a 7 foot man jumping up and down impeding the initial full-court pass? I say no, and it was inexcusable. Have a look for yourself:
— Max Meyer (@TheMaxMeyer) March 18, 2018
I have not seen a team struggle so mightily to run good offense against a 2-3 zone since my eighth grade squad met Belleville this year, until I watched Michigan State play Syracuse on Sunday. The difference here is that Tom Izzo is a Hall of Famer, and I am not! The Spartans had NO answer for the Orangemen’s signature defense. The word, ineptitude comes to mind here. The Cuse has long-armed defenders at all five positions which all to often forces opponents to settle for long outside shots as the shot clock winds down. Needless to say, MSU fell right into that trap, jacking up a school record 37 three point shots, of which the made just 8. As great of a coach as Izzo is, he looked lost in this loss.
Can we PLEASE stop going to the monitor so often? Is it really necessary to spend an eternity reviewing a whole host of things? I mean if the refs cannot decide who was the last person to touch a ball in less than 10 minutes, then they should stick with their initial decision. No one tuned in to see the zebras watch television after all!
Photo: The New York Times
Can a Big East team not named Villanova win more than one NCAA game please? Jay Wright and his Wildcats must be sick of carrying the conference’s water year in and year out.
Lastly, can we please make the Capital One commercials with Charles Barkley, Spike Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson stop! I’m begging you, whoever you are…
Feature photo: WGHP